On the Outside, Looking In
This post originally appeared on our old blog Born to be a Bride.
I learned a very important lesson this week, one I should have already absorbed long ago. I’ll cut to the chase and let you know that the punchline is this: making assumptions about someone else’s life based on what you see from the outside is about the biggest waste of time around. If you want to read on, please do.
Last week, I was working on June pitches for a parenting site I contribute to. My fingers hovered above the keyboard as I wrote and rewrote a pitch I’d been working on. I wanted to try and frame a story on the Duggars (of 19 Kids and Counting fame). I had watched the show on and off when I was pregnant, resting a bowl of cold strawberries and too much whipped cream on my table baby bump. I laughed to myself in pure, awed confusion over how Michelle could have done this over. And over. And over again. I was drawn to these people. They were funny. I couldn’t help it. I was pregnant and unemployed, so you know, I defended my crappy TV habits with those two facts.
Recently, we moved to Jersey. My little Willow stopped sleeping through the night. I would try desperately on her day-naps to get some shuteye myself, but it rarely happened. Instead, again rolling into summer and between active seasons of most shows, I found myself finding a Duggar marathon one day. Two nights later, Josh went to happy hour with his new colleagues and (God, I cannot believe I am saying this. What happened to the cool Jenny who used to match his happy hours with my own?) I put the baby to bed, ordered a gluten-free pizza from our corner spot, poured myself a massive glass of white wine, and found another Duggar marathon. I was giddy. Three hours of uninterrupted Duggar mania ensued. Even the dog was mortified, but my feelings of intrigue prevailed.
This seemingly never-ending family with 19 children (and apparently, the possibility of more to come?) is absolutely nothing like my own. I was raised reform Jewish and Josh is just this side of an atheist. We have one child and disagree on whether to reach our scope to two or three total (he says if I ever land a lucrative book deal, we can have the third baby!). Just like the Duggars, we disagree about big purchases sometimes. But they “pray on it.” Sure, I pray myself, but never over a daily life choice like whether or not to splurge on a plane ticket to Dallas or a fancy dress for our six-month-old. Disagree we might, but pray on something like that? Never. I thought it was nice that the Duggars this — I didn’t get it, but I admired it in a sort of distant, good-for-you manner.
And then there was the sex stuff. Babies as far as the eye can see (so obviously someone’s doing it, right?). But they aren’t even allowed to give a full-frontal hug when courting? And then pan to one of the older sisters counseling a group of her peers and suggesting they stay away from romance novels which can bring on impure thoughts. Everyone’s wearing long skirts. I’ll admit that Jessa’s wedding dress, while modest, was on point. But the day-to-day stuff? These girls are way too cute for what they wear. Again, I was drawn to it.
So, back to that pitch. My thought was to list, say, five things I learned about life and relationships from watching the Duggars. Things like how to keep a calm head when your husband is driving you nuts (if you caught the episode where Jim-Bob and Michelle went on a marriage retreat, you know what I’m talking about), or how to roll with the punches when you’re in labor. I was absolutely brought to tears when I watched Jill Duggar spend literal days in labor, watching her natural home birth plan progress into a hospital delivery with epidural that would not be — a C-section was the route taken in the end. She was so calm about it. She didn’t beat herself up at all. There was something kind of beautiful and special about this concept of putting things in God’s hands and just trusting that it would be how it was supposed to be. I wish I had approached my own emergency C-section like that, instead of spending the past six months crying myself to sleep over it at random times (we’ll get into all of that in another post).
The idea was to frame the “perfect,” humble existence of these strangers into something that I should be bringing into my own lifestyle, my own home. No, I never planned to abandon my Jewish faith and turn into a conservative Christian, but I wanted to do things more like they did. Maybe to talk to Josh more like Michelle does to Jim-Bob, to adopt a more “let-it-be” attitude to how many children we’ll have, and so on.
The morning I was assembling my pitches, we had The Today Show on in the background. I heard the phrases “Duggar” and “allegations” in the same sentence and I dropped my spoon. What the eff was going on?
I won’t get into the details but you can read more here. Suffice it to say, the oldest Duggar apparently molested several young girls when he was a teenager, including some of his sisters. Seriously??? Here I was about to press “send” on an email that exalted these people as pillars of modern American society. The last corner of the population with strict morals we could all stand to learn a thing or two from. Really?
Beyond the horror of what Josh Duggar did, I was appalled at the statement issued by his parents. These people have the ear of the American public. They have a chance to publicly apologize to their daughters for what they experienced, to take a stand against molestation. They have the stage to express shame, sorrow, and regret. Instead they choose to pray for the perpetrator and ignore the rest of the story. Additionally, the fact that they’ve known about this and coasted on in the coverup for years, parading their “perfect” family (including Josh!) on television is just maddening. What a rouse.
Suddenly, the family system I had revered is on its head. These people are leaning on Christianity unfairly here. They have every right to pray for their son, of course. But what about those girls? I am so very thankful I never submitted that pitch, not only because of the timing (worst. ever.) but because I realized something even more important in all of this. It’s totally okay to learn something from how another person or family does it. But the minute you put someone up on a pedestal, you nullify the lessons you can learn from them. And of course, if something looks too perfect, it probably is. My prayers are with the victims.