The Nonconforming Duggars

Wendy and I have known the Duggars for about a decade, have shared the TLC spotlight with them, and couldn’t be more thrilled for the upcoming marriage of their daughter Jill on Saturday. You may think our connection with them has something to do with children and family size, but it’s deeper than that.

Of course we're going to the wedding.

Of course we’re going to the wedding.

But children is where it all seemed to start. Eight years ago we were approached by TLC to be a part of a mini-series called Kids by the Dozen. We were skeptical at first, weary of New York hotshot producers. All reality TV involves a strict contract. Whatever they capture on camera is fair game for producers to do what they will.

So I called Jim Bob Duggar to get the inside scoop of what it was “really” like on a reality TV show. Getting in touch with him back then was fairly easy. Jim Bob and I had an hour-plus conversation about what it would be like inviting the cameras into our home to catch a glimpse of life with so many children.

I recall our conversation fondly. He had a lot to do with our final decision to move forward with the show, and the rest is history. Our show aired in 2007 (you can watch it on YouTube), we published a book on it (which the Duggars endorsed on the back cover), and we now speak publicly (when we can) about love and family.

When we received an invitation to Jill and Derick’s wedding, we dropped everything to make it work. Today we’re loading up the van and trekking to Arkansas for a hot summer wedding. We look forward to celebrating the marriage with them and their friends.

Millions love and adore the Duggars. They’re an oddity just like we are — which makes for good reality television, I suppose — but I believe there is one underlying value that make the Duggars over-the-top awesome: NONCONFORMITY.

Of course we’re not conformists. We have 16 children, they have 19, and both of us say with smiles that we would love to be blessed with another. Yes, we know how this works, and you don’t need to send us links to birth control websites. We get it. We just choose to ignore the more popular choice of few (or no) children.

Here’s the deal: We do not aspire to the patterns of this world. People may think we’re crazy, but we’re really just walking in faith. At some point in both of our lives, we were dealing with the conviction to either have more children or not. Like the Duggars, Wendy and I have been quite transparent about our personal struggle with the same modern choice all parents deal with eventually: should we welcome another child?

Number two or twenty. The conviction is the same. Can we, should we, would we Love Another Child?

The road of reason was wide on why we should have limited our family size. Kids are burdensome and expensive, they weigh on us and consume resources, they make messes of our homes and our emotions. At one point in the 90s when our children’s births were closest together, Wendy and I had not one close friend to turn to for guidance or support. And we didn’t have a reality TV series from which to take notes.

We felt alone in our conviction to have more children. That is our similar testimony. Before the cameras and television, we struggled with the idea of more children, felt genuinely called to love another child, and stepped forward in faith.

So we chose children, one (sometimes two) at a time. They kept coming. And the blessings have been overwhelming.

“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Romans 12:2). That’s a biblical mandate that both of our families have applied. Not perfectly, but when it came to children, we were nonconformists.

You, too, should not conform. Make this verse your personal verse. It may be scary or seem crazy, but nonconformity is your own personal connection with the will of God. The verse concludes, “Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

People often mistake this message with a condemning, finger-pointing judgment on all other parents. “Shame on you for not having more children.” None of us believe such a thing. Sure, we may push back on modern ideas that try to say children aren’t blessings (they’re out there, more today than ever), but the conviction for you and your marriage is between you and God. The real shame is on anyone who gets in the way and tries to manipulate that.

Instead, our message is one of faith, hope and love. The road God has for you is a unique journey you need to figure out in this short life you live on earth. If all of life can be narrowed down to one central purpose, it would be this: figure out what your journey is and do it.

In faith. With hope. Bathed in love. Do it.

And ignore those who try to get you to conform. If you seek God and transform your mind, the blessings will flow from it. There is no better way to live.

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Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • charlie Trementozzi

    Great reflection. Powerful truth in a weary and confused world. My wife and I do foster care and have adopted. We have 5 children and can identify with this. It is a lonely place sometimes to walk in God’s will. Yet, with no regrets and a heart of thanksgiving we continue pray for families and reach out to those with broken homes. Thanks so much for the encouragment.

    • “It is a lonely place sometimes to walk in God’s will. Yet, with no regrets and a heart of thanksgiving we continue pray for families and reach out to those with broken homes. Thanks so much for the encouragment.”

      And thank YOU, likewise.

    • I have 2 nephews and 1 neice who have been left in foster care.. Due to a drug addicted mom.

      So from someone who has loved ones someplace in the foster system.. THANK YOU!
      And please protect and keep those babies safe.. or at least as safe as our broken system will let you keep them.

      • charlie Trementozzi

        Yes, drugs are one of the most destructive forces in our society My wife, Donna, and I work with foster families and families that are working a plan to try and get their children returned. It amazes us just how many people follow the world view and believe TV has the answers , not knowing what real family love is. Evil seems to lie and wait to fill the gap in the absence of love and compassion. I believe that fostering family love and christain compassion is a big piece in changing this world. Parents are the greatest evangelists on the planet. It thrills me to hear Chris story. Best wishes to you and your family

  • Great post!! Although we didn’t birth all 18 of our kids (only 3 of them) we feel we are nonconformists too. Listening to the will of the Lord for family size can be tough, especially when the numbers are larger than typical, but oh the blessings that are out poured when we do listen. If we had done “our” will, or listened to those who were trying to get us to conform, we’d not have 13-15 of our kids and I just can’t imagine them not being here. One question I do have….maybe not so much a question but an observation….why is it looked down upon to birth so many children but yet, adopting the same amount, having the same number in the home, is not? When I hear/read others putting your family and the Duggars down for the larger than typical families, I remind them I have 15 at home too, and I’m told that is “different”. The only difference in my eyes is the calling. God has called your families to birth your kids, we were called to adoption. The overall will of the Lord is the same….be fruitful and multiply. Have a blessed and safe trip to the wedding. Can’t wait to hear all about it. I’m sure it will be on the “19 Kids and Counting show”.

    • “When I hear/read others putting your family and the Duggars down for the larger than typical families…”

      They do? I’m crushed. I’m crying. Devastated.
      😉

  • Jennifer

    Though I *only* have half as many children as you, as I have walked out this journey with God, I can say that I am so grateful to have each one of my 8 children…. plus the 5 in heaven… It has NOT been easy, but it HAS been WORTH it! I can relate well with all you said here, and I am so thankful that God did give me three (real life) friends and many virtual ones, who also walked this road with me.

    And, really, what is the appeal to conform anyway?! Conformity is so boring….

    • “It has NOT been easy, but it HAS been WORTH it!”
      Great motto…love it.

  • Nicole Stienley Den Ouden

    Thank You Chris! This post was a huge blessing for me! My husband and I currently have 4 children, but are trusting God for more if in his will! I was so shocked to find out the day I went in to hospital to have baby #4 that it is considered a large family now! The women at the front desk in admitting asked me if it was my 1st baby and said nope ( with a smile) #4 and she said WOW, you are one brave women, and looked at me like I had 2 heads! Then add all the comments in the grocery store about no knowing how that happens yet. It’s very sad that our society sees children as a burden instead of that blessing, even in the church. We love your family and pray for you guys often!

    • Here’s hope: Once you get to seven kids, they start leaving you alone. At four kids, they think they can still get you to conform. (heh)

      • Jessica Manzie

        Ha! So one more and they’ll stop looking at me like I have two heads!!!!???? I can’t wait! LOL

        • Kathi Swanson

          but of course…magic number ya know 🙂 I’m not sure where you are from but new england is a hoot from time to time…I spent a short time in western Ohio with the intentions of spending the rest of our lives out there a few years ago, sadly a lot of heavy stuff and here we are in NE, but what struck me was people talking about back when bible electives were offered, or prayer time after lunch..huh? never ever was there any mention of a bible or prayer let a lone a class in western mass I entered school in 85 . It just blows my mind how there were 4 christian floats in an ohio parade. Okay we don’t even have peony parades either haha! So I can imagine the # of kids it takes to give you those offensive 2 heads must also vary by region as it is atheist country out here, sadly. Very few can swallow “I feel god wants me to….” We have been lucky to have little issues when people find out I homeschool 3 kids, sing in a christian band and finishing my degree with a nerve damaged left side lol….but I’m kind of spunky and I think if I didn’t scare or shock people with my spunk they would probably look at me like i had 3 heads

          careful though I think at 6, people start asking about your income and welfare as if it’s their business, gotta shoot for that sweet number 5 😉 😛

          • Jessica Manzie

            LOL – we are in South Florida. i have 6, and I homeschool them all. People are always, “Are they all yours?” I reply, “Nope, I traveled around and just picked up kids.” “Bless your heart”, “Your hands are full” etc. I have even got the comment, “Are you trying to be like the Duggars?” For pity sake! I have started responding, “You only have 2? I’ll pray for God to bless you more.” Sarcastic and slightly mean, huh? 😉

            • Kathi Swanson

              Haha sarcastic hmm you’re talking to the sarcasm queen lol…I often find a little sarcasm causes me to chuckle and let things go that would otherwise stir up that so called righteous anger which really may stem from a right heart but can grown to pollute me with hate and bitterness…even in the name of something worthy the hate pollution can be a danger…so a little sarcasm can act as a catharsis….then again I have had my cross the line moments 😉

              I would probably blow the joke and bust out laughing as I said “awwww I will pray god bless you with more…” haha too funny to keep a straight face I think sarcasm can also come from truth junkies that long to expose the reality of double standards…I know often I feel too fired up to expose truth my children joke I would climb Mt. Sinai with the truth on a poster board or flashing neon lights…it can make one pious even when the desire originates from a longing to teach and guide to truth so I think sometimes as a consolation prize to blatant truth exposure we default to sarcasm best case people see the c I Marion and realize the implications of their criticism worst case they stay blind but we are laughing instead of stewing in anger…..hmm or its just mean 🙂 and I need a swift kick in the butt…haha but I did laugh my tooth off out loud when I read what you wrote 🙂

    • A good friend of mine will turn the tables on people.. Especially in places like Walmart or Restaurants.. etc

      She says.. Are you looking to make a book on it.. Cause if so.. I am all ready to tell all…
      Usually at that point they either laugh.. or run.. lol

  • I think there’s definitely a balance. We’ve actually heard the “Oh, you ONLY have TWO children?” or, “You are just getting started, right?” comments from people with larger families who don’t know us well. And, sometimes it has been very hurtful. More than once I have internally sighed and struggled to find the words to tell them that while we “only” have 2 children, we have also experienced the loss or death of seven children.

    We have tried to expand our family. Tried to love more children. Sacrificed a lot. Tried again. Grieved even more. So – I LOVE how you shared about people not trying to manipulate or put down people for where they are – it’s often easy to make assessments on the outside without having a clue as to what is going on within the family. If God blesses us with more children – FABULOUS! If He doesn’t – that’s OKAY too – we will love, cherish, and pour into what He has given us!

    • I LOVE this reply. Thank you, Erica!

    • Kathi Swanson

      thank you for sharing this part of you journey, i should have considered this more deeply earlier and yet i hadn’t so thank you for the wisdom and insight into a different facet of those hurt or attempts to tear down with judgement. I can’t even imagine the challenge of navigating those types of comments with grace after having lost children. My prayers Sweet mother Erica….please know your heart and desire to love more children is not lost and I’m sure all that yearning, all that deep deep deep love and passion and even the parts with sharp edges that snag and hurt, ALL of that pours into the hearts of your other two children each and every day and as far as I’m conerned you are a mom to 9 children and the other 7 with the lord would likely be, heck ARE! overjoyed their siblings have all that love and I’m sure if you could ask them all 7 would say they are so happy their beloved earthly siblings are blessed with a huge heart for 9 being poured out daily over their 2 brothers/sisters. I hope I don’t sound like a wacky fruit loop, okay well I am a tad unique haha and that’s me 🙂 but really I just feel such a strong urge to encourage you that your other 7 children, now FILLED to overflowing with the ACTUAL presence of our Lord Jesus Christ WANT their siblings to have that big heart made for 9 to go to their siblings and their daddy! and some day, i hope soon we will all be called up to him, and you will all embrace surrounded by more beauty than our minds can conceive of and maybe God will even let me witness such a reunion,..what a joy that will be!!. on earth I would weep and weep and blubber in spite of my passionate independent single mom fighting spirit God made me a squishy puddle heart haha, deep feeling I guess just imgaining your reunion made me feel dumbstruck as for the first time ever it hit me, trying to imagine a “no tears heaven” and all the beauty and majesty, the things my words can’t describe, i know will be oozing and blinding from every possible angle, maybe more dimensions than I can fathom or even analogize, haha so i can’t imagine how i wouldn’t explode without having the abiltiy to cry out my passion . If I could ever witness the joining of your family of 11 I know ever inch of my being would be exploding with joy…god bless you sweet mama. You have warmed my heart tonight with your honesty and heart of love and compassion. Thanks for sharing something so difficult so that I might become wiser and a better servant for god and for others with similar hurts he might call me to help someday. You have really opened my heart and pointed it in a specific way to pray tonight. I love you!

      • Thank you so much for your sweet words, prayers, and encouragement Kathi. I have also wondered how there will be no tears in Heaven – every time I watch one of those military daddy homecoming videos, I turn into a puddled mess. Cannot imagine what it will be like to wrap my arms around my babies in Heaven – 3 for the very first time.

        3 of our 7 losses came from failed adoptions after we had the children in our care – I know 2 of them (sisters) are now in Jesus-loving families and my prayer is for all 3 to come to know the incredible LOVE God has for them.

        • Kathi Swanson

          Wow wow praise God for those sisters…and no doubt your love is a fragment of a grand plan for his will in their lived ii know I’d want to always be the one by their side but I hope you know whatever period of time you embraced them personally is a part of God’s working in their lives..I’m sure you already know this lol but I had to praise him out loud. Thank you again. Your hearts lights up the yuck! I really can’t wait to know that time has come for your reunion!!!! My anticipation for his coming increases somehow as I travel life and hear more of his work in lives and my faith increases and makes my inner child bounce off the walls haha I haven’t been in a hymns only church since a teen but as I read your posts I could hear

          “BECAUSE HE LIVES I CAN FACE TOMORROW BECAUSE HE LIVES ALL FEAR IS GONE BECAUSE I KNOW OH OH HE HOLDS THE FUTURE MY LIFE IS WORTH LIVING JUST BECAUSE HE LIVES!!!”

          don’t even know if lyrics are messed up but my heart was singing it that way 🙂 I’m grateful through whatever ways wonderful faithful blog posts, blog comments, TLC reality 😉 testimonies like yours and even your steadfast heart through trials, hymns, his holy word ..He always finds a way to hold us close even when we pull away or lose our way, or struggle with faith in weak moments through trials he is indeed faithful to complete what he has started. I know the holy spirit (or at least I believe) the holy spirit can take scripture and reveal different things to different people and circumstances I say this cautiously as I don’t intend it to mean new scripture or any potentially abusive application or false preaching false guidanve that violates his word…and if one ever feels I may have errored in my understanding of truth pls pls correct me as I value knowing truth over “being right” .but I wanted to share the scripture that led me to home school he spoke to me through it sitting on my porch December of 2008 I had no extra money I worked as a CNA sat and Sunday 16 hrs each day and 3 mornings a week doing home care so I could avoid daycare and have my children with me after school and ruck them in etc…I didn’t get support from family and struggled to make ends meet and I kept asking God how can I even afford books to school them?? I’m scared and selfish of my free time with just the baby going to the gym when I drop them at school and having my then baby in the 90 min childcare haha my friend said don’t tell god you’re comfortable with your life lol he has a sense of humor alongside his refining us 🙂 as I read the scripture on my porch I saw his smiling and warmth I could feel showering down as he looked on satisfied and delighted that my children would be schooled at home and raised in his ways and I submitted and said okay lord I don’t know how I will even buy books but I will do your will …2 days later a woman from church I never conversed with called and was cleaning and found 2nd 3rd and 4th grade A Beka books..my kids were in 2 and 4th grades 🙂 god knew all along how he would provide often human tendencies say decide which road to take at the fork based upon the future “terrain” CURRENTLY on each path….God doesn’t work that way haha he waited until I stepped on on the path that appeared full of obstacles…only then did he supernaturally remove them 🙂 so it’s a weird scripture maybe to hold near and dear and not as popular of on coffee mugs like Jeremiah 29:11 lol but I wanted to share it because in addition to the big whammy god has used those same words to speak hope into so so so many other situations in our lives and I hope it encourages you if you ever have a funky day or hour, to keep looking to the time where his love that started with you as mommy is made complete <3

          amplified Phil 2:13 "[not in your own strength] for it is God Who is all the while effectively at work in you [energizing and creating in you the power and desire], both to will and to work for his good pleasure and satisfaction and delight"

          He did create a will to HS when originally I never wanted..After submission my heart miraculously changed after nd desired his will 🙂 he granted strength and a means…funny or just like my god I stumbled onto this while reviewing sermon notes on both love and fear of the Lord lead to obedience an undivided heart(psalm 86:11) etc…and was reading phil 2:12 not 13 haha…God is good and I hope you too enjoy such a special scriptural promise he's given ! Hugs mama!

  • Dana Young-Bailey

    I like this. God has blessed us with 11 so far. When I was a little girl, all I wanted was to be a mom. I feel so blessed to be able to live my dream out everyday.

  • kreep78 .

    How do you deal with family members who dislike your large family? My father wanted us done at 3. Now we have 6 and I want many more.

    • We ignore them.
      We also tend to see through them. Thought they make fun or scoff about our large family, they LOVE to tell all their friends about that crazy relative family they have. They tell the story with a smile on their faces, and that speaks the truth more than any rhetoric they give us to our faces.

      • kreep78 .

        Thank you Chris!

  • Amanda

    I am a single Mom of 4 and The day I went in to have my csection with number 4 without a Dad in tow… The nurses and my doctor thought I was insane…God blessed me with these children and didn’t bless us with a human Dad to be there for them but oh well… I’m all for the have as many as God blesses you with no matter the circumstances. so God bless the Duggars and all families like them.

    • Thanks for posting your story, Amanda. It is too bad that people equate tough circumstances with the level of blessing the children really are.

  • Asali

    I am one of 19 & loved every bit of it.I applaud big families!!! My question though, how does one deal with wanting and desiring more children and God has chosen to not bless us with any more?! We have 3 kids and have had 3 miscarriages! We’ve tried for two years now with fertility methods but it’s not happening. I often feel lookefd down upon by big families because we only have 3 but it’s not like we don’t want more! Sad and confused!

    • Kathi Swanson

      forgive me if this isn’t of any help, but as a single mom, 33, and with severe spinal dammage part from disease and part from abuse the prospects of having more keeps shrinking as months pass 🙁 I would love for more (I have 3) I love nursing them, nurturing and teaching them, singing to them from the womb on up. I do grieve deeply in between my smiles and jokes. I hurt deeply and long for the vision i saw for my life…my disease is similar to ALS because it’s lower and upper motor neuron destruction but much slower and a mechanical erosion of spinal tissue from the center to outter portions (it’s what bobby jones had, syringomyelia) so as i lose nerves as more things twitch or the many other weird things crop up i feel that much farther, and falling farther from my desire to have more

      hmmm so all that sounds depressing, it is, it’s sad..it’s sad to think a once husband who pushed me down the stairs caused me to miscarry that baby and made my body permanently damaged…so I guess I wanted to share my reference point before just sounding all cliche when i say they best i can make of it is, each day i trust god a little more…i never lose my desire to have more, but each day I am more at peace…it’s not a grand epiphany style miracle…god could swoop in and take the urge from you…for me he didn’t work that way it was a day by day progress, i only see how far my faith has come since when i look back at a much larger piece of the picture…i caould even see how he prepared me to have faith for the abuse long before it happened, teaching and helping me grow to be a strong prayer warrior for my husband for as long as I was allowed until he gave up, and looking back i can see how he has prepared me to handle this and equipped me when i didn’t even know it…

      and yes it still hurts…some days more than others, some days I battle that depression that comes from seeing things to realistically, all the yuck, the it is what it is, and it aint pretty depression, so please don’t think I have arrived or something. I think I can safely say the more I focus on him, and the more i am intimate and trying to feed our relationship, the easier those hurts are to manage…I think acknowledging them is an important step in healing…I think of it like walking into your house and seeing an unnamed, unknown stranger, you’d JUMP, react strongly…but if you had a renter in the house, maybe a jerk you loathed…you may be counting down the days until he moves out but you would jump with alarm when you walked out and say him standing there 🙂

      i hope at the very least you may find peace in knowing I am praying for you as soon as I finish typing and for others posting here. I hope your hurts weren’t trivialized by my comment. I truly do understand just how big those longings are and how they can swallow you up and fill you up at the same time and it all feels so out of our control yet still affects us so much…seems wrong that things we can’t exert control over could have the ability to hurt us so deeply…I hope he wraps you in a warm blanket of peace tonight sister! <3

  • Emily Heath-davis

    i wish i could meet the duggars soe day. i watch there show every time they are on. they are a big insipiration on me.

    • Kathi Swanson

      us too…I’m sure I could find engaging convos, or questions to ask but honestly I would love just to give them all a big hug, and say i love you brothers and sisters in person, and share in some prayer or devotional time together or serve alongside….although my hugging love style makes some run 😉 luckily no one has ever called the cops 😉 they had a multi church revival and my equally spunky pastor (8 kids, homeschooled too) was being silly kidding me about a hug a thon because i kept hugging people we ran into that we knew, and he should know better than to egg me on, as i responded by assuming my position outside the symphony hall where it was held and asked each that exited (ha females only) if they wanted a hug lol… surprisingly many said YES! 🙂 and *cough* I freaked a few out haha …wonder how many duggars or Jeubs would run if I was trolling for hugs 😛 Hope you get a chance to meet them some day Emily!! maybe god will provide the opportunity!!

  • Kathi Swanson

    I was appalled that some hating sites call folks like you and the duggars conformists to those fundamentals haha…funny I know as you and other christians do, how many of us do things a little differently as hopefully because of conviction we feel is from the holy spirit and desired by God. it amazes me how short sighted, skim reading, and people miss all these ways we are so different. I allow secular music, I don’t allow music that is depressing and pushing one to glamorize negative emotions and wallow in them. Funny enough this included a christian song I caught myself playing when i was done because the words sounded like they perfectly depicted my struggle, it was christian, quoted psalm 23 but for me, when i play it i feel like I have have more reason to shout out see we are hurting, we are the hurt club, i AM hurting, the song stimulates this place where I begin to define myself as an injured, NOT victorious christian….there are many secular songs that make me reflect on god and encourage me to plunge into life expectantly with him…i respect many others don’t allow any secular music etc…..we all have our own ways we seek to be proverbs 22:6 parents….I am grateful for your family as well as the duggars and overjoyed to hear you will have the privilege to a seat at God’s miracle show tomorrow. I will be praying for a large part of tomorrow over God miraculous plans for this beautiful soon to be family. I know my teen girl looks up to them and thank goodness there are people like your family in addition to the duggars to encourage some of us that live in regions that are very adamently opposed to religion or God (MA) it’s a blessing from the Lord as far as I’m concerned and I thank “my daddy/my heavenly husband” daily for keeping faith alive on cable networks! may god bless you tomorrow and I pray for safe travels. CONGRATS almost mr. and mrs Dillard!

  • shelly

    i read the best thing about a year ago: your writing the story of your life are you holding the pen. we are expecting number 13 in august and we couldn’t be happier or more excited. Nothing in life is as good as waking up to a bunch of faces or people who truly love you and care for one another. our children are best friends and that is awesome. I only wish I would have been able to grow up like that and have the confidence and security they have now.

  • rosemerry

    This is easy to do for a few, but the resources used by rich Americans are way out of proportion to what the globe offers everyone else. Pretending they are “God’s blessings” in the 21st century is just an excuse for greed. Help those poorer than yourselves, without patronising or trying to convert them.