The Sunday Poll’s “Would You Rather” Edition: Sister Wives or 20 Kids?

I felt a bit drained after last week’s screed on the Mississippi personhood amendment, and instead of researching and writing anything else worthwhile for this week’s Sunday Poll, I began to stream TLC’s “Sister Wives” on Netflix – a reality show about modern polygamist Mormons.  I’ve seen three or four episodes of season one.

“Sister Wives” stars an amiable, unkempt man named Kody Brown who was apparently not raised as a Mormon, but became aware of the whole multiple-wives lifestyle, thought, I could get behind this, converted, and began assembling a prodigious family through means decidedly unconventional to the rest of us.

Mr. Brown and his wives.

Whoever pitched this show is a genius.

Many forty-something men can say they’ve been married for twenty years. Kody Brown has been marrying for twenty years. He began with pragmatic Meri, added the rotund and dedicated Janelle a few years later, and then proposed to the tenderhearted Christine. Christine always wanted to be a polygamist man’s third wife: she felt that being a first wife would be too much work and being a second wife would make her a “wedge” between her husband and his first wife. She settled on becoming a third wife because that would be “easy”.

Life is chaotic in the Brown household. Kody can’t support so much family on his own, so Meri and Janelle both work grueling hours outside the home, while Christine, massively pregnant with her sixth child, takes primary responsibility for the twelve children that (so far) make up Kody’s total brood. When Kody is not at work, he divides his time between shambling happily from bedroom to bedroom in his sock feet and making the four-hour drive to visit his new fiancée, Robyn, a 30-year-old divorcee with three kids under 10 of her own.

While he’s gone, his three wives rearrange heavy furniture on their own, to make room for the new baby’s cradle. None of them ever expected that she’d have a husband to herself, but their apprehensive sadness is as palpable as their resignation – though to be fair, they’re also pleased to anticipate another set of hands around the house and profess to regard Robyn as a beloved friend.

Christine weeps over her enormous belly. She is devastated because Kody observed the proper Mormon decorum with her and did not kiss her until they came to the altar, but he saw fit to smooch the lovely Robyn upon their engagement.  One wonders if Kody could possibly have put off courting another woman until after the baby was born.

At about the same time the Browns hit my radar, I noticed a news story about another extreme American family.

The Duggars at home.

Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar of Arkansas, stars of TLC’s Nineteen Kids and Counting, hear a direct calling from the Lord to eschew all types of birth control. About two years ago, Michelle gave birth to her 19th baby three and a half months early. The child weighed less than two pounds and was delivered due to the crisis of Michelle’s preeclampsia, soaring blood pressure and kidney trouble.

The announcement last week that Jim Bob and Michelle are expecting their twentieth child elicited this comment from NBC’s chief medical editor: “that uterus can’t have any spring in it anymore…I mean, really, it’s gotta be like a water balloon that has no tensile strength.” A variety of commentators eagerly jumped on board, some decrying the Duggar’s irresponsible child factory as fast as others could point out parents’ sacred right to decide the size of their own family in the glorious U.S. of A.

I don’t want to poll you on whether or not Kody, Meri, Janelle, Christine, Robyn, Jim Bob and Michelle are living responsible, healthy lifestyles, or whether their choices should be promoted on wildly popular TV shows. Instead, let’s pretend we’re on a super-long car ride together (or a fifth-grade sleepover), and ask each other one simple question.

Who Would You Rather Be?

Would you rather be Christine Brown, pregnant with your sixth child at age 37 and watching your husband rotate between two other women’s bedrooms when he is not visiting his young and attractive new girlfriend, all in the name of religion? Or would you rather be Michelle Duggar, believing that your primary role in life is to birth an army for Jesus regardless of the growing risk to your own life, pregnant with your 20th child at age 45 while big-shot editors comment freely on the state of your uterus? Everybody please feel free to elaborate on your choice in the comments.

And honestly, I’m interested in the opinion of both sexes here, so men, put your imaginations to work (and no, I will not be asking you which you’d rather have, Jim Bob’s one regular sex partner or Kody’s four).

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11 Comments

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  1. I’d rather be in a convent, married to God.

  2. I’ve seen both shows. And, like any reality show, the people portrayed willingly step in front of the camera because of the money and the perks that result. To be fair to them, I suspect they also want people to understand why they have chosen the lifestyles they have. Would I choose one over the other? No, I couldn’t see myself in either situation, because I don’t have the religious convictions that would drive me to populate the entire world or to engage in plural marriage. My only thought is that, solely based on what is edited for TV (and that might or might not be the reality of the “reality” show), Michelle Duggar seems blissfully serene at all times, to the point of lobotomy, whereas the plural wives seem to be in a constant turmoil that snakes its way back to the fact of hot young Robyn and Kody’s obvious lust for her. Methinks that in this case, four is one too many plurals.

  3. Perhaps it isn’t fair for me to write about the Duggars or the Browns, since I’ve watched only about five episodes in total between the two. But from my limited knowledge, you’re right, Duggar does seem remarkably serene, while poignant tears and half-voiced jealousies seem to rule the day at the Browns’.

  4. Let me define something: Sister Wives ARE NOT Mormons. Mormons are members of The Church of Latter Day Saints. And they do not believe or sanction polygamy. They are “Fundamentalists.” When you say “modern” it isn’t clear who you are talking about. I am Mormon, and honestly, the show Sister Wives is an insult to my religion. Be sure to specify the exact religion they are part of.

    As for the Duggars, I think that it’s time to think of the mother’s health (along with the baby’s). Boy! What a strong woman for going through labor that many times!

    • Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints is the official name. 🙂

    • Thanks for repeating this distinction. The Browns do emphasize their difference from non-polygamous Mormons, but if I remember correctly, they do repeatedly call themselves “Mormon” in the TV show (though you’re right, they do specify the “fundamentalist”. I think Mormons probably have more than their fair share of mockery in the modern US (in general, I don’t think anyone’s religion is any stranger than any other – unless a church uses religion as an excuse to extort massive amounts of money from its congregants), and this show probably doesn’t help to shine a rosy light on Mormons, especially when many people may not be aware of the vast difference between mainstream Mormonism and the Browns’ lifestyle. The thing that galls me about the show (at least from what I’ve seen), is that though they often mention religion’s role in their lifestyle and pray on camera, the show doesn’t delve into exactly what religious tenets they’re following with their lifestyle, or just how they believe that their polygamous family pleases God. Maybe that is private ground for the family, but I would be really interested to see those ideas explored more, rather than just the family dramas.

      • It is easy to get mixed up. I know there are a few religions that I look at and I have no idea who they are and start mixing them up with others. There’s a religion similar to the Amish. I wish I knew them better so I could understand what they believe and why (there’s a few families in my hometown.) I think the show’s (Sister Wives) goal is for the drama–not to delve into the more intimate details. But it would be hard to have the cameras that close in the first place. Having them any closer may just make them feel even more uncomfortable.

      • Maybe you mean the Mennonites. ( :

  5. What about breaking amish love that show :))))

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