Raising 17 children — with one on the way — is no easy feat. But for the ever-expanding Duggar family, who deal with chaos on a daily basis, the work is worth it. In their book “20 and Counting!” parents Michelle and Jim Bob share the lessons they've learned about life and love, as well as how they have reacted to the inquiring minds of the public. An excerpt.
Chapter one: Before there were twenty, there were two
It’s morning at the Duggar home, and today is a very special day for our big, busy family. We’re going to Silver Dollar City, an 1880s-style amusement park in Branson, Missouri, which is a two-hour drive from our home in northwest Arkansas. We’re hoping to be at the park by 9 a.m. so we can have a full day of riding the rides and enjoying the music shows. That means we’re up early, and the older children are helping us make sandwiches and pack our cooler with water bottles and snacks.
The younger ones are settling into their seats at our long dining table to have their cereal. If all goes well, we’ll soon be loaded into our big van and rolling happily down the road just as soon as breakfast is finished.
“Uh, Dad, I think you’d better come out here,” one of the big boys says, coming in from loading the cooler into the van.
I (Jim Bob) don’t like the look on his face. This can’t be good. “What is it?”
“Well, last night when we were cleaning out the van for the trip, I guess someone left one of the windows down, and Milky Way [our cat] got in and ...” His voice drops to a whisper. “She pooped in the van, and it smells awful.”
“Ooops! Sorrrrrr-y,” one of the youngsters calls as his overturned cereal bowl empties its contents onto our extra-long dining table. The milk drips down to the floor through the crack where the two parts of the table join. He comes running into the kitchen, his shirt and pants soaked, just as another voice comes echoing down the hallway: “Mom! We need you in here!”
“Uh-oh,” I (Michelle) say, following the direction of the voice. It appears the cat wasn’t the only one who hadn’t made it to the litter box — or the bathroom.
By 9 a.m., our intended arrival time at Silver Dollar City, we’re still at home, but we have made progress. Now we’ve cleaned up the table, changed soaked and soiled clothing, cleaned up the cat mess, aired out the van, and sprayed it with odor stopper. If Justin can just find his shoes, we should be ready to go.
“Where’s the last place you saw them?” someone asks.
“They were right there,” he says, completely dumbfounded by how his sneakers just seemed to mysteriously disappear into thin air. He scurries off to look for them just as one of the other kids passes by and says casually, “I think I saw his socks and shoes out by the trampoline last night.”
Justin runs outside barefooted and finds his dew-soaked socks and shoes in the backyard. Someone is sent to the clothing room to find a dry pair of shoes, and for a moment, there is hope that we might actually get the van loaded and head out of the driveway.
But then one of the children comes running across the yard and trips over a toy, and oh dear, there’s blood and lots of tears, and — What do you think? Will he need stitches? Mom comforts the wounded, does a quick examination, and determines the injury needs only a Band-Aid and a kiss.
Several minor calamities later, the miracle happens at noon, three hours past our anticipated arrival time, when we are all finally loaded into the van and happily departing for Silver Dollar City. To save time, we eat our lunch in the van, but then, because of the curvy highway to Branson, we have to make a few stops due to car sickness. Before we know it, the two-hour drive stretches to almost three hours.
When we finally arrive at the park and open the van doors, passersby get an overpowering whiff of cat odor mingled with the smell of spilled juice, smeared peanut butter, a hint of motion sickness aftermath, and at least one dirty diaper.
We quickly pile out of the van, brush hair, wipe off some clothes, change diapers, and head out for a fun afternoon — at least what there is left of the afternoon.
Having a lot of children is a big job, and we’ve learned we can never count on things going exactly as planned. But despite all the challenges, the rewards of having a big family are to us immeasurable. Even episodes like all the problems that delayed our trip to the amusement park come together to create a special bond among us. We’re well aware that even the craziest family trips and experiences quickly become fun-filled memories that will last a lifetime.
As the parents of all these children, we’ve gotten over any perfectionist tendencies we might once have had. Our relationship with our children is more important to us than a clean van or a strict schedule.
The goal is to have fun and enjoy being together, and to go with the flow, no matter what happens.
One of our family traditions is that when we go somewhere together, such as an amusement park, we all wear the same-color shirts as a way of keeping track of everyone. Because we are a large “crowd,”
even when it’s just our family, we seem to attract attention wherever we go, and that day in Silver Dollar City was no exception. “Oh, is this a school group?” a woman asked us on the tram that carried us from the parking lot to the park entry.
Michelle, who was pregnant at the time, smiled and said, “No, this is our family.”
The woman counted heads then turned back to Michelle, her eyes wide, and asked another one of the questions we hear, in one form or another, almost every day: “Are they all yours?”
Usually that comment is followed by something along the lines of, “You sure do have your hands full!” or, “How do you do it?” or, “Wow! I can’t imagine how you do it. I can barely keep up with my two!” and even, “How in the world can you afford them?”
A gift and a joy
Those comments and questions started back when we had four children. Now that we have seventeen, with our eighteenth due any day, we hear even more of them. Plus, as this book goes to press, we are happy to have gained a daughter-in-law. Our son, Josh, recently married the delightful Anna Keller, bringing our total family-member count to twenty-one.
Whenever we go anywhere together, we usually hear lots of questions and comments. But the answer to such questions still comes easily, just as it always has. That day on our way into Silver Dollar City, Michelle smiled and said pleasantly to the questioning woman, “Yes, they’re all mine, and we are grateful to God for each one of them. They are a gift and a joy.”
We count every one of our children as a blessing from God. But we understand that supersize families are unusual these days, and we’ve grown accustomed to the stares, questions, and comments wherever we go. We also understand that there’s a lot of curiosity. Parents of one or two children who are exhausted at the end of every day wonder how parents of eighteen children can survive. Families who struggle to make mortgage and car payments while providing for their children wonder how we can provide for our large family with no debt. Folks who have trouble finding a pair of matching socks to wear wonder how we manage the laundry for all twenty of us.
Questions about these issues pour into our website by the thousands, and there’s no way we can possibly answer them all individually. So we’ve written this book, hoping our story will both inform and inspire you. We hope that what we’ve learned, sometimes the hard way, can be helpful to families of all sizes. We also hope you’ll see that we’re a family with all the qualities and quirks every other family has, just multiplied many times over. We’ve made mistakes. We’ve lost our tempers. We’ve used poor judgment. We’ve gone through hard times and difficult circumstances. We’ve made poor choices. Although we laugh a lot, we cry sometimes too.
It’s all part of our family’s growing process — and we’ve grown a lot! Each time a problem or opportunity confronts us, we pray for God’s guidance. Amazing things have happened, as you will see. We hope you’ll be as amazed to read about them as we have been as we’ve watched them unfold.
Excerpted from “The Duggars: 20 and Counting!” by Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar. Copyright (c) 2008, reprinted with permission from Howard Books, a division of Simon and Schuster Inc.