In its heyday, TLC's popular series "19 Kids and Counting" followed a conservative Christian couple — Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar — and their large family. When you have 19 children, there are bound to be arguments, but the family always seemed to live in harmony — at least from the outside.
One of those children, Jill Duggar Dillard, is now pulling the curtain back on the inner workings of the family in her new book "Counting the Cost," and she says that her father pitted his 19 children against each other.
TODAY.com contacted Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar for comment but did not get a response. The couple shared the following statement with People: “We love all of our children very much. As with any family, few things are more painful than conflicts or problems among those you love. We’ve aimed to deal honorably with our children, our finances, and our other endeavors. While imperfect, it is our intent and desire to live a life that honors Christ. We do not believe the best way to resolve conflicts, facilitate forgiveness and reconciliation, or to communicate through difficulties is through the media or in a public forum so we will not comment. As the future unfolds, we will continue to love our family, pray for them, and enjoy every moment gifted to us to be parents and grandparents.”
Jill says Jim Bob used Bible teachings as a 'tool for silence, for control'
Early on in the book, Jill Duggar Dillard describes how she and her siblings grew up being "constantly reminded not to 'stir up contention among the brethren.'" (The admonition comes from Proverbs 6:18-19 in the Christian Bible.)
"It was a way for our parents to keep us siblings from talking badly about each other, or putting anyone down, but over time it became something else — something more sinister. By preventing us from discussing anything controversial or sensitive with each other, the instruction not to 'stir up contention among the brethren' became a tool for silence, for control, for guilt," she writes.
Jill says Jim Bob sent her siblings to intimidate her on his behalf
Anyone who's followed the Duggars knows about Josh Duggar's public fall from grace and the impact it had on his siblings. After admitting to molesting four of his sisters, the family's reality show was cancelled. Josh Duggar is now serving a federal prison sentence in an unrelated case for possessing child sex abuse images.
Jill Duggar Dillard addresses her brother's scandals in her new book, and also notes that she has faced challenging relationships with her other siblings over the past few years.
When Jill Duggar Dillard and her husband Derick Dillard asked Jim Bob Duggar if they could see the contract she had signed the day before her wedding, she says her father resisted the request. The couple says they wanted to know if they would ever be paid for their contributions to the show.
When the Dillards told Jim Bob Duggar he needed to communicate with them through their lawyer, Jill Duggar Dillard says he sent her siblings to talk to her.
"Then came the next wave, a consolidated effort from several of my siblings. They hit the phones, sending voicemails and tests all day long, each one pleading with us to get this resolved. When that didn't work, some of my siblings started visiting. They'd want to spend hours talking it through, trying to figure out what our problem was and why we weren't doing what Pops wanted," she writes. "I felt obligated to at least hear them out and show them we cared by listening. I could just about cope with the daytime visits, but when they wanted to stay up until midnight talking with Derick and me, when Derick had law school exams the next day, we finally told them no."
Most of Jill Duggar Dillard's siblings seemed to be in support of their father, she says, but one told her what was going on behind the scenes.
"Pops is telling everyone that if we don't stand against you both on this, then we're standing against him. He said none of us can be neutral here, and that this affects all of us. He says we might all be sued as a result of what you're doing," she writes that one of her siblings told her.
Jill Duggar Dillard says her father eventually sent one of her siblings to deliver an offer that he was giving them 24 hours to consider.
"We had no intention of signing it," she writes.
Jill says she felt like her siblings were 'against' her
When her siblings came to her father's defense over the contract conflict, Jill Duggar Dillard says she felt isolated. After a lifetime of growing up with the support of a big family, it was an unfamiliar feeling.
"Now most of (my family was) against me. I wasn't built for this. I'd experienced stress and trauma before — some of it caused by individuals in my family — but I'd always been able to count on the rest for support. They had been my gravity, the force that I never had to question and could always rely upon. But now it felt like they were gone," she writes. "Some were still there, but it was different and more distant than before. They didn't know how to handle it either. Despite having my own wonderful family of four, there was a part of me that felt alone. I had no frame of reference for dealing with that."
Jill says some of her siblings came to her for advice
Despite all her struggles with siblings, Jill Duggar Dillard did feel encouraged when one of her brothers reached out for advice about relationships.
"As soon as I opened up for the first time — saying yes to one of my brothers when he told me he liked a girl and asked if he could come over and get my advice on how he should navigate the relationship without Pops taking control — I realized two amazing things," she writes. "First, that maybe the act of talking about the tough journey that we'd been on could actually be of help to some of the people I loved most and help them avoid some of the same problems we'd faced. Second, when I did talk about it, the sky didn't fall in."
Elsewhere in the book, she details how some of her siblings contacted her when Josh Duggar was facing time in prison.
"Some of my siblings started to reach out. For the first time it was clear that some of them were beginning to be skeptical of the narrative they'd been hearing at home. As they looked for themselves at the Duggar family spectacle, they started to ask their own questions," she writes.
Jill says Jim Bob put the show 'above' his children
At the end of her book, Jill Duggar Dillard reflects on the impact that fame had on her father. While acknowledging that she remembers good times with her father, she says that "the show and time seemed to have changed things."
She takes a dim view of the Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), a controversial, far-right Christian organization whose beliefs her parents followed, calling it a "cult."
"Only now can I look back and see things clearly, like the way IBLP fostered a culture of manipulation and abuse, the fact that Pops eventually put the show above his children, or the toll it took on my own mental health," she writes.