A lesson from the Duggars: 19 kids is too many

This photo provided by FOX News shows, Jim Bob Duggar, left, of the TLC series "19 Kids and Counting," before an interview speaking with FOX News Channel’s Megyn Kelly –FOX News via AP

The Duggars’ television show is called 19 Kids and Counting, which isn’t really accurate: At some point, James and Michelle Duggar badly lost count of their kids.

My friends with a mere one or two kids do a heroic job of keeping them healthy and happy, raising the people who will soon take over our world: Telling them the names of things. Answering questions. Teaching them right from wrong.

No one can do a good job of that with 19 kids.

It’s hard enough with two or three or four.

I know, it sounds harsh. There are so many wonderful advantages to having a massively huge family: Kids are cute, first of all. They can help with the crops, if you have hundreds of acres of land. And if you’re really lucky, a shamelessly opportunistic TV network might even give you your own show.


But most of all, you get to satisfy your own ego, by gazing out on your horde of Mini-Mes.

Most people have very good reasons for having children, like continuing life itself. No one’s arguing with that. But after a certain point—11 kids? 12?—you might start to look slightly narcissistic.

It’s not just that you’re creating your own captive audience of impressionable little people who hang on your every word. You also get approving nods from the outside world, because we all like kids, and we all like parents.

But 13 kids? Fourteen?

I know: It’s very, very touchy to tell people they shouldn’t have so many kids. You’re accused of being a radical environmentalist, or an aspiring Chinese government official. It’s widely accepted that it’s no one else’s business how many kids you do or don’t have, even though we all share the same water and food and highways and buses.

We’ve agreed as a society to collectively pretend there’s no down side to overpopulation, because so many of the other options—a one-child policy? Sterilization?—are absolutely disgusting.

So let me be clear: We all have the right to have as many kids as we want.


But that doesn’t mean you should.

How many kids is too many? I’m hesitant to offer a number. I guess a good criteria would be this: You should definitely stop having kids when you have so many that one is able to steal off in the night to abuse the others in their sleep, without you or your spouse taking notice.

Granted, this is only my opinion.

Josh Duggar first reportedly confessed to molesting his sisters when he was 14, in 2002. At that point, the Duggars had, by my rough count, eleven children.

The Duggar family:

Much has been made of Jim Duggar’s delayed reaction in terms of controlling his son, and protecting his daughters. Many have also questioned why the Duggars thought they had time to star in a television show, even after what most families would consider a crisis.

But not enough has been made of the Duggars other, most befuddling reaction: Having six more kids.

A small confession: In writing this article, I briefly lost track of how many kids the Duggars have. Their Wikipedia page has 17 entries for kids, which made me think maybe TLC was counting a couple of grandkids among the 19 Kids and Counting. But no: It turns out two of the entries are for sets of twins, bringing the total number of kids to 19.

If I can’t keep track of all their kids, how can the Duggars?

How can they possibly keep track of all of their grades, all of their needs and wants, all of their intellectual development? We know they didn’t succeed in keeping them from preying on one another.


I know, it sounds like I’m saying I wish I lived in a world where the Duggars had created less life. I’m not saying that. What’s done is done. But I do think, going forward, that we should aspire to a world with fewer TLC stars.

There is one exception: I like TLC’s The Little Couple. That’s the show about Bill Klein and Dr. Jennifer Arnold, a couple who have adopted a girl from India and a boy from China. The children have the same form of dwarfism as their parents, which makes their parents uniquely situated to care for them and their needs. Adopting a child in need is perhaps the greatest thing a human being can do.

The world needs more people like Klein and Arnold, who lovingly raise other people’s birth children as their own. And we need fewer people like Jim and Michelle Duggar.

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