March 18th, 2009

rose & 10 hands

Extreme Motherhood

Extreme Motherhood

If there is a wholesome counterpoint to the gossip-rich travails of single-mom Nadya Suleman and her 14 children, it might be Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, who had their 18th child just weeks before the arrival of Suleman's octuplets in January. The Duggar birth was televised on the Arkansas couple's popular TLC reality show, "17 Kids and Counting" (now "18 Kids and Counting"). Unlike Suleman, who was vilified as the freakish, government-assistance-dependent "Octomom," the Duggars' abundant progeny often attract admiration. Their children play violin, their palatial home is immaculate and the family matriarch is a soft-spoken multitasker who gently keeps order in her immense household.

Watching Michelle Duggar manage her Herculean tasks is addictive. We like to marvel at the logistics of life in oversized reality-TV families like the Duggars or the participants of the series "Kids By the Dozen" (also on TLC), which features families with at least 12 children each. How do they do all that laundry every week? Afford all those gallons of milk or cope with a joint birthday party for 13?

But there's one big omission from the on-screen portrayal of many of these families: their motivation. Though the Duggars do describe themselves as conservative Christians, in reality, they follow a belief system that goes far beyond "Cheaper by the Dozen" high jinks. It is a pro-life-purist lifestyle known as Quiverfull, where women forgo all birth-control options, viewing contraception as a form of abortion and considering even natural family planning an attempt to control a realm—fertility—that should be entrusted to divine providence.

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