The Duggar Family on How to Prepare for Courtship and Marriage


“Helpmeet” is such an odd-sounding word to modern ears! But it resonates well in the lingo of the King James Bible. Girls born to Quiverfull families begin their training for the life’s calling as a Helpmeet [aka wife and homemaker] almost at birth.

This article is reprinted with permission from the site NoLongerQuivering, which is run and edited by Vyckie Garrison, who, in her own words, is “a former Christian homeschooling mother of seven who finally walked away from fundamentalism after our radical extremism drove my oldest daughter to attempt suicide.” NoLongerQuviering provides a voice and outlet for women within fundamentalist religious movements to challenge those movements on their terms.  Vyckie has generously agreed to allow RH Reality Check to cross-post articles from NLQ from time to time.

“Helpmeet” is such an odd-sounding word to modern ears. But it resonates well in the lingo of the King James Bible. Girls born to Quiverfull families begin their training for the life’s calling as a Helpmeet [aka wife and homemaker] almost at birth.

Girls are born for one and only one reason: to serve a husband. In that capacity, as his helpmeet, she will bear and raise his children, feed as many children as God sends on whatever income he earns, may raise a garden and animals or run a home-based business [with his approval], may home birth and will certainly homeschool all of her children.

Becoming a successful, multi-tasking helpmeet is not something you just “do.” Something that important cannot be left to chance. The training starts almost at birth with “child training.” Moms have a number of helpful “ministries” to turn to for child training guidance. For infants and toddlers two of the best known are Ezzo and the Pearls—both of whom are very controversial to the secular world. We’ll briefly look at each.

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Gary and Anne Marie Ezzo developed the popular and often criticized programs “Babywise” and “Growing Kids God’s Way.” As with any program there IS some good and helpful information as well as a lot that many people find abhorrent. “Babywise” teaches new parents to adhere to rigid schedules and rules for bedtime, breast-feeding on a parent-friendly schedule and bedtime rigidly enforced with few, if any, interactions with parents after “lights out” no matter the tone of the child’s cry.

“Growing Kids God’s Way” is a huge undertaking for parents. Both parents must attend each session and both must complete weekly homework. This program met tremendous success in conservative churches and megachurches during the late nineties and on. (They also do offer a single-parent version now.) Parents are taught to take back their lives by having a parent-centered, rather than child-centered home. (For the gist of the controversies see, but please note this IS a biased site.)

Michael and Debi Pearl of “No Greater Joy Ministries” are some of the most controversial child training advocates in the world today.  Several deaths have occurred in homes following the Pearls advice. (NOTE: I am NOT saying in any way that the Pearls are responsible for the deaths, just that the parents were known to follow their methods.)

Their book, To Train Up a Child, advocates corporal punishment to a degree seldom seen today. The idea is to compel instant, willing and cheerful obedience at all times from even the youngest children. Failure to comply results in physical punishment. Parents are taught that children are born with a sinful nature and that they must begin early to “train” the child in the “way he should go” as is taught in Proverbs 22:6. Therefore, it is appropriate to even “chastise” babies with a switch—even one made of plumbing supply line.  Parents are told “training does not necessarily require that the trainee be capable of reason….”

With this background in mind we can now try to piece together the “training” of a future helpmeet. In her infancy the girl we will call “Jerusha Faith” may be enticed with a toy and swatted for reaching for it. She may be fed only when Mama says and not when her tummy says she is truly empty and hungry. She may be left in the throes of colicky insomnia to cry it out alone for hours on end. In short, she is learning, like a Nun, to deny her “self.” Of course, all families are different, not all may use these practices and some may even agree with the critics of these methods.

This denying of self is reinforced in seemly innocuous phrases like the one the Duggar family, stars of TLC’s 19 Kids and Counting, uses, summed up by the acronym JOY — Jesus first, others second, yourself last. Even in infancy little Jerusha Faith is learning that she is not important as herself. She is merely important when she is doing the will of her authority figures—in this stage her parents.

As she grows older, should she dare to be “wayward” in any way she can expect to be chastised with the rod or, in more humane families, may be “tomato-staked” meaning she is expected to stay right with Mama and do only what she is told to do for a set period of time.

The next stage of training begins at about school age. It can be summed up as “the cult of character.”  For Quiverfull families, like the Duggars, who belong to Bill Gothard’s Advanced Training Institute homeschooling program, “Character” will be the focus of education throughout the school years. Jerusha Faith and her siblings will likely take 3 complete trips thru the famous “Wisdom Booklets” which teach each of the Gothard-defined character qualities. So much focus is placed on these qualities that other educational subjects are often severely neglected.  Some mothers are more creative in this training than others and one book they may use to enhance creativity is Marilyn Boyer’s Fun Projects for Hands-On Character Building.

For girls one character quality receives even greater emphasis begining just before puberty: Virtue or Purity. Beginning with books such as The Princess and the Kiss by Jennie Bishop:

“On the day she came into the world, the royal couple gave their daughter a very special gift from God—her first kiss” (Bishop, 1999, p. 2).

From that moment on she will be surrounded with an odd mixture of encouragement and suspicion all aimed at keeping her not only technically a virgin, but totally untouched by any man’s hands or lips until her wedding day.

Some families may have their Jerusha Faith and her Father participate in a Purity Ball. Her father will accept her promise to remain pure and give her a “purity ring” as a reminder of her promise. Her mother may do a study with her (and possibly other like-minded mothers and daughters) of Stacy McDonald’s book Raising Maidens of Virtue. McDonald cautions parents that “certain yearnings [can be] awakened too early [and] can cause all kinds of temptations and trouble” (McDonald, pp. 161-162). This study teaches girls the importance of her “purity:”

Part of your [parents’] responsibility to God and TO YOU is to guard your purity and insure you are faithful to your future husband even now…. Emotional purity involves saving your romantic feelings for your husband…You will be able to offer him your whole heart on your wedding day — not just bits and pieces that are left (McDonald, p. 162).

McDonald also cautions girls not to read romance novels which may lure them into fantasizing about a “perfect husband” (McDonald, p. 162), citing Hebrews 13:5 which reads in part “and be content with such things as ye have….”

On her own, or with a sister or mother, Jerusha Faith may read Beautiful Girlhood—a classic for Christian girls. Her parents may, however, remove or censor some material in Karen Adreola’s revision of this book since it advocates completing your education and being able to support yourself and a family if the need should arise later in life as well as the chapter about boys.

A little later in her teens, just before courtship “season,” Jerusha Faith may be found reading Before You Meet Your Prince Charming — a book recommended to elementary school children by one of the Duggar girls (19 Kids and Counting, TLC, “School Daze” episode). Her parents may allow her to read specially written “courtship stories,” such as those written by the Castleberry family, which emphasize parental approval, waiting on God and trusting the Lord and your father.   Mostly, this pre-courtship and courtship phase will be spent as a daughter “at home” serving her own father in any way she can. (See: Return of the Daughters and So Much More by the Botkin Sisters.)

With her character trained, her mind directed to thoughts of others and her purity guarded what’s left for Jerusha Faith to do?  Plenty! While still in diapers, she will begin learning to help with simple household chores. She will definitely have chores to do almost from the moment she learns to walk. Like Mrs. Duggar, her mother may use the Managers of Her Home or Managers of Her School to schedule her day and may pin a Chore Pack on her children to remind them to be diligent in doing their chores!

Naturally, all of these chores can be “supplemented” with corrective chastisement as necessary. Jerusha Faith will need to model cheerful, willing, and immediate obedience to her siblings—some of whom she may be assigned to help with their own chores or with other tasks like getting dressed. By early elementary school she will be very experienced in the care of infants and toddlers thanks to her mother’s need for help and the consistent arrival of new siblings.

About the time she is in her “tween” years Jerusha Faith will be expected to begin formally learning the housekeeping tasks, social skills and other practical knowledge she will need as her future husband’s helpmeet and mother of his children.

While it is important to remember that all families are different, one popular “program” for training girls and teens in these skills centers on Ann Ward’s huge Training Our Daughters to Be Keepers At Home. Ward, who styles herself “Mrs. Craig (Ann) Ward,” on the title page offers a Ph.d. in housekeeping, practical nursing, child care, practical handcrafts and much more.

Each of the seven years of this program has a very strong spiritual development component—usually featuring a classic Christian book. (For supplemental materials see the Unofficial Training Our Daughters web site.) Should Jerusha Faith marry a missionary to the poorer parts of the world or a backwoods homesteader, once she graduates from Ward’s program she is good to go — even free birthing her own child if necessary. This book uses the “holy grail” of cookbooks — the Sue Gregg whole grain books which fueled the “grind your own wheat” to bake your own bread movement among right-wing Christian families.

Jerusha Faith is now ready for the next stage in life—the ultimate stage—marriage and motherhood. She and her parents will be reviewing McDonald’s advice to be sure she is “ready:”

… be well prepared for your groom when he comes. He will find you well-equipped to your position has his honored helpmate with your lantern filled, radiating purity. You will ease into motherhood with confidence, grace and an eager desire to serve. And, if you continue in your diligence serving here at home, you will be a much more organized and prepared homemaker….” (McDonald, p. 163)

During her years as a daughter at home, Jerusha Faith will be a sort-of “helpmeet in training” for her father. Non-quiverful, non-Patriarchal families often find this very odd—after all Dad has a wife. She will run errands, provide child care, do chores, plan and cook meals, help on the farm or in her father’s business if appropriate. If her father approves she may even start a home-based business. Basically she is to “serve” her family in any way she can—Jesus First, Others Second, Yourself forgotten by this time in her life. (See the Botkin Sisters, above, or blogs such as Firmly Fixed on the Father or  Aspiring Homemaker.)

Finally the day Jerusha Faith and her parents have been praying for: God has sent the man who wants to marry her! With her father’s blessing, the courtship can begin. It will likely be long and –rarely, if ever, will the couple be alone. One of the foundational books of the movement, A Full Quiver by Rick and Jan Hess sets the tone of what Dad will be looking for in a future son-in-law:

Strive to build Christian discipline and habits before marriage…. Another thing, especially for men, finish your education and training as as much as God allows, get established in your law firm, assembly line or home business, then get hitched to your sweetie (Hess & Hess, 1990, p. 137).

A Godly man who is able to fully support not only a wife but a rapidly growing family are the only men who need apply for Jerusha Faith’s hand. Whether she likes the man or not, or has even met him, is not always very important—she is to trust God and her father in this matter. She will spend time in prayer as will her parents who have been praying about this man since her birth. It may be at this time, too, that she fully learns the “facts of life” and what will be expected of her in marriage.

Let’s leave Jerusha Faith for now and see what went on in a real Quiverfull Courtship—that of Joshua Duggar and his wife, Anna. The Duggars, as a Quiverfull and Patriarchal family, view their family in terms of a chain of command with God at the top and the father of the family as the “head” of the family. Bill Gothard’s ATI & IBLP teaches this as the father’s “umbrella of authority” over his family:

The use of an umbrella to symbolize protection is commonly understood and accepted. In the insurance industry, an overall coverage of protection is referred to as an “umbrella policy.” In the Bible, similar symbols teach the concepts of provision, protection, headship, and leadership.

The use of this symbol in relation to the family is to give special encouragement to fathers to protect, instruct, lead, and provide for their wives, sons, and daughters.

When Joshua Duggar met Anna Keller in a concession stand line at an ATI-homeschool event, he felt sure that she was “the one” God had chosen for him. He “knew” because he had been taught since childhood to be on the lookout the future wife God hand-picked for him:

I was taught to wait for God’s best in my life partner. But as time went along and I grew older it was harder to keep my heart only for the one that God had for my life partner. 

Josh spoke to his father about courting and was first counseled to pray, to listen carefully to God to be sure he was hearing God’s message correctly.  After a visit by the Keller family to the Duggar home, Anna’s father asked her if there was any one man God was leading her to. Was she called to be someone’s wife? When she said she thought it was Josh, her father agreed.  After the visit, Josh too, told his father he was sure. This resulted in a “virtual” courtship—supervised phone calls or Skype calls etc. Anna remembers her parents’ teachings on courtship:

Like Joshua I was raised in a Christian home, and my parents encouraged me to save my whole heart & purity for the one that God had for me. As a young girl, my parents told me that it was normal to have desires & thoughts, but that it was my responsibility to commit my future to the Lord and trust God to lead me in His timing.

On their show, and in their book, Jim-Bob and Michelle and their children return time and again to the discussion of not giving “pieces of your heart” away by dating. Choosing a spouse is the single most important thing after accepting the Salvation of Jesus Christ.

The Duggars teach their children to “guard their heart” in many ways. Courtship, not dating is one such way. Another is being very careful of the images and words the put into their brain. Limiting TV and Internet, and parental approval of reading material and music are another way the children are taught to “guard their hearts.”

Not being alone with a member of the opposite sex and only very limited touch is a very visible way of keeping pure. The Duggar children were also encouraged not to think “wrong thoughts,” which Joshua confesses was as hard for him as for any other young man. (Josh and Anna Duggar blog.) As parents Jim-Bob and Michelle take time to help their children deal with such thoughts and encourage them with Scripture and prayer.

Like most Quiverfull couples, Josh and Anna had a longer courtship than their engagement, the thinking being that courtship is “getting to know you” and engagement is “all but married” so “temptations” come into play and must be fought off.  During this time Josh focused on becoming a provider. On TV we were shown how they re-did an old rental house to live in and how Josh was developing a used car sales lot to support them.  Another difference between the Duggar courtship and other even more Conservative families was when Josh proposed to Anna he was allowed to slip the engagement ring onto Anna’s hand himself. This is not always the case. Since the ring symbolizes the coming “transfer of authority” over the young woman from her father to her husband-to-be (and is only final at the wedding) the father sometimes places the ring on the woman’s finger (see the blog Kristina’s Keepsakes.

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