An evening with a polygamous family

Have you ever wondered what an evening in a polygamist’s house looks like?

Allow me to tell you what it’s like around here between Joshua’s arrival from work and bedtime.

Our husband Joshua typically gets home from work between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. His sleeping schedule right now is simply alternating nights with each of his two wives. (We had a more complicated schedule when we lived in separate houses.)

If it’s Joshua’s night with my sisterwife Melissa, he enters our house using her front door, eats the dinner she’s prepared for him, and then comes to say Hello to the rest of the family (if we haven’t already gone over to Melissa’s kitchen to greet him). If it’s his night with me, he does it the other way around.

A note about meals: On Friday nights we always have dinner together, as well as the rest of our Shabbat festivities. For other meals, Melissa is responsible for feeding her children, and I’m responsible for feeding mine. But there’s a lot of crossover. Her preschooler loves to eat in my kitchen with his older siblings, as long as I don’t serve him beans. 😁 If Melissa makes popcorn, you can bet we’ll all be over in her kitchen unapologetically stuffing our faces. When Melissa hears my juicer running, she comes over to get her morning glass of celery juice. So basically we do whatever is most convenient, freely sharing, but not feeling obligated to eat what the other wife is making.

What happens after dinner?

About half of us, including Joshua, are taking an online course in Biblical Hebrew. If there’s time after he finishes eating dinner, we’ll do a lesson together. We’ve been studying Biblical Hebrew for more than a year now, and I have learned so much about both Hebrew and the Hebrew Bible.

Then, at roughly 8:00 p.m., our oldest son will double-check that Melissa and I are ready for family time, and then he will blow one of the shofars in our collection (usually our kudu shofar).

our kudu shofar

The blowing of the shofar is the official signal to everyone in the household to stop what they’re doing and gather for some family time. Because we use a shofar and everyone gets a turn to show-and-tell, we fondly call this time “Shofar & Tell”.

How do I prepare for Shofar & Tell?

I have several things I like to do regularly, so my Shofar & Tell preparations are somewhat extensive. Far in advance, I plan and purchase gifts. At the beginning of each week, I post the spelling words, and each day make sure my gradeschool-aged children learn them. Each day I use a photo app to go thru our old photos-from-this-day-in-history and decide which ones I’m going to show on the big screen. I also go thru old journals and family Happy Books to choose the entries I’m going to share with everyone. I also select a dance song (or oversee the selection — any child who finishes their list gets the privilege of choosing), wrap a gift (if I’m giving one that night), choose a hymn to sing (or have my daughter choose, if she’s going to accompany us on the piano), and of course make sure I’ve nursed the baby, I have diapers and water bottles and the other things needed for small children, and everything has used the bathroom, so no one has to leave during the time we’ll be together.

By the time I arrive at Shofar & Tell, I’m loaded down with 2-3 bags of things.

On the days when Shofar & Tell will be in my living room, I make sure the room is clean. I typically vacuum on those days, and I’ve made sure to have enough comfortable seats for our large family. I have a standing desk on which I lay out all the things I need, so I can access them and still alternate chasing after a toddler and holding him on my hip. (I’ve just found this works better for me than trying to get comfortable on the couch.)

Where do we gather?

We have Shofar & Tell in the living room of the wife Joshua will be with that night. My living space and Melissa’s are on the same floor of the house, connected with a door, so the children will simply ask, “What side is it on?” and then they know where to go.

It takes a few minutes to get all 10 family members ready and situated, so I usually play a fun song (on my phone or the TV) and we dance while waiting for everyone to arrive and get settled.

Once we’re ready to start, one of the children is chosen, and the shofar gets handed to them. As long as they’re the person holding the shofar, it’s their turn.

What does everyone do for their turn with the shofar?

The basic idea is to share an interesting thing or two about your day. Occasionally Joshua will declare a theme for the evening: “Say something you’re grateful for.” Or maybe “Roses and Thorns” (Roses and Thorns is when everyone says something good about their day — their “rose” — and something bad about their day — their “thorn”).

But more often, we each say or do whatever we want. We can show, or we can tell, and we’re holding the shofar when it’s our turn, hence the name “Shofar & Tell”.

My daughter will often perform a piano piece she’s been working on. My older children like to teach us something they read in a book or on Wikipedia. Our preschooler shows us a toy he’s been playing with that day or perhaps he tells us where he went. My son might recite a poem he wrote or memorized. Melissa might show us a cute photo or video of her baby or her grown children. Joshua often gives a gospel lesson or shares a scriptural insight or teaches us something.

My turn is the arguably the most complicated.

A few years ago when we stopped celebrating Christmas, I started giving gifts at Shofar & Tell, giving each family member a gift roughly once a month.

I also have a spelling-word-of-the-day. I have a list of the 150 most commonly misspelled words, and I hand out paper and pens and quiz everyone; then we discuss how to spell it, as well as different forms of the same word and similar words. I make judicious use of the technology the Chromecast gives me to cast my Google Doc of spelling words onto the big screen.

Next, I like to show photos from This Day in (our family’s) History. Then, I read entries from This Day in one or more of the volumes of the Family Happy Book I write in regularly. (This can be time-consuming, so it’s the first thing I skip if we’re pressed for time, for whatever reason.) Finally, if there’s time, we’ll sing a hymn we’re learning.

When they’re done with their turn, they pass the shofar to another child. The last child to have their turn gives the shofar “to one of the mamas”, and once the mamas have both had their turn, Joshua goes last. Finally, we kneel and have family prayer together.

Who runs the meeting?

My son has the job of noticing it’s close to 8:00 p.m. and checking to make sure all 3 parents are ready for him to blow the shofar, but my husband Joshua really runs Shofar & Tell. He enforces the rules: The person holding the shofar is the person whose turn it is; all conversation should focus on whatever they’re saying. No side conversations. No leaving unless necessary. Snacks are fine if you brought them with you and if the hostess-mama is fine with the food being eaten in the living room.

What if we have guests?

If you happen to be at our house at 7:00 p.m., we will probably skip our Hebrew lesson in favor of hanging out with you. But if you’re here at 8:00 p.m., we will simply invite you to join us for Shofar & Tell. I love when we get to have friends at Shofar & Tell with us! I invariably write about it in the Family Happy Book.

How many of us know how to play the shofar?

All of us can play, all the way down to our 6-year-old, but some of us play better than others.

Here’s a photo of me playing our kudu shofar on a camping trip.

me playing our kudu shofar

We have about 10 shofars, but our kudu one is my favorite for several reasons: It’s beautiful, the mouthpiece is a comfortable size, I can get several pitches out of it, and the pitches are the right intervals to play bugle songs such as “Taps” and “Reveille”.

What are some other things we’ve done at Shofar & Tell?

We’re not currently doing these things, but in the past, we’ve:

  • Done pushups, situps, and squats in preparation for our biennial backpacking trip.
  • Read from a rich chapter book such as The Chronicles of Narnia series.
  • Told a scripture story using the Gospel Art Kit for a picture.
  • We used to study Hebrew on our own and then later discussing what we learned at Shofar & Tell, but now we study Hebrew together before S&T starts.

Shofar & Tell is an important time in our family culture. It’s the bulk of the time we spend all together, and we all love it. All of us (particularly Melissa and I) have voluntarily given up the activities that take us out of the home in the evening, in favor of never (or rarely) missing this time together.

What happens after Shofar & Tell?

Shofar & Tell lasts until about 9:30 p.m., give-or-take half an hour. After everyone has had their turn, always ending with Joshua, we kneel and pray together. Then everyone says good night and we disperse. The children go to bed and the adults have their personal time. And that wraps up the evening in this polygamous household.

Coming Out to My Family (My Aunt)

Below I have a copy of the message I sent out to my extended family when we announced our plural marriage. One of the problems with people’s reactions (and this is a fairly neutral problem on the positive-negative spectrum of reactions) to discovering our family structure is a failure to recognize it at all.

There may certainly be different reasons for this response; for example, they simply may not know what to say (out of shock or ignorance). Charlotte’s brother was in this camp. When she told him that I had taken another wife, he did not know whether to say “congratulations” or to offer to help her escape her abusive situation. Finding himself in this position, he said the most beautiful and sensible thing possible. Paraphrasing, he said:

“You tell me how to feel about it. I will feel the same way you do.”

Another possibility is that they fail to acknowledge the change due to force of habit. I think this happened quite a bit. After all, Charlotte and I were married for 11 years before Melissa joined our family. That’s a while to get used to saying, “Joshua & Charlotte” whenever a friend or relative was referring to my family. While this may not be intentionally rude, it can certainly be unthinking.

A final possibility is that they fail to acknowledge the change because they outright reject it. They are disgusted, repulsed, or saddened by it.

I’m not sure which category (as far as reasons go) this falls into, but my aunt had this sort of failure to recognize reaction when I made the announcement to my family. Here is the email I sent (this is the message I mentioned in my earlier post):

Jun 27, 2016, at 8:58 PM,
Dear Family,

The time has come to make an announcement about my plural marriage.  Some of you already know about this, and to some of you this will be news.  Rather than making individual visits to everyone, I’ve decided this venue would be the easiest way to get the word out.  Please feel free to send this along to family members who are not on this list.

You’ve probably got questions, so I’ll try to briefly answer a few of the big ones.  Yes, I am still married to Charlotte.  Yes, our marriage is happy (please feel free to call her about it: 801-***-****).  Yes, our kids are doing great!  Yes, there have been many difficulties and adjustments that have been made (and continue to be made).  Yes, my siblings all know about it, and they have been great – you can ask them questions if you like (you will probably get different
answers from each of them, LOL).  We entered into plural marriage a little more than three years ago when I married Melissa (some of you have met her already – some have not).  Yes, I love her (and Charlotte and the kids do also).  Yes, we are aware that it is a felony (and we find ourselves in good company with others who have also suffered for the sake of their religion).  No, we have not joined another Church.  Yes, we are aware that the LDS Church frowns upon it (and they already know about it).  Can’t believe it?  I know, and I don’t blame you.  I wouldn’t believe it either, were I not in my own shoes.

Why am I making this announcement now and not earlier?  I can only answer that we were not ready earlier.  It has been a long process of adjustment for ourselves, and for those we have told earlier.  For those of you who found out the news from other’s lips, and not my own, I apologize.  I would have preferred the news to be spread by us, but that is extremely difficult to achieve in this world.  Please take no offense.  The delay has had much more to do with us than with you.

We love you all, and wish you all many blessings.


To which my aunt replied:

July 1, 2016, at 4:39 PM

Josh and Charlotte–we love you and miss seeing you! Come to family stuff, ok? 

To which I replied:

Jul 4, 2016 1:43:52 AM

We will. But it won’t just be Charlotte and me 🙂 That’s why I made the announcement, you see?


Overall things have gotten better with our friends and family, and this is true for several reasons. Some of them have come around once they saw that we are not crazy, cultish, abusive, or weirdos (altho we are certainly not mainstream, we can pass for “normal”, haha). Plus, they can see that we are stable and committed, and that “this” is not going away. Other situations have gotten better because of lack of association. Some unhealthy relationships have simply been withered or pruned away, and this is alright because they have been replaced by better associations.

If you ever find yourself in my relative’s position, my brother-in-law’s response was the best. Don’t be unthinking, but rather acknowledge the change, otherwise it can come across as rude. If you are disapproving, it is probably best to keep it to yourself – since it does not involve your life nor your decisions. However, if you are disapproving and cannot keep it to yourself, go ahead and express your disapproval – whatever form that may take (worry, warning, scorn, etc.) – it is your right to do so. Nevertheless, speak your piece, and then hold your peace. Say it once and then shut up about it and get over it – if you want to keep relationships that is.

Sampson slew a thousand Philistines with the jawbone of an ass (Judges 15:14-16), and everyday there are thousands of relationships destroyed with the same weapon…You don’t have to say everything that is on your mind.