“They Must Have Been Raised in Polygamy”

This is the first of a series of posts that I am calling, “For Gail“.  This  series will consist of my answers to a range issues brought up in comments (mostly on this post about the McGees, but also on the Dateonomics post by Taylor) and personal correspondence with a blog reader, Gail, back in April of 2019.

Nits make LiceOne of the views Gail repeats in her comments is that polygamists must have a sense of satisfaction and happiness that is stunted, malformed, or distorted in some way by their own upbringing in a polygamous family.  There is something seriously wrong with them. Thus, they can completely accept the inherent unhappiness and dissatisfaction they experience while interpreting it as its opposite: actual (or full) satisfaction and happiness.  Understandably, this makes Gail “sad” and “greatly troubled”.  Especially since (at least at the time of her writing) it was, by her own admission, impossible for her to understand things in any other way.  She says of my family’s reasons, “I cannot fathom [them] other than its how you were raised to look as marriage”.  Here are some longer quotes with more context so that we can better understand the issue at hand.  I have included links to the full comments as well, but please note that I will not be addressing every issue in every comment in this post – it is just too much to cover in one sitting (but I will be getting to everything eventually).

Speaking about Christine Brown (from the show, Sister Wives), Gail said:

“But she grew up in a plural family and I think her cultural upbringing formed her ability to find satisfaction and happiness in these circumstances. This intrigues me and yet saddens me at the same time. But I don’t doubt that plural families are intrigued and saddened by my perspectives regarding monogamy too.  – Gail, April 4, 2019

on another occasion, Gail went on to say about my own family:

“These inequities in your marriages greatly trouble me, but I think you and your wives just accept them for reasons I cannot fathom other than its how you were raised to look as marriage — as a group endeavor.”  – Gail, Apr 6, 2019

I am quite sure that Gail is not the only one out there who has difficulty with this concept, and, to be honest, I can sympathize with her and others who can only understand it thru this lens.  It is undeniably true that it is difficult (if not impossible) to comprehend something that you have no experience with.  In the case of polygamy, this is all the more true when the only reference point you have is what the media has to say about polygamists, which is almost all grossly imbalanced and sensationalized (but further comments on this will have to be its own post).  This is the source of most people’s information, and it is almost exclusively about one group of polygamists: the FLDS.

“Then there was the horrible Warren Jeffs trial that further soured my view.”  – Gail, April 4, 2019

The FLDS undoubtedly have many unique problems all their own, and their leaders have done plenty of things to muddy the public’s perception, but this will have to be its own post as well.

For many people, Gail included, the information they have also comes from reality television.  While this is actually much much better than the standard media coverage, it is still only glimpses, is distorted in sometimes surprising ways, and doesn’t really paint the full picture.

To all the people in this camp I would say that the chances are very good that you don’t personally know any polygamists (altho you might be surprised).  Therefore, to understand them you can only do so by analogy with your own way of thinking and feeling.  I would like to point out that there is nothing wrong with this – there is no other way of understanding things!, and I am not just talking about understanding plural marriage here.  No, no, my friends, this is true of all our understanding, and of every branch of knowledge.

When I pointed this out to Gail, she, to her credit, concurred.

“I agree that I cannot understand plural marriage well at all because I don’t see it lived day to day by anyone.”  – Gail, April 4, 2019

So, limited understanding, due to naivety on the subject (whatever it may be), is not a hurdle to comprehension.  It just calls for a little humility.  Problems come when those with zero experience, begin telling those who have experienced something what that thing is all about; and furthermore, wont accept their words as valid if they go contrary to their experience-less understandings.  Have you ever had this happen to you?

When my wives and I write about these things it is coming from an entirely different perspective than most of our readers.  Our knowledge isn’t second, third, or fourth hand at all.  We are living polygamy! and, in addition, we personally know and interact with dozens of other polygamist families as well!

Now we come to the really important thing that I wanted to communicate in this post.  I want Gail, and other readers in her boat, to realize that we also know perfectly well where they are coming from, because we were there too!  This is probably a difficult thing to wrap your mind around, (and understandably so because it is such a foreign concept), and doesn’t fit at all into your preconceived notions about it.  Therefore, just to make this explicit,  and I realize this may be a mind blowing realization to some,  I want to say:  In my family, we were all formerly monogamists, and we were all raised in monogamist families.  This has very little to do with the way we were raised.

Anyone who is sincerely curious to know about our family can read about our former monogamy and our mainstream LDS upbringing in one of several posts that we have already written (here, here, here, here, here, here, or here – it does little good to rewrite material that has already been organized and published as a post already).  So, when you tell us about the virtues of monogamy, you’re preaching to the choir. We love devoted monogamists, and think the world should have more of them! 

I just want you to know that we completely understand your point of view.  There is likely nothing that you can tell us about living monogamy that we don’t already know (because we were monogamists, like you), but there are things that we can tell you about polygamy (because we are polygamists, unlike you).  Please also know that we fully respect and accept the sincerity of your decision to be monogamist.  Please grant us the same sincerity.

Next I’m going to share an even more mind bending fact:  We aren’t even close to the only ones.  I do know many polygamists who were raised in polygamist families, but I actually know more who weren’t.  Dozens of them (both husbands and wives), were raised in monogamist families, and were monogamists themselves for a number of years.  Case in point, in the Brown family, which Gail mentioned earlier, Kody was raised in a monogamous, mainstream, LDS family.  I have actually visited with Kody’s mother (who was also raised monogamous – as was his father).  They converted to fundamentalism when Kody was on a mission for the LDS church!  Can you imagine? When he came home his family had joined another church (and one that he had been preaching against).  You should hear the things she said about LDS singles wards (haha, this will have to be another post).

It is not an uncommon occurrence within polygamist circles, for monogamists, and people who were raised in monogamy, to become part of a plural family, and I don’t think this fact is commonly known or appreciated by “outsiders”.  Rather, my strong suspicion is that that the common perception is that people are born into polygamy and then later flee, leave, or escape polygamy.  I’m not sure people realize that there is lots of movement the other way as well.  Normal, everyday people leave monogamy to become polygamists regularly.  The funny thing is that when people “escape monogamy” they usually just call it “divorce” – because no one (or nearly no one) believes that monogamy is something you need to escape.  The common belief is that the specific marriage, or the specific family situation, was bad or abusive and worthy of leaving.  This is in contrast to those who leave their plural marriages.  They don’t simply get divorced; rather, they “escape”!  Why is it so difficult to realize that there are some bad or abusive plural families just as there are some bad or abusive monogamist families?  It is because polygamy is unusual in our culture, and therefore easily sensational.

Having said all this, how do you account for this movement of people from monogamy and monogamist upbringings with the axiom that polygamists have a warped “ability to find satisfaction and happiness” because they were raised in a polygamist home?  No need to answer that question, because you can’t.  Without modification, the axiom does not even allow the situation to exist as a possibility.  Nevertheless the situation exists, and has continued to manifest and repeat itself for millennia.  Keep reading these posts, and you might gain a glimpse into some of the reasons why.  But beware! you may have to modify or discard this axiom.

One more thing, for those who might be interested in learning more (sorry for the short notice), on Saturday, August 3rd 2019 (that is today), session number 358 of the Sunstone Symposium will be titled:

Panel Discussion: Mainstream Mormon Women Go Plural

The brief description given on the website is as follows:

“This session features a panel of women who chose to leave mainstream Mormonism to live the polygamous lifestyle. Panelists include the stars of a popular reality show and women from a variety of polygamous sects.

This is your chance to pick their brains on how and why each came to choose plural marriage, how their family and friends have been affected, and what the various benefits and challenges of the polygamous lifestyle are.”

The session will begin at 2:00 pm in room 300-D of the Mountain America Expo Center in Sandy, Utah.  Charlotte and Melissa will be there, as well as several other women.  It should be an interesting time.

Where Will the Brineys Live? (or Living Arrangements in Polygamous Families)

In the final episode of Seeking Sister Wife‘s first season, the Briney family is getting ready to move out of state, but there was a difference in point of view about whether all the wives should continue to live together or not.  In the final scenes Auralee is an absolute saint.  She extends the olive branch in an amazing way to her sister wife, April.  Angela chimes in as well, and they all end up coming together in a beautiful way for the good of the family in both practical and emotional ways.

family chat

As may be expected, working out where everyone lives is a very common dilemma facing plural families, and it can be handled in a variety of ways.  Some families live in a single dwelling, sharing the same kitchen and living room (like the Alldredges do).  Some families may live in a single dwelling with separate apartments like my house or like the Fosters or Morrisons.  Some families have separate houses for the wives, but they are all in close proximity to one another, on the same property (or in the same cul-de-sac, like the Brown family currently does).  Some families may have separate houses for each wife, and those houses may be in separate cities or states.  I even know one family where the wives are in separate countries halfway around the world from each other (although they are working toward living all together).

Furthermore, many plural families are somewhere in between these various solutions, scalesor in transition between them.  For example, I know a family with three wives.  Two of them lived together in a single dwelling while the third (who was reportedly more difficult to live with) lived in a separate city.  Later on, the third, separate-city wife moved to a separate house next door to the other two, and lived there for a while.  Now they are all living together under one roof!  Ultimately, the solution to this problem will be different for each family, and lies in finding the correct balance between the practical and the emotional.  Both are very real issues, and need to be addressed.

The practical side of the question deals with resources like time and expense.  It is certainly more expensive to live apart: There are multiple rents or mortgages to pay, separate utility bills will add up to greater expense than a combined bill, more property taxes, more home insurance, more time and expense for home maintenance, added expense for owning duplicates of many items, and additional time and expense is involved in travel between homes.  These, and a great many other things, are practical factors that must be considered.  I think a general consideration of practical factors will favor living together.

The emotional side of the question deals with feelings, perceptions, and jealousies.  Some wives may not be able to stand seeing their husband show affection for another wife, may not be able to abide sharing a kitchen or other living areas, or may have or want different rules for their children.  Kody Brown once said, “I have two wives who think sharing a kitchen is abusive”.  This is in contrast to the Darger family whose philosophy is: If you can’t share a kitchen, what business do you have sharing a husband?  Of course, the Dargers are somewhat of a special case as the wives are already close relatives (which I am sure has been a blessing to their family).  I mean, how different could their kitchen management styles be?  They all have the same grandma.  They probably all have the same book of family recipes.

One plural wife I spoke with told me it can be harder to share a kitchen than to share a husband.  So, if you are adding an extra master bedroom to your house to accommodate a new sister wife, you may want to consider adding another kitchen too.  Each family will have to find what works best for them.

Children further complicate emotional considerations.  Children from different wives may have rivalries (especially if they are from previous marriages) or resentments.  In addition, there may be worries about societal perceptions. (What will the neighbors think?  What will my friends think?  What will our extended families think?)  Finally, some people may just be plain old difficult to live with — there are personality conflicts of all kinds.  These, and a great many other things, are emotional factors that must be given consideration.  I think a general consideration of emotional factors will favor living apart.

From my point of view, I think most (perhaps all) polygamist men want to have their families together as much and as close as possible.  If a plural family is not living together, it is very often because of difficulties between wives, or children from different wives (think of Sarah and Hagar, and Isaac and Ishmael, for example).  I was once talking with my grandpa about the scriptures when the subject of Abraham’s wives came up.  He said it was a shame that Abraham had married Hagar (because it led to difficulties that separated his family) and that he shouldn’t have done it in the first place.  I told him the shame was not that they married, but that they didn’t stay together and try to work out their problems.  Well, I’m not trying to pass any judgment on Abram, or his views on marriage and family, but I do think it is generally better to work on problems while problems can be worked on – even if some separation is warranted while the problems are being resolved (it may take years in some cases).  Anything worth having is worth working for.

Why would plural husbands generally want their family together?  There are certainly the financial pieces, which I mentioned above, and this weighs heavily on most husbands’ minds.  In addition, a husband will be able to more effectively portion his time between the members of his family and his other household duties.  Another important factor is the way that close-living facilitates family activities, family teaching, and family worship.  Finally, there is a desire among men, even if subconscious, to have their wives and children close for the sake of protecting them.  If a family can make it work, there are so many benefits to living together!

From a Biblical perspective, during the time when a couple was engaged to be married, the bridegroom would go away for a time and busy himself preparing a home for his new bride to live in.  If the man had more than one wife, he would have prepared a home for each of them in turn.  The home(s) would be built on the ancestral lands of the bridegroom’s father.  The bride-to-be fully expected to receive her own home to live in (whether this was a separate dwelling, or an extension of the existing family dwelling, would depend on the particular family and circumstance), and providing one for her was part of the future husband’s duties toward her.  When the home was made ready, the bridegroom would return for his bride, receive her to himself, and lead her to her new home which would become her responsibility to tend and care for.

In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I come again, and will receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also. – John 14:2,3

What it’s like living in Kody Brown’s old house

I live in the house from Seasons 1 and 2 of Sister Wives. The house was built with a plural family in mind and has 6000 square feet with 3 separate “apartments,” all connected on the inside.

The 3 apartments have their own separate entrances, kitchens, laundry rooms, and master bedrooms, so each wife has her own space.  But since they’re connected on the inside, to a plural family, it has many benefits of a single-family dwelling.  (Technically — according to the city and the post office, for instance– it is a single-family dwelling, despite my talk of different “apartments”.)

The house is described on the Wikipedia page “List of Sister Wives episodes”:

They live in a ranch-style home that, although interconnected, is subdivided into three separate apartments that give each wife her own bedroom, kitchen and living space.

(By the way, the Sister Wives episodes stopped getting updated on that Wikipedia page a couple of years ago, so if you’re an avid watcher, maybe you should tackle the job of editing that page.)

One of the funny things about living here is that I get mail for Kody, Meri, Janelle, and Christine Brown on a regular basis.  I’m sometimes tempted to see if anyone on eBay would like to buy it as an amusing souvenir, just like I’m tempted to save it up for a few days and upload to this post a photo of all of it, but both those things seem like an invasion of privacy that I wouldn’t like done to me (golden rule and all that), not to mention it might be illegal (USPS and all that), so I will refrain.

Another funny thing about living in this house is that every once in a while we’ll notice someone driving past really slowly with their phone/camera out.  You can read one fan’s accounts of doing just that in this blog post.  You could do the same, but you could also save yourself the trouble by just looking at this photo of the house on the Sister Wives Wikipedia page:

Kody Brown's house as shown on Wikipedia
photo from the Sister Wives Wikipedia page

Or another option if you haven’t seen it yet: here is a 3-minute video from Sister Wives that will take you on a brief virtual tour.

Screenshot 2018-02-04 22.52.10
screenshot from the TLC.com video showing Kody giving a tour of the house

The house was formerly only the 2 apartments on the right, but from what I understand, the man who owned it before Kody Brown added on the 3rd apartment.

Screenshot 2018-02-05 05.51.14
cross-section of the house showing which of Kody’s wives lived in which apartment

I live in the upper right part of the house, the one in which Meri lived with her daughter Mariah.  The plan is for my sisterwife to move in with me this summer; she’ll live in the apartment Janelle was in (the whole left side).

One day, before we bought it from the Browns but after they had moved away from Utah, they were back at their Lehi house for a visit with some mutual friends and us, and some of their fans drove by.  They knew the house and recognized their car as the Browns, so they decided to try their luck, and they stopped and got out.  Joshua (my husband) was outside at the time, and he came inside to tell Kody and Meri some of their adoring fans wanted to meet them.  Kody refused to go out and meet them — he said he didn’t want to encourage strangers to show up at his house, but he was happy to talk to fans when they saw him in public  — but Meri was nice and went out to pose for a photo or give her autograph or whatever.

Shortly before we bought the Lehi house in the summer of 2016, the Browns filmed an episode here.  I assume that episode was airing when he tweeted about the sale:

Screenshot 2018-02-03 18.07.20
Kody Brown’s tweet about the sale of the Lehi house.  (Yes, Kathleen Jones @dancerndreamer9, a polygamous family did buy it.)

We don’t generally tell friends and acquaintances the history of the house before they come for a visit, but people occasionally recognize it when they arrive here for the first time.

Once, we were driving home from swimming lessons.  My children and I were all dressed in our swimsuits and I didn’t have my cell phone or wallet.  We saw a vegetable stand being run by a couple of boys, and I pulled over for just a minute to buy some cucumbers and jalapeños.  (Since I didn’t have my wallet or purse, I could only spend as much as I had coins in my car’s ashtray. 🙂 )  When we buckled back to drive away, my car wouldn’t start.  The mom of one of the boys felt bad for me and gave all of us a ride home.  (The vegetable-selling-boys felt sorry for as us well and gave us free jalapeños. 🙂 )  As I gave the woman the final step of driving directions to get to the Lehi house, she said, “Oh!  That’s the Browns’ house!  Do you know them?  Are you renting it from them?”

That experience was kind of funny, and not an isolated incident.  Another time, we gave some friends permission to host a charity yard sale here (the yard is big, there’s plenty of parking, and the city is more centrally-located than where they live) and one of the families that came all the way from Davis County to support the yard sale recognized the house from the TV show.

I was texting with an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in years.  I never told her I had become a polygamist in the meantime, and out of nowhere she asks if I was practicing polygamy.  To this day she swears she knew it out of pure instinct (I think she credited her “womanly intuition”).  Anyway, I confirmed she was right, and she told me she’d been watching Sister Wives for years and was slightly obsessed with polygamy (although she doesn’t want to live it), and I said, ha ha I actually live in Kody Brown’s old house.  She and I had been trying to get together for ages and had never been able to make it work out, but the pull of seeing the Lehi house up-close-and-in-person was strong enough that she made the hour-plus drive to see me only 3 days after that texting conversation.  🙂

(If you wanted to see the inside of the Lehi house, one way you could invite yourself in would be to pretend you’re interested in Mormon fellowships and attend one of the church-y meetings we hold here most Sundays, which reminds me: a person or two who has shown up to the fellowship has recognized the Lehi house as well.)

So far I’ve been living here for about 18 months, and we haven’t lived here as a plural family yet, but I’ve still loved living in a house like this one, and I’m constantly baffled that more people (monogamous or polygamous) don’t build houses with similar layouts.  The other people that live here and I are able to be supportive of each other without having to go through the difficulties of sharing living space.  Over the holidays, we had a couple of out-of-town families stay here, and they were able to come and go between the 3 apartments as they wished, depending on who they wanted to visit and what they wanted to do.

Other things I like about living here:

  • Janelle’s old apartment has an 800-square-foot kitchen that we’ve stashed lots of tables and chairs in, which we often use for events (such as our weekly fellowship, family parties, and our celebrations of the Biblical feasts whenever we extend the invitation beyond our immediate family).
Screenshot 2018-02-06 22.16.17
Janelle’s huge kitchen
  • The lot size is slightly more than an acre, so there’s plenty of room for what we want to do with the land.  (1 acre might not sound like a ton of land if you’re a farmer, but it’s the biggest piece of land I’ve ever owned.)  So far there are some fruit trees, a shed, a garden, a “forest” for the kids to play in, a big yard with a sprinkling system, 2 back decks, and a parked family member’s school bus, which is slowly being converted into an RV.
  • The driveway fits 7 or 8 cars, depending on how poorly everyone parks. 🙂
  • Right across the street is a field with horses, which in my opinion make excellent neighbors.
  • Even though it feels rural here, we’re within 5 minutes of the freeway onramp, our bank, and major shopping such as Costco, Home Depot, and Walmart.
  • The apartments my family doesn’t currently need have been pretty easy to rent out to extended family/friends.
  • The neighbors are sympathetic to plural families, which is extremely nice.

 

Note: I’ve never actually watched Sister Wives, so please forgive any errors about the TV show.  Feel free to leave a comment correcting anything I got wrong.