Everyone at the party stopped talking and watched to see what would happen next. They all knew Joshua and I are not siblings, and they were curious to see how our new acquaintance would take the shocking news of real-life, in-your-face polygamy.
Just minutes earlier Joshua and I had met Sophie* for the first time and were getting to know her and her family. Melissa was supposed to have been there to make introductions, but a phone call had unexpectedly pulled her away from our Chanukah party before Sophie arrived. Melissa had texted Sophie telling her she would be gone and to “look for Joshua and Charlotte”.
So there we were, just chatting away. Joshua and Sophie made the connection that they both used to live in the south. She and I talked about Jewish feasts, home childbirth, and extended breastfeeding. Sophie said to Joshua, “This is a nice area! How long have you lived here?” He wasn’t sure how to answer because Melissa and I currently live in the same house, but we moved in 2 years apart. So which date should be given as his answer? I think he said, “Well, Melissa moved here in June, but we’ve owned the house for 2 years.” Sophie followed up, “So, were you renting it out in the meantime or something?” Awkward.
I started to realize that Sophie didn’t know that her friend Melissa was a plural wife, and that it wasn’t going to be Melissa that broke the news to her. At the same time, Sophie was trying to sort out what exactly my connection to Melissa was.
She gestured to Joshua and me, “So, are you two brother and sister?” That was the moment when our conversation got interesting to the rest of our party guests. All faces in the room turned to us as I tried to decide how to answer.
Our polygamy is not a secret (anymore), and we don’t lie about it, but we also don’t announce it everywhere we go. We like to tell people when it comes up naturally (altho, for various reasons, we occasionally make a point of going out of our way to tell someone). The awkwardness was simply the fact that it was Melissa’s friend, not my own, who asked the question.
I looked at Joshua and said, “She doesn’t know!” He gave me a knowing nod and I said, “And it’s up to me to tell her?” He laughed and said, “I guess so!”
I turned back to Sophie and said with a smile, “No.”
She said, “Oh, I noticed from the Facebook event invitation that you all have the same last name. Are you Melissa’s sister?”
The confusion was setting in. It was time for the truth to be told. I simply said, “No. Melissa and I are both married to Joshua.”
Then we all waited. We have had so many different reactions when people learn we are polygamists; we never know what we’re going to get.
I was pretty surprised when Sophie got excited and spoke with a voice punctuated by exclamation points. “Oh! I had no idea Melissa was a polygamist! I love polygamy! That’s great! Are you guys Mormon? I wish the LDS Church still practiced polygamy!”
Our long-time friend Hugh* butted in on the conversation and teasingly said to Sophie, “Stop encouraging them!” I bantered back by telling Joshua to spit in his food.
“I have so many questions for you!” Sophie went on. And she really did. She was interested and positive and was a good listener. Her response was amazingly supportive.
That moment of truth, that moment when an acquaintance learns about the polygamy, is bound to make or break a budding relationship. Some of my friendships have ended over the issue of polygamy; other potential friendships have never really gotten off the ground. Quite frankly, it could just as easily be a non-issue: I’m happy to be friends with people who are single, monogamous, or polygamous — why do so many people care which I am? There’s a lot more to me than the fact that my husband has another wife. I am grateful for those people in my life who haven’t let my polygamy get in the way of knowing me personally.
About ten years ago, my husband and I bought our first house together. While I lived in that house, I planted trees and gardens. I bought furniture. I hosted events. I had a variety of houseguests. I put up pictures and had pets and houseplants. While I lived there I went from 1 child to 3 children and began homeschooling. I had a variety of Church callings and a good selection of friends and friendly neighbors. I was in living that house when my belief system about the LDS Church crumbled (although I stayed an active member for a number of years). I also gave birth in one of the bedrooms upstairs.
In that same bedroom, my husband and I first discussed the possibility of his marrying my best friend Melissa. (Short version: I could no longer ignore the spiritual experiences I was having regarding God’s will in the matter. Joshua and I had never talked about it before, but I opened the conversation with: “So, Joshua, are you going to marry Melissa?” His answer: “Well, I don’t know.” My shocked reply: “What do you mean you don’t know? I know!” Two days later he had his first conversation with Melissa about it; I think it’s fair to say the latter conversation was far more awkward than the former.)
A few weeks later, in that same upstairs bedroom, I announced to my husband my plan to essentially give the house to Melissa and her children and move with my children more than an hour away, in order for her teenagers to have the space they needed to finish growing up.
That very day, about 5 years ago, we packed up a single carload and I moved away from my trees and animals and gardens, most of my possessions, my friends and neighbors, and the only home most of my children had ever known.
Gradually, tediously, over months and many many many trips between the two houses, Melissa patiently helped me finish moving out of the house which was now, bewilderingly, hers. And she made that house her own, changing out the kitchen appliances and paint and window coverings and furniture and animals and gardens to better suit her preferences. She continued the arduous task of parenting children without their father. And she got used to being a plural wife.
Melissa has now lived in that house longer than I ever lived in it.
For 5 years, my children have had just one parent half the time. I tell you, it sure is a special treat for the kids when Baba walks in that front door after they’ve been stuck with only me for a couple of days. Two of our children don’t even remember life before their father was a polygamist. They don’t remember what it was like to eat dinner and have devotional with him every single night. They’ve developed habits such as asking me every couple of hours whether Baba will be here today, and writing things down they don’t want to forget to tell him.
For 5 years, my husband has had more than one carpool to get to his job. (It’s very confusing for his fellow carpoolers.) He’s had multiple houses and yards to maintain. He’s been forced to have duplicates of numerous things (including cars, lawn mowers, and property tax bills) so he can frequently seesaw between his two domiciles. And I can’t even count the number of times he’s needed something but has turned up empty-handed because the tool or other item was in a different county. He’s been like an unlucky stepchild, constantly going back-and-forth between two houses.
Over the last 5 years, all of us have had more difficulties than I care to list right now. We’ve also had a lot of personal growth and character-building, but I’ll save that for another time. I’d rather get to the good news.
For 5 years, Melissa has been finishing the job of turning children into adults. Her youngest is now 18 years old. He recently graduated from high school and is launching out on his own.
We are all ready for a big life change.
Melissa’s time in my old house is coming to a close.
Our husband will no longer need duplicates of so many things. He will get to come home to his entire family every evening. The children will get to see their Baba and their other mother daily. Melissa will have to do a lot less driving. And she and I get to begin a new phase of our relationship.
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.
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, or 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.
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
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”.)
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:
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.
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.
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:
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).
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.