“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.

Plural Parenting

I’ve been a plural wife for almost 6 years. We have lived separately for 5 of those years as I got my teens grown and launched.

Charlotte had 3 children when I joined the family. Now she has 4.

It’s been very interesting being a second mother to her children.

I am very grateful that the basics of early parenting are so similar. Cosleeping, extended breastfeeding, baby wearing, etc. I”m grateful that we agree on discipline techniques and are constantly looking for better ways to parent each individual child.

For a long time, because I was only around parts of a couple of days a week, it was difficult finding my voice as a parent to the portion of the family I didn’t live with daily. Now that I live in the same overarching home, it has gotten much easier and I have much more enlightenment on the day to day running of the household. I’m beginning to understand how kids can work the system, and how much more plural parents have to be in communication in order to limit treats and deal with chore assignments.

I am a parent to these children of Joshua and Charlotte. I have a very vested interest in them and even more so now. We are a family.

We support each other in parenting. If we believe another adult to be out of line or too harsh, we save those criticisms for out of child earshot. I have been very neededly pulled out of situations where I escalated too abruptly and too loudly (AKA lost my damn mind). A pair of scissors and a Bluebird flour bag come to mind.

There are a couple of funny things which have happened recently:

Each night we have family time which consists of Joshua reading, each person sharing something about the day, and family prayer. A while ago, while gathering the 10-year-old came in sulking and complaining “In the last 5 minutes, I’ve been asked by 3 parents if I’ve brushed my teeth!” Sorry kid; it’s just a parent thing, and you have more than most.

I was reading a book to the 2 1/2-year-old about 5 little monkeys and their mother’s birthday. The little monkeys were making their mother a cake. Our toddler was very confused and asked “Where is the other mama?! as she thumbed through the pages looking for another mother. I told her that there was only one mother in the monkey family and she kept asking why.  I just explained that there are many families with only one mom.  She was very dissatisfied that that was the case.

We were at a Sunday meeting with other multiple-mother families and the 6-year-old was on a stairwell with a group of other young girls. She was attempting to explain who I was, “She’s kind of like my Stepmother, but she’s not.”  I called up to her, “Just call me your other mother. All of these girls likely have at least 2 maybe 3 moms.”  She had a sigh of relief and the other girls collectively nodded their heads in understanding.

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One of the most exciting and joyful things about being in my family is that I am expecting a baby in about a month.

As hard as it was to wait for so long, I am so happy this kiddo is being born into a plural family who lives together. I’m excited to have other parents who are so good at parenting and are much closer to the tiny years, so I can ask for help on things like baby carriers and EC.  I’m excited that this baby will be like an only child, but with older siblings who are eager to help and excited for a new family member.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How the teens took it…

Note from the blog owner: Melissa is my sisterwife and she is a new contributor to the blog.  This is her first post.  

 

I have been asked many times how my teens reacted to me becoming a plural wife.

I’ll tell you: Horribly. And I don’t blame them.

Let’s review the collapse (there will be other blog posts fleshing out these experiences):

All my life I was raised to be very judgmental of others: hair, weight, clothing, how people carried themselves, etc.  It was never just, people are different.  No.  There was some immeasurable standard to which all were compared, and to which all failed to measure up to.  They were mocked, made fun of, and there was an undercurrent of haughtiness embedded in my very soul.  I laugh now because my family was hardly the type who could lord anything over anyone.  Sincerely, my own grandmother was annoyed by us – she is likely the one this critical worldview was passed down from in the first place.

Naturally, I passed all of that judgmental world-view on to my children.  In the line of attack were people who lived in any manner differently from North American, mainstream, LDS, intact nuclear family.  The sad part is that my own family didn’t meet the criteria for which I judged people – I was a divorced single mother.

Believe it or not, I was the worst toward polygamists.  I didn’t know any polygamists, and I didn’t need to.  I believed they were apostate, weird, and likely inhuman.  I was mainstream LDS, born and raised in Colorado (with a 6-year stint in Seattle), and educated in Utah.  I’d been living in Utah since 2000.  My only reference points toward those living in plural families were news stories about how horrible the fundamentalists were; from not educating their children, to wearing old-fashioned garb, to their reprehensible lifestyle of sharing husbands.  I was particularly horrible during the Texas events of 2008.  I declared that all of the FLDS children should be removed by the authorities and raised by others.  I confess that I vocally cheered at their trauma.  God, I am such an ass (that was a prayer).

Five weeks before our lives were rocked by a series of events which left us homeless, (which in turn led to a series of events that created the structure, and mind/soul shift, for me to become a plural wife), upon hearing about a local plural family, I started off on a mean-spirited diatribe about how disgusting I thought their entire lifestyle was. We were in the car. All of my children were with me. And I was a monster. What a stage I set.

the teens primary colors

As all of this was going on, I did not prepare my children for my change of heart, and I don’t know that they would have understood it. When I first approached my children with the idea, they were horrified.  They thought I had lost my mind. Suddenly, their rock-solid mom was adrift and they thought she was mad, unstable, brainwashed – everything I had said about polygamist women.

As time progressed, I did other less than mindful things which were ignorant to the venom others held and created a huge backlash for myself.  I put my children in the care of my parents who were terribly misinformed and highly malignant against this lifestyle.  My father told my children that my husband was going to take my 16-year-old daughter as a wife. My parents called my ex-husband – a man known to them as an alcohol/crack/porn addict, and spouse abuser – to offer him custody (apparently, they thought he would be a better parent than I, in spite of all of his limitations, and regardless of me being the legal custodial parent since September of 2000).

My father called both the police and DCFS (Child Protective Services) to report me. At the time polygamy was not illegal. Thankfully, the authorities told my father to bring my children home, or be faced with possible kidnapping charges.  However, I still had to deal with a police officer coming to my home for a keep the peace call.

At one point I attempted to go to a counselor.  I had no idea who to reach out to.  The one place which specialized in polygamy turned out to be an agency which helped women and children flee from abusive plural situations.  The counselor told me that she had never counseled anyone entering a plural marriage and could not help us.  She did have a private session with my daughter where she told my child to flee the home entirely.  I have since found out that counselors who are LGBT(etc.) friendly are the most open to those joining a family in a plural situation.  I made one appointment for my daughter with an LGBT(etc.) friendly counselor, but the counselor moved immediately after and gave us a referral.  My daughter refused to speak with the referral.

Through all of this, my kids were confused, horrified, and had no resources to sort things out.  I truly believe that I could have made it much easier had I not been all along so horrendous about those unlike myself

TL;DR bottom line: Don’t judge.  Don’t teach others to judge.  You may be eating a feast of crow, and end up being judged by those for whom you set a terrible example of judgment.

I don’t want to have a chart on the refrigerator

When I went from 11 years of monogamous marriage to a new polygamous lifestyle, I struggled to know what to do with myself on my nights alone.  All my habits revolved around having my husband with me every night.  I didn’t have a life separate from him, so for a time, I felt as if when he wasn’t with me, my life was put on hold.  There was definitely a transition time for me while I figured out what to do with myself when I was alone.

If a monogamous woman was planning on becoming polygamous and asked me for advice, one of the things I would suggest is for her to have things she likes to do without her husband, whatever that looks like for her.

Women who naturally like having their own autonomy might gravitate towards polygamy exactly because of this time alone. I know my sisterwife Melissa calls plural marriage the ultimate lifestyle choice for feminists.  She keeps herself busy with friends and hobbies, and she even chooses to have a job (even though Joshua is a wonderful provider and doesn’t need his wives need to work outside the home). Melissa considers herself a good candidate for a plural wife because her life is so full despite not having a husband who comes to her house every day.

Nowadays, I have a life with my husband, and I have a life without him.  I’m fine either way.  But some of my activities require planning, so I like to know in advance what Joshua’s schedule is going to be.  His schedule does end up changing at the last minute at times, but generally I know what to expect.  If I didn’t know each day where Joshua was going to land, it would cause unnecessary frustration in this whole plural marriage gig, because it would make it difficult for me to have a life separate from my husband.  I need that separate life because otherwise it feels like when he’s not here, all I’m doing is waiting for him.

In episode 4 of Seeking Sister Wife, Dimitri Snowden and Joselyn are on a date at a restaurant.  Dimitri brings up the topic of “splitting time.”

Dimitri: So, splitting time.

Joselyn: Yes.

Dimitri: You know, listen, I’m wondering…

Joselyn: I wanted to ask you.

(They both laugh.)

Dimitri: So I’m one man, um, you know, with one body, you know… How do you feel about that?

Joselyn: As long as we feel that we make the best of our time, that there’s no problem.

Dimitri: Mmm-hmmm.

Joselyn: So how would you go about that?  Like, do you have, like, you think like days, certain days, or just…?

Dimitri: I ideally don’t want to have a defined schedule. I don’t want to have a chart on the refrigerator, where it says like Ashley and then Joselyn and then Ashley… Like, I’m not interested…

Joselyn: Yeah, me either, you know, because…  It feels so generic to me, like I think that’s really generic.

Dimitri: Yeah.

Joselyn: I just want it to go naturally, like you said.

Dimitri: Right.

Screenshot 2018-02-13 01.19.10
“I don’t want to have a chart on the refrigerator, where it says like ‘Ashley’ and then ‘Joselyn’ and then ‘Ashley’…”

I think this is an interesting idea, but frankly, I don’t think it’s very realistic.  I laughed when I saw what the Brineys said about it on Twitter because they seem to agree with me:

Screenshot 2018-02-15 23.23.19

Not every woman likes to plan things in advance as much as I do, so I suppose Dimitri’s strategy might work for some polygamists.  But in most of the plural families I’ve seen, the schedule is pretty predictable.  Either they simply alternate nights (like the Alldredge family on SSW) or each wife takes a fixed set of weekdays (like the Briney family), or some combination/variation.  One plural husband I’ve seen on YouTube spends 2 nights with one wife before switching and spending 2 nights with his other wife.  Brady Williams from the reality TV show My Five Wives simply rotates through his 5 wives, 1 night with each wife, but gives each wife an extra night for her birthday.

Some time ago I read a novel called The Lonely Polygamist.  In the book, the man and his 4 wives have a torturous meeting every Sunday where they decide on that week’s schedule (in particular, the sleeping schedule).  The husband doesn’t take control at the meeting; it tends to be up to the wives to duke it out.  The most aggressive wives end up with an unfair portion of his time, while the newest or most passive wife might go weeks without her husband coming to her house.  This seems dysfunctional to me.

In our family, Joshua’s schedule is totally up to him, which makes sense, since he’s the one going back and forth between the houses.  He’s the one that best understands his own scheduling needs as well as those of his wives and children.  We give him our preferences and we can request changes to his normal schedule, but we wives don’t have to hash it out between ourselves.

And, no, we don’t have a chart on our refrigerator to keep it sorted out.

What do you think?  How would you want to do it if you were a polygamist?