Parents: More is Better

Mothers everywhere know what it means when their husband is traveling for work: All the parenting, 24 hours a day, falls to you.

Such was the situation I found myself in, with my husband across the country on business, and I was discouraged and exhausted. The days were long, our routine disrupted, and the children tired of not seeing their father.

My son blew the shofar to call us to our evening family time, where everyone has a chance to show something or tell about their day; we lovingly call this time “Shofar & Tell” (a play on “Show and Tell” — get it?).

We gathered in the living room of my sisterwife Melissa, and as I routinely do, I pulled out the family Happy Book to write in while we shared our lives and visited together.

My son disrespectfully jumped on my case and told me I shouldn’t have a “toy” during Shofar & Tell (referring to my writing in the Happy Book). He’d been nitpicking and criticizing me a lot, so the uncalled-for criticism was especially frustrating.

We officially got started with Shofar & Tell, and when my daughter’s turn came to hold the shofar and show/tell us something, she took the opportunity to complain about me.

I was hurt, and since I had been struggling for some time with those two children disrespecting me, questioning me, and dishonoring me, it got to be too much.

I said to my sisterwife Melissa, “Why does everything come down to criticizing me and complaining about me? Everyone in this house seems to be starting from a place of ‘Mom is wrong. Mom has wronged me. What is Mom doing wrong right now? What can I criticize Mom about right now?’ I feel like everyone is assuming my guilt until I’m proven innocent.”

Melissa saw the problem, recognized my need for support, and she truly stepped up.

She launched into a scolding lecture about about how lucky the children are to have me; how lucky they are to have a mother who stays home with them and focuses on taking care of them; how they shouldn’t be rude to me; how they should treat me with respect and love; how they ought to show gratitude for me and the good life they have.

She went on and on. A couple of the children got teary-eyed over it. When she was done, she gave every child a chance to say something. To me she said, “I want you to write down in the family Happy Book what they say: I want you to recognize it and embrace it.”

Each of my children expressed their sincere gratitude for me and came over and hugged me. Melissa even had her young child say something nice and hug me, and then she also expressed her love and gave me a hug.

I felt extremely validated and supported. Someone saw me and wanted me to feel appreciated. Someone wasn’t going to stand by and let me be treated with disrespect by my children.

I wasn’t doing all the parenting by myself after all. Melissa and I were together, taking care of the children, trying to teach them, being a good team.

If I had been the only parent home that week, things would not have gone so well, I can promise you that. I would have continued to be sad, and I might have lost my temper with the children and just made things worse.

If our husband Joshua had been there, he certainly would have shushed the children to keep the peace and given me moral support later in a private conversation.

But Melissa took it further and worked right then and there to truly change the hearts of the children and let me know how much she supports me.

This is one real-life example of the benefits of a polygamous family.

My children are lucky Melissa is invested in them the way every mother should be invested in her children, and I’m grateful to have her as a co-parent.

From the Mouths of Babes on Teamwork: Why Competition Between Plural Wives is Unnecessary

My young children were digging in the dirt, and I was fortunate enough to overhear this nugget of wisdom spoken by my 4-year-old son:

“It doesn’t matter who has the bigger shovel because we’re working together.”

This is exactly the kind of attitude that can and ought to prevail in a plural family (or any kind family or group working together for a common goal).

Anything more I say will just take away from what the 4-year-old said, so I’ll leave it at that.

It doesn’t matter who has the bigger shovel when you’re all working together.

Being Proud of Polygamy Instead of Ashamed

I distinctly remember the first time someone looked up to me for being a polygamist.

We had been invited by some polygamous friends to a Thanksgiving dinner that was attended by an eclectic group of fundamental Mormons (some were members of a sect of Mormonism, but many were independent).  I knew almost no one there.  (This was the first time I met Benjamin Shaffer, the attorney who purchased Drew Briney’s law firm when the Brineys moved away from Utah.)  I was introduced to a married couple and I asked them if they were polygamists.  The wife said, “No, not yet.  I wish.  Are you guys polygamists?”  When I answered in the affirmative, she said with sincerity, “Oh, that’s so great.  I hope I can be a plural wife someday.”  (She’s a plural wife now and one of the best I know.  As one example of how she’s so supportive: She has a huge picture of her husband and sisterwife on their wedding day on her living room wall.)

That was a very nice moment for me.  Up to that point, people expressed many different feelings about my marital status, ranging from outright rejection to disgust to fascination to neutrality to supportive, but I had never met anyone who was actually jealous of me for being a polygamist.

I didn’t consider myself a fundamental Mormon, but after that Thanksgiving dinner I started to feel more and more comfortable hanging around Mormon fundamentalists because of their general belief that polygamy is acceptable, desirable, even preferred.

I still spend plenty of time with people who merely tolerate my polygamy.  When I’m around those people, I will either hide my polygamy or at the very least I feel an overarching sense of embarrassment/shame about it, like the girl who keeps brushing her bangs in front of the zit on her forehead.

However, those feelings of shame or embarrassment are left over from when I cared what those people thought.  I’m not ashamed to be a polygamist.  I’m actually quite proud of my plural family and in particular of my husband.  I’m proud of my husband for keeping two emotional women happy most of the time.  I’m proud of him for financially supporting a large family.  I’m proud of him for bearing the weight of a marred reputation caused by society’s feelings about plural marriage.  I’m proud of him for always putting his family first and for being the most selfless person I have the privilege of knowing.  I’m proud of him that God trusts him with such a great responsibility.  I’m proud of him for keeping peace (and restoring it when it’s lost) between all the members of our family.  I’m proud of him for his wisdom in difficult decisions.  I’m proud of him for functioning on 2 hours of sleep when one of his wives needs to talk with him all night.  I’m proud of him for never putting himself first but for always always serving God and his family and others around him.  I’m proud of him for being stable when one or both of his wives are being crazy.  I’m proud of Joshua for so many reasons.  I think of him as a king and I feel it an honor to be married to him.  I’m proud to be one of his queens.

The feeling of pride I have over our functional, beautiful plural family has grown and expanded almost imperceptibly until an event that happened yesterday.  We went to a party for Joshua’s aunts, uncles, and cousins.  This party is held annually, but it was our first time attending since becoming polygamists.  We used to go every year (and to other events with these people as well), and Joshua and I have been married for 17 years, so I’ve known these people for a good long time.

The family is a pretty big group, I would say about 85 people, and almost all of them are active LDS.  This is the kind of group I have historically felt awkward to be around.  None of them are excited that we’re polygamists, and many of them openly disapprove (even writing letters and making phone calls to make sure we know how they feel).

And yet, yesterday when we walked into the party, I held my head high.  I felt like a queen.  I look at Joshua as a king and Melissa as a queen, and  yesterday I felt no shame or embarrassment whatsoever.  I greeted everyone with a confident hug and just acted like my old pre-polygamy self.  If anyone felt awkward, it wasn’t me.  If anyone wished I wasn’t there, it wasn’t me.  I didn’t feel like I was inferior to any of the monogamists in the room.  I didn’t feel like I had anything to apologize for.  I didn’t feel like I had a zit on my forehead I was trying to hide.  I just felt proud of my plural family and proud of my kingly husband.  It was a wonderful experience and certainly made me feel as tho I have progressed in my journey as a plural wife.

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?

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.

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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 in 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 from two counties away 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 whom 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, our bank, and our main shopping locations.
  • 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.