Polygamous and Proud, Kings and Queens, Schedules, Wives in Different Countries, and Some Polygamy Grammar

Did you know that polygamy doesn’t always mean a man with more than one wife?

The new season of Seeking Sister Wife is here! The Snowdens and Winders are back on Season 3, and a few new families have joined the cast.

One of the new families is from North Carolina and currently has 2 wives. The husband’s name is Jarod Clark, and in Episode 1, he brought up some of the vocabulary surrounding polygamy:

We practice polygamy; specifically, polygyny. Polygamy is the umbrella term for a multi-person relationship. And in polygyny … the male [has] separate wives.

Jarod Clark

The distinction he makes is correct. Polygamy means basically “many marriages” and can refer to a man with multiple wives or a woman with multiple husbands. The former is called polygyny, and the latter is called polyandry.

So why is polygamy the word used in so many contexts when referring to polygyny?

One reason must be the fact that one man with multiple wives is far more common than a woman with multiple husbands. Someday, I may write about why this is the case, but for now I’ll just point it out as a fact that thruout history and across cultures, polygamy almost universally means the husband has more than one spouse.

It’s universal enough that Dictionary.com acknowledges it in its definition of polygamy: “the practice or condition of having more than one spouse, especially wife, at one time.”

I admit I perpetuate the lack of distinction on this blog by using “polygamy” instead of the more specific “polygyny” most of the time. The simple reason I use “polygamy” is that it’s a much more familiar word.

I should mention that most fundamental Mormons prefer the phrase “plural marriage”. I think that’s the terminology used in Sister Wives most of the time.

Now let’s discuss the title of the episode: “Polygamist and Proud!” along with some grammar.

Polygamist is a noun. A polygamist is “a person who practices or favors polygamy.”

Polygamous is an adjective. (Quick review: Adjectives describe nouns. In the sentence “handsome man”, “handsome” is the adjective and “man” is the noun.) “Polygamous” is an adjective that describes something or someone as being “of, pertaining to, characterized by, or practicing polygamy” and is synonymous with the less-commonly used adjective polygamic.

Used in a sentence, you would correctly say:

  • “Garrick Merrifield is polygamous.”
  • “Sidian Jones is a polygamist.”
  • “Jarod Clark is a polygamous man.”
  • “I know a polygamist who writes a fascinating blog called ‘Speaking of Polygamy’.”
  • “I know the polygamous family who lives in Kody Brown’s old house.”
  • “I know a bunch of polygamists.”
  • “I am polygamous.”
  • “We are polygamists.”

You wouldn’t say:

  • “Dimitri Snowden is a polygamous.”
  • “Colton Winder is a polygamist man.”
  • “I am polygamist.”

I’ll bet the person/people who titled Episode 1 meant to pair the adjective “Polygamous” with the adjective “Proud”, rather than awkwardly pairing the noun “Polygamist” with the adjective “Proud”. I asked my teenaged daughter what she thought of the title, and she caught the presumed error as well. In other words, I think title should have been “Polygamous and Proud!” instead of “Polygamist and Proud!”

I’m not nitpicking with the intention of criticizing the show. I enjoy watching it and I’m sure my own writing has plenty of grammar mistakes for someone who cares to look. My goal here is simply to educate the reader about some of the vocabulary and grammar in the world of polygamy, clear up any confusion about those words, and provide a little help on correctly using them.

Here’s an example of the usefulness of knowing the proper vocabulary and grammar: In writing this post, I discovered that, according to Dictionary.com, polygamists include people who simply believe in polygamy, no matter whether they are practicing it or not.

From time-to-time I come across someone who is unmarried or monogamous but who calls himself or herself a “polygamist”. This has always bugged me, because I thought their marital status was incompatible with the category “polygamists”. I did not realize that the actual dictionary definition of polygamist really does include a person who simply “favors polygamy”. I stand corrected.

I have hesitated in the past to call myself a “polygamist” because I’m only married to one man, so technically my husband, and not me, is the one with multiple marriages. Realizing what the full definition of “polygamist” is gives me more confidence in calling myself a polygamist.

Getting back to S3E1, what is the deal with not having a schedule? Two of the families said something similar in E1.

Here, one of the couples that is new on SSW, Sidian and Tosha Jones, say that back when they were polygamists, they didn’t have a schedule:

Mostly at night, we would sort of switch off time.

Sidian Jones

Yeah, it wasn’t really scheduled.

Tosha Jones

And here, Jarod Clark says it’s “natural” and “fluid” to switch between wives without having a schedule.

It feels very natural to spend some nights with Kaleh and some nights with Vanessa. No schedules, no rules. We just keep it completely fluid.

Jarod Clark

My sisterwife Melissa, our husband Joshua, and I like to watch Seeking Sister Wife together, but they were both out of town when this episode aired, so we watched it separately and then discussed it later. When I asked Melissa what she thought of the episode, the very first thing she brought up was the lack of scheduling.

Not having a schedule honestly makes no sense to me. I wrote about this in “I don’t want to have a chart on the refrigerator“, a post about a conversation between Dimitri Snowden and Joselyn in SSW Season 1, Episode 4. In that post, I included a tweet from @TheBrineyFamily saying, “Good luck with no schedule for time in plural marriage!” I won’t repeat all my arguments here.

A major factor at play is whether the wives share a home. When I wrote that post, Melissa and I didn’t live together, so whether Joshua was coming to my house or to hers vastly changed the evening’s plans and the home’s atmosphere. Nowadays, we are under the same roof, so it matters a lot less. However, we still do certain things separately. If we shared a kitchen and shared every meal, shared the living spaces, and never did anything separately, maybe the small detail of which bedroom Joshua went to at bedtime would matter even less.

But how does a husband choose who to sleep with, if it’s not based on a schedule? Does it depend on which wife is more/less demanding? Does it depend on the husband’s mood? Does it depend on the moods of the wives? The whole concept simply does not compute for me.

I don’t want to think that my husband will only come to my house if he feels like it. He has duties to me and I have duties to him. Marriage is important enough that sometimes spouses need to spend time together whether they both want to or not; otherwise it might become all too easy to avoid working out problems and just go with the easier route of avoiding each other.

I don’t care what the schedule is, and there are plenty of forms it can take (I give several real-life examples in the Refrigerator post), but the logistics of polygamy are already complicated. I say, let’s not make them more complicated by going without a plan.

I completely understand basing the schedule on what is going on with every family member on any given week. Maybe that’s what is meant by the people on SSW? Rather than having a schedule that is repeating and predictable, perhaps it’s simply flexible, depends on the week, and is based on the needs of the husband, wives, and even children. That sounds fine, and from time-to-time Joshua has adjusted his schedule depending on all those things. I guess “no schedule” just sounds to me like the husband waiting until 9:00 p.m. to announce which bedroom he’s sleeping in, or in the case of wives living in separate homes, waiting until 6:00 p.m. to decide at which house he’ll be spending his evening, eating dinner, and going to bed.

I admit that my personality type may be to blame for my strong preference for a predictable schedule. I like to plan. I like to visualize what my day/week/month looks like. I make time for myself and my projects and tasks, I have one-on-one time with each my children every day, I make time for my husband and for the entire family; for me, all that requires scheduling.

My entire life, I have always been frustrated at changes of plans, even when the change is potentially for the better. I admit this is a personality flaw, and maybe if I was better at going with the flow, I wouldn’t care so much about knowing when my husband is going to be with me versus not. Maybe the wives on SSW are different enough in that respect that it really does work for them.

The more I comment on it, the more I think I should write a whole post about the plural husband’s schedule when his wives live together versus separately, since we’ve now experienced several years of both situations.

As a homeschooling mom, I was interested to learn that another one of the new families on SSW, the Merrifields, also homeschools. We’ll see if that comes up again in a future episode.

We have two boys… We homeschool them… [to their two sons] All right, do you guys wanna get your books and stuff ready?

Dannielle Merrifield

I liked hearing Garrick and Dannielle Merrifield’s story about not coming from a polygamist background but being Christian, reading the Bible, and realizing plural marriage was practiced by godly people that were loved by God.

The way I see it is living a plural lifestyle is a great way to follow Christ and be like him.

Garrick Merrifield

I do not envy this family for courting and becoming engaged to a woman in a different country who speaks a different language! We have several friends with at least one wife in a different country, and they all have definitely chosen a hard way to live. The sisterwives don’t get the benefits that come from living together, and they end up living alone and almost like single mothers for weeks or months at a time. Melissa and I used to live only 1 hour apart, and that was difficult enough.

She [Roberta] lives in Brazil … so she speaks Portuguese, and only Portuguese.

Dannielle Merrifield

Here’s what my preteen son has to say about it: “It seems like such a dumb idea to marry someone who lives in a different country and you don’t even know each other’s languages. They should probably know the same language!”

One last thought about the episode. I like the comments Jarod Clark made about polygamy and kings and queens.

[Polygamy] was something that I [came] across in some research on how tribes and kingdoms were built, where a king had multiple queens, and each wife played an intricate part in that king’s life and in building and growing the kingdom.

Jarod Clark

In my home I present myself as a king. … Same thing with Vanessa and Kaleh: they present themselves as queens.

Jarod Clark

The blog’s header image is a castle I designed with the Mars and Venus symbols, meant to symbolize the husband in a plural family being a king and his wives being queens.

I wrote briefly about the king/queen idea in this post about SSW S1E2 and this post about SSW S2E1.

And, finally, I wrote some about the king/queen concept in this post about being proud to be a polygamist. In that post, I talk about how wonderful I think my family and my husband are, how I consider Joshua a king and Melissa and I his queens, and especially about how being polygamous used to be embarrassing for me but now I hold my head up high.

I guess you could say I’m “Polygamist and Proud!” … or should I say “Polygamous and Proud!” ?

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.

Sympathetic Biological Envy in Polygamy

Note from the blog owner: Natali Dilts is a new contributor to the blog and this is her first post.

The first memory I have concerning my “bonus-mom” plays back in my mind as follows: being excited to see her and then running towards her but then stopping at the tip of her left ring finger. “Your father asked me to marry him”, I perfectly recall her enthusiastic inflection as she urged me to admire her engagement ring. I looked at it in disbelief, I remember thinking “What about my mom?”. Before I could fully articulate my original reaction, I saw my biological mom embrace my soon-to-be mom, and as any seven year old would, I followed my mother’s example and began to welcome this new woman into my life.

Ten years later, I informed my birth mother of this memory. She then asked me several questions, her questions were questions that I already had. One of the questions being: Most of the people I knew as a child were directly involved in a polygamous relationship; why was my initial reaction negative?

Perhaps the engagement simply caught me off guard because of my expectations of what a romantic relationship looked like.  The courtship process in polygamy is strict and similar to that of a Christian Baptist dating ritual. No physical intimacy before marriage, apparent family involvement, and the purpose of the relationship to be “to the glory of the one and only God”. To the untrained or youthful eye, such a relationship could easily be determined as a close friendship.

I was homeschooled; my two social groups were family and church so the idea of polygamy was not foreign, in fact, it was incredibly common. I was actually more familiar with the polygamous way of life than the typical monogamous way of life. Though I had mentally understood the concept of polygamy fully and I had seen polygamy my entire life, I think I was surprised at my own family’s involvement. However, I do not think that fully explains why I reacted negatively to my bonus-mom’s engagement.

When I was seven, monogamy and polygamy to me was just a difference between two families. Refrigerating bread versus not refrigerating bread was a more prevalent difference between family beliefs than polygamy was. I would talk openly about my two mothers whenever I came into contact with children my age who were not acquainted with polygamy. I continued on that way until I was told not to do so.

“You shouldn’t tell other children that you have two moms; they might get jealous. You get two moms but they only one. You get a bonus-mom.”

Obviously, this was not the real reason I was not to tell “outside children” of my way of life but it’s the reason I believed. I do not think that the general public’s negative view of polygamy influenced my thoughts that day either. However, the majority of the world is mono-normative, meaning, monogamy is the ideal, typical relationship. This is similar to the idea of a physical relationship defining a romantic relationship. People’s certainty of normality speaks so much louder than people’s active disagreeance in regards to your lifestyle.  This concept of normality likely had an effect on me; the effect was not drastic but probably influential.

To be completely honest, I am not exactly sure what prompted me to think this way, there is likely a combination of several things both seen and unseen. I recognize that trying to understand my seven-year-old psyche in order to explain the immediate, sympathetic jealousy that many children of polygamy have felt in defense of their biological mother, will not provide many if any concrete answers. However, opening the discussion may lead to more concrete or evident answers and it may inspire “plyglets” to come forward and tell of their experience in polygamy. I do not claim to speak for all children of polygamy, I also know many “plyglets” who have formed a closer bond to a bonus-mom and felt jealous for her instead of automatically empathizing with their bio-mom. Nor do I claim to be an expert in psychology. These are mere theories of why some children of polygamy may feel jealous in the name of their biological mother.

Transition to siblinghood is similar to the transition into polygamy.

A common explanation describing how one man can love many women is described through how one woman can love many children. Psychoanalytic theorists such as Freud have emphasized the stressful nature of this transition for firstborn children, often citing it as one of the most traumatic experiences of early childhood (Adler, 1957; A. Freud, 1946; Winicott, 1964). Parental attention, once the sole province of the firstborn, must now be shared with a sibling rival. Winicott (1964) considered the distress of first borns during this time to be normative; “it is so usual as to be called normal when a child is upset at a new one” (p. 133). Since several children experience this, they are likely to relate to their mother and be empathetic. I personally experienced this with my mother. I am the oldest and I remember how I felt at the birth of my younger sister, not incredibly positive, I projected the emotions I felt towards my sister onto my mother and how she may have felt about her sister wife. Whether or not my predictions were correct, it caused me to empathise with my bio-mom and her struggle to accept a new wife.

Fetal Bias

Many neonates demonstrate a stronger connection to their biological mothers in contrast to their additional caretaker (father). It has been concluded that the main reason for this phenomenon is the physical dependence of early life. Emotional bonds are created and called “womb bonds” while there is a physical growth of the fetus. Then following the birth of the child, the first moral development stage of life is termed “trust vs mistrust”, where the child learns to trust their mother through physical care or where the child learns mistrust through neglect. The intimacy of this relationship does not extend to the additional caretaker until around the age three. To extend this trust to even more caretakers it could take an additional amount of time and it is not guaranteed to have the same intensity.

Egocentric Sympathy

It is estimated that until around the age of eight children are completely egocentric. Many interpret this as “a lack of sympathy until the age of eight years old” but this is not the case. Children are able to comprehend the difference between positive and negative emotion by the age of twelve months and they typically respond accordingly but they do not see the emotion felt by others as important as their personal emotions because it is not a central part of their world. It would be fair to assume that their biological mother’s emotion is of more importance to them than the emotion of their additional mother.  Simply because, their bio-mom typically plays a more central role in their lives, thus she is more important and her emotional state trumps the emotional state of her sister wife.

Conclusion

In what I have observed in my personal experience and through the basic childhood psychology that I have studied, I conclude that it is likely for a child to feel jealousy out of empathy for their biological mother when the possibility of polygamy is proposed. It is likely for the following reasons: societal influence and expectations help to dictate which ways a child may think of polygamy, there is a closeness to a biological mother that cannot be recreated, and the child is more likely to know of the emotional effects of their biological mother than of their additional mother.

This topic is important to present to the general public and the polygamist public because it highlights an important emotional process that “plyglets” experience. Further psychological speculation or anecdotal information from children of polygamy could be useful in defining polygamy’s place in the modern world.

References and Bibliography

Adler A. The progress of mankind. Journal of Individual Psychology. 1957;13:9–13.

Affonso DD, Mayberry LJ, Sheptak S. Multiparity and stressful events. Journal of Perinatology. 1988;8:312–317. [PubMed]

Alter JK. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Columbia University; New York: The relationship between language maturity and the adjustment to the birth of a sibling.

“Biomental Child Development: Perspectives on Psychology and Parenting” (2013).

“Envy Theory: Perspectives on the Psychology of Envy” (2010).