I know I’ve written a lot of posts about the Duggar family. There was a time, years ago, that I watched their reality television program on TLC. I remember seeing them featured on the Discovery Health channel back in the early 2000s, when Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar were just a fundamentalist Christian Arkansas couple with fourteen children and another on the way. I watched with amazement as they went from being a seemingly very humble family from the “sticks” of Arkansas to household names.
I’ve never been a very religious person myself. So why was I so interested in the Duggar family? Well, the truth is, I do find strict, fundamentalist religions very interesting, even though I have no desire to participate in them myself. I also got the sense that the family was too good to be true. I know I wasn’t the only one who felt that way. Sure enough, it turned out my suspicions that there was some underlying trouble in paradise was on target.
Although I used to watch the Duggars’ show– 17, 18, or 19 Kids and Counting, (depending on how many kids they had at the time) and later Counting On, on an intermittent basis, I have never been one to read their books. Like I said, I’m not a very religious person myself, so I don’t really have any desire to read books about promoting Christianity. The Duggars aren’t people I look up to, either. But, when I heard that Jill Duggar Dillard was going to be writing a book called Counting the Cost, with help from ghost writer, Craig Borlase, I decided I would read that one. I finished the book yesterday, and now I’m ready to offer my thoughts.
Jill Michelle Duggar Dillard was born May 17, 1991. She is Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar’s fourth born child, and the second oldest daughter of their brood of 19 living children. In her book, Jill writes that she always felt compelled to be a people pleaser. She always tried to be the most mature and best behaved of her siblings. She was so sweet that she earned the nickname Sweet Jilly Muffin.
Early in her lifetime, Jill and her siblings lived in a house next to a church that was much too small for their growing family. She writes of how her mother, Michelle, trained her children, using music and other rewards to influence their behavior. Jill writes that the kids were not allowed to dance, because her parents worried that moving inappropriately, wearing “immodest” clothes, or being exposed to worldly media would encourage sin in themselves and other people. From a very early age, Jill was trained to obey without question, and taught that if someone fell into sin, it was her fault. That early training set the conditions that made it especially difficult for her to break free of her father’s hold on her.
Thanks to Jim Bob’s wheeling and dealing with the TLC network, they were able to build their own “big house” in Tontitown, Arkansas. Jill and the other oldest siblings were involved in helping to build the Big House, to which she refers frequently in her book. The “Big House” is the specially built home the Duggars built to accommodate their huge family; it is about 7000 square feet, but it only has about four bedrooms in it. There’s a master bedroom, a girls’ room, a boys’ room, and a guest room. TLC filmed the family building the house, doing all they could as a family before professionals had to be called in to do the more challenging work. Jill writes that she was happy to have had a part in building a house for her family.
As she grew older, Jill realized that finding a husband would complicate her life, especially since she was a “star” on the Duggars’ reality show, and her father was famously very strict. Jill writes that she was raised in Bill Gothard’s Institute in Basic Life Principles (IBLP), which is a lifestyle system ultra fundamentalist Christians adhere to as a means of preserving their version of raising godly families. Gothard founded the IBLP in 1961. It should be noted that Bill Gothard was eventually ousted from the IBLP because he was accused of preying on young women. Jill mentions that her sister, Jana, the lone blonde older Duggar girl, used to work for Bill Gothard. He specifically requested that she come to Chicago to work for him, running a training program for girls in the IBLP. Gothard reportedly favored blondes.
Within the IBLP, there is the idea of the “umbrella of authority”, which is a hierarchical structure of the family within a church. Jill explains that she was raised to always honor her parents, especially her father, who would then honor the church. She believed that if she simply did everything she was told to by her father, she would never be in any kind of danger. Meanwhile, Jim Bob had a hunger for money and power. He wanted to keep the reality series going, because it brought in a lot of money and prestige, although he claimed he saw the show as a “ministry”, bringing the masses to the Duggar brand of Christianity. He bought rental properties and airplanes, new RVs, and other trappings of success. The Duggars had always said that every child is a gift from God, and that they were open to taking as many of God’s gifts as God wanted to send them. But then they used God’s gifts to fund their own prosperity gospel… to show everyone else how much God favored them and their way of life. To me, it just looks like plain old greed disguised as something “godly”.
Even though finding a mate as a Duggar wasn’t an easy prospect, as the potential spouse had to meet with her parents’ approval, Jim Bob wanted to marry off his children. Why? Because every time a Duggar got married or had a child– especially the Duggar daughters– it brought in a lot of cash for Jim Bob. And I do mean for Jim Bob— because as Jill and her husband, Derick, discovered, Jim Bob was getting paid by TLC, but he wasn’t sharing the wealth with his adult children. Instead, he’d do things like give them places to live or cars to drive. Jim Bob Duggar, it seemed, wanted his children to work for him for free, and forever. He wanted them to be under his control, and make themselves available to his every whim and command. And he even went to tricking or coercing them into signing extreme “scientology like” lifetime contracts, to force them to stay under his control.
Jill and Derick have always seemed to me like a very close and loving couple. And, in fact, that is exactly how Jill makes it seem in her book, as Derick has encouraged Jill not to let Jim Bob run her life. However, it turns out that Jim Bob actually picked out Derick for Jill, and encouraged her to get to know him, as he was serving as a missionary in Nepal. She writes that she wasn’t interested at first, but he managed to capture her heart. TLC arranged for Jill and Jim Bob to travel to Nepal to meet him in person, and that’s when they entered their “courtship”– so called “dating with a purpose” of getting married. Jim Bob was right in that Jill and Derick were very suited to each other. But he didn’t know that Derick was not going to stand for Jim Bob dictating everything in their lives together. If he’d had a clue that Derick is as assertive as he is, there is no way Jill and Derick would have ever been allowed to wed.
As the Duggar children became adults, Jim Bob realized that he needed to make everything legal. So he tricked Jill into signing a contract she didn’t read– asking for her signature on the day before her June 2014 wedding, and not giving her the whole contract, or the time to read it. Jim Bob later told Jill and Derick that he had paid Josh and Anna for awhile, but found that arrangement wasn’t to his liking. So instead of giving his children a salary, he basically paid them in gifts in kind. But he had his accountant tell the IRS that they were being paid, for tax purposes. Later, Derick, who was a trained accountant before he became a lawyer, figured out what was going on. The couple later sued Jim Bob and prevailed in getting a small pittance of money for all of the time and labor Jill put into the show.
As if the the demands of the reality show wasn’t enough stress in their relationship, back in 2015, the tabloid, In Touch, got ahold of police records from 2006, detailing interviews Jill and her sisters had with law enforcement. The 2006 police interviews stemmed from a tip that Oprah Winfrey got regarding Josh Duggar’s deviant behavior.
In 2006, the Duggars were supposed to be interviewed by Oprah Winfrey, but the producers got a letter about Josh Duggar’s abusive misdeeds in 2002, when he was about 14 years old. The producers called the police, and that led to an investigation of Josh’s perversions. The police records were supposed to remain sealed, since Jill and her sisters Jessa, Jinger, and Joy Anna, were all minors at the time of the investigation. But In Touch got the records, and they were later released to the world, which led to the reality show being temporarily axed. The loss of the show was, of course, bad for Jim Bob’s finances, but the records’ release also revictimized Jill, her sisters, and the other person who was molested by Josh. It was devastating and humiliating to have that incident revealed to the public years after they thought it was in the past.
Jim Bob later finagled an idea to make a new show called Jill and Jessa: Counting On, later retitled simply Counting On. It would focus on the oldest children’s lives, minus Josh and his wife, Anna, and their children. However, once again, Jim Bob fixed it so that he was the only one being paid by the TLC network. Jill and Derick were “volunteers”… except they were bound by a contract that required them to work, while Jim Bob pocketed all the money. It prevented them from living their lives on their own terms… everything from forcing them to be available for filming, even when they were out of the country, to allowing cameras in while Jill was giving birth. It was unacceptable to the couple. So they decided to fight back, and that caused great strife in the family. Jim Bob used a variety of different tactics to get Jill and Derick back under his control. They resisted him, but it came at great cost… hence the title of the book.
Overall, I think Jill and her ghost writer, Craig Borlase did an excellent job on this book. Borlase did a good job making the book sound as if it came straight from Jill, yet it was very easy to read and understand. I spotted a few awkward sentences and at least one typo, but even the awkward sentences lent an air of authenticity to Jill’s story. I would not expect her to sound like an extremely educated person, because she was homeschooled using a fundamentalist Christian curriculum. She hasn’t been to college, nor is she super worldly, although I think she’s probably the most worldly of her siblings.
I did notice a couple of things that I haven’t seen other people mention about this book. I think I detected some subtle shade thrown at Ben Seewald. I know Ben and Derick had a falling out a couple of years ago. Jill never mentions Ben by name. She refers to him as “the guy Jessa was courting”. But later, she mentions Jinger’s husband, Jeremy, and refers to him as a “great guy”. Very interesting indeed. I don’t know if that was intentional, but I did pick up on it.
After all she’s been through, one might expect Jill to be super bitter and angry. I don’t know how Jill really feels off the record, but to me, this book is a very even-handed, yet honest, treatment of her situation with her family. She makes it clear that she loves her parents, even though her father has, quite frankly, been a totally narcissistic creep.
There are a few bombshells in the book. For instance, Jill shares how her father justified telling the IRS that he paid her about $130,000 when they never received that money. Jim Bob sent an itemized list of things he’d spent money on for Jill, to include her care and feeding when she was still a minor! And he never accounted for all the work she did for him– to include doing the heavy lifting of raising several of her siblings from the time she was a child herself.
It blew my mind that Jim Bob had made so much money off his children’s weddings and grandchildren’s births, but he was unwilling to so much as help Jill and Derick pay their $10,000 insurance deductible when their second son, Samuel, was born and Jill almost bled out and died. Jim Bob offered Jill and Derick $20,000 to “settle” the situation– a total insult, really. He gave them two days to decide, then rescinded the offer. Jim Bob also used the threat of lawsuits to keep his adult kids in line (definitely not a very Christian or Christlike thing to do) .
Fortunately, Jill and Derick were smart enough not to take Jim Bob’s monetary offerings or sign any other contracts with him. They have maintained their freedom and independence. They can make decisions for their own family, including sending their sons to public schools, drinking alcoholic beverages, wearing what they want to wear, and deciding if they want piercings, tattoos, or whatever else on their own bodies. I think they know that the freedom to make their own choices in life is worth so much more than money is. I also think they will make a lot more money on this book than any lump sum monetary gift Jim Bob could ever give them. It’s too bad most of Jill’s siblings weren’t as clever as the Dillards were.
Personally, I think Jim Bob Duggar is a narcissistic dirtbag. I’m sure he comes by it honestly, as a lot of narcissists do. I know he had a difficult upbringing. There was a lot of uncertainty and periods of poverty during his childhood, and that makes him very anxious about his own station in life as an adult. He corrects that anxiety by being hyper-controlling and dictatorial, and being a fundie Christian is one way to keep everyone in line. I get that. However, I still think Jim Bob is a creep for treating his kids the way he does… especially his daughters. He acts like his children, their spouses, and his grandchildren are his property. Jill even pointed out to Jim Bob that he treats her worse than he treats his child molester son, Josh. And all because she doesn’t want to live under her father’s thumb for the rest of his life or hers.
I also don’t think Jim Bob Duggar is a very good Christian. There’s a lot more to being a Christian than simply following rules and reading the Bible. Jesus Christ was not someone who craved riches, power, and control over other people. Jesus hung out with the people who were misunderstood and cast out from society. He served other people with no strings attached. He loved other people and ministered to them. Jesus didn’t seek to own other people, nor use them to prop up his image so he could be “example” for others to follow. Christ also didn’t threaten people with lawsuits or use shady contracts to keep people under his control. Jim Bob seeks admiration from people, control over them, power, and MONEY. That is not Christlike behavior.
Somehow, Jill has managed to show grace toward her parents. The book even ends on a positive, hopeful note. She shares a sweet picture of her parents holding her youngest son, Freddy. I know Jill loves her dad, in spite of everything. I admire her for that. She’s probably a better person than I would be in her shoes.
Anyway, I enjoyed reading Jill Duggar’s book. I applaud her incredible bravery and insistence on living her life on her own terms. I hope some of her siblings will follow suit. Living under the thumb of a control freak narcissist is no way to go through life. I think the Dillards are living proof of that. So bravo to Derick and Jill! I wish the best to them and their family, and I recommend her book.
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