Predictably, Michelle Duggar couldn’t get through a phone interview without being interrupted.
When one has 19 children, interruptions tend to happen, but in this case it was good news — Duggar’s 14-year-old son had just passed his driver’s test.
“I am so excited for you. Another driver in the family,” Duggar said, breaking away for a moment to congratulate her son.
But it was exciting news for Duggar as well. She now had another person who could make “a run to the grocery store to buy milk,” she said.
With her platoon-sized cluster of kids, television program, book projects and family ministry to juggle, Duggar welcomes any additional help around the house, even as she celebrates her children’s successes and milestones for their own sake.
“These older ones now, they have so many adventures going on,” Duggar, 46, said.
But anyone with a TV and a little time on his hands would know that.
The adventures of Duggar, her husband, Jim Bob, and their children ranging in age from 3 to 25 can be seen on TLC’s “19 Kids and Counting.” The program, with a new season premiering March 12, is an offshoot of a series of TLC/Discovery documentaries based on the Duggars that began when the kids’ head count was 14.
Regular viewers have become familiar with the family’s group approach to life, as disciplined children take on their share of chores and responsibilities that include helping to care for the younger siblings.
“It is the best, it is so amazing — children,” said Duggar, who also finds time these days for two grandchildren. “And grandchildren are doubly amazing.”
The television exposure, which followed her husband’s state-level political career and has prompted national curiosity about her large family, has given Duggar a platform for her faith-based, pro-life and pro-family advocacy.
“It is a part of who we are,” Duggar said.
The family’s website — DuggarFamily.com — offers tips on cooking, indoor activities and home budgets interspersed with messages on faith and links to LifeUnited.org, the pro-life coalition the Duggars recently helped form after a visit to the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum in Washington, D.C.
The Duggars are members of Quiverfull, an evangelical Christian movement that stresses children are a blessing from God, with the husband seen as the head of the household and wives in a submissive role.
Duggar and her husband embraced their pro-life stance after she lost a child to a miscarriage much earlier in their marriage. The national publicity has only helped the Duggars spread the message, she said.
“The power of life and death is in the Word,” she said. “We realized that in a very unusual and painful way early in our marriage.”
The Duggars’ endorsement of pro-life candidates and the couple’s politics, as well as their decisions to share their children’s lives and document a more recent miscarriage on television, have opened them to criticism. But Michelle Duggar seems adjusted to the idea that her views and methods can be seen as controversial and finds validation in her faith.
“Those that are hearing and willing to hear, it will reach their hearts,” Duggar said. “I’m not sharing a message from my mind. I’m not sharing facts and information. I’m sharing a message from the heart.”
After the first miscarriage, the Duggars went on to have the first of two sets of twins, and the family ranks continued to swell.
“Before we knew it we were outnumbered and saying, ‘What have we done?’” Duggar said jokingly. “I couldn’t imagine life without one of them.”
It might have been a life less public, if not for politics.
Jim Bob Duggar served four years in the Arkansas House of Representatives followed by a failed run for the Republican nomination for the U.S. Senate in 2002. A photographer noticed Michelle and the kids, numbering 14 at the time, arriving to vote during Jim Bob’s Senate primary race and got a picture that was picked up by The Associated Press, printed in The New York Times and reprinted by parenting magazines.
That exposure led TLC to approach the Duggars for the original documentary, “14 Children & Pregnant Again,” which aired on Discovery Health in 2004 and was the highest-rated documentary the channel had broadcast.
The Duggars saw the documentaries and their current program as a way to share their values and insisted TLC not edit out any examples of the family’s faith.
“People will say, ‘I love your show,’ and I will kind of chuckle,” Duggar said. “It’s really not a show. It’s our lives.”
Duggar acknowledged it was unusual to have strangers approach her and her children in public to remark how an individual child has grown. But they have gotten used to cameramen and sound technicians in the 7,000-SF house they built themselves and have come to see some members of the production team as extended family.
“It’s not that intrusive for us because we’re such a busy family,” Duggar said. “They’re quieter than our family by far.”
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