The show Sister Wives is a reality series on TLC which profiles the lives of the Browns; a polygamist family of fundamentalist Mormons who have moved from Utah to Las Vegas. Patriarch Kody Brown started out his married life with first wife Meri and then married Janelle and later, Christine. The show began in 2010 and has seen the addition of a fourth wife named Robyn, the birth of a new baby, the launch of a new business venture and a move into brand new homes for the whole family. In other words, the Browns have to deal with a lot of major life events and as a result, many major life stressors. It makes for fantastic television. Besides providing entertainment, though, the sister wives are inspirational to families of all kinds.
Together, they have 17 children of different ages including several teenagers, adding to what the Browns describe as a “chaotic” life. Of course, there are some very shocking things about the show too, but surprisingly, those things don’t have to do with the Browns themselves.
Before delving into the shocking aspects of the show, though, it’s important to discuss the basics. What strikes the viewer the most, at first, about this family, is their complete and utter normalcy. They laugh, they cook, they take day trips, Dad and Mom(s) have date nights, the teenagers get overly emotional , the older kids watch the younger kids, the children whine occasionally, the adults buy new bedroom sets, they enjoy holidays, they play practical jokes, they give their kids bikes and do everything their monogamous counterparts do.
While the Browns themselves may giggle at the above description and think “of course!” the average viewer might be surprised to see what can only be described as extreme normalcy from a polygamist family. Perhaps public expectations run along the lines of anticipating some weirdo cult, or a creepy old guy who has an eye for young girls, or wives who speak with very soft voices and always look at their husband for his approval; or a swinging “anything goes” type of lifestyle. None of those scenarios are true whatsoever. The Browns are indistinguishable from any other family in the United States; the only difference is that there are more of them.
But that is not to say they are not without unique traits. Just as every family has interesting and special characteristics that set them apart, so do the Browns, and as the viewers watch them, the Browns’ most interesting moments reveal themselves like the unfurling of a spring lotus. The Browns are so incredibly open, so honest and so vulnerable they could make a 1970’s intensive marriage workshop look like tea with the Queen.
These sister wives are no shrinking violets. These are some strong ladies. They are emotionally tough as well as grounded within themselves. They know the lives they want to live and they boldly strive to achieve that life no matter what the world at large thinks. They are brave women who are in love with their husband and family but also with their own authentic selves.
They don’t hold back their emotions in front of the camera, and they don’t shy away from talking about how the life they have chosen can bring hardships, including jealousy. The issues with which the wives deal each day are no different from the issues monogamous people face, but these wives are open about those issues. These are definitely not people living lives of quiet desperation. These are woman who are living their individual truths.
When it comes to the kids, it’s pretty apparent that none of the Browns are going to push their children into polygamy, and one child, Janelle’s daughter, recently said she has made the firm decision to be monogamous. All of the children look incredibly happy and well adjusted. It’s clear that they are a close sibling group.
Looking at this rather rosy picture, one might ask if it’s it all peaches and cream. Of course not! There are sometimes hurt feelings; occasionally the wives say not-so-nice things to each other; once in a while, Kody is less than patient. However, none of these things differ in any way from monogamous people’s lives. Sometimes people say unkind things; sometimes our spouses lose their patience; jealousy can happen from time to time for a variety of reasons.
In addition to starring on the show, two of the wives keep online blogs in which they share rather personal details with incredible candor. Janelle is very open about her struggles with weight; Robyn reveals she deals with anemia. On the show, the viewers have shared in the pain of Meri’s infertility and Christine’s struggles with jealous emotions after wife Robyn joined the family.
These are people who have laid their lives out for all to see with strength and bravery, and the results are riveting. Of course, there are thing which are shocking about the Browns as well, but those things stem from outside their marriages. Truly, the most shocking thing about this family is the reaction of people who don’t understand polygamy.
In one episode, the Browns showcased their new jewelry business at an expo and the camera crew interviewed some passersby. One woman had bitterness in her eyes when she said “I have no respect for them…I hate them.”
Hate? Really? This woman, who is a complete stranger to the Browns, who has had no interactions with them, hates them? But why? They’re perfectly lovely people; they’re great parents; they’re kind and honest and cooperative. How could anyone hate them?
It seems this feeling of hatred is echoed by thousands or even millions of people. Those people are judgmental about polygamy. Perhaps they think the Browns belong to Warren Jeffs’ cult (they don’t) or that they are grooming their underage daughters to marry old men (they’re not.) These are stereotypes. Like most stereotypes, they are not true.
The outside world is so judgmental, so hateful, and so venomous; it seems incredible that the Browns persevere. They’re not just being judged by their neighbors, but by millions of strangers as well. This judgment and hate seems like too much to juggle with everything else they’ve got on their plates, but they manage, and they manage with grace most of us could only hope for.
Sometimes, the criticism is laughable. For example, one online forum described one of the Brown daughters dying her hair, and a woman claiming to be a neighbor said that daughter has also been caught smoking and drinking alcohol. Sounds like normal teenager stuff, doesn’t it? Well, because it’s a Brown daughter, suddenly, she’s acting out because her family lifestyle is “sick” according to the online commenters. It’s a ridiculous accusation, though, and different standards are being applied to the family because they are polygamists. However, they should not be judged in this way. How many teenagers have never tried cigarettes, dyed their hair or drank alcohol? Good luck trying to find more than a handful of such goody-goodies. Even the Amish, who are way more conservative than the Browns, not only tolerate, but encourage their teenagers to do all of these things during rumsprigna.
The bottom line is, Kody, Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn are all consenting adults, and as such, they have every right to configure and execute their adult romantic relationships however they see fit. How they choose to do that should not be questioned by anyone, because as adults, they have the right to do what they want to do within their romantic relationships. And so do you.
Just as you would not want to be judged for the choices you have made within your relationships, so should you not judge the Browns. In fact, they do not judge others in this way, and they adhere to the mindset that everyone has the right to live the romantic lives of their own choosing.
The Browns are smart people. Their communication skills are something to be admired. Sometimes the openness and honesty they display leaves viewers’ jaws on the floor. This is a family that has obviously had a lot of therapy, and it’s paid off well. It’s truly inspirational to see. They validate each other’s feelings and the even the feelings of those who are being cruel to them. They don’t lose their tempers often. They listen intently and maintain eye contact with each other constantly. This is a family working really hard to maintain the balance of their relationships, and they are finding success. How many families can say the same?
By: Rebecca Savastio