Before we became the “19 and counting” Duggar family we were just Jim Bob and Michelle, growing up in Arkansas as the children of loving, hard-working parents. A lot of who we are today springs from who we were back then.
So, to tell our family’s story, we’ll start before it’s beginning!
How it all began
In December 1983, I (Jim Bob) spent about $350 on a ring, and on Christmas Eve, got down on my knee and asked Michelle to marry me. She excitedly said yes! Three months later however, a new job for Mr. Ruark meant that he, his wife, and Michelle would move to North Carolina as soon as Michelle graduated from High School in May.
I couldn’t stand to think of Michelle leaving, so I asked her dad if we could get married that summer! I used my best salesmanship to remind him that I was working at a grocery store and also had my real estate license. I was buying a little $19,000 house, and I loved Michelle with all my heart.
It was an emotional conversation for both of us. I was crying, and Mr. Ruark had tears in his eyes as he listened to me pour out my heart. “I love your daughter,” I told him. “I really believe I can provide for her and take care of her. And I don’t want to see her move away to North Carolina!”
Michelle’s mom was sitting nearby, listening and not saying anything. Finally, Mrs. Ruark softly said to her husband, “Garrett, just let the boy marry the girl!”
We were married on July 21, 1984, three months after my (Michelle’s) high school graduation and three days after Jim Bob’s nineteenth birthday. I would turn eighteen that September.
Our wedding was sweet and simple, and we did most of the preparation and decoration ourselves. We got married in our church where our pastor officiated our ceremony. At the time, our church was still being built so we were meeting in a big gymnasium for services. We actually got married in the hallway of the building—we had set up folding chairs to use as pews! And we did the exact same thing when we renewed our vows 25 years later.
I wanted to do as much as I could myself as a way to save money and keep the expenses reasonable. Another special touch was wearing Jim Bob’s mother’s wedding dress as my dress! Everything we did for our wedding was so inexpensive, but perfect for us. We wanted to spend our money on our honeymoon!
After returning from our honeymoon in Mount Nebo, we were looking forward to being at our new home together. It was a small fixer-upper house, about 900 square feet total, and Jim Bob got such a good deal on it. We spent the rest of our honeymoon fixing up our little house. Jim Bob had moved in a month before the wedding, but I didn’t move in until after we were married so this was our first time living together. There were no doors on our kitchen cabinets and the place needed a lot of work, but that was okay! We were living on love and it was so exciting.
It was just so precious to be in our own house together for the first time. Jim Bob was already being a great husband and working on the car. I remember thinking, “Oh, how romantic. He’s at our house and he’s working on our car.” It’s funny the little things that you just hold dear to your heart forever.
When we first got married, we thought we would have maybe two or three children. Michelle started off our marriage taking the birth control pill so we could plan when we wanted children. After three years, Michelle went off the pill and we had our first son, Joshua. We loved being Josh’s parents and getting to spend all our time with him, but we didn’t think we were ready for more children yet. So, Michelle went back on birth control pills after Josh was born.
Miscarriage, then blessing
Then the unexpected happened, followed by the unthinkable: Michelle got pregnant, even though she was still taking birth control pills. We thought that was impossible, but we were surprised to find out different! Between her second and third month, Michelle miscarried. When the doctor told us the miscarriage probably happened because she had conceived while still on the pill, we were devastated.
Through this difficult time, we began to read in the Bible that children are a blessing and a gift from God (Psalm 127:1–5). We asked God to give us a love for children like He loves children, and to forgive us for not desiring to receive His gifts! It was then that we asked God to give us as many children as He saw fit. A year later, God blessed us with twins! And then another baby, and another, and another!
Getting a TV Show
It is an exciting adventure following God! We certainly never expected to be on television! In 2002, a photo of our family walking into a polling place during Jim Bob’s run for U.S. Senate ended up being printed in the New York Times. That photo led to a story about our family published in Parents magazine. Someone at Discovery Health Channel saw the magazine article, and we soon got a phone call asking if they could do a one-hour documentary about the logistics of raising 14 children. We felt that it was an opportunity to share with the world that children are a blessing and a gift from God!
Around that same time we also realized we were outgrowing our home. Since we were committed to living debt-free, we made the decision to begin building a house ourselves. We loved getting to work alongside each other as we learned different aspects of construction from many friends and hired professionals. It was during this time that a television network began regularly filming the things we were doing together as a family.
Little did we know, we would soon be featured on what would become one of the longest-running reality television series in history. We are so thankful for the Figure 8 Films crew—they have become like family to us. They have invested their time and energy into our lives and have been so patient!
Where we are now
Fast forward a couple of years, and here we are! We have been blessed with 19 children (10 boys and 9 girls), our nephew Tyler, sons- and daughters-in-law, and new grandchildren arriving every year. We will be the first to say that we are far from perfect—we face challenges and struggles just like any other family! But through it all, our desire has been to make Christ known and for others to see that the Bible truly is the “owner’s manual” for life.
Over the last several years people have said to us, “We love your show!” We have always responded, “It’s not a show, it’s our lives!” Our desire in opening our home to the world is to share Bible principles that are the answers for life’s problems.