Michelle Duggar's Life Was Never The Same After She Married Jim Bob

It's long been common for teenage girls to daydream about their ideal future husband and married life. Some may even have envisioned their entire dream wedding, from the perfect dress to the music and décor, from beginning to end. This isn't terribly surprising, since marriage and motherhood were historically among the few socially acceptable options for women. It's unclear what Michelle Ruark's vision for her future life was during her teen years, but after her first date with Jim Bob Duggar, she knew they were meant to be together. 

What she didn't know, however, was how dramatically her life would change once her hunch became reality. Casual followers of the Duggar family and their show may be surprised to learn that before dating Duggar, she'd been a popular high school cheerleader from a secular home  with an active dating life (she was known to party with football players).  But following her whirlwind romance and marriage, she rapidly transformed into the hyper-traditional (and hyper-religious) matriarch of a fast growing family — and eventually a central character on the family's long-running "Counting" series. It's not a journey she or anyone else could have expected — and it involved a long string of unexpected twists and turns.

She only adopted her famously modest dress code after marrying Jim Bob

One of the most famous (or infamous) quirks of the Duggar family is its strict and to some, anachronistic, dress code – long skirts and long-sleeved shirts only for girls and women, no "immodest" swimwear (meaning standard bathing suits and swim trunks) for anyone. Some may assume Michelle Duggar enforces this code in her family because she grew up with it, but in reality, she spent her youth wearing shorts and bikinis like most mainstream teenagers. And as a high school teenager, she wore the standard cheerleader's short skirt, as photos from the time confirm (via Radar Online). 

But as she wrote in a now-deleted blog post, she began to rethink her wardrobe choices once she got older. And her new views were directly influenced by her interpretation of Christian tenets. "For us the definition of the word defrauding is to stir up desires in someone else that cannot be righteously fulfilled," she wrote. "Growing up I would wear a bathing suit or shorts and not realize that it was revealing. When I got older I really felt convicted about my responsibility for how I was causing others to be defrauded. And I began to cover up because I felt responsible for my part in that." 

While the Duggars had their children adhere strictly to family dress code, Michelle emphasized she didn't judge others for having different standards. "This isn't for everyone, and we don't push this on anybody. And we don't judge anyone that doesn't have this perspective," she wrote.

Her teenage social life is not something she'd approve of now

Followers of the Duggars loved to watch (or hate-watch) the family's older kids as they navigated the always-fraught terrain of romance and the road to marriage. And one of the things they no doubt noticed was the family's custom of courtship — a period of discernment in which the couples' families closely supervised the young couple (no unchaperoned dates!) as the families and couple collectively decided whether or not marriage was in the cards. And pre-marital hanky-panky was a big no-no: Only side hugs were permitted before a couple was engaged, hand-holding was allowed only after engagement, and kissing could happen only after marriage. 

Judging by these rules, the adult Michelle Duggar would have grounded her teenage self for life. She was a popular high schooler who'd dated frequently and was known to frequent parties with football players and other popular kids. Her first date with Jim Bob Duggar was her first "car date," and Jim Bob later confessed he let her practice her new skills operating a manual transmission on his car so he'd have an excuse to put his hand on top of hers as she struggled to maneuver the stick.  Even worse, they (gasp!) kissed before they got married – a choice both say they now regret. 

Her marriage put a sudden end to her normal teenage life

Marriage and domestic life came sooner for Michelle Ruark than she probably expected. While she and Jim Bob Duggar had gotten engaged in December of 1983, while Ruark was still in high school, a job change for Ruark's father drove the pair to take the leap to marriage sooner than planned. Her father's new job would require the family to move from Arkansas to North Carolina, and the move was scheduled to take place right after Ruark's upcoming high school graduation. 

The thought of Ruark moving away was unacceptable to Duggar, who knew he had to act fast. He asked Ruark's father if they could move their wedding ahead to early summer. Ruark's parents gave their consent, and from then on, Michelle Ruark's life sped up in a hurry. The church in which the couple wed was still under construction, so they got married in one of its corridors. Duggar's house was likewise still under construction when they moved in, lacking doors on the kitchen cabinets and requiring a lot of renovation in other areas. But for the newly married Michelle, it was the most romantic scenario imaginable. "I remember thinking, 'Oh, how romantic. He's at our house and he's working on our car, '" she wrote on the family's website. "It's funny the little things that you just hold dear to your heart forever."

Having a large family wasn't her original plan

Some young women dream of having a houseful of children. But Michelle Duggar wasn't one of them. Even though she'd already converted to Christianity before marrying Jim Bob Duggar and was growing increasingly serious about her faith,  she and Jim Bob assumed they'd have an average-sized family of two or three kids after marrying. Indeed, Michelle spent the first three years of their marriage on the pill before she and Jim Bob decided they were ready to start their family. Their oldest son, Joshua, was born soon after.

Deciding to wait before having another child, Michelle went back on the pill — but to her surprise, she got pregnant anyway. A miscarriage early in her pregnancy devastated her, as did a Christian doctor's suggestion that the miscarriage happened because she'd been on the pill.  While most medical experts refute the claim that the pill causes miscarriages,  the Duggars took it to heart. They grew to embrace the belief that children are a gift from God, and, as Michelle related on the family's webpage, started to pray for "as many children as He saw fit." God apparently felt the Duggars were up for the challenge, and delivered on her request many times over.

She became more intensely religious after marrying Jim Bob

While Michelle Duggar was already a practicing Christian when she met and married Jim Bob Duggar, she and Jim Bob had a normal teenage dating relationship when they first got together. On their first date, he picked her up (unchaperoned) in his car to take her to a school dance,  something they'd never allow any of their children to do. And when they first married, they used contraceptives and planned to space out the birth of their children. 

But after marriage, she gradually began to embrace the religious constraints she's now known for. A miscarriage drove her to reject any form of family planning, deciding that the number of children they would have would be God's choice. And  her growing religiosity motivated a new embrace of modesty. "We were searching through scripture, and we found where God talks about a covering — what His idea of that would be," she wrote in a now-deleted blog post. "And in our heart before the Lord, we really came to a conclusion for our family about wearing modest clothes." And while it's unclear when the Duggar parents came to embrace their strict beliefs about courtship and marriage, it is clear that none of the children would have the private romantic life their parents enjoyed as teens. The Duggars not only insist their children be chaperoned on all outings with their beaus, but even monitor all text messages between the courting couples.

Her marriage strained her relationship with her sister

For many, marriage means leaving one's family of birth to form or join a new family. While this can be a happy transition for some couples — each gains a whole new bunch of family members to bond, work, and play with — it can be painful for others. And friction is likely to emerge when the two families being joined in marriage are very different from each other. Or if a family member grows away from the values of his or her birth family after marrying.

This was the case for Michelle Duggar. While her parents supported her marriage to Jim Bob Duggar, they were not religious and did not raise their children to be. Thus, after her conversion to Christianity and marriage, Michelle drifted further and further away from the secular culture in which she was raised. This caused some tension between her and her openly lesbian sister, Evelyn Ruark. The Duggars have made no secret of their disapproval of homosexuality, and have even deleted pictures of gay couples from their webpage after fans submitted them. While Ruark did a brief appearance in an early episode of "Counting," she appeared without Sharon Callahan, her longtime partner, and no mention was made of their relationship. And Callahan has stated publicly that she and Ruark were concerned about the extreme lifestyle and values Michelle had embraced. "It seems like brainwashing to me," she told the National Enquirer in 2010.

Having a TV show and becoming a public figure were not things she'd planned

As a cheerleader and popular kid in high school, Michelle Ruark did not shy away from the spotlight. Her teenaged self probably would have delighted in the opportunity to appear on television. But after marrying when she was only 17, pursuing a career in broadcasting or acting were likely the last things on her mind. And once her brood of children began to grow, the idea of occupying herself with anything but their care seemed all but impossible.

The sight of the enormous family, however, began to attract media attention, especially after Jim Bob Duggar's attempted run for the U.S. Senate. A New York Times photo of the kids (14 at the time) accompanying their parents to the polls led to a profile in Parents magazine, which in turn caught the attention of producers at Discovery, who approached the Duggars with a proposal to do a documentary on their lives and how they manage to care for so many kids. The Duggars agreed, feeling television would be a great way to share their faith with the rest of the world. And since then, Michelle hasn't looked back. "Little did we know, we would soon be featured on what would become one of the longest-running reality television series in history," she wrote on the family's webpage

Marriage and a huge family have forced her to live frugally

Close watchers of the Duggars realize their lives are far from glamorous. While Jim Duggar has supported the family with a series of businesses, along with real estate and property management, following their strict, conservative interpretation of Christian tenets, Michelle Duggar never held a paying job outside the home. This meant she had to learn quickly how to keep a large household of growing children fed and clothed on a limited budget. "We have tried to live very frugally, and our family motto is 'Buy used and save the difference!'" she wrote on the family's webpage. "We love to shop at thrift stores and garage sales whenever we can. Buying items in bulk has also saved our family a lot of money over the years!"

But even after over a decade of TV stardom (and presumably a good bit of wealth earned from their shows), old habits die hard. A point of fascination for some watchers of "Counting," for example, were the recipes Michelle prepared for her family meals, which tended to be mostly combinations of bargain canned and pre-packaged foods of questionable nutritional value (such as a dinner consisting of Fritos topped with canned chili beans and cheese).While this may have been perfectly understandable early in the Duggars' marriage, with all their current fame and fortune, some observers wonder (via In Touch), would it really break the bank for them to feed their kids fresh vegetables for a change?

She's remained passionately committed to Jim Bob and her marriage

Raising 19 kids wouldn't be easy for anyone, even under the best conditions. And Michelle Duggar's journey as a wife and mother came with not only a crap ton of laundry and cleaning, but more than its share of conflict and heartbreak, made even worse by being played out in public. For instance, when her eldest son Josh was revealed to be under investigation for sexual misconduct with minorsand later arrested for possession of child pornography,  she stood by him, a decision that caused friction with not only some fans, but even some of her other children. 

But no matter what happened with her kids, Michelle has remained steadfastly loyal to Jim, and he to her. Every week, they still make a point of setting aside time for a date, which could be anything from a quick lunch, a long drive, or a trip out for ice cream or coffee. However, she has also championed more controversial ways of keeping one's marriage alive, such as always being available for sex. "There will be times you're going to be very exhausted. Your hubby comes home after a hard day's work, you get the baby to bed, and he is going to be looking forward to that time with you," she told Today. "Anyone can fix him lunch, but only one person can meet that physical need of love that he has, and you always need to be available when he calls."

Her large brood drove her to adopt some unconventional parenting techniques

Raising even just two or three kids takes a bit of logistical juggling for most parents. Managing the scheduling demands of work, school drop-off and pick up times, and after-school activities and errands requires organization and discipline, especially if your kids are different ages and attending different schools and after-school programs. Now imagine managing the needs of 19 kids as a stay-at-home mom. Michelle and Jim Duggar homeschooled their kids, so at least they didn't have to worry about school drop off and pick up — but the rest of it was still a lot.

To handle it all, Michelle devised some unusual hacks to keep the household running smoothly. As in most families, the kids helped with household chores. But Duggar also instituted a "buddy system" in which each of the older children was paired with a younger sibling and responsible for ensuring he or she was dressed, washed, and fed. The older 'buddies" were also charged with supervising the little ones' schoolwork and meals and putting them down for naps. While older siblings have always helped out younger ones, the degree of responsibility the older Duggar kids assumed seems eyebrow-raising, given their relative youth. For instance, Joy-Anna Duggar freely states that her older sister Jill raised her, and Jill recalls even changing Joy-Anna's diapers — even though she was only seven years old when Joy-Anna was born.

Her strident anti-gay views are puzzling to her high school friends

Few people who knew Michelle Duggar in high school would have predicted the popular cheerleader would one day become a vocal apologist for conservative Christianity. Accounts from her contemporaries report she was outgoing and well-liked by her classmates. "She was honestly one of the loveliest, sweetest people you could ever hope to meet," her high school friend Sherri McFerrin told Radar Online.

McFerrin added that she initially stood by Duggar and refused to judge her even when other former schoolmates started to snipe about her many children and her religious zeal, which struck them as cult-like. But when Duggar vocally fought an Arkansas state bill that would grant equal rights to transgender people, even recording a robocall urging citizens to protest against it, McFerrin, who has a gay son, realized she could no longer stand by her old friend, nor stay silent. "I don't understand what has happened to her heart. The things she said in that call were hateful and ridiculous," she told Radar Online. "People can believe whatever they want. But when your beliefs are hateful and bigoted...that's a different story. When you use your words, actions, money, and fame to further discriminate against an already marginalized group of people, you are a hateful bigot."