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Sister Wives Season 3: Thoughts and Doubts

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Robyn Brown pregnant

On September 25, 2011, Sister Wives began its third season. Although I had enjoyed writing about the show each Sunday last year on Blogcritics’ TV Open Thread,” I wasn’t certain I wanted to do the same this year.
To write about the show last year, I had to stay up later than usual (my husband commutes 120 miles a day, and needs his sleep). Yet this wasn’t the full reason I had second thoughts about writing (at least in the TV Open Thread section). I also want to write about other things; but at the bottom my reason was that I had, and have, some doubts about whether this show depicts an image of multiple relationship to which I can relate.

Last year a surprising number of people responded to my Blogcritics articles on Sister Wives: some with curiosity, some with tolerance and positive support for the Brown family, and some with disdain for a life that encompasses four wives, sixteen children, and one husband and father.

My point of view is this: I have no problem with the issue of poly-marriage, but I do tend to feel that if a man is going to have more than one wife, the woman (or women) should be free to do the same. A children’s rights activist since I was a child myself (so were my parents), I felt a good deal of concern for the Brown children as they fled Utah for Las Vegas at the end of last season. I had often wondered what, exactly, was the point of my publicizing and supporting this way of life?

It is not the multiplicity that bothers me. It’s the conservatism, the restraint of the younger generation;  the certainty on the part of Kody Brown that he should be  the one and only head of the family; and his lack of concern for the feelings of other family members in doing what he wants to do.

He expressed concern for Meri, Janelle, and Christine, his other three wives, when he married the younger and more attractive Robyn last year, but I never got the sense that he really had any intention of not marrying her if they asked him not to. (I suppose men are often the same about this sort of thing, marriage or no marriage.) One gets the same feeling with his children– he feels he cares about them, but is he really aware of their wishes and their concept of what they need?

In the first episode of this season,  Meri and Kody’s teenage daughter (who found leaving Utah and her church very difficult) refuses to come to church with the family,  because she feels it’s wrong to bring cameras into a religious situation. Kody seemed baffled, but gave in (probably because he was worried that she might  run off back to Utah if he tried to force her).

They try attending a local church, but the wives quickly express the sense that they can never be at home in a church that does not support polygamy. It’s interesting because they seem to suffer a good deal from sharing a husband,  yet they defend polygamy strongly, in a way that might surprise those who have never lived in a multiple relationship. I think it isn’t so much Kody they defend (though of course they love him)  as the relationship with one another, despite their early distrust of and discomfort with Robyn, with whom Meri, the oldest and legally married wife has now created a sisterly, confiding relationship. They like being with and helping one another, and they like to have their kids be a part of one another’s lives. This is something I can understand, and I am sure there are many out there who do as well– even if it’s only from the perspective of a big, extended family with many cousins and aunts and uncles.

The Brown family also deals with Robyn’s announcement that she will be having a baby in early October. Meri seems welcoming about it; Kristine hugs her. But Janelle seems focused on her own problem, almost unaware that Robyn is miserably awaiting her approval. Janelle, though,  claims that  her lack of response to Robyn’s announcement springs from other issues, such as her loss of a job (she was one of the family members who always worked), and other issues involved in moving to Vegas. The women are each living in a different house, rather than one house with three apartments (and an extra house for Robyn) as things were in Utah. I imagine this does bring up all sorts of feelings, though you’d think that at least some of the women would prefer having their own house.

Another issue is that they are all concerned about the older teenagers getting involved with members of the opposite sex. They have pools, and they want to have pool parties; but, calling themselves “conservative,” they become disturbed by co-ed hanging out in the pool,  something that probably seems entirely normal to most “outside world” teenagers.

Do I want to write about the Brown family? Yes, within certain parameters. I’m  interested enough to watch it and write a column every few episodes.

Readers, let me know what you think of this arrangement, and feel free to post your thoughts and feelings about the show and the Brown family here. I’ll be glad to discuss it all with you.

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About Ladybelle Fiske

  • Saying that the FLDS aren’t Mormons isn’t any different than a Christian saying that Mormons aren’t Christians.

  • Remona

    I think it’s hilarious when people say that Mormons practice polygamy. The Browns aren’t Mormon. They are members of a sect of the FLDS church, which IS NOT the same thing as the “Mormons” or The Church of Latter-Day Saint’s. It’s fine to have opinions but don’t bash on anyone’s beliefs until you understand them or even know the slightest thing about them. The Mormon church hasn’t practiced or condoned polygamy since the 1890’s. The internet is obviously accessible to all of you, use it.

  • I think they thought they were “coming out of the closet,” as gays have. They felt they were trying to show that this is a normal and acceptable way of life.
    However, you’re right in that there is no way they could ever have peace and quiet again after that. Maybe some of them liked it that way, but others didn’t at all.
    I don’t know if they get paid for letting a show be made about their lives. If so, maybe they needed the money, with all those kids.

  • Dianne

    I just think its sad to expose yourself and lifestyle for what? 5 minutes of fame, fame that they really didn’t need, and at a huge cost, they had such a lovely communal home and what appears to be a very normal life as normal as it can be for a polygamist family. They should have given the consequences way more thought the television show wont last forever.

  • Chacun a son gout, as they say in France?
    (To each his own)
    I don’t know. It’s hard to figure out if there is a fixed way to live with others. It’s not easy under any circumstances.
    I know that Kody doesn’t like the idea of other men with his wives. He told Meri so in one of the early episodes… said something like it would be “disgusting.” ???!!!

    I think they are very nice people but this is one of the things I find difficult about that religious point of view. It’s not quite fair.
    Thanks for commenting!
    Have you seen Sara’s comments on the recent season of SisterWives? I kind of got tired of that commentary, and she took over… has a blog called “Polygrrl” or something like that about polygamy, in which she is presently living. (not her real name)

  • A fan

    I love sisterwifes! But I will never underestand how any woman can share her man. No matter what I believe when Cody is with one wife it hurts the others.I think it is very one sided for Cody to want more than one wife. But I also say whats good for the goose is good for the gander.How would he feel if one of hjs women were with another man? Not so good I think.

  • I was, too, Some families can manage that, and I think this shows us they have a loving and peaceful environment.

    I was moved by Robyn’s offer to be Meri’s surrogate. This is what this family means when they speak of the religious quality of their “celestial marriage.” I felt, for the first time, that I really understood them and felt at one with them. (Kody seems like a nice enough guy… just a bit silly.)

  • Karen

    The Sister Wives intrigues me as I can not understand how a goof like Kody can have one wife never mind four.I find him immature and self centered.I admire the family’s strength to stand up for their beliefs.Kody needs to be more realistic in his expectations.I was amazed by Robyn’s at home birth with no painful screams present.

  • Maggie4

    Multiple wives just seems like a harem. If they are supporting themselves & all those kids I suppose it is OK, or if we suddenly get short of people.

  • Ladybelle Fiske

    See Polygrrl’s TV Open Thread column on SisterWives each week!

  • Ladybelle Fiske

    Dr.Dreadful, you’re right. But it would be more fun for the women to have a variety of husbands… It seems to me Kody has put, a lot of his genetic material in the gene pool already. On the other hand, of the wives perhaps only one or 2 could find other men now (or maybe not) and at least with Kody they have some security. It’s really up to the Browns, not up to anyone else. I do not see why we think we have any right to impose our ethic on people who believe otherwise ( unless children are being mistreated),

    Kathy, you don’t have to watch, you know. I like the closeness and sisterly support among the women ( something I have experienced myself).
    Give them a break. Is it any less moral or interesting than the Duggars having 19 kids when Michelle’s body is probably beyond having children?
    Josie Duggars suffered a lot at birth because she was born too soon– perhaps because Mrs. D. has had as many kids as her body can take. No one complaining about this!

    I don’t know. I do worry about the Brown teens and wish they could have a life more suited to their own desires. But they’ll be grown soon. I wish the Browns well, as we should, I think, wish all living beings well on their journey to enlightenment or wherever it is they are going…

  • Kathy

    Let’s discuss how to get them off the air. I personally do not care what they do in the privacy of their homes. I just do not want it on tv. It is confusing to our younger generation. One man and four women is just not right. If Kody believes that love should be multiplied then why can’t the women have four husbands. Let’s all do the world a favor and stop watching this train wreck. I feel sorry for the kids. Shame on you TLC for only caring about ratings and money. Kody is extorting his own family.

  • I wonder how it is that there are not more matriarchical groups in which women are in demand and have several male partners.

    Because it doesn’t make as much sense from a biological standpoint. A single male can impregnate several females at once, but a woman can only have one pregnancy at a time regardless of how many men she has sex with.

    There is the argument that polyandry makes a larger reproductive pool available to the female and increases the chances of her child having good genes, but there’s no guarantee that it will be the Cadillac-quality sperm that fertilizes the egg!

  • All your comments are very thoughtful, but I really agree with Cole. I had friends who helped me raise my very energetic daughter, and who were wonderfully helpful. I see nothing wrong with sister wives… or brother husbands. Why do we not see more of that?
    I wonder how it is that there are not more matriarchical groups in which women are in demand and have several male partners. I mean, of course there are such relationships. Many don’t bother getting married and happily have more than one partner too. Women as well as men. What is wrong with this, except possibly loneliness in old age? I am happily monogamously married, but I can certainly understand the wish to have all sorts of love… not just one kind…

  • And how can u live with yourself knowing that you’re not legally married to your so called ‘husband’.

    Millions of people do so quite happily, whether they’re in polygamous or monogamous relationships.

  • Alison

    The wives claim that they are so for this lifestyle but then why is that from time to time they feel jealous that they are not getting enough attention? And how can u live with yourself knowing that you’re not legally married to your so called ‘husband’. Also how on earth is kody providing for everyone?? And they keep saying that they’re Christians. Christianity condones having more than one wive?? Seriously?? Baffling….

  • cole

    i think the idea of sister wives is beautiful. The time I would have loved to have a sister wife to help center me and help me through the rough times. Do I think the feeling of jealousy is a small matter? NO. It would be something that the women would struggle with in some degree at all times. Robins time right now would be the easiest because she is all new and perfect, but I do think the added stress of her children adds a new degree.
    I think the strength of these women is something we could all learn from. Sense of self, independence with a goal of success for the group as a whole is something we could all learn from.
    I am my self going in to my third marriage. How wrong is that. Yes I do have 3 very good kids and I do consider my self lucky in this department. The Browns have not yet to put an adult into the world. But from what I see those kids know they are loved, are getting a good education and have a good home life. We all know there are people out there living together, no marriage licence having children and doing far, far less for their children. We have no laws against that. I think these people should be proud of their achievements as a whole.

  • Thanks to you both for your (completely opposite) commentary. I believe we should live and let live, Floridagirl… You’re lucky to live in such a lovely place (my home half the year when I was growing up). I hope that the kids aren’t “scarred for life” but I think some will probably have problems and others won’t, just as in a monogamous family. It’s funny how these things turn out. I do think they seem to need more attention from their dad. Perhaps living in one big home, or a series of homes on the same street, would fix that. BTW this is not a sitcom, but a “reality show.” (Just saying.)

    Thanks, Ann for your comments also. I think there’s a lot to be said for tolerance and acceptance of others’ lives (as long as kids are not hurt in any way by the actions of their parents.) Would the kids be better off in foster care,Floridagirl? I find that hard to believe. Their mothers obviously love them… don’t you think?
    Who knows. It’s all a matter of the way one sees things, really. If I saw the kids being seriously abused, I would be the first one against them…

  • Floridagirl

    I can not beleave this sitcom! I watched half of the season premier and it made me physically ill. The wife’s I think have saver emotional problems. Maybe trama that happend as a child. I don’t see how any woman would except this life stile. I think it’s a need of exseptence and fear to be alone. So the keep exspanding there family with children and more wife’s. I honestly agree with the state trying to intervene. I think that these children are going to be permanently scared by this life style the were born into.

  • Ann

    I watch the show all the time and I see the love within the family even if there are carmras. I dont understand your religious but it would be great to have the love and support like you guys do. I just wish you all the best. A.smith from Frankfort Ky

  • There seems to be some tension on their part that the kids are going to choose monogamy (or at present believe they are)… last year it was all hunky dory. Now they fear this outcome.
    A lot changes when you allow TV cameras into your life and your privacy. Tx all for your thoughtful comments.

  • Sara

    I hope they can find a way to be in one house again or at least very close together, like next door. Ladybelle, I think a problem with your idea of Kody focusing on who needs him most is that, especially with the kids, it might teach them to act out extreme behaviour to get attention. Kids will take any attention they can get. And although the adults have superior communication and relationship skills than most folks, I think constantly figuring out who gets time when and for what would be confusing and exhausting. I’ve never lived in a household with that many people but it’s probably more stabilizing for everyone to have clear expectations around which to commit and plan.

  • Sara

    I agree with you Annabelle, I think the law that drove the family out of the state is the biggest reason the family is in crisis. It would have been much easier to incorporate Robyn and her kids into the family, have enough working adults to maintain the household and find a bigger house together. But instead, they were forced into a crisis, financial and otherwise, and are living apart which is obviously causing major problems for the family in different ways. It’s a good thing they have each other though to help weather the pressure.

  • Eileen Louis

    I think that the whole poly situation is crazy. The program is providing them with money and they put up a “good face” for TV. i see that some of their kids are not going to practice their views and rightfully so.Another sort of ” Jon and Kate” kind of thing. It is all crazy. Hopefully the kids will figure it all out.Kody favours Robyn – it is not hard to see that !!!

  • Thanks, Polygrrl. I hope people will check out the TV Open Thread: For All Your Rants and Raves column that Sara (Polygrrl) is now writing about Sister Wives. I’ll be posting an occasional Sister Wives column and writing about other things too, I am sure. Probably with the next show or so I’ll write something, but with Polygrrl you can go online Sun night after the show, or Mon. morning, and immediately express your thoughts!
    Also, Sissy, thank you for your point of view. I like what you have to say. The women’s relationship is the most interesting part of it all to me; and I do think that Kody (and to some extent the others) haven’t taken into account what the kids would feel about having their lives exposed (as Polygrrl says). I think Kody ought to be more focused on the kids too, if he can, and perhaps his nights with the wives should center around WHICH CHILD needs him most at the time, and which wife, rather than a one-two-three-four schedule. I wonder if they change things if there’s a crisis?
    He seems to me to have a special attachment to Robyn, which is normal, I guess , since they are recently married and having their first child. But one can see it is hard on Christine particularly at the moment.

  • sissy

    I think this show is eye opening. I feel any information on polygamy has been from the media which is always polygamist men marrying children. This show is nothing like what i thought. For me, the sister wives represent very strong women who deal with knowing their husband is involved with other women which for most of us is unimaginable. Kody has chosen 4 women who seen to be very strong and centered so they mesh well together. I think they are going throught what most long term relationships go throught. My only issue is with kody, When the children are struggling i feel he needs to spend more time at that house to help the wife and child or children get throught what ever issues they have

  • I think you’ve brought up some great points here, Ladybelle. It’s a complex situation – on the one hand, as someone in an alternative relationship myself, I admire and appreciate what the Browns are doing, because it is opening minds, and perhaps, over time, legal doors. But I do also wonder about its affect on the kids, who may not have had much say in whether their lives would be reflected on television. Besides the one older boy, though, the kids seems fairly well-adjusted and confident and happy; they seem to know they are loved.

    If you are interested in what other polygamists have to say about Sister Wives, I’ll now also be reviewing this show for BlogCritics – read the latest.

  • Did they? I assume some of the money comes from the TV show. The cars are so NEW. I haven’t got a car like that… mine is pretty old!
    I think it’s good for kids to know who their parents are and have attention from those parents. Whether it is crucial to have 2 parents only or whether more can be helpful is an issue on which the jury is still out for me. My daughter was raised by a group of people and is well-adjusted and brilliant, a social worker and Zumba teacher… but she longs for a community situation in which to live and raise children, so perhaps having a group set up expectations that later times could not meet (she was born in 1971).
    My son was raised with some help from others in our group, but mostly cared for by my husband and myself, in an essentially nuclear family (with some extensions such as cousins and close friends living in the home).
    He is also doing well, only 23 (b. 1988) and is in law school. I get the sense that love and supportiveness are the key factors in raising kids. If they have the sense that there is love for them and between the adults, it really helps… but I do think that there’s a longing to know both one’s parents. (I myself came from a two parent family with friends who helped out with kids, an intellectual bunch of bohemians of the 50s and 60s, but not Beatniks… They loved Shaw, Blake, Melville, the Renaissance, the Impressionists…)
    I am curious to see how all the “kids” turn out. And I surely hope for the best for Kody and his wives’ kids. One of his sons looks very troubled, the one who always wants to be alone. I worry for him.
    In any case, to me it seems they probably don’t get government money because they are too public and because money from the gov’t does not buy cars like that and rent big houses like that. I think probably TLC but who knows?
    Is it really our business? Perhaps because they have made the rest of their lives our business with the show.

  • Anne

    I do not agree with this lifestyle. It also seems one sided to me. How come the women can’t have several husbands? I think this is all for Kody’s sexual pleasure. He needs variety to stay happy. I feel sorry for the innocent kids. Life is confusing enough now a days. Who needs the drama of several moms and only one dad.
    Money won’t be a problem long for these sinners, TLC will provide them with money and I predict a big house or several houses free of charge. Just like TLC did with Jon and Kate Plus 8.

  • I rather like the Browns too. I hope for the best for them. They shouldn’t have had to flee Utah. I worry for their children but mainly because the older ones are unhappy being in Nevada.

  • I also wondered how they get money. I do not know but could it be that they are paid by TLC/Discovery for their participation in the show? I do not know about this, but perhaps I could find out.
    Kody said he was cashing in his retirement account. He and Janelle had jobs– and Meri had some sort of small job, as I recall. THey may be living on savings.
    From my own community experience, I can say that children do like seeing both parents often– even with other adults involved– and some resent not having two parents in a “normal” situation. In our case, some have been more annoyed about it since they were grown. When they were younger, they liked the situation and some still truly appreciate it. It was, of course, quite different from FLDS poly-relationship; it was not like anything else I’ve ever heard of, really, except Aldous Huxley’s ISLAND with its Mutual Adoption Societies.
    I hope people will enjoy reading Polygrrl’s writing about the Brown family. She is going to do the TV Open Thread version. I’ll still write about them from time to time.
    I don’t know if they would be able to get government assistance, by the way– they’ve had a lot of publicity. But if they did, my personal feeling is, better to spend it on families than on war.

  • Lakesgirl

    No one EVEr seems to talk about where the money comes for ALL these houses and mouths! I can’t help but believe there isn’t government money involved (as in single parents needing assistance, since technically, that’s what 3 of these wives are.)

  • marcie

    I like the Browns, and although I don’t understand women who would settle for 1/4 of a man, I can see why they’d feel the sisterhood, the big family, is compensatory. But the bottom line is, for me, the kids. Kody, the Dad, can’t possibly give seventeen (?) children the attention they need. Kinda like animal hoarders who insist their eighty cats aren’t suffering. They are. They just can’t see it, or won’t.

  • Jackie S

    What are they doing against the law? He is only married to one of his wives by law, the others are not. It’s not like he went out and married the others without each of them knowing about each other! What about adultery? No one goes to jail for that. They seem like good people and they treat their children alot better than alot of people out there.I could not live this life style but I say leave them alone and let them live how they wish.

  • I think that is probably the truth and what I was trying to say… not very well.

  • As long as there is no extra-marital sexuality going on, there should not be any health issues in such a physical relationship arrangement.

    How people organise their private lives should not be a matter of legal or governmental interest.

  • I think it could be a “cult” if they insist their children marry into polygamy rather than letting them– free and independent individuals– choose for themselves.
    This does worry me, but I don’t think they are going to be able to force these kids.They seem to have their own minds and thoughts.

  • I wonder if they use condoms? That ought to take care of that. But really– people have done this and do it now all over the world. It is a cultural prejudice on our part that makes us feel it is disgusting.
    Those who practice some version of poly-marriage might feel we monogamy “freaks” are repulsive, too.
    Of course, women can give one another illnesses, but with some reasonable attention to cleanliness,poly-sex should not be too much more “germy” than other sexual contact.
    What do others think?

  • jennifer

    All four women are sharing germs with each other….

  • Janet

    Polygamy is disgusting. Marriage is for one man and one woman. Mormanism is a cult, these people are silly to follow it.

  • PS The term “Mutual Adoption Club” comes from Aldous Huxley’s last book “Island”– an influence on our way of raising kids. Have a look sometime.It actually does help especially when there’s tension in a home…

  • Well, as I know, it’s quite a story when you have more than two people based in a family. But we had a big family with many parents for many children and though they knew which were their “real” or biological parents, I believe most of them got a lot of benefit from having other adults to be with. Especially when the child has only one parent to begin with (single mothers made up a large number of the people with whom our group was involved). This gave children another parent or parents to be a part of her or his life, plus the “Mutual Adoption Club” to support the whole.
    Thanks for your supportive note, polygrrl.
    I have my problems with the Browns too, but clearly they care about the kids, so I hope for the best for all of them.

  • I agree that many parents of all lifestyles parent badly, and that sexual orientation and lifestyle choices are really separate from parenting ability. If a child has multiple adults who care a great deal about their well-being and work together fairly well, though, I think the child has a better chance at having a good start in life. I don’t agree with the religious beliefs of the Browns, but there are many religions I would not want to raise my children in, and those parents also have the freedom to teach their children as they see fit.

    My lifestyle choices have tended toward the polyamorous, and I’m currently in a long-term, stable, non-religiously based poly family. We don’t yet have children, but I agree with much of what Ladybelle Fiske says, and expect this situation to be very good for raising children.

  • SO MANY monogamists are parenting badly. This is really the Big Issue in my life, that ALL parents need some kind of training and guidance before they have babies. If only they understood how sensitive kids are– and how much they are loved and needed, I don’t think they’d just have kids and then treat them badly or run off. Still, one never knows. I heard of a woman abandoning her 2 young children nearby recently. Impossible to understand… even though I’m sure she is having a hard time in life.

  • That is, we had a group of people who helped care for the children we had– friends, helpers, sometimes lovers too. They did it in four hour shifts (a great blessing to me, as my daughter never slept).
    I understand the need for people to have more help ad for kids to have more people in their lives. What worries me at times for the Brown kids is not the unusual quality of their situation but the feeling that they are under Kody’s thumb in a strange way… he exposed their lifestyle to the public by doing a TV show, then had to flee Utah because they might be taken from their parents. To me it seems he doesn’t always take the consequences into account– the wives are often far more thorough is examining a situation than he is.
    I also just feel that they have been uprooted in a rather cruel way. Hope they will make the adjustment and enjoy meeting new kids. I do not think that polyandrous or polygamous parents are necessarily better or worse than normal or gay parents either.
    The main thing is to have parents who love one and are willng to take one’s feelings into account. Each situation should be considered for what it is, don’t you think? Are the kids free to choose their own eventual lifestyle, as Kody and his wives have said they will be? If this is true, then they are doing all right in some ways…

  • That’s the way to look at it and all things, really– with a critical eye applied to what is “normal.” I do worry about children of monogamy and have lived my life (at least the early part of it) trying to make sure my own kids have more than just 2 people as parents in it.

  • fghfgh

    apply the same standards to them as you would to gay couples or interracial couples – they used to use the same ‘what about the children’ arguments to maintain bigotry against them. why arent monogamists scrutinized? are they all good role models? should we condemn monogamy?