We don’t know each other. But I feel a connection with you and Josh because, like both of you, I grew up in a conservative Christian home and was homeschooled my entire life. Like Josh’s parents, my parents were leaders of homeschool groups and organizations (albeit on a smaller scale than Josh’s). So I grew up under the spotlight. I am familiar with living a life where your every move — and every stumble — has the potential to be examined by all sorts of people ready to critique you.
Of course, there’s also a huge chasm between you and Josh and myself. Whereas Josh and his parents — and consequently you and your children — have become new faces of the conservative Christian homeschooling movement we all grew up in, I now help facilitate a very different movement: the rising voices from alumni and graduates of the conservative Christian homeschooling movement who are speaking up about the abuses and pain they experienced. I have no idea if you’ve ever heard of Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out. And if you have, I’m guessing you probably heard about us in a negative way — that we’re apostates, the Benedict Arnolds of homeschooling, the greatest threat to homeschooling freedoms, and so forth. So it’s highly probable you will never even read this.
But if you do, here’s all I really want to say: My heart breaks for you and your children and I’m so sorry for all the pain you have gone through this last year.
I have seen the Internet gleefully throw parties over the transgressions of your husband. I don’t want to minimize those transgressions, and I hope you know we should not minimize them. Child sexual abuse destroys bodies and souls. I know this personally, as I was sexually abused as a child. What Josh did is inexcusable and it is important that we talk about that. If you haven’t already, please talk about it. Get Josh to a qualified, licensed therapist. Ask him the hard questions: Does he still struggle? Does he think about hurting your children? I know these are uncomfortable questions but they need to be asked. Your children deserve to be safe and you deserve to know the truth.
But you and your children do not deserve to reduced to the punchline of cruel Internet jokes. You do not deserve to be bullied into leaving your husband or shamed for making your own decisions in that regard. I know many people are doing those very things and my heart goes out to you. You deserve better than that.
What Josh did years ago — molesting children — and what Josh did recently — cheating on you — doesn’t just impact Josh. They impact you. They impact your children. And it makes me furious to see so many people talk about and mock Josh as if you and your children do not exist. So many people seem to pay no regard to how their words and their actions will impact you. They want to redefine your last name to refer to sexual abuse, even though you and your children never abused anyone. Yes, Josh has hurt many people. Yes, we need to talk about that. But you and your children will live under that shadow for the rest of your lives. We need to remember that.
I also want you to know that what happened — Josh cheating on you — is not your fault. What your spouse or partner does by means of his own will is never your fault. And anyone telling you otherwise is lying. Anyone telling you otherwise is victim-blaming and victim-blaming is wrong. It is not your fault that Josh chose to break his wedding vows. It is not your fault that Josh could not control his sexual urges. It is not your fault that he betrayed you.
It. Is. Not. Your. Fault.
Marriage (and all relationships, really) are about communication. And Josh failed to communicate his needs and struggles with you. Instead he threw you to the wolves of his infidelity. Even worse, his infidelity was on a site that got hacked, and now most people around the world know in explicit detail how he hurt you. In fact, they might have known he hurt you before you knew. And they chose to disclose that fact with explicit details that served no purpose other than to shame and laugh at your husband. That just kills me. I’m so sorry you had to find out like this.
I know all sorts of people online are giving you unsolicited advice now. They’re saying you should divorce Josh, you must leave him if you truly love yourself, you better flee from him if you love your children. Anna, that’s not their place. And it’s not my place to tell you what to do, either.
You — and you alone — have the right to decide what is best for yourself.
I hope and pray that you do make your decision based on that criterion (and that criterion alone) — namely, what is best for you. You deserve to be happy, healthy, and safe, Anna. You really do deserve that. I know that the homeschooling world we grew up in often said otherwise. It often said that, as a woman, your place was to please your husband. That your needs were less than your husband’s needs. That you had fewer rights to happiness and health.
But the world we grew up in often lied. It is within your rights to make decisions that guarantee your happiness and health. Do not feel you must make your decision based on any other criteria — what is best for the Duggar Family™ Brand, what your religious subculture demands of you, what Josh demands from you, etc.
The only exception to this, of course, is if staying with Josh puts your children in danger. I don’t know Josh, and I don’t know if you lay awake at night worrying if Josh’s allegedly “in the past” actions of molesting children truly are in the past. I don’t know if you have picked up on warning signs, slowly but ever so surely, indicating that he might hurt your children. I just don’t know. But I do know that if you are worried, if your inner radar is going off, please do not wait to act. Please do everything you can to protect your children, even if that means hurting the Duggar Family™ Brand and betraying your religious subculture. The Duggar Family™ Brand and your religious subculture are not Jesus. They are not your gods. They do not deserve your absolute obedience. Jesus calls us to follow him and part of that call is to protect children from adults who would harm them. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea.” If you have questions or worries about this, I highly recommend checking out the resources from Godly Response to Abuse in the Christian Environment (GRACE), an organization run by Billy Graham’s grandson, Boz Tchividjian. My organization HARO also has resources on child abuse.
To be honest, Anna, I don’t pray much anymore. From a young age I was praying to Jesus. From a young age I learned how others prayed in public and I strived to imitate them. I strived to pray my public prayers in a way that elicited those “Amens” and “Yes, Father”s that proved someone knew how to pray well. And I’ve seen so much hypocrisy among both myself back then as well as other homeschool leaders who prayed one way but lived their lives another way. So praying these days leaves a bitter taste in my mouth.
But I want you to know I am thinking prayerish thoughts for you.
We here are Homeschoolers Anonymous and Homeschool Alumni Reaching Out are thinking about you and wishing you the best.
If you ever need help or support from fellow alumni, we’re here for you.
HARO Executive Director