Reality TV stars the Duggars are a big, big family, and the clan is about to get even bigger. That’s because 21-year-old Josiah Duggar, the eighth-born child, is planning to marry his 18-year-old girlfriend, Lauren Swanson. With the news, however, some people have questioned what exactly is going on with the pair – and whether Josiah is getting married for the right reasons.
The Duggars originally came to fame, meanwhile, with their 2008 reality show 17 Kids and Counting. But the TV listings did not use that title for long. After all, mom and dad Duggar – 52-year-old Jim Bob and 51-year-old Michelle – happen to be Baptists. Their church frowns upon the use of birth control and believes that God should dictate the size of a family unit. Consequently, the show became 18 Kids and Counting and then 19 Kids and Counting.
Jim Bob and Michelle have some pretty strict rules for their children, too. As well as being home-schooled, members of the unwieldy Duggar brood are not allowed unsupervised access to the internet or television. The kids also have to wear modest clothing: that means no shorts, no skirts higher than the knee and definitely no tank-tops. Trips to the beach or public swimming pools are additionally forbidden, as they are seen as invitations to sexual temptation. And potential romantic partners are carefully vetted during a process called “chaperoned courtship.”
Needless to say, not everyone agrees that these are the healthiest rules by which to raise children. Indeed, Jim Bob and Michelle have faced some backlash on social media for their puritanical parenting choices. But in late May 2015, something emerged in the old-fashioned media which was far, far worse. Celebrity magazine In Touch Weekly revealed that Josh Duggar, the eldest son of the family, had been accused of five counts of molestation from 2002 to 2003, when the boy was 14 and 15 years of age. And – as if that were not already bad enough – four of his sisters had been victims of his sexual assaults.
Devastatingly, the accusations turned out to be true. And in the aftermath of the revelations, Josh released a statement to People magazine admitting responsibility for his actions and apologizing for them. “As a young teenager, I acted inexcusably for which I am extremely sorry and deeply regret,” he stated. “I hurt others, including my family and close friends.”
His parents likewise issued a press release. Republican Jim Bob had once run for Senate on a platform of harsher punishments for sex offenders, including the death penalty for those convicted of rape and incest. Nonetheless, the patriarch apparently took a more lenient tack with his son and, after consulting with church elders, sent Josh away from the family home for residential counseling. “When Josh was a young teenager, he made some very bad mistakes, and we were shocked,” the Duggar parents said in their statement. “That dark and difficult time caused us to seek God like never before.”
Understandably, the Duggars’ reality TV program could not survive such an outrage; this was just too real. So, in the same month as the In Touch Weekly revelations, the show was suspended; then, on July 2015, it was canceled altogether. The host cable network announced, “After thoughtful consideration, TLC and the Duggar family have decided to not move forward with 19 Kids and Counting. The show will no longer appear on the air.”
In the end, though, TLC commissioned a Duggar spin-off show, named Counting On. And when the first episode of the series aired in December 2015, all of the Duggar family were present and correct – apart from Josh, that is. Over the next few years, three weddings took place, and a couple of pregnancy announcements were made on the show. Then one particularly exciting bit of news followed in March 2018: eighth child Josiah was planning to take his teenage girlfriend, Lauren Swanson, down the aisle.
In fact, young Josiah had announced his “courtship” of Lauren to People magazine in January 2018. “We are overjoyed to begin this new phase of our lives together,” he told the magazine. “Through the years, our families’ friendship has allowed us to get to know one another as friends.” Indeed, the Swanson family had known the Duggars for quite some time. “I so appreciate Lauren’s Christlike character and tender heart toward others,” Josiah added for good measure.
But if the couple had only begun courting in January 2018, was a mere two months really long enough to fall in love and become engaged? It seemed that the lovebirds thought so, as did the Duggar family. “We are so excited to announce that Josiah and Lauren are officially engaged!” came the jubilant announcement on the family’s website. “We have prayed for many years that the Lord would bring the right spouses to each of our children.”
Nonetheless, the happy news was met with some skepticism in the wider world. Not only had Josiah and Lauren dated for a very short time, but there was another factor to consider. Not all that long ago, Josiah had thrown himself into a different relationship – and one that had ended quite abruptly. In spring 2015 he had begun courting a woman called Marjorie Jackson, but the partnership was dissolved after only four months.
The Duggar and Jackson families also released a joint statement about the breakup in August 2015. “A few weeks ago, Marjorie and Josiah agreed to end their courtship, keeping in step with what they believe the Lord’s will is,” they said. “Both are thankful for the time getting to know each other, and their families continue to enjoy each other’s company and close friendship.” However, more uncharitable voices speculated that big brother Josh’s molestation scandal had played a bigger role in dividing the duo than any divine destiny.
Indeed, for any couple to split after courtship has been entered into is very unusual within the strict religious dictates of the Duggar household. In their eyes, courtship is basically another word for engagement. And the fact that Josiah had transgressed one of his family’s tenets raised some eyebrows in the media. “It’s enough to raise some pretty serious questions about what life is like inside the chaotic Duggar home these days,” said an article in The Hollywood Reporter that August.
Actually, that was not the only Duggar rule that Josiah has broken. Jim Bob and Michelle have also ruled that their children must refrain from social media until such a time as they are married. And yet Josiah has personal accounts on Instagram and Twitter despite not being hitched. Furthermore, he has had been logging into them for a good few years now; indeed, he even used his Instagram page to announce his engagement to Lauren.
In fact, the young man appeared to go a bit overboard with the glad tidings. “I feel like the most blessed guy on earth… Lauren said YES!” Josiah wrote on March 5, 2018. “God definitely opened our eyes in his perfect timing to show us how we complete each other. The more time I spend with Lauren, the more I realize how I can’t live without her. There’s no-one else I’d rather spend my days and grow old with!”
And underneath the message, plenty of people left their hearty congratulations. But there was also the occasional barbed comment about the speed of the relationship thus far. One contributor wrote, “Five weeks? That’s not love. It’s hormones and infatuation.” Another said, “I can’t even imagine getting engaged so fast like that, especially at that age.”
Admittedly, at the ages of 21 and 18, respectively, both Josiah and Lauren are pretty young. But contemplating marriage at such an early stage is not unusual for the Duggar clan. After all, Joy-Anna, Josiah’s sister, was just 19 when she married 24-year-old Austin Forsyth in 2017. And that couple did not stand on ceremony either. Joy-Ann and Austin’s courtship lasted just four months and the actual engagement a scant two.
And further back in the Duggar dynasty, parents Jim Bob and Michelle were just 19 and 17 years old, respectively, when they wed back in 1984. So, with the Baptist Church’s strict views on sex before marriage, getting hitched with some haste seems to be just another aspect of the righteous life the family have chosen for themselves. But there is bad news if a Duggar marriage does not work out: their religion also strongly disapproves of divorce.
But fornication and separation are by no means the only Baptist no-nos; hand-holding and even hugging pre-marriage are also frowned upon. Needless to say, these strictures are not always strictly observed. According to entertainment website The Hollywood Gossip, Joy-Anna and Austin have confessed to breaking them. And, scandalously, it would appear that Josiah and Lauren have adopted a similarly lax attitude. Digital magazine Radar Online reported that in January 2018, when they were embarking on the courting stage of their relationship, the pair had been spotted hugging and kissing.
So it remains to be seen how Josiah and Lauren will navigate their relationship under such heavy media scrutiny. That’s not even taking into consideration being constantly watched by the TLC cameras for Counting On. But despite all the controversy and chaos that have surrounded them in recent years, none of the Duggar unions featured on TV have ended in divorce yet. So if this is the life Josiah and Lauren desire, then what God has joined together, let no man – or internet user – put asunder.