Family Life

Excerpt from “Growing Up Duggar”

posted: 04/12/16

Enter to win an updated edition of Growing Up Duggar here. Below is an excerpt from Jana, Jill, Jessa, and Jinger's book.

NEW from Jessa . . .

When Ben and I were courting, one thing I really appreciated was his humility and gentle spirit. If he did something to hurt my feelings or took something the wrong way, he was quick to apologize. He'd say, "I'm sorry," and it was a sincere apology. That made me feel really loved. And Ben has never belittled my emotions, and he doesn't blow them off. I saw that when we were courting, and now that we're married, I continue to see that he's a sweetheart through and through. Who he was then is who he is now.

Just as it's helpful to us to see how a guy reacts when one of our young siblings spills a cup of chocolate milk on his new shirt, it's also helpful to see how he responds in other situations, including sports. Is he angry or gracious in defeat? Does he fume for hours or congratulate the winner, put the loss behind him, and move on? Equally important is how he handles winning. Does he gloat and boast? Or does he shake hands with his opponent and offer encouragement?

Questions like these are more reasons why we believe in family visits and a variety of family activities during courtship rather than one-on-one dates. Don't get us wrong. There's a time and place for a romantic dinner date, and some good communication can be enjoyed in that setting. But a man's character may be more apparent by observing him in everyday situations and interactions.


It warms our hearts when we're around young men, including our brothers, who are courteous and quick to practice the fine old art of gentlemanly chivalry. Some women these days think that allowing men to help them with anything makes them appear weak, and they refuse to take a man's hand to help them down a step or object to a man's offer to help them carry a heavy load. However, a gentleman's courtesy is not about women being weak or strong; it's about men needing to be men. Gentlemanly behavior is cultivated as they learn to serve others and treat ladies as ladies. We encourage these efforts in our family-- one reason being we know that somewhere out there, some good Christian girls are praying for the young man God intends as their future husband: a godly, courteous, thoughtful young man who might just turn out to be one of our brothers!

Every day, Dad seeks to model genuine chivalry for all of us. To the boys, it's an example of what they desire to become, and to us girls it's the mark of a gentleman and something we desire to see in our own spouse one day. Dad has always been sensitive and caring toward us kids, but he especially looks out for his girls. He made it known early on that the boys were to treat us girls with respect, and while we all enjoyed climbing trees or playing sports together, Dad would remind the boys we were not the chums who should receive a hard knuckle on the shoulder or a serious whack over the head during a friendly sibling pillow fight.

Dad always wants to demonstrate this kind of gentlemanly behavior for all of us, especially the boys, but sometimes he forgets. He asked us to help him with reminders when needed. Years ago, he was working on honoring Mom in several specific ways, including remembering to open the car door for her. He had always done this during the earlier years of marriage, but recently, since we'd outgrown our fifteen-passenger van and had to transport everyone in two separate cars, it hadn't been happening as frequently.

Mom agreed to help him remember to do this by waiting and giving him the opportunity to come around to her side of the car. One afternoon they headed to the local paint store to pick out paint for one of our rental houses, and just as Dad got out of the car he got a phone call. Distracted by the call, he proceeded on toward the store and was almost to the door, continuing his phone call, when Mom, still waiting in the car, leaned over and gently tapped the horn.

Dad turned around, puzzled, and spotted Mom, laughing and waving from the front seat of the car. Dad realized he had forgotten to open the car door for her and came running to get her. We kids laughed so hard that night as they recounted the entire event to us.

Apparently the horn-honking worked. Now Dad almost never forgets to the open the car door for Mom or any of us girls--but these days our brothers often beat him to it! They are all striving to become courteous and thoughtful young men. When we were all at a restaurant recently, it was pouring down rain and Jedidiah jumped on his opportunity. He grabbed the only umbrella in the bus and, in groups of two, began escorting his mom and sisters inside. We didn't take this for granted. We praised his efforts and told him, "Jedidiah, you're such a gentleman. Thank you," and he beamed at the compliment.

The other day when we were all outside enjoying a vigorous game of volleyball, Justin disappeared inside and then came out carefully carrying a tray loaded with cups of ice water. "Care for a glass of water, ladies?" It sure hit the spot, and we thanked Justin profusely for his thoughtfulness.

James must have been listening, because a few days later, he did the same thing, bringing everyone water when we were all outside on a hot summer day.

Members of the TLC film crew, who have become like older brothers to us, have also encouraged us to marry a gentleman. When producer Sean took us girls to coffee awhile ago, he opened the door for us and said, "Chivalry isn't dead! Let me tell you something, gals: don't even consider marrying a guy who won't open the door for you."

Now, if you came to the Duggar household today, you would probably find some elbows on the dinner table and maybe even a boy who forgot to wash the dirt from behind his ears. But the goal in our household is for guys to treat gals with the upmost respect and honor by giving up their chair, opening doors, and looking for ways to put women and children first. Respect means a lot in our family, and courtesy counts.

Making a List

As we older Duggar girls (and boys) have entered this chapter of our lives, Dad has encouraged us to write out a list of things we desire in a future spouse. And no, this isn't a place to write down wishes for "tall, dark, and handsome," but to focus on character, personal standards, and other qualities. We already mentioned that some of the nonnegotiables are that he must be a Christian, and he must love Jesus as much as we do. He should have a love for children because the Bible says repeatedly that children are a blessing from God, a reward from Him.

In addition to being "slow to wrath," he needs to be a good steward of his money with a goal of living debt-free within his finances. And then there are the other character qualities we desire in a spouse, including gentleness, deference, and gratefulness.

NEW from Jessa . . .

Our parents have taught us to look at a person's character even more than their personality. Things like: Is he looking for ways to give to others, not seeking anything in return, or is he a selfish man, always demanding his own way and seeking to make himself comfortable? Is he gentle or is he harsh? Is he compassionate and caring? Does he build people up with his words, or does he mock, scorn, and put others down? Will he admit when he has done something wrong and ask forgiveness, or is he stubborn and too proud to admit his faults?

As you're observing a potential husband, don't only look at the way he treats you. How does he treat his family? How is he around his friends? These are the things you need to know and observe about a man. A boyfriend with bad character today will not suddenly evolve into Husband of the Year tomorrow.

NEW from Jill . . .

As I observed Derick, I'd ask him what his opinion was on specific topics. If he didn't have an opinion one way or another about something, he wouldn't make something up just to look like he had an answer. Derick was genuine about saying, "I'm not sure what I think on that, but I'd like to study that and learn more." He definitely has a learning spirit, and that impressed me. He is not proud, and he's very gentle, and he's a perfect balance for me. God has provided above and beyond for me the things I had been praying about for a long time.

While this list serves as a guide in our evaluation of a suitor, the reason for writing it up is not so that we can constantly be comparing it to every guy we meet, hoping the "glass slipper" will fit and he'll be our Prince-to-be! Dad has encouraged us to write out these lists so we can turn them around and use them to examine our own lives, asking ourselves, Am I slow to anger? Am I wise with my finances? Am I striving to display these character qualities in my own life? Everything we ask of others we must first demand of ourselves.

It has been interesting to see that the things that bug us the most about others' lives are often issues we struggle with ourselves to some degree. For instance, if we are extremely sensitive to someone else's arrogance, we should search our own hearts for an attitude of pride, whether it is in our achievements or in our voicing our strong opinions when it's not our place to do so.

Dad has reminded us that as Christian young ladies, it's vitally important that we always remember we have been adopted into the family of God, and our heavenly Father is the King of kings. It's also crucial for Christian gals to understand that we cannot conform our patterns to a thoughtless lifestyle and still expect to somehow marry a godly prince. We need to always keep in mind that if we desire to marry a godly man, then we must strive to become the kind of godly girl a godly man will be attracted to. God desires to see us grow in character and live by His principles, and for us to have a strong relationship with Him--which is the best foundation and preparation any of us can make for a future marriage relationship.

Understanding What Christian Guys Look For in a Future Wife

So far in this chapter, we've talked about what we girls are looking for in a future husband. As we were pulling together information for this book, we thought it would also be interesting to ask some of our guy friends what they are looking for in a future wife. So we sent out a little survey, asking fifteen of them to answer a few questions. Obviously, this was a small and totally unscientific survey, and it went to our friends, many of whom share our Christian beliefs. They range in age from sixteen to twenty-nine, and their professions range from farming and construction to politics and graphic design. One is an attorney. Another is a Marine Corps officer.

All of them said they notice how a girl gets along with her parents and siblings.

Some said they watch her attitude in responding to her mom and dad.

When we asked the guys to describe, in one word, the most important character quality a Christian girl can have, we got these answers: integrity, purity, respectfulness, virtue, charity, and faith.

One guy said the most important character quality is "that she's genuine. Someone who's real in her love for people and in her compassion for others. Real in her heart for God and understanding of her own shortcomings."

Most of them said the first thing they notice about a girl is something related to her physical appearance: most surveyed said they like girls to have longer hair, they like girls who smile, and they appreciate when a girl is modest.

We asked the guys to name some things they're looking for in a girl. Here are some of their answers:

  • Outgoing personality, not stuck-up, genuine love and loyalty toward her family, a girl who loves the Lord as much as I do and has a desire to share her faith.
  • A girl who has a hunger and thirst after righteousness, one who is sensitive to the Holy Spirit.
  • A girl who deeply cares about her faith (hearing and obeying the voice of God and fulfilling His purpose and calling for her life).
  • Purity, ministry focus, compassionate spirit.
  • A godly girl who honors her parents and who esteems motherhood.
  • Is she sensitive to God's Spirit? Is she serving the Lord in her single years? Does she dress modestly?
  • Good communication skills, common sense, love for Jesus.
  • Always seeking God and not a relationship. If she gives her heart to God then God will give her heart to the right guy. Does not seek attention from guys by being flirtatious.
  • A sweet, compassionate girl who exhibits genuine kindness leaves a deep impression on me. . . . An equally important quality is faithfulness. It's much harder to determine, but it's probably the final determining factor for me. I need someone to faithfully serve God alongside me, faithfully hold me accountable, and someone to faithfully help me grow deeper spiritually.
  • A godly girl (reading the Bible, getting to know God deeper each day, and involved in some sort of ministry--preferably music ministry). I like it when I see a girl having a servant's heart and respecting her parents.
  • A girl who demonstrates her love for God by honoring her parents, by treating her siblings like they are her best friends, and by being humble.
  • Does she have a growing love for God, and are we on a similar path to knowing Him? Does her love of God form her character, values, and virtues? Can we help each other grow in the Lord?
  • A godly, spiritually solid girl who has a good relationship with parents and a ministry mind-set!
  • Does she have the character qualities of a Proverbs 31 woman?

NEW from Ben . . .

I used to watch Jessa and her family on TV when I would go to my aunt's house to get my hair cut. At first I was struck by Jessa's magnificent beauty. But I really wanted to know what kind of a person she was. On the show, I noticed that she was very articulate and seemed to have a lot of wisdom. I saw one episode where she was leading a talk to some girls about relationships with guys. Not only was the content of her talk solid, but I was impressed with how good she was with words.

In another episode, I took note of her diligence, initiative, and responsibility as she helped out overseeing her siblings' computer-based home education. When her mom was busy with baby Josie, Jessa stepped up to the plate and helped her siblings with their schoolwork. That's a big task in a family with nineteen kids!

I saw other qualities in her that I really admired, but I knew I needed to get to know her in person before I made the decision to seriously pursue her.

Once we met, I witnessed firsthand that she was very caring to her mother and helpful with her younger siblings. I had a few conversations with her and quickly realized that she liked to read and learn and that she had a considerable amount of knowledge on subjects I was interested in, such as theology, the family, church, education, etc. She seemed hungry to learn, and I perceived that she was a motivated individual.

For me, the most important thing I needed to know was whether she had a strong relationship with God. All the other virtues I saw in her were wonderful, but I wanted to know if she recognized the much greater importance of her relationship with God and how she was pursuing that. As I got to know her, I saw her passion for God and her devotion and loyalty to Him. She placed a great deal of importance on getting to know God better and reading and memorizing the Bible. As I saw this evidence of God's work in Jessa's heart and life, I knew that I could move forward and pursue a deeper relationship with her, if I had her parents' blessing.

As I got to know Jessa even more, I saw her maturity and her grasp of what was really important in life. She shared my love of studying the Bible and wanted to know what I believed. Seeing her in real-life situations, I learned that she wasn't putting on an act. She was the real deal.

Jessa is a go-getter. She's on a mission, and she knows how to get things done. She shows determination and leadership. One example of Jessa's diligence and work ethic had do to with our wedding gifts. I was thinking, We'll send thank-you notes a few at a time, but she got it all done in one day. Jessa is not a lazy woman! Not long ago, she and Jana painted their parents' room while they were away from home. Jessa was determined to get it done before they returned--and they did!

Some people place an exorbitant amount of emphasis on personality and whether their personalities complement each other. I was never set on a certain personality type. I didn't say, "I need a bold, outgoing girl." Or "I would go best with a sensitive, feeling, contemplative type of girl." My perspective was that if I got to know a girl, I was attracted to her, and, most important, she was a woman of God, then these things were far more important than personality compatibility from the world's perspective. Having the perfect personality match is overrated. Just say, for example, that my personality did clash with that of my wife. What a great opportunity to learn patience and to work through conflict by God's grace! In the end, with God's help, it would turn me into a more patient, less narrow person, who could get along well with any personality type.

NEW from Derick . . .

Jill and I spent a lot of time together when she came to Nepal with her dad. I was able to see her interaction with other people. My goal and vision is to go into the mission field someday, so seeing her compassion for other people, her love, her service, and how sweet she is meant a lot to me. I also compared her to the Proverbs 31 woman and was so impressed with the qualities I saw. Jill was not just waiting for a guy to come along, but was complete in her relationship with God and was actively serving Him--and she still is.

Now That We're Married

NEW from Jill and Jessa . . .

Now that the two of us have gone through courtship, engagement, and marriage, we wanted to share with you some of the things we experienced and learned about being engaged and now being married.

NEW from Jessa . . .

Remember that the season of being single will not last forever. Once you and the young man you care about know for sure that you are meant for each other, for goodness sake, get married! I think it is very unwise to enter into a relationship if you cannot realistically marry within a year or two. If you do, you set yourself up for all kinds of temptations. If you think you can drag a premarital, romantic relationship out for years and years and still maintain absolute moral purity between the both of you, then you really need to rethink. Maybe it would be possible if you lived on opposite sides of the globe, but it's usually very unwise to put yourself in that kind of situation. Better to hold off getting emotionally attached to someone if you are not ready to be married. The closer two hearts grow, the stronger your soul ties become, and the more susceptible you will be to doing something you never thought you would do before you were married.

During the first couple of months of our marriage, Ben was still working on finishing up his college studies. Even during our honeymoon, he was studying for finals online and taking exams. But this is something we had talked about. We didn't think it was wise to wait when we knew we were getting married, because that could increase our temptation.

This is how our timeline worked for us: We knew each other through church for about five months. Then we courted for eleven months, and were engaged for two and a half months. So once we were engaged, we really stepped up the tempo, so our wedding wouldn't be far off. During our first months of marriage, Ben was juggling a full-time job, full-time studies, and being a full-time husband; but by God's grace, it all worked out. And now Ben is praying about signing up for seminary! I'm blessed to be married to such a diligent, hardworking man. Our time together has been wonderful. I wouldn't trade these past few months for anything!

NEW from Ben . . .

I want to echo what Jessa said. If you're trying to save yourself for marriage and stay pure until married, then it's important to not put yourself in a situation where that's difficult. Don't waste any time in getting married. Get to that point. Don't put it off.

NEW from Jill and Derick . . .

We thought we'd share with you our list of guidelines during engagement, so you can see how it worked for us:


  • Say "I Love you!"
  • Hold hands/arms
  • Have heart-to-heart talks, including struggles
  • Always have a chaperone within line of sight (Justin's age: eleven years old and up)
  • Talk about the future
  • Pray and talk in the morning (for a shorter time) and evening (longer)
  • Share side hugs when coming and going (less than twenty seconds)
  • Place head on shoulder or head on head
  • Open car door
  • Pull out chair
  • Look into each other's eyes
  • Encourage and edify each other in the Lord
  • Study together
  • Listen to sermon messages together
  • Skype, FaceTime, and phone alone
  • Then once you know this is God's will, with all parents on board, plan wedding (and get married quickly!!!)


  • Place arm on back of the other's chair
  • Share frontal hugs
  • Kiss
  • Go in each other's bedroom (or sit on a bed alone together)
  • Sled on same sled

Out of gratitude for our siblings and friends giving of their time to chaperone us, we would try to do something nice for them in return!
Here is a list of some of their preferred chaperone treats:

  • James--Skittles
  • Jason--GoGo applesauce
  • Joy--Chik-fil-A
  • Justin--Skittles
  • Rachel--Acambaro tacos, chips, and salsa
  • Jana--chips and salsa
  • Venessa--chips and queso
  • Jed--Daniel Boone and Sgt. York movies
  • Noah--Skittles
  • Abigail--Nerds and Skittles
  • Elizabeth--Chik-fil-A

NEW from Jill . . .

Sometimes people ask me if all the waiting and the being chaperoned and being so careful in our relationship was worth it. And I always say, "Absolutely yes!" But please know that we had the same emotions that anyone else would have. We're all human. It wasn't always easy, but by God's grace we stuck to our convictions. We would often pray, "Lord, please help us stay true to the standards we've set," because it was hard! But the boundaries we set before marriage and the joy of being together in marriage is all worth it.

Before I was married, I was always accountable to someone--usually my parents. And that honest relationship gave me a pattern for how to talk openly and honestly about things. So when Derick and I got married, it wasn't so difficult to transfer that kind of conversation to my husband. I wish every girl would have an accountability partner (your parents or a counselor with whom you can share your heart and be confident that it won't go beyond them). Besides helping you as you grow and mature before marriage, that model of communication will help you in your marriage. I'm not saying that learning to communicate with your spouse is always easy, but it's nice to have some practice before you're married.

NEW from Derick . . .

I want to build on what Jill said about communication, and I want to encourage you to cultivate those skills while you're young. Don't wait until it's time to start dating and courting to learn how to have honest conversations. And if I may speak to parents: If you want your children to look up to you their whole lives, that has to start before they're in the middle of a relationship. Whom to marry is the biggest decision of their lives--aside from their decision to follow Christ--and you will want to be involved. The trust thing is huge--keeping confidences between the parents and child and not spreading them around.

NEW from Jessa . . .

Now that we're married, Ben and I thought we'd share a little of our story: how we met, our courtship, and how we fell in love.

Ben and I first met when his family came up to northwest Arkansas in April 2013. They came to town for a Saturday spring football game and decided to stay the night and come to our church the next day.

Our family was a little late getting to church that morning. I remember walking in with a few of my younger siblings and right off I noticed the "new family." I saw Ben and thought, Hmm . . . he's a handsome guy. What stood out to me was his facial hair! It was a cool-looking, kinda anchor-shaped goatee. He looked to be in his early twenties, and I could tell he'd been hitting the gym. We didn't talk much that first Sunday, just exchanged a few words. But I hoped we would meet again.

While up for a visit one weekend, Ben talked with my parents about his feelings for me and asked my parents if he could have permission to get to know me (let's call this a pre-courtship stage). My dad had known Ben for a while and had even talked with him on the phone from time to time. He respected Ben and knew him to be a godly young man.

After a lengthy conversation, Ben headed back to his hometown of Hot Springs with a grin on his face and my phone number added to his contacts! Then the texting began. We were not yet courting, but it was pretty obvious to everyone around that we were interested in each other! Our parents were okay with us talking and getting to know one another as friends, but it was not "an official public relationship" yet.

We kept my parents in the loop by group texting; this way my parents were able to learn more about Ben as well. Our conversations during this stage were very businesslike. Our focus was on asking questions in order to find out more about each other. Could we be compatible as a couple? Did we have the same goals in life? Were we both on the same path, headed in the same direction?

During this time, we became best friends. We were falling in love--though we had yet to actually speak those words to each other! Weeks later, with hundreds of questions asked, Ben once again sat down to talk with my parents, and Ben asked them for permission to court me. It was now official!

During the courtship phase, our relationship became romantic! This is when we began to express our love for one another. For the first time we spoke the words "I love you!" How sweet those words sound! Ben was the true romantic! He would write sweet letters and poetry, and take me on special dates. He would bring me flowers and chocolates. I am a little less flowery myself, but as time went on, I do think that his "romantic-ness" began to rub off on me! We simply oved being together!

Now that Ben and I are married, we are getting to know each other in deeper and richer ways. We are both thankful for the guidance our parents gave and the examples they have been--and still are--for us. It is our prayer that we continue to grow closer to each other and to God.

Making Seven Key Commitments

Here are seven key commitments you can make that will enable you to give your love life to God.

  1. I will not date or court anyone who does not love Jesus as much as I do.
  2. I will patiently wait on God's timing to bring the man He has for me.
  3. I will choose to save my body as a gift for my future spouse.
  4. I will choose to not fill my mind with sensual material (R-rated movies or vulgar TV shows, bad Internet sites, teen magazines, and romance novels).
  5. I will choose wise friends and wholesome activities.
  6. I will share my heart and inward struggles regularly with my parents (or a loving Christian counselor).
  7. I will give my love life to God and focus my time and energy on serving the Lord.

God has great things in mind for you. It's up to us to wait on Him and trust His wisdom.

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