We all know that not everything shown on reality TV happens the way that it does in the real world. In a new personal essay, a former TLC star is opening up about life was like when the cameras were off. Cynthia Jeub, one of the daughters of a family featured on the show Kids by the Dozen, was raised in a family that had a lot in common with the Duggars. The kids in both families were raised in hyper-religious households that aimed to have as many children as possible while adhering to strict modesty rules like no watching television or no dating. In a personal essay published on HuffPost, she’s sharing her story — and it sounds eerily similar to those of other former followers of the Duggars’ religion.
“In 2007, when I was 14, I appeared on Kids by the Dozen, a reality show that aired on The Learning Channel and featured my family [of 15 children] and other large families like mine,” she shares in the essay. “The cult-like beliefs that shaped my upbringing belong to what is known as the ‘Quiverfull’ Movement. It is based on Psalm 127, which reads, ‘Children are a heritage of the Lord, and fruit of the womb is his reward; happy is the man who has his quiver full of them.’ The metaphor of a quiver full of arrows defines children as weapons to be used to win the world for Christian conservative values.”
Her education was also much the same as the Duggars’ and their controversial ATI curriculum. “I was home-schooled from pre-kindergarten through high school, and my curriculum touched briefly on science as a subject that merely magnifies the handiwork of God, while for history I was taught that divine providence had bestowed America to Christ’s faithful.” Unlike the Duggars, she did get the chance to attend a brick-and-mortar local college, but she “believed that [her] university was something of a ‘mission field,’ or place to preach about my beliefs.” Eventually, however, that didn’t work out either. “My poor home-schooling had made academic success virtually impossible, and I couldn’t afford [tuition].”
It was a slow-awakening realizing that she didn’t like her life — and she didn’t have to live it that way. “I was put to work early and quickly learned to do everything from bathing five children at a time to waking up in the night to tend to fussy toddlers while I prayed for the strength to handle my Sisyphean workload. My parents convinced me that my work was a duty to God, so it was impossible to view it for what it was: exploitation,” the now mid-20-something reality star shared. “It’s only been four years since I started to see that something was wrong with us.”
Once she was 22, Cynthia started to question the beliefs that she was raised with — and, in doing so, her parents decided to no longer financially support her. Per her account, they didn’t just kick her out, though. They also confiscated the money that she’d managed to save up in her bank account, something she claims they had long done when they felt that she was becoming too capable of being financially independent. She also alleges that her parents kept her from seeing or contacting her siblings as an ultimatum: Follow their beliefs, or else.
“Getting kicked out gave me the freedom to question,” she says. “Maybe being gay wasn’t a sin. Maybe birth control and abortion weren’t the same thing. Maybe I didn’t have to give birth over and over and over again in order to be worthy. Maybe there wasn’t an invisible being that knew my every thought that would burn my soul if I didn’t do all the ‘right’ things.”
Now, the star identifies as bisexual and has found a community and a partner, but she is still recovering from the trauma she says her family inflicted. “I suffer from chronic pain and complex post-traumatic stress disorder (C-PTSD). I do not own a car. I can no longer work on my feet because my body is so damaged from being overworked as a child, so I write,” she said, referring to her personal blog and the book she’s working on. “Twelve years ago, my family’s lifestyle was made into a spectacle for entertainment, alongside a host of controversial shows on The Learning Channel. … I have not spoken to my parents in three years. … I miss [my siblings], and I hope someday I can build a relationship with them that isn’t based on adhering to my parents’ beliefs.”
Read her full essay, ‘My Family Was On A TLC Reality Show. Here’s The Dark Secret That Never Aired,’ on HuffPost.