The days leading up to our social smear were mixed with more joy than anguish. Married 23 years, Wendy and I were taking life in stride, embracing marriage and parenting with enthusiasm, just the way we liked it. We were transparent with many of our personal issues — writing books and publishing articles about some of them — private about others that we were uneasy about, even embarrassed. Perhaps you’ve read some of our stories. We used to enjoy sharing them, especially with those who identified with our joys and struggles. You didn’t need to be a crazy-large family to be counted among the friends of the Jeubs. We were hospitable, open and kind to everyone who came by to visit our cozy home, now brimming with sixteen awesome children.
That’s how our family got “famous,” if you can call it that. Sixteen kids is something to visit! Sixteen little ones makes for great TV! Sixteen heirs to my dominion sounds just a little kooky, right? But I like to think people found us interesting for more than just the number of children we had. Wendy and I were, and still are, diehard romantics who loved to go on adventures together, unafraid of bringing our teaming horde along with us. We were a sight to see! Even trips to the supermarket turned the heads of most folks. I like to think our spirit was contagious and fun. This made us an attractive family to profile on television, allowed us to publish and sell books about our life, and become favored speakers to audiences of parents and educators. We had a lot to share, and we were happy to share it.
If you don’t know me, my wife, or my family — or if you don’t relate at all with my lots-o’-kids lifestyle — that’s quite all right. This book isn’t really about large families at all. It’s about social smearing, a stark reality that was a sucker punch to the gut for us on October 2, 2014. We weren’t hit by a random stranger online, an acquaintance at church, or even a friend. We were walloped from within, by a band of our own daughters who drummed up a narrative that irreparably hurt our reputation. We were among the first to experience a now-common phenomenon, and chances are good you picked this book up because you, likewise, have suffered at the hands of a social smear.
I wish I could start this book by assuring you that social smearing does not and cannot define you, but that would be a lie. My family’s life will never fully return to the fun days of adventure and growth that we shared all those years ago. We are permanently marked with a narrative quite opposite of what was true. There are those who continue to this day to ravage us online, refusing any of our attempts to explain, thinking our talk of love and the “greatest commandment” of our family to be merely a facade, designed to hide cruelty and dysfunction.
So, by definition, the Jeubs are now a family that has suffered a social smear that nearly ruined us. That story started six years ago, but it helps to know the background leading up to our devastating day. Let me introduce you to the Jeub family, established nearly 30 years ago, when Wendy and I first met …
Wendy and I have little sisters who set us up to meet in late June, 1990. Our sisters were best friends in high school, had just graduated, and were throwing a private party for friends. Wendy and I were the older ones among the 18-year-old “kids.” I asked right away about Wendy — she sure was cute, and our eyes met more than once as people gathered. “She has two kids,” was what I was told. I was a child of the ‘80s — part of the Mötley Crüe “Girls, Girls, Girls” culture — so details of a troubled life didn’t bother me. Truth be known, even in my youth I was growing tired of being single and was looking for a mate to start a family. Getting a head start was not off the table, so I asked Wendy on a date. Come with me to the fireworks on the 4th of July, I said. Her kids were away with their grandmother that week, so she said yes. I like to say to this day, “There has been fireworks ever since!”
It was perfect, nearly scripted out of a romantic movie. I picked her up, we drove to a city park, we laid out a blanket and talked for two hours, watching the sunset and awaiting the fireworks. We cuddled, enjoying the warmth of a new relationship. Wendy was incredibly interesting, and she found me the same. It’s hard to believe this, but we even talked about how many children we would like to have when married “to someone, someday.” I said 10. She laughed. This led to deeper discussion of her teenage pregnancies and two daughters. We enjoyed the evening because we were both considering one another’s interests, as young lovers should.
Wendy was one year into a job following a business tech school degree; and I was a new transfer to the town’s university, working my way toward becoming a school teacher. My parents had just moved from my graduating town, so most of my close friends were just enough distance away to free my time for this new friendship. Wendy and I spent nearly every day and evening together. One week in, Wendy’s four-year-old came home. A week after that, her six-year-old. I was slowly but surely being weaned out of the wild-and-crazy single life, attracted to Wendy’s beautiful single-parent family, and I loved every bit of it. We married 10 months later.
You can’t easily split 23 years in half, but it’s helpful when looking at our marriage up to that fateful October 2nd, in 2014. Consider the first half to be our “convicting” years, the second our “growing” years. Even though I had roughly two years of college remaining when we married, I loaded up on credit hours and finished in one, graduating magna cum laude. Adopting Wendy’s daughters was a legally grueling process, but we managed to finish that, also within a year. Wendy quit her job when I finished college, and I worked for two years as a produce manager while picking up substitute teaching jobs in several Minnesota school districts. By the mid-’90s I landed my first English teaching job in North Dakota, just over the Minnesota border, not too far from extended family.
I call these “convicting” years because, despite conventional wisdom of the times, we kept having children. Lots of “firsts” in this time of our life. We had our first child together in 1992, barely a year into our new marriage. The next — our fourth daughter, counting Wendy’s first two children — came in 1994, after which we moved into our first house on a first-year teacher’s salary. Our first three sons came three years in a row: 1996, 1997 and 1998. By the time our last Minnesota child was born in 2000, I had changed my teaching jobs three times, ending with a layoff from a district-wide teacher reduction. I liked teaching, especially coaching debate, but my career as a teacher seemed to not be working for my family.
I was 30 years old, unemployed, married with eight children, licensed to be an English teacher. Funny, in my mind’s eye I was still a 20-year-old Van Halen fan, having fun hurdling over every obstacle that came my way. But my life of “conviction” led me elsewhere, and if you follow your true, God-given convictions, you will be in for a much greater adventure than what popular culture offers. At the time I asked, “Who will hire a young dad of eight kids?” Focus on the Family in Colorado Springs, CO, that’s who. A couple of years prior I had connected with their teachers ministry, so I reconnected and asked for a job. My English degree landed me in editing, eventually becoming a Senior Online Editor in the brave new world of the internet. This four-and-a-half year stint wrapped up my Convicting Years.
Conviction. That word sounds negative. For me, it was very positive and rewarding. As we welcomed children into our family, both Wendy and I had strong faith that God would provide financially, emotionally and physically. We welcomed two more children right away in Colorado, officially becoming parents of 10 — double-digits! — and we held little conviction to stop. We believed (and still do) that children are blessings from God, so why not welcome more? Our personal conviction — very personal to us, not something we think everyone should hold — was to welcome more Jeub children. And our life is most bountiful because of it.
Our next decade (the second half of those first 23 years of marriage) consisted of our “growing” years. Life became more complicated, more painful, but we kept having children. Our 11th child came about the time I finished my MBA at Regis University. Wendy encouraged me all the way. But it was a mixture of joy and anguish. I was let go from Focus on the Family after an inner-office disagreement that got ugly. I had already started my masters program and I had a small-but-growing publishing business on the side, so I took a severance payment and voluntarily resigned. Then the twins came — “We skipped a dozen!” I would say — giving us a grand total of 13 children in 2005. I was 35, father to 13, a self-employed business owner, husband to a still-very-cute five-foot-one-inch blonde who I couldn’t keep my hands off of!
Sounds like a TV reality show, doesn’t it? Well, yes, it does. Shortly after the twins’ birth, some friends suggested our names to The Learning Channel for a series of family shows. The producers wanted to film us for a week during our September Jeub Birthday Bash, our yearly birthday party for all of our children, a unique large-family tradition we created in Minnesota and still keep to this day. We agreed, and for a week in September 2006, we blew the minds of a crew of four single guys — two cameramen, a sound guy and a producer — as they captured the “reality” of the Jeub family.
Reality TV was a relatively new concept at the time, and we were lucky enough to have one of its founders be our onsite producer. The program was called Kids by the Dozen and featured a total of seven families, but the first and second seasons were vastly different. The first was, I believe, more genuine. All three families getting screen time in that first year, us included, got a chance to display their real-life joys and genuine struggles for the camera. The second season, in contrast, was largely staged, every episode containing a fabricated drama imagined by the new onsite producer. (The original producer who did our episode had been replaced.) I didn’t like the second season nearly as much as the first. Neither did the viewers, I reckon. The show was not renewed for a third season.
Our event was the birthday bash, but our struggle dealt with the estrangement of our oldest daughter, at the time a single mom who had left our family. This was not fabricated. She left our home at 19 in a huff, had a child out of wedlock, and was hellbent on wanting nothing to do with her family. At least that’s what she communicated on her way out. I’m ashamed to say this now, but we tried to hide her from the camera.
Again, heavenly conviction is a good thing, and if you follow it you will seldom be disappointed with the outcome. After keeping the door shut on this “skeleton” for the full week of filming, we felt a strong conviction to share this reality to our “reality” producer. The result? Nearly 50 hours of birthday party scenes, documentation of our family’s school bus conversion, our homeschooling and my family business ended up on the editing floor. This was just too “juicy” to turn a blind camera eye to, the producer decided. Estrangement! Banishment! He returned to New York, pitched this new “angle” and then contacted our oldest daughter asking for an onscreen interview. She agreed to be filmed for “the other side” to the Jeub family story. And so it was that our private family drama ended up becoming the most significant public part of the show.
I am so very pleased I overcame the temptation to avoid my convictions, but it was risky. The TV producers could have made us look like crazy, angry parents who booted their innocent daughter out on the streets for petty reasons. I suppose some people saw us as such, but the show felt well balanced to us. It presented the achingly common conflict of an adult child pushing against the boundaries of her loving parents. The show wisely avoided the details of the separation, instead focusing on the reality of it, and our attempts to reconcile and make matters better. Rather than us pointing fingers at one another and creating a family feud for all the world to judge, we expressed our frustrations and love for our daughter, with the hope of a reconciliation that we all desired.
That’s how the show ended, but not our story. We did end up bringing our oldest daughter back into the family — and our grandson, too! — even before our episode reached America’s screens. This larger story is captured in our book Love in the House, a loose play on lyrics from a favorite TobyMac song, “Love is in the house when the house is packed.” Our eldest daughter even helped us get the story straight, a story of apologies and redemption and renewal. It was a beautiful time in our family.
Our book capitalized on our television popularity at the time, which has been criticized by some as opportunistic. We see it differently. We wanted to reveal our family’s journey to encourage other families — especially young couples struggling with their children — that their love and sacrifice is worth it. As I’ve said, follow conviction and you will seldom be disappointed, whether you’re raising little ones with the most basic questions about the most basic needs of a child, or if you’re struggling with a rebellious teenager whose troubles are deep waters of doubt and confusion.
Our 46-minute television show was a peek into our home. Our book pulled back the curtains for more.
How ironic. We don’t even have curtains on most of our windows. And curtains will became a significant metaphor later when our life caves in.
You can see it clearly now. Our 23 years of family life was sprinkled with both joy and anguish. It’s easy to write about the joy, and getting pats on the back for being a “perfect” family feels momentarily pleasing. Of course we’re not perfect, and pain is where people relate to us. I have found that whenever I gather the courage to speak out about the pains of life, I help others. The conviction to be publicly honest leads to my most significant growth. That has been my life, especially now dealing with the pain of social smearing.
From when our television show released in 2007 to October 2014 — seven strong years — we leaned in on our pain. You’ve struggled with finances? We have, too. So we created an audio guide called Cheaper by the Dozen and traveled to speak at churches and homeschool conferences about how to raise multiple children on a tight budget. We eat like kings in our home, largely because of Wendy’s cooking prowess, but how does she feed so many? It’s a great question. So Wendy wrote two cookbooks, Love in the Kitchen, Volumes 1 and 2. They are the best cookbooks on the market, in my humble opinion, because they’re full of real recipes from a real family with real ingredients you can find in most homes. How about weight loss? Wendy has even written a diet book, Love in a Diet. For someone with 16 children who looks as awesome as she does, countless numbers of moms wanted to know her secrets.
During those years we had three more children and suffered two miscarriages. And so the mix of joy and the anguish persisted. The kid count was then (likely) capped at 16. I still had my family business (a curriculum publishing business for academic speakers and debaters), and though it had provided modestly for my family, it has also had its share of pain. The debate league I served suffered a bitter split, some of my former students organized to be openly critical of my programs, and some local coaches boycotted my publications for a while. Business flagged as a result. We were accosted a bitter church split that left us “house churching” for several years, and we have wrestled with our relationship with God in our own personal way, largely because of how painful religious legalism can be. Our relationship with our oldest again went through another family drama when we refused — as politely as we could — to include her boyfriend in our family Christmas letter. She wanted us to call him her husband, but they weren’t married. And we were once again stuck in that tight rub between expediency and conviction.
These are real struggles in our family. And they aren’t the only ones. I don’t intentionally keep any of them from you; I just haven’t shared them yet. Some are as yet unresolved, and some of them are best kept private. Close friends know more, but none know all. How could they? Wendy and I are busily hustling children to and fro, juggling multiple schedules, attending to the scraped knees and hurt feelings that blossom like wild yucca plants on the skin and in the hearts of adults and kids alike. It appears chaotic from the outside, but I promise you from the very bottom of my soul that it is tempered on the inside with love — our Greatest Commandment — for God and for one another.
Joy and anguish were central themes of those 23 years of marriage and family bonds, and they were always galvanized with love. It was fitting to have our first book titled Love in the House and, indeed, all our books following ended up with “love” it their titles. Wendy and I still feel like we’re in our twenties, and I still hum along to Sammy Hagar “Why Can’t This Be Love?” What happens, then, when hate makes an appearance on stage right of our family’s loving life? You’re about to find out, because facing that hate nearly ruined me, my marriage, and my family.
Love didn’t seem to be enough to prepare us for October 2, 2014.
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