Photo Credit: TLC
This Sunday, many dads will be waking up early to cook breakfast with their kids as a surprise treat for mom. But Sister Wives star Kody Brown, who has four wives, admits that things go down a little differently in his household on Mother's Day. "I don't have the mental capacity to take all the children, gather them, and make breakfast in bed for all my wives," the reality star tells iVillage. "We just try to go out together, the five of us."
But that's certainly not the only thing that's unique about Brown's family. When iVillage caught up with Kody and his wives -- Meri, Janelle, Christine and Robyn -- they dished about the challenges of their lifestyle, responded to their critics and revealed how they deal with jealousy. The stars of the TLC show (which returns for season 3 on May 13) also explained why they're encouraging their 17 children to follow in their polygamist footsteps -- and why they decided to write a family memoir, Becoming Sister Wives: The Story of an Unconventional Marriage.
Why did you decide to write a book?
Janelle: When we first introduced ourselves to the American public, we were a well-established family. And everybody was kind of privy to the transition of Robyn coming in and the upheaval. [Robyn and Kody married in 2010.] So it was kind of nice to be able to just go back and revisit how we all came together, and why we made the choices that we did -- and just kind of share a little bit of what it takes to put together a family like ours.
Is there anything that people will learn about you from the book that they don't get to see on the show?
Meri: Oh there's lots. It goes all the way back to the very beginning when Kody and I were first married 22 years ago. It goes into a lot of the back history of how the family came together and the feelings and emotions and experiences that go along with that.
Kody: You're also going to get a lot of how we were feeling as Robyn came into the family and as we started the show. It gets into the core of what our experience was like -- not just outwardly but also inwardly. There's a lot of reflection on how we were feeling and what we were dealing with.
At the end of last season we saw you move to Las Vegas. How has the adjustment been?
Christine: Las Vegas is awesome. We've had a good time living there, and the kids have adjusted fantastically well. It's a downer that we are in four separate homes, but we're looking to fix that situation as quickly as possible. Through it all, I think we realized how much we love each other and how much the kids love each other -- because we want more than anything to all be back together.
So you're in separate homes now, but looking to get another large home together?
Christine: Well you know what, we realized that a large home isn't conducive in Las Vegas because they don't have buildings that allow that. And so four houses close to each other in a cul-de-sac would be just fine.
How has it been living apart?
Janelle: My littlest children, Savannah and Gabriel, have missed being able to just run next door and pick up a playmate to go play with. The kids are definitely more lonely for each other. We get them together every time we can. And sleeping over at Robyn's is the highlight of the week for Savannah because all the girls congregate there. So that's definitely been a con.
Christine: Because every time there is a sleepover at Robyn's my girls are over there, too.
Janelle: It's been harder on the children because we raised them to be siblings, and so they think of each other as siblings and they've missed the informal, spur-of-the-minute interaction.
So, Kody, you're just moving back and forth between the homes?
Kody: Yeah, I think it's hard on the kids, it's hard on the wives and their relationship. And it's hard on me, because I have to basically gather my luggage and move to another house every day. It's kind of unsettling. Our chief goal in life right now is to get the family closer together and re-establish our family identity.
Janelle: And you'll see a lot of that in this upcoming season. We have something going on, so hopefully that'll come together sooner than later.
You meet a lot of people who are critical of your lifestyle. Do their comments still hurt?
Kody: You know, we just went through a process today where we had a lot of criticism. It's okay, it's a matter of educating people. But it's hard to not be defensive when it's your life.
Christine: I think it's more positive than negative, though. For the most part, everyone that we talk to and everyone that we greet is absolutely incredible with their support. They always say "I'm proud of you" and "Thank you so much for showing your family because your lifestyle is not something we even knew about." And now it's something that they understand.
Meri: We know that we're never going to change everybody's minds about it -- everybody's always going to have different thoughts. So it's just hard when it comes right in your face and you have to go with it.
What's the best part and the hardest part about your lifestyle?
Christine: I like it when I have a rough day, they all gather around me and support me, showing the love. Lots of people support me.
Meri: Either that or we just tell her to shut up and buck up! It's tough love.
Kody: One of the difficulties of the principle is the jealousy, and it's funny that I would be the one to bring that up. The real issue is that I actually hear about the jealousy. It's like, they're never jealous all at the same time, but they all four deal with jealousy and they all four communicate to me when they're struggling.
Janelle: For me, people are like, "Aren't you jealous?" And I'm like, "Well yeah, that's part of it." But you know, it's not the majority. It's such a small period of time. Usually for me, I just have to reassess. In the very beginning, I had to really learn that I had value and I had things that were cool about me. When I learned that, and I was able to banish a lot of my insecurities, a lot of the jealousy went away. Because I knew what I had to offer.
I would think that a lot of women ask: How can you see another woman with your man?
Robyn: You know, for a long time I had "Forget You" -- of course the Glee version that Gwyneth Paltrow sings -- on my ringtone. But when I realized it could happen, I took it off. He could drive around town with another girl! And I realized it wasn't acceptable as a ringtone, so I changed it. It's one of those things where once you get away from focusing on me and my problems and my insecurities and my selfishness, it makes the world a lot better place.
Some of your kids have mentioned that they don't want to carry on with the polygamist lifestyle when they get married. How do you feel about that?
Meri: Obviously we'd like to encourage it just because it's something that has blessed our lives. But we want the kids to choose what makes them happy when they're adults. We just want them to be happy. I mean, we'll accept them and love them no matter what, obviously.
I saw a clip where you were discussing dating rules with the kids. What are the rules now?
Christine: We had a talk and we all sat down and we would prefer them to hold off until their frontal lobes are developed before they really date.
Janelle: We want them waiting until they're 18. But with some of my kids, I'll have a harder time trusting them when they're 18. So I'm kind of like, "Yeah, maybe they can date at 18." But other ones, I'm like, "Please, no. Hang out with friends for a couple of more years."
Kody: It's all about getting educated before they get married, if possible. In our culture, we don't live together, we don't experiment sexually before marriage, that kind of stuff. So we're trying to get our kids to actually abide by that -- especially being chaste until they choose to get married. Or at least, until they're out of college, and then choose to get married.
Do you ever disagree when it comes to parenting decisions?
Kody: We usually work together. We try to find compromise. Each mother tends to discipline and train in her own styles, so we do have a little inconsistency. Yet we work together as a family.
Christine: That's why four separate homes is important as well. Like, my kids know when they go over to Meri's house, she is stricter about not jumping on the furniture. I don't want them to do it. I hate it when they do it -- but they absolutely respect Meri's rules a heck of a lot more.
Christine: But I just want to tell you a little story, just to throw my sister wives under the bus. No, this is a complete joke. In matters that really matter, I absolutely know I have my sister wives' backs. But there was this one time when Truely, my 2-year-old, worked the system. She said, "Outside?" to me, and I go, "No, there's a trampoline outside," and I don’t want her on the trampoline by herself. So she goes to Robyn and goes, "Outside?" And Robyn's like, "Okay, honey." And she goes outside with her. And then later she wants to go outside and the process repeats with Janelle. And then with Meri! They all said, "Okay, she can go outside."
Robyn: Literally, they all know how to work the system.
So when one mom says no, they go to another one?
Robyn: Yep! Usually it's just mom or dad. But in our house it's mom and mom and mom and mom. You know, sometimes I'll say to the kids, in front of their moms: "When mom says no, you asked the wrong mom!"
Kody, a lot of men would probably say that it's hard enough to keep one wife happy. How do you manage?
Kody: It's a challenge, but they're also very independent. We work together to be a happy family, and they have to choose to be happy as well. Also, we're aware that we're in a relationship together, we're in marriages that we've chosen, and we're happy about what we've chosen. So it's about the choice to be happy. There's no way for me to make everybody happy.
Is there any possibility of a fifth wife? How would you all feel about that?
Christine: Awkward silence!
Kody: I think I'm focused on the relationships that I've got. I'm focused on loving my life and building a family with where we're at. I've never actually been out looking for another wife.
How do you keep the romance alive? Do you have date nights?
Kody: We all go out together, we have date night.
Meri: However, when we all go out together, we're not working on the romance part. We work on the romance part when we're out individually with him. I'm just saying!
Christine, in the previews for this season you reveal that you're struggling with your marriage. What happens?
Christine: I can't give it away! You'll have to just see what happens. You know, I think we all go through our times where we have struggles and we have disagreements. And lucky for all of you, I just share completely.
Kody: She's very open about how she feels.
Christine: It's true. It's true, whenever I see those previews, I cringe.
Obviously all couples argue. When that happens, do the others take sides?
Robyn: We actually try to support the two -- whether it's validating one or the other, or stepping in and saying, "You know, Kody, maybe this is how she sees it." Or, "Hey, Sister Wife, this is how Kody sees it." And we offer support because, honestly, if one of our relationships isn't working, it ripples through the family.
Are you ever embarrassed by anything you say or do on the show?
Meri: Ha, that's funny! You make jokes!
Kody: Every single episode embarrasses me at least once.
Janelle: You know, the greatest thing is that our producers really don't script the show at all. They are really just filming us doing our thing and sometimes we're like, "Oh, please don't put that in!" And it ends up in.
Christine: I'm like, "Why did I have to be so open and honest?" So there you go.
Kody: It can be very embarrassing. We've actually had friends who know us very well tell us they can't watch the show because the cringe factor is too high. And when we're embarrassing, it embarrasses them.
Christine: And if you're cringing at yourself, imagine what the kids are thinking! Aspyn hates the previews out right now. She's like, "Mom..." And I'm like "Does it make you embarrassed that I share so much?" And she's like, "Yeah!"
Kody: Our children tell us: Shut up, you're saying too much.
Do the kids like seeing themselves on TV?
Kody: Sometimes. Savannah and I sat down a couple times -- she's Janelle's youngest, she's 7 now -- and she actually likes watching the show. I think it's very familiar to her. It's fun to watch it with her because she's very engaged with the show.
Robyn: Solomon [6 months old] likes to watch it, too! He does, he really does. I turn it on and he gets really excited and happy.
Mother's Day is coming up. How is it different in your homes?
Kody: We usually try to go out to lunch or dinner or even brunch together because I don't have the mental capacity to take all the children, gather them, and make breakfast in bed for all my wives. We just try to go out together, the five of us.
Is that about the plan for this weekend?
Kody: We haven't thought about what the plan will be this year yet. We have a lot going on. I need to wait until the plane, when everybody else has fallen asleep and we're flying back to Las Vegas. Then I can think about what we are going to do for Mother’s Day.
Ali Gray is iVillage's Senior Associate Entertainment Editor. Follow her on Twitter: @thealigray