Too Many Cooks?

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People keep asking me how plural wives live together without getting in each other's way. "I'd beat up a woman who messed with my house," said one woman. "No telling what I'd do if she went to bed with my husband!"

No wonder the mainstream woman is puzzled by videos of FLDS sisterwives embracing each other, comforting each other, and walking arm-in-arm. No wonder she disbelieves a woman in her fifties who promises to cherish her husband's teen bride-one she'll have to teach "the ropes" of motherhood. Why don't too many cooks spoil the broth in polygamous households?

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As a child, I witnessed the seven wives of my father working together every day. They'd gather in our white house kitchen to can peaches, pickles, jam. They'd stretch a quilt for a sick friend or a new baby and work on it together. They'd gather at each other's bedsides while one gave birth. Ultimately, they stood arm-in-arm at my father's funeral and beside his grave. And even after he was gone they continued to celebrate each other's birthdays and wedding anniversaries together. "My sisterwives were my best friends," my mother reported. They were her confidantes and her helpers. They deepened, rather than compromised, the commitment to marriage. When my mother suffered a "nervous breakdown," one reason she wasn't hospitalized and subjected to shock treatments was because her sisterwives took care of her, her children and her household.

Generally speaking, plural wives who live together divide up the chores. They alternate weeks in charge of meal preparation or kitchen duty. The rest of the time, their duties are light-vacuuming, dusting, washing woodwork and windows. They usually care for their own children unless specific agreement is created with another mother. The women tend to each other's children when one wife goes to work, or when sickness or travel interrupts her watch over her young ones. When everybody is pulling together to make a family work, there's not a lot of room for jealous spats or bickering. Wouldn't it be great if we could sustain that attitude in monogamous households?

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