The story of the unconventional marriage of Kody Brown to four women was highly controversial, as a polygamous lifestyle was generally perceived in a negative way. It generated much interest since it had been featured in the reality television series, “Sister Wives,” from 26 September 2010 on the American cable TV, The Learning Channel (TLC). For 16 seasons, the public had been privy to Kody’s relationship with each of his wives and his 18 children, as well as the relationship between his sister wives. The Browns had happy and loving moments, but like any other family, they also had their fair share of tragedy and challenging times.

The Brown family

At the age of 22, Kody Brown was baptized in Mormon Fundamentalism, which practiced celestial plural marriage with the belief that it was a calling and something that was crucial in one’s spiritual development. Of note, the Mormon Church renounced polygamy a long time ago, but some fundamentalist groups continued the practice. Kody’s conversion in 1990 coincided with his decision to marry 19-year-old Meri Barber, who shared the same faith. Not all members of their congregation subscribed to a polygamous lifestyle, despite believing in their doctrine, but Kody and Meri knew coming into the marriage that there would be other wives. Their daughter Mariah was born in 1995.

After three years of wedded bliss, Kody took Janelle Schriever to be his second wife. Interestingly, she was married to Meri’s brother, Adam Barber, but they divorced after a couple of years, she saying that they were ‘not a good fit.’ Kody and Janelle’s relationship confused many, as it appeared that their connection was more intellectual than romantic – they even admitted to not being in love when they had their spiritual union, but they still had six children: Logan, Madison, Hunter, Garrison, Gabriel and Savannah.

In 1994, Christine Allred became his third wife, and this was a love match – they had six children as well: Aspyn, Mykelti, Paedon, Gwendlyn, Ysabel, and Truely. His fourth wife, Robyn Sullivan, joined their family in 2010, and what they felt for each other went beyond a strong attraction, as their connection was deep and spiritual. She had three children – Dayton, Aurora and Breanna from her first marriage to David Jessop, who belonged to a prominent family in their community. She bore Kody a son whom they named Solomon. Except for Janelle, all sister wives had been raised in a polygamous family.

How did “Sister Wives” come about?

Kody’s third wife, Christine, worked for a non-profit organization called Principle Voices, which advocated for public awareness and acceptance of plural marriage. Polygamous families mostly kept to themselves, wanting to live free from prejudice and scorn, so getting one to agree to an interview or appear in a documentary was quite difficult. However, when Timothy Gibbons approached the organization with his interest in doing a reality show about them, Kody was immediately on board with the idea, as he liked Tim’s vision or objective for the show which was to change the negative connotations about their lifestyle, which included child brides, incest, and abuse. The likes of Warren Jeffs, the leader of a polygamous sect of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS), left a bad impression as he sexually assaulted girls and even married them off to older male followers. He was sentenced to life imprisonment and 20 years after he was convicted of his crime.

Tim sincerely believed that if given the chance and the right platform, the world would realize that the Browns weren’t bad, and not that different from everyone else. The family had a lengthy discussion about doing the show, because they knew that it would irrevocably change their lives. The sister wives were not too keen on going public, as they were worried about its repercussions including losing their jobs and their kids being bullied. Their relatives were apprehensive about being outed by association, and didn’t want that. Most people in their community were upset at the thought that something they considered sacred or fundamental in their beliefs would be sensationalized, or relegated to a form of entertainment. After careful consideration, and believing that the benefits outweighed the risks, they all agreed to take part in the reality show and tell their story. They hoped that viewers would keep an open mind, and perhaps understand their beliefs and way of life.

“Sister Wives,” the reality TV series

When the Brown family was introduced to the public in 2010, Kody was living with his three wives, Meri, Janelle and Christine along with their 12 children. They shared one house, but there was nothing salacious about their living arrangement, as he didn’t sleep with all his wives in the same bed or at the same time. Their place had three separate apartments that were interconnected, so each wife had her own living space, bedroom and kitchen. Kody had a schedule as to which apartment he should be staying in, and this kind of setup of living together under one roof allowed him to personally greet all his wives each morning, and gave his children access to him anytime they wanted. Each ‘family’ engaged in activities on their own, but they also did things together, with all sister wives and children present, such as sharing a meal once or twice a week to strengthen their relationship as a whole.

There was relative peace and harmony in their home, despite each wife having a different personality, strengths and weaknesses, as they had all come to accept that, and integrate their lives with one another. Meri said that it was about ‘learning how each wife would maintain her own autonomy, while being an important part of the family.’ Janelle said that the support network which she had with her sister wives was great, as they could be there for one another without question. The mothers essentially raised all children together, as if they belonged to one family, but they had different parenting styles, so they established guidelines and rules to avoid chaos and conflict.

As for Kody, he had his work cut out for him, as he juggled his time between his wives. Season one featured his 20th anniversary with his first wife, the birth of his sixth child with his third wife (his 13th child in all), and his spiritual union with his fourth wife. Through the years, the TV series gave the viewers an insight into his plural marriage, the emotional and financial challenges of such a lifestyle, and the relationship between his wives.

Tragic moments in “Sister Wives”

Kody once said, ‘The fact that my family can live openly is one of the greatest miracles I have witnessed in my lifetime.’ It was something he only dreamed about, as he never thought it was possible, adding ‘This has given us a great boost of confidence, as well as made us stronger as a family.’ Even if their lifestyle was considered unorthodox by many, it was something they chose for themselves and they were happy. However, their life wasn’t all rosy, as they also went through tough times, of which the following are a few:

Fled home like criminals

More than half of the people residing in Utah were members of The Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-day Saints (LDS Church); a more liberal sect of that church practiced polygamy. There were small polygamous communities in the state where most of the residents shared the same faith. The Brown family lived in Lehi, Utah, but they were not part of that community as they hid in plain sight. Their friends, co-workers and employers didn’t know the truth about them. When one wife talked about her sister wives to others, she would refer to them as sisters of Kody who lived in their house. Since polygamy was illegal in that state, those who practiced it were hiding from the general public.

At the Television Critics Association press tour, the reality TV series featuring a polygamous family was introduced, and viewers had their first glimpse of the Brown family. The Lehi City Police began their investigation into them, and it made headlines on the local news on the day of the premiere of “Sister Wives.” What was supposed to be a joyous time for them, as they would finally live openly, turned into a nightmare; coming home from school, their kids would ask if their father would go to jail. The adults immediately made plans to leave the city to escape anti-polygamy laws, and move to Las Vegas. They never told anyone outside of their immediate family; even the producers were only notified just before they left. They were not sure if the show would continue, but their priority at that time was to keep everyone safe. Sacrifices had to be made, but the most difficult part was uprooting their children, who were devastated when they heard about it – some didn’t want to go.

Life had become uncertain for the Brown family, as they had to start over in another state, and look for jobs and houses for each wife. Many were curious why they did not make a concrete plan for this kind of scenario, knowing fully well that going to jail was a possibility, considering they had heard stories in the past of fathers sent to jail for their beliefs, with the sister wives and children split up.

The third wife left the family

Kody and Christine were very much in love when they started, so it was unfortunate that the time came after 25 years when she became so unhappy that she wanted out of the marriage. She had changed a lot, started to assert herself, and stopped saying yes to everything. Kody didn’t know how to deal with her, so he withdrew from her as she did from him; at one point, he even said that he no longer wanted to be intimate with her, and this broke her heart. He further shared that Christine told him in the past that she hated plural marriage, but while telling the whole world that it was awesome.

Christine’s Instagram post in November 2021 revealed that she and Kody had grown apart, but that making the decision to leave was not easy. She further said, ‘We will continue to be a strong presence in each other’s lives as we parent out beautiful children and support our wonderful family.’ For his part, he said that they would remain committed parents, even if they were moving forward on different paths.

Still married but no longer intimate with the first wife

Meri was the legal wife, but she and Kody filed for divorce so he could legally marry Robyn in 2014 and adopt her kids. He said that it was a decision that they made together as a family. Perhaps feeling lonely and neglected, Meri sought attention online, and became a victim of catfishing.

Kody’s relationship with Meri had been in a ‘dark place’ for quite some time; nobody could pinpoint exactly when it started, but difficulty conceiving and a miscarriage took a toll on both of them. Her jealousy towards her sister wives made things difficult for him; he believed that he was deceived into a relationship that was very different from what he expected. Kody said that the catfishing incident ‘dissolved’ whatever was left of his emotional connection to her.

In her December 2020 post, she shared, ‘Here’s my truth. I love him. I love my family. I’m committed. I have 30 years in this. We struggle. We communicate. … I’m not going anywhere.’ However, for Kody’s part, he had said that they were never going back to the way they were. Although they were on friendly terms, he had no romantic inclination toward her, and had no desire to be intimate with her.

Strained relationship with his children

With 18 children, one could only imagine how Kody was able to spend quality time with all of them. In an interview, Paedon, his son with Christine, gave an idea of what Kody was like as a father and said, ‘He mainly tried to focus on the younger kids. When there’s another one born… favorite is the best example I can give. With a new child he needed to protect.’ Paedon said that he was thankful for the time he spent with his father, and for growing up in a polygamous family, as he gained brothers and sisters through it, but he didn’t want that for his life. ‘I honestly don’t believe in it,’ he said.

Image source

The covid-19 pandemic strained Kody’s relationship with Garrison and Gabriel, his sons with Janelle. Kody had set out strict guidelines for everyone to follow, so that he could visit each house without the risk of spreading the virus. However, his sons objected to not seeing their friends or girlfriend just so they could spend time with their father. Kody said that the boys had to move out of the house if they wanted to go on a date, so he could go home. He admitted that they needed therapy, saying, ‘I’ve gotten to the point where I’m so angry about what happened that we’re not communicating. And I think they are too.’

Family falling apart

Perhaps the most tragic thing that happened to the Brown family was how broken they had become, with three sister wives filled with discontent in their plural marriage, resulting in one of them leaving the family for good. Kody had said in the past that he loved each of his wives ‘wholly, passionately, and eternally,’ so many wondered what went wrong. Some said it all started when Robyn became the fourth wife. It was several years too late, as the sister wives had become used to just the three of them in Kody’s life. When Robyn joined them, everything went haywire as the family dynamics shifted. It didn’t help that through the show, they could easily see how special she was to Kody, obviously becoming his favorite.

It was true when people said that ‘Ignorance is bliss,’ as what they didn’t know wouldn’t hurt them, and that used to be the case as Kody kept his relationship with each wife separate and private. However, when every interaction or every tender moment shared between Kody and his wives had been exposed, it was natural for jealousy to rear its ugly head. Each woman only loved the idea of having sister wives, but not the reality of sharing their husband. Managing four wives and keeping them happy had become a challenge, one that he was unfortunately not able to overcome. The only relationship that stood the test of time was Kody with Robyn.

The ‘couch sessions’ of the show were supposed to clear misunderstandings within the family, but perhaps they did more harm than good. Being confronted with what happened or what had been said was difficult, and when one was hurt by it, the tendency was to be on the defensive or to strike back. What happened to his family was a far cry from what Kody wanted to present to the world, and that was how ‘wonderfully stable, loving, and caring’ his family was.’

According to some reports, season 17 of “Sister Wives” was in the works, although there was no official announcement from the network yet. Loyal viewers would presumably have a chance to see what would become of the Brown family if they were willing to work things out, or give up on each other.

Write A Comment

Pin It