Any reality television lover knows that practically nothing is off limits when it comes to that genre of TV. Seriously, want to watch a show about naked people adventuring through the wilderness? There’s a show for you! Want to watch a family with six daughters, five of whom are quintuplets, navigate life? Get ready for OutDaughtered! And if you were ever curious about what a polygamous family is really like, then TLC’s Sister Wives is all you need.
The show follows the Brown family, made up of patriarch Kody Brown and his four wives — Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn. Obviously, there is plenty of drama within the family that’s depicted on the series, but there’s also drama off camera in the real world because of the show. Sister Wives isn’t your typical reality show for many reasons, and the actual untold truth about Sister Wives is that the Brown family is even more complex than the series shows.
Kody wasn’t raised in a polygamist family but knew it’s what he wanted
When you think of the Brown family from Sister Wives, you might assume that they all grew up living in a polygamist family. After all, that would be a pretty big transition to make if they didn’t. But as it turns out, Kody Brown, the man at the center of four marriages and the person without whom Sister Wives wouldn’t exist, didn’t grow up with polygamist parents.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, Brown explained that, while his parents were Mormons, they were in a monogamous relationship. However, when he was 21, he converted to fundamentalist Mormonism. "I have adopted a faith that embraces that lifestyle," he said. "In fact, it recommends it and likes to reward good behavior. So if you’re good with one marriage, they figure you’ll be good with two. I hope they think I’ll be good with four." Obviously, Brown knew what he wanted, and eventually, he got just that.
Not all of the sister wives grew up in polygamist families
Much like Kody Brown, not all of the sister wives on TLC’s Sister Wives grew up in a polygamist family. One wife had to learn about the lifestyle on her own before making that huge, life-changing decision. Speaking to Oprah Winfrey on her show (via Oprah.com), the women explained all their own individual histories regarding plural marriage. For instance, Meri Brown, Kody’s first wife, was raised in a polygamist family, so she always knew she wanted to be part of that too. Christine Brown, Kody’s third wife, also grew up in a polygamist family. "I honestly wanted sister wives more than a husband," she told Winfrey. While her background is unclear, it’s believed Robyn Brown was also raised in a polygamist family and married into another polygamous family before divorcing and later wedding Kody (via CheatSheet).
Janelle Brown, on the other hand, had not had experiences in a polygamist household, and she wasn’t thrilled about the prospect of polygamy at first. "I think I was 22 when I finally thought: ‘Wow, Kody’s a great guy. Maybe I’m okay with this plural marriage thing,’" she told Winfrey.
This is why the Brown family decided to do Sister Wives
Because the Brown family had kept their polygamist lifestyle on the down low for so long, it was obviously a huge decision for them to do a show. After all, they knew that when TLC premiered their series for the first time, it would cause a ton of press coverage and social media chatter about their family and specifically their plural marriage. But it seems as though the Browns knew that going in, and they even welcomed it.
In an interview with the Las Vegas Sun, Christine Brown explained that their reasoning for starring in their own reality series was quite simple. "We have a story that needs to be heard," she said. "We’re a normal, healthy and happy family. That’s why we decided to show you our family." Additionally, Kody Brown added that they hoped Sister Wives would make a difference. "We thought if we open up, other fundamentalist families could open up," he said.
Whether Sister Wives has succeeded in making a polygamist lifestyle less taboo isn’t clear, but it certainly has gotten people interested in the Brown family.
The Browns’ church wasn’t happy with their decision to film the show
Because polygamy isn’t completely legal in the United States, it’s only natural for those in the same faith as the Brown family to be a little apprehensive about a reality show focused on polygamy. Specifically, it turns out that the Brown family’s own church wasn’t too pleased with TLC’s Sister Wives, and it makes sense as to why they wouldn’t be.
Sister Wives had plenty of promos air before the show actually premiered, and members of the Brown family’s church reportedly weren’t thrilled when they saw some of them, including one in which the family discussed sex. "When our church community saw the preview they understandably became upset," Janelle Brown wrote in the book Becoming Sister Wives: The Story of an Unconventional Marriage. "Many hadn’t been thrilled with our decision to do the program in the first place, and now they were worried that we were going to be sensational and improper." Thankfully for the Browns, it would seem that their church eventually came around.
The Browns tried to keep their family normal after Sister Wives aired
As you would expect, the fallout from having your own reality show premiere on national television would be pretty intense. And as seen in the second season of Sister Wives (via Today), the Brown family even explained that they had to have conversations with their children after the first season of the show because now people knew their names. In a sense, they became celebrities overnight, though the parents tried to keep things as normal as possible after the show aired.
"No matter how crazy it gets, we try so hard to make the family routine," Christine Brown said. "We all have dinner together Friday night, we have lunch Sunday. For the kids’ sake we try to keep that normal routine going. No matter how crazy it is." Sure, the Browns became local celebrities and people now knew all about the inner workings of their family, but that didn’t mean their actual family dynamic had to change. As Sister Wives showed, the Browns are still a normal family. Bigger and with more wives and moms, sure, but still just a family.
Meri lost her job because of Sister Wives
In addition to having all their friends and family know that they are a polygamous family after TLC’s Sister Wives premiered, the Brown family also had to deal with their coworkers and just strangers on the street knowing their business. And for one sister wife, that meant a change in occupation.
Specifically, in the second season of the show (via Today), Meri Brown explained that the series premiering actually had some pretty tough real world consequences for her. Specifically, she lost her job in the field of mental health because of the series. "The sting of losing the job because of the lifestyle — that still stings," she explained of being fired from her job in Utah. While it’s unclear exactly what her role was, it’s known that she worked with at-risk youth.
"Having now moved to Las Vegas, it’s lightened that a bit. It’s like, I couldn’t have kept the job anyway," she said. "But the fact that it happened is hard." Obviously, it sucks to be fired no matter what, but to be fired because she’s in a plural marriage couldn’t have been easy on Meri.
What the Sister Wives stars say about polygamy being like a "patriarchy"
Because the polygamous lifestyle that the sister wives practice is heavily focused on the husband having multiple wives. And because of that, many might wonder just how Kody Brown’s wives — Meri, Janelle, Christine, and Robyn — feel about the apparent patriarchal structure of the family.
Janelle, for her part, doesn’t feel stifled in her marriage at all. "It’s true that Kody is the glue that holds us together, but I definitely have my voice," she told the Las Vegas Sun. "I feel very liberated." Meri, too, doesn’t feel like she is weighed down. "I’ve become so independent in some ways," she added. But Christine, on the other hand, actually doesn’t mind having Kody in charge. "I feel our family is very patriarchal, but it’s exactly what I wanted," she explained. "I just want to be a princess in life." Well, at least they’re all happy!
No, the stars of Sister Wives don’t sleep in the same room
Because the Brown family lead lives that are so different than what most Americans experience, it’s natural that there would be questions about how things work in their plural marriage. People want to know if there is jealousy between the wives, what their children call each other, and, naturally, what their sleeping arrangement is like.
In an interview with Oprah Winfrey, the Brown family explained that their living situation wasn’t all that special. At the time of the first season of Sister Wives, the Browns were all living in one house in Utah. "Separate living spaces but interconnected," Janelle Brown explained of the home. "So the family functions as a whole, but we all have our own autonomy." And, of course, they have separate bedrooms. "Christine and Janelle and I each have our own bedrooms, and Kody is welcome in each of those bedrooms alone," Meri said. "That’s just how it is. We don’t go weird."
And after moving to separate houses in Las Vegas and then Flagstaff, Ariz., the Browns definitely don’t share bedrooms with their sister wives. So no, they don’t all sleep together.
After the first season of Sister Wives, the Brown family had to move
Perhaps the biggest repercussion of TLC’s Sister Wives was that the Brown family fell under investigation in Utah for bigamy, as reported by ABC News. So the family moved from the state where they were being persecuted, despite it being their home for so many years. And as difficult as the move must have been, the Brown family also described it being a positive. "It’s reset us all," Janelle said on the second season of the show (via Today). "We have a chance now to start, all of us, at ground zero."
Additionally, the Browns were able to find a good community in Las Vegas, where they ended up. "It’s a great community," Kody explained. "People have reached out to us, and they say ‘Hey, you’re just like everybody else, we like you.’"
In 2012, the investigation into the Browns was dropped, likely a huge relief to the family. An investigation into their family might not have been what the Browns expected from Sister Wives, but it may not have been too shocking, considering just how big of a splash the show made.
The Browns were shocked at Sister Wives’ reception
As you would expect, the Brown family was definitely a little worried about what people would think of them once Sister Wives premiered. But as it turns out, they didn’t really need to stress about it.
As Janelle Brown pointed out in the second season, as difficult as coming out as polygamists had been on the family, there were some positives. "We’ve had so many blessings through this," she explained of the reception to the show’s first season, according to Today. "We’ve had so many people reach out and say, ‘you’re not weird.’" She continued, "I hope in the long run the show builds that tolerance. That’s really what we’re hoping for, is it’s another voice for tolerance."
We’re sure that the fact that people were loving and accepting of the Browns after Sister Wives only made the family more appreciative of the show.
The Browns didn’t expect Sister Wives to get so deep
It’s impossible to know what to expect when you go on television. Whether you’re being interviewed on the local news or starring in your own reality series, it has to be pretty overwhelming. And for the Brown family of TLC’s Sister Wives, they had all kind of assumed that their series would show how fun and light their family was, not how intense things were between them all.
"We thought our show would touch on the sweeter side of our life and never probe beneath the surface," Janelle wrote in Becoming Sister Wives: The Story of an Unconventional Marriage. "We were totally unprepared for the reality of confronting our issues in front of the TV cameras." Additionally, Janelle explained that the Browns all thought their show would take on more of the tone of 19 Kids & Counting, another popular TLC reality series about a large family. But Sister Wives got deep, and it brought out many of the family’s issues to the forefront.
Are any of the sister wives’ children interested in polygamy themselves?
For a family as large as the Browns of TLC’s Sister Wives, you might expect that at least some of their children would want to seek out a polygamist marriage of their own one day. But as it turns out, not one of the Brown children has sought a plural marriage, nor do they plan to, it seems.
During a special tell-all that aired on TLC in 2015, all of Kody Brown’s older children explained that they weren’t interested in pursuing plural marriage for themselves. Specifically, when Kody and Meri Brown’s daughter, Mariah, explained polygamy wasn’t for her, Kody and Christine Brown’s daughter Aspyn chimed in. "I’m the same," she said, according to Us Weekly. "I don’t want to do plural marriage. I kind of feel bad that none of us want to, but it was just not what we were meant to do I guess."
Sister Wives’ Meri and Janelle shared an interesting connection before Kody
When you think of plural marriage or a sister wife relationship, one of the first things that might come to mind is just how the relationships between the wives work. Surely there’s jealousy, as they’ve said before, but isn’t it awkward when you meet a new sister wife for the first time, knowing your husband is interested in her? Well, it turns out that in at least one case the sister wives already knew each other — Janelle was once married to Meri’s brother.
As Janelle wrote in Becoming Sister Wives: The Story of an Unconventional Marriage, "Since I had married her brother, I was friendly with Meri." Describing a "spiritual get-together" she attended, she shared, "That evening, when Kody walked into the house to join the party, the strangest feeling washed over me." Although she was in the middle of a divorce, she still felt a strong connection towards Kody from the get-go. Clearly, having a previous connection to Meri made her transition to sister wife a little more complicated, but also perhaps a little easier, as they already had a history.
The Browns reportedly have financial issues despite Sister Wives’ success
When you hear about families who have their own reality shows like the Kardashian-Jenners or the Duggars, you probably can’t help but think that they must make a ton of cash in putting their private lives all over the television. But as far as TLC’s Sister Wives is concerned, there’s not that much money to be made from airing out all your family’s dirty laundry.
As the International Business Times reported, the Brown family as a whole has had quite some cash flow issues over the years. Yes, despite the fact that they are likely getting pretty impressive paychecks from TLC for their successful reality show, money’s reportedly still tight for Browns. Specifically, the International Business Times cited the fact that Christine Brown had asked fans on Facebook to help pay a $50,000 medical bill for her daughter and that they reportedly owed $5,634.82 in property taxes for one home. We imagine that caring for such a large family can be financially difficult.
Sister Wives’ Meri got catfished
Just because the Brown family has their own reality series and is relatively famous for it, that doesn’t mean they don’t deal with regular struggles. Just like anyone else, the Browns are susceptible to mean tricks by people with less-than-honorable intentions. For Meri Brown, that’s exactly what happened when she ended up being catfished by a woman pretending to be a man seeking a romantic relationship with her in 2015.
In an interview with People, Meri explained that it soon became clear that the person she was talking to online wasn’t who they said they were. "I became fearful of the online relationship as I became aware of the deception," she said. "I didn’t know how to get out of the situation without putting myself, family, and friends at greater risk. It was a very difficult time. I had a lot of anxiety."
In a 2021 episode of Sister Wives, years after the incident, Kody actually explained that after the catfishing, "Meri and I sort of saw our marriage just dissolve," as noted by People. Though they’ve moved on from the incident, it still appears to affect them, as it was pretty traumatic for the whole family.