By today's standards, the Bates family of "Bringing Up Bates" fame is anything but normal.
Together, parents Gil and Kelly Jo have nineteen children - all of whom were homeschooled - and an ever-growing number of grandchildren. As devout Christians, the Rocky Top, Tennessee family abides by a conservative set of rules which include everyone's chores, watching little to no TV, and modest dress attire. As a reflection of their faith, the Bates also require their children's mates to be Christian, do not allow them to go on dates alone, and limit physical contact during the courtship period.
While their lifestyle may be unusual to the secular world, something about it appeals to viewers: Since the series first premiered on New Year's Day in 2015, "Bringing Up Bates" has become the highest-rated series in UPtv's history.
In an exclusive interview with The Gospel Herald, Kelly Jo revealed that her family decided to allow cameras into their home to encourage and uplift viewers of all ages.
"The one message that we hope people will take away from the show and from our family is to realize that there are no perfect people, but it's worth it to set new priorities that will knit your family together," she said. "We feel that the core of what holds our family together is our faith and our family values. There are plenty of opportunities in a family to have hurt feelings, misunderstandings, chaos, and discouragement... but there's also opportunity for forgiveness, love, strength, hope, and joy."
She added, "Our desire is to bring this encouragement to those who face daily challenges, that may be looking for someone to say to them, ‘Don't give up!'"
When asked how her family remains grounded despite the success of their reality show, Kelly Jo told GH that it's not always easy.
"I think we all face daily challenges to try to stay ‘real' and to stay grounded in our beliefs, whether we are involved in a show or not," she said. "We live in a world full of pressures and temptations. There are peer pressures, as well as pressures we put on ourselves to fit a certain mold, or to be like someone else."
In fact, the pressure to conform to the outside world grows increasingly hard as technology becomes more accessible and Hollywood continues to influence children and teens, she explained.
"Gone are the days when families shared a family meal together, beginning with prayer and ending with thoughtful conversations between family members," Kelly Jo said. "Gone are the days when prime time TV consisted of shows like Andy Griffin and Mr Ed, the talking horse. Gone are the days when Sunday was the day the family attended church together then gathered at grandma's for a home cooked meal. Gone are the days when kids played outside more than they played on Nintendo. Gone are the days when girls blushed at the thought of being forward. Gone are the days when boys were taught to open doors for ladies and to respect their elders. Gone are the days when families had time to spend with one another at the close of each evening."
To combat this, Gil and Kelly Jo encourage their children to constantly talk to God and surround themselves with wise role models to remind them to stick to their values: "We have to evaluate and re-evaluate how our choices in life are affecting us, how they are affecting others, and how they are affecting our testimony to others," she said. "It's never easy to do right in a world filled with opportunities for wrong choices. It's a constant battle and a constant goal to be willing to be different!"
On January 5th, season five of "Bringing Up Bates" will premiere on UPtv at 9 p.m. EST. This season, viewers will watch as the Bates family adapts to changes, while deepening their faith and love for one another.
"Viewers can expect new loves, new challenges, new family members, new opportunities to teach and to learn," Kelly Joe revealed. "As in every family, each member of that family is uniquely different and adds a whole new dynamic to the family through their varying personalities, experiences, and goals. So there is always something new, something unpredictable, that offers us an opportunity to grow in faith, in patience, in love, and in forgiveness."
She added, "It's these experiences that help form who we are and that add to the joy of being a family."
To learn more about the Bates family, visit their website.