Mom and dad were at a conference in Chicago. Josh, the oldest brother, and his wife and two babies probably were sleeping somewhere, given the late hour. And their camera and sound crew apparently had the night off, too.

I met a nice family the other night. A large brood, good-looking kids. Let's see, there were Josh and Jill. And their brother John David. Oh, and Jessa, James and Jinger.


Wait, I forgot some of their brothers: Jedidiah, Josiah, Jeremiah and Justin. And their sister Jana. I didn't get a chance to meet their other siblings: Joseph, Joy-Anna, Jason, Jackson, Johannah, Jennifer, Jordyn-Grace or sweet baby Josie.


Mom and dad were at a conference in Chicago. Josh, the oldest brother, and his wife and two babies probably were sleeping somewhere, given the late hour. And their camera and sound crew apparently had the night off, too.


Of course, I could only be talking about one family in the world: the Duggars, who surprised us by attending the Rick Santorum rally at Herrin (Ill.) High School Saturday night.


The Arkansas family, who shares conservative Christian beliefs and values with the candidate, offered their support, and then they prepared to load on their bus for a trip north, where they would meet up with father, Jim-Bob, and mom, Michelle.


Unless you've also run into a Duggar somewhere –– which is entirely possible, considering the number of them –– you may best know them as the subjects of the reality show "19 Kids and Counting." The show, which began as "17 Kids and Counting" in 2008, recently started another season and airs Tuesdays on the TLC network.


Three of my own four kids (I know, I'm a lightweight) were with Kim and I when we literally grabbed some of the Duggar kids for photos Saturday. Our immediate impression was their kindness, patience and sweetness, down to even the youngest, who had just sat through a political rally and knew they had pizzas waiting on the bus.


When we expressed our admiration, they expressed their gratitude. They seem to understand they have something special –– though there's not a sign that they know they're celebrities –– and they share their time and blessings with others when they have a chance.


That being said, I know they are kids. I have kids. They're great, most of the time, too. But, even in their worst moments, it helps to have someone(s) to cheer them up or set them straight, as needed, while holding them accountable.


Each of the Duggars has close to two dozen people who can do that for them. I'm sure it helps them keep perspective and, when you're a girl sharing a bedroom with seven or eight brothers or a girl sharing a bathroom with the same number of sisters, perspective is likely needed on occasion.


I've always been drawn to big families. My dad is the youngest of eight, and his dad was the youngest of 11. When I was a child, I started a fascination with the Osmonds, first with their cartoon and then with their later television shows.


Kim and I were laughing the next day about our own family, with our oldest a 20-year-old son and Sophia, our youngest, at age 3. With a different belief system and a lot more courage, we might have been able to fit in another 15 kids or so. But that brings up another admirable trait.


Jim-Bob and Michelle, and now their oldest son, Josh, have said their decision to trust God with family size is based on a desire to serve God with every decision of their lives. For them, that means no birth control. They communicate that message, often because people insist to know why –– WHY? –– all the kids. And yet, on their show, they don't judge others and their choices. 


Among our closest friends are the Hirschis, a family of nine. They have a similar, equally admirable outlook based on their faith. Their big family loves and encourages each other to great achievements.


We all need that from somewhere –– if not from 18 brothers and sisters, then maybe your family just needs to work a little harder, like mine, to love, encourage and lift each other up. If you're not blessed with a large family, or a family at all, make those connections at church or among friends. Be real with each other.


Nobody knows us like our families, our best and our worst. Count your blessings and, like that sweet little family I just met, look out for each other.


Bill Swinford is editor of The Daily Republican in Marion, Ill. Though he's exhausted much of the time, he now promises not to blame it on his four kids. Reach him a bswinford@dailyrepublicannews.com.