One thing I've noticed about people who comment negatively on the Duggars is that they seem to equate the Duggar children getting along well with each other and enjoying other's company as being "isolated" from outside friends. For some reason the idea that children can be friends with each other is some kind of alien concept--it must mean they have no other people to be friends with and they are, somehow settling for being friends with their siblings because they have no other choice. This fascinates me.
I have one sister who is 10 years older than me. She left for college when I was 8--then went straight to graduate school--twice. I never got the chance to really know her until we were both adults and by then, it was too late for real "bonding." We settle for an uncomfortable friendship when we're in the same room together, but otherwise it's doubtful that we remember each other exists. Aside from the obvious age difference--not many 17 year olds actually want to hang out with a 7 year old--I think part of it also comes from how my parents tried to respect her after I was adopted. They went out of their way to remind her that she wouldn't be REQUIRED to babysit or care for me in their place. While at the time this was probably good for her peace of mind, I think at the same time it had it's disadvantages--we aren't at all close and I also think it may have fueled some of her resentment, seeing me being cared for by her parents and she wasn't invited or asked to assist. It's just a theory as I've never been brave enough to ask her why we're both so uncomfortable around each other.
The fact is that the Duggar children have friends outside their home. We've seen a few of them on screen, but it's my honest belief that the Duggars are attempting to give their children some aspect of privacy in a world where they are all well-known. By choosing to keep the show focused on their family, they've allowed their children to have some small pieces of "private" life. There have been random references to different friends by different Duggar kids during the run of the show, but you have to really pay attention to notice--so in that sense people can claim that the Duggar kids don't have friends because we rarely if ever "see" it.
I also think it may go back to the theory that people are annoyed because their kids don't get along with each other as well as the Duggar kids do, therefore it's time to pounce--If I failed, everyone must fail, right? Unfortunately it's very hard to admit as parents when we goof--I myself get very defensive when my parenting is questioned, but I know it comes from a place of fear that they are right, not confidence.
When the Duggars started to see that the children were going to keep on coming, as it were, I have a feeling that the home-schooling idea became not just a way to express their faith, but also a means of self-preservation. Michelle has said more than once that when Josh was small and she began to research home-schooling, one of the things she noticed right away from the home-schooling familes she met was that the kids all seemed to get along well with each other and that they seemed to be becoming friends with each other. I have no doubt that seeing that possibility was a huge comfort for them. Who wants a house full of 19 kids that can't get along with each other? Just 2 kids who never seem to get along will bring an entire house down, emotionally.
I have seen the older kids and the younger kids get along and enjoy being together. It isn't out of duty either. You can tell that they are happy together--there isn't a forced quality there. Not all of them can be that good of actors. I don't think it's brainwashing either. We know the kids cry and express their emotions, even if it's been said they aren't allowed to. My sister and I fake it and anyone with an eye can see it, some things you just can't fake: genuine affection is one of them.