Recently, 4-year-old Sadie Winder’s parents overheard her talking to her youth soccer coach.
“She’s pointing over at us and we can hear her saying, ‘That’s my mom, Tami. And that’s my mom, Sophie,’” said Sophie Winder, who’s in a polygamous relationship with Colton Winder and his first wife. “Before, we would be mortified. Like — oh, crap, what’s going to come of this?
“But now she’s able to just be who she is. She doesn’t have to worry about it. And, honestly, the coach didn’t think twice about it. I would like to think that we’ve normalized it enough that we don’t have to worry about those type of situations ever again.”
The Winders, who live in the St. George area, think their decision to be a part of the TV series “Seeking Sister Wife” has gone a long way toward that normalization. It’s the reason they signed on for Season 2, which aired in early 2019, and stayed on for Season 3, which begins Monday on TLC — 6 p.m. on Dish and DirecTV; 9 p.m. on Comcast.
“There has been a lot of negativity in the media associated with a belief in plural marriage,” Colton said. “And we felt like this would be a good opportunity for us to put more of a positive face on it.”
All three of the adult Winders come from mainstream backgrounds in The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and they readily admit that they weren’t completely open about their turn to polygamy at first.
“The norm for polygamists in Utah is just to keep your head down and stay out of the spotlight,” Colton said. “And wear prairie dresses and hold hands,” Sophie added.
The Winders break both those stereotypes. No distinctive apparel, and — after a lot of discussion and prayer — they went public on a cable television show.
“We hadn’t been out in public,” Tami said. “I mean, even some of our family still didn’t know that we were living this way at that point. So I felt a lot of personal anxiety as well.”
Their immediate family members knew before the show, but “extended family members and maybe more distant friends” found out when their episodes started airing. “And I think there were definitely people in our hometowns that didn’t know,” Colton said.
And the family did not know about “Seeking Sister Wife.”
“I think most of them were probably reasonably OK with us being polygamous,” Colton said. “I think some of them had a problem with us being open polygamists. Coming from a mainstream LDS background, there’s definitely kind of this sense, for some people, of shame. That we’ve turned back to this archaic practice and we’re just not living right.”
And that was one of the things that factored into their decision to be on the show. “It took a lot of time for us to kind of overcome that mentality — that we didn’t just need to live our lives in the shadows,” Colton said.
Change in Utah’s polygamy laws
A year after the first season of “Seeking Sister Wife” aired, the Utah Legislature voted to decriminalize polygamy. It’s an infraction now, not a felony. And the Winders lobbied for that on the show and at Utah’s Capitol.
“I like to think that maybe it made an impact,” Colton said. “And that was our biggest reason for wanting to be on television — to try and make an impact for our community and try and improve our situation here at home in Utah.”
Sophie said that when she entered the marriage, she was “fully prepared to be a closet wife — one that wasn’t public, wasn’t known about because of the laws of Utah.” But since the change, “it feels like a burden is lifted off of my shoulders because it was so horrible in that first year of marriage when nobody knew that we were married.”
Colton called the legislation “a huge blessing. Because it’s going to allow people to be more open. For families that are in abusive situations, it’s going to make them, hopefully, feel more comfortable seeking assistance.”
Different kinds of polygamy
The Winders are one of five polygamous families in “Seeking Sister Wife,” and they are the only ones who consider themselves Mormon fundamentalists. “For us, this lifestyle is religious,” Colton said.
That’s not true of all the other families.
“In Utah, it’s really easy for us to forget there’s a bigger picture of polygamy than just what we have here in our state,” Colton said. “There’s different iterations of it out there. And we just choose to try to respect everybody. … If other people choose to live it for reasons that are not religious, that’s their choice.”
When the various families met at the end of Season 2, Sophie felt “a camaraderie” with them despite their differences. Tami found that “even though we were living polygamy for different reasons, we all have a lot of common.”
Learning to be on TV
You don’t have to tell the Winders that they came across as somewhat stiff in their first season on “Seeking Sister Wife.” They know.
“I don’t think I ever got over the awkwardness of looking into a camera,” Colton said. “Or not looking into a camera,” Tami interjected.
(Reality show cast members are not supposed to look into the camera, of course.)
But one of the reasons they agreed to return for another season was they thought they could do better the second time around. That they could continue to share their lives “without the awkwardness of figuring it all out from the first season,” Sophie said.
“We felt more comfortable with how production did what they did. And so we were able to be more of our natural selves and share more about the growth of our family and coming together into one home and what that looks like.”
What’s coming this season
• In Season 2, Tami lived in one house and Sophie in another, with Colton going back and forth. In Season 3, they all move in together. “Obviously, there’s going to be some growing pains with that,” Colton said.
• Fertility is a big issue. And there’s an addition to the family — Sophie gave birth to Ephraim in April 2020.
• And the title of the show is “Seeking Sister Wife,” so — not surprisingly — the Winders are looking for Wife No. 3 and focusing on a woman named Kimberley. Not only is there the awkwardness of dating, there’s the strain of four-way dating, because Wives No. 1 and No.2 are involved. On top of that, they’re doing it while the cameras are rolling.
“That,” Sophie said, “put our first date on steroids.”
“It’s definitely hard to meet someone for the first time in person while you’re being filmed,” Tami said. “I think we were all really stressed.”
But they “don’t really consider it dating,” Colton clarified, reiterating that “this is a very religious lifestyle for us. … But with three people already in the relationship considering adding a fourth, that definitely adds a lot of dynamics.”
That applies to everything in the Winders’ lives, Tami said. “Even us deciding what to do for …”
“Dinner,” Colton interjected. “Holidays,” Tami continued as they all burst into laughter.