I’m in a traditional marriage. I promote traditional marriage. I note that it’s the best system for raising children. I spend a lot of time describing such marriages and noting how a wife can best fulfill her traditional role. But there’s one question I’ve neither asked nor answered, and I’d like to do that today:
Is traditional marriage a good deal for women?
The short answer is: it depends. The long answer is as follows:
Unlike many Christians, I’m not laboring under the false assumption that marriage and motherhood is the calling of every woman. Some women simply aren’t suited to it, some aren’t called to it, and others have no interest in it. Some women are too ill or disabled to marry. Some women are called to religious orders, to some time-consuming employment or ministry, to be missionaries, or even to a simple single life. These are all interesting vocations for women, and I would encourage young women to investigate them before committing to the married life.
I am convinced that, of those that do marry, traditional marriage is the only acceptable form such a marriage can take. A traditional wife — bound for life to a husband she must obey, often frequently pregnant, homemaking and cooking, housekeeping and cleaning, child-rearing, caring for disabled or ill family members and relatives, catering to her husband, perhaps homeschooling and etc. — is taking on a lot of responsibility. Many traditional wives will end up spending much of their time alone with their children, or simply alone, as their husbands often work long hours or travel. Chronic exhaustion, unending labor, necessary frugality, social isolation, and limited free time are de riguer. Some women work outside of the home as well, and then they have to push their homeward responsibilities onto others, with the stress that comes along with that.
Most traditional wives will not tell you any of this. They love their families, and simply could not imagine their lives any other way. But the truth is that they’re tired and they live a life of constant service and submission, just as their husbands do.
It would be easy to deny this, but the reality speaks for itself. Although many women (and men, for that matter) aren’t interested in being married at all, those interested in a truly traditional marriage are few and far between. Even the most basic trait of the traditional wife, submission, is enough to scare off the bravest among them.
Those of us who grew up in traditional households, constantly confronted with the strained smiles and aching backs our mothers, often told ourselves, “There, but for the grace of God, go I.” We wanted to be astronauts, or ballerinas, or scientists when we grew up. We certainly didn’t want to follow in our mothers’ dragging footsteps. It doesn’t surprise me a bit that people suspect those of us who did manage to “have a career” and then gave it up to return home, of taking leave of our senses.
So, if that’s all true,
Why in the world would anyone want to be a traditional wife?
Oh, that’s simple. Because it’s wonderful!
Because — like all true vocations — it teaches you about the nature of God and the Church. It teaches you about His unending patience and loyal covenant. It teaches you about forgiveness, perseverance, and loving people even when they’re not being particularly agreeable. It teaches you about the theological virtues (faith, hope, and charity). It teaches you about the cardinal virtues (prudence, justice, temperance, and fortitude). It teaches you all about chastity. And then it gives you plenty of opportunity to practice those very virtues every single day. Day after day. It’s like bootcamp for the soul.
The chances are high that you will look back on how you were pre-marriage and shake your head at your own immature silliness. You’ll grow up. You’ll mature. You’ll become wiser, and not just older. You’ll find yourself, right in your own home.
It is also the only way to have sex and children without committing a grave sin and depriving your children of a legitimate father (so, committing two grave sins). And, although it’s hard to believe while you’re cleaning toilets and wiping snotty noses, not all of the benefits are heavenly. One day, when you’re sitting around your dining room table, listening to your husband say grace while your exhausted children and rambunctious grandchildren gather around, you can say, “Amen.”
So for those who are still discerning their vocation, I say, “Don’t be such a wimp!” Marriage is a daunting role, but a fulfilling and rewarding one. All of the vocations have their trials and triumphs, and marriage isn’t an exception, so don’t dismiss it on that account.
For those of you who have made your choice and are now stuck with it, I say, “Cheer up!” It gets easier eventually. Or at least you’ll adjust to the workload and responsibilities, and it’ll bother you less over time. Your babies will grow up, your life will become more organized, and you’ll be able to carve out parcels of time for yourself again. Until then… there’s always coffee.