Musings of a Failed Tradwife

Musings of a Failed Tradwife May 20, 2024

The talk on the internet right now, is all about the stereotype of the Tradwife.

A Tradwife, as you know, is a vicious stereotype of a certain kind of stay-at-home wife and mother: the kind who appears obnoxiously perfect, cooking everything from scratch, tending the family garden with ease, caring for children with infinite patience, and all while looking chic  in a modest yet sexy dress and manicure. There are social media influencers who claim to be Tradwives, and their content runs the gamut between fun gardening tips and recipes, fascist political propaganda, and pornography.

There are all kinds of hot takes about Tradwives. A lot of them are much more interesting than what I have to say. We can look at the history of the stereotype, how it intersects with white supremacism, what it has to do with capitalism, and so on. Those are all interesting deep dives. I have a bit of a different take.

I feel out of place in this conversation because I’ve always dreamed about being a Tradwife.

That’s just me. I don’t mind that it’s not every woman’s thing. But from the time I got married in that ridiculous Baroque Catholic church with the communion rail and the pipe organ, I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom. I wanted at least five children, in a nice old Mennonite-built brick farmhouse on a triple lot like my grandparents used to have, with a garden and an orchard and a grape trellis and a nice flock of ducks, cooking and baking and homeschooling and taking the children on fun improving field trips all day long. I would have loved to start a homeschooling co-op like the one I loved when I was a child. I’m really good at cooking and baking. When I found out that one of my chronic health problems was caused by a wheat allergy, I switched to gluten free cooking and baking, and I am good at that too. I have a little garden on the grounds of our rental house. I homeschooled Adrienne for a few years and loved it. Playing with her toys with her when she was little were the happiest times of my life.

But no more children came, no matter how hard I prayed and cried and touched my belly with the Saint Gerard relic. A chronic illness destroyed me. We had no community of like minded homeschoolers around, and Adrienne was miserable homeschooling in isolation. We were desperately poor with no end in sight. One thing led to another, and I did not become what I wanted to be. I became a freelance writer and a mother of a single child who goes to a public school. This has been a huge disappointment.

Once, I found myself at loggerheads with a woman I thought was my good friend, who was just recovering from a hard divorce. I desperately wanted to talk with her about how difficult it was to be in my late thirties with poly-cystic ovary syndrome and little hope of finally having another baby. What happened was that she talked at me for an hour without stopping about how upset she was that she’d never been allowed to have a career outside the home and had to care for her children. She growled that the other men in the history department had “slaves,” which was her term for housewives, to care for their children. And then she started ranting at me about abortion, triggering memories of that traumatic bout of amenorrhea which I bonded with thinking it was a baby, and how horrible I felt when I started bleed. I burst into tears and and I never spoke to her again. That wasn’t the best way for me to deal with it, but I hope you can understand my frustration. All I wanted was the life she called slavery.

So, maybe I’m not the best person to write about stay-at-home wives and mothers who do all the expected stereotypically feminine things. I’m not coming at you from a position of hating them, and that’s what you want to hear. I don’t like it when women who are more stereotypically feminine make other women feel bad about their choices.  I don’t like people who think that the only things women can do are stereotypically feminine things. Women can do whatever they want to do. But those are things that I like, and I can’t have them. And that makes me sad.

Still, there is something I wonder, every time this discussion goes the rounds on the internet. I wondered it back when some irritating traditionalist Catholic “masculinity” influencer was trying to tell people it was a mortal sin for a wife to get a job outside the home. I wonder it every time I see a social media post from terrifying accounts like “The Transformed Wife.”  I’m wondering it right now, with everyone talking about Harrison Butker’s ridiculous commencement address where he encouraged women to get a husband and become stay-at-home moms.

I wonder why, when a woman isn’t a Tradwife, the blame always falls to the woman. Because it always does. It’s always women’s fault when women don’t measure up to that standard.

I’m not talking here about the monetized social media accounts you sometimes see, where women get paid to show off the fact that they are a Tradwife; the Tradwife influencers. I’m talking about the majority of women, women out in the world without a phone on a tripod to make content about their every move. In order for those women to be a stay-at-home mom with a great big gaggle of children who cooks and bakes and cleans and looks nice for her husband while he brings home the bacon, you need to have a sufficient amount of money. I’m not going to say exactly how much. People will get into the comments and talk down to me that it can be done if you make sacrifices and don’t have a particularly high standard of living, and I agree with that to a great extent. But whatever your standard of living, there is a minimum number somebody has to make to support a full time stay-at-home wife, and some men don’t make that number. Some men don’t make that much money because they’re lazy. Some men don’t because they’re sick. Some men don’t because of terrible luck. But sometimes one person doesn’t make enough money to support a whole family, particularly if there are a lot of children. So the wife has to get a part time or full time job.

And sometimes, of course, a woman who would love to be a stay-at-home mom can’t find a man to marry her at all. Even if she’s tried to be fetching and worn her modest dress and learned to cook. Such things happen.

And sometimes she does get married, and everything seems perfect, and the man turns out to be an abusive monster. A woman I know escaped such a marriage several years ago. Outwardly, they were the perfect Catholic homeschooling family with a gaggle of kids. Privately, she was in hell and getting beaten up. The children’s lives were in danger. Such things happen.

None of this is the woman’s fault.

But when somebody starts praising the glorious vocation of a stay-at-home mom, he always goes on to decry feminism and the choices of women who aren’t stay-at-home moms. He never says anything about bad luck or poverty or the fact that sometimes, the husband messes everything up. If you really want there to be more happy stay-at-home moms in the world, maybe we need to look to the men instead of blaming their wives. Or, maybe we can take another step back and blame capitalism and the society we live in, which can make it impossible even when a man is doing his best.

That’s what I’m wondering about today.

And now I’ve got to go weed my garden and make an after school snack for my daughter. Because I may not be a Tradwife, but I’m still a mother.



Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross, The Sorrows and Joys of Mary, and Stumbling into Grace: How We Meet God in Tiny Works of Mercy.

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