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Me, Myself, as Mommy: ‘Tradwife’ trend puts glossy veneer on unrealistic lifestyle

By Meg Sanders - Special to the Standard-Examiner | Apr 19, 2024

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Meg Sanders

A tale as old as time: women pitted against one another instead of embracing the cold fact we each experience and perceive life differently, which invariably leads to our life choices. Having been on both sides of the spectrum of motherhood and wifedom, there is certainly no right answer. On one side, we have the working mom/wife who strives for balance, independence and financial freedom. My job affords me a little breathing room both professionally and financially. On the flip side, I spent many of my years “keeping house” like a deranged Ma Ingles, but still attempted to make things (Child Protective Services) proof, cook something edible and raise children who behave a little better than wild dogs. This role also gave me financial freedom from astronomical child care costs, endless snuggles and precious time with my kids. Both are important roles, both brought grief, frustration, reward and peace.

Last week, I went above and beyond the call of duty forgoing the paper plates for the classy Corelle, even setting the food in actual serving bowls instead of buffet style on the counter. My 15-year-old called me a “tradwife.” My furrowed brow was a clue I had no idea what that meant. Speaking the language of her generation, she pulled up TikTok for explanation. Basically, a beautiful young woman dedicates her life to taking care of a 300-month-old baby boy.

While most may picture the quintessential 1950s housewife when they read this, tradwives of today come with a twist — social media. Most of these women don’t have kids and may not even be the wife but the girlfriend. These women often rail against college degrees, opting for the life goal of being a stay-at-home wife; her primary purpose is to serve her man, rear his children, praise God and make everything beautiful, a throwback to a supposedly simpler time. Already, tradwives are enduring calls of antifeminism, while those pursuing the lifestyle say it’s a reclamation of the power women have over society and the family. A key point is all tradwives are stay-at-home mothers, but not all stay-at-home mothers are tradwives.

Arguably the tradwife poster child, Hannah Neeleman lives right here in Utah where she milks her cows, bakes her own bread, wins pageants and sets the bar for women looking for that lifestyle. She is beautiful and her kids are picture perfect for her social media pages. It’s as if Normal Rockwell is painting her life in real time. Often, what goes unmentioned is the money behind Neeleman’s life. She was fortunate enough to marry into money, with her husband being the JetBlue heir. Money certainly helps with the tradwife lifestyle when it’s social media-backed. She’s clearly savvy, with her messages reaching nearly 9 million followers. Supporters say she’s not a tradwife, simply a homemaker allowing us into her life. She makes the SAHM life look so easy, classy and streamlined. I lived it, so I know it’s absolutely none of those things, especially when there’s a brood of children.

Learning more about the role of a tradwife, I’ve come to the realization there’s three positions: work-outside-the-home wife, tradwife and stay-at-home mom. Working wife and stay-at-home mom seem closely related, with tradwife as an outlier. Most stay-at-home women are raising kids and don’t have the time to apply lipstick to the pig of their daily agenda, making it fit for consumption on Instagram. Women working outside the home are in the same boat, slamming out assignments at the office only to come home and slam out assignments there, whether it be for family or for themselves. For both, self-care is low on the totem pole of “musts.” Tradwives present their lives in clearly curated ways, hiding anything that makes the life look difficult or less glamorous. This includes the time used on self-care. It all has to look so effortless.

This is where I throw out antifeminism. Presenting your life in a less-than-authentic lens in an attempt to make people jealous, covetous or strive for the unrealistic is harmful to women. When I see these women operate, my reaction isn’t jealousy but pity. Keeping up appearances is hard work, physically and mentally; one day, it will run out. If you’re living your life online, when the physical and mental strength does eventually run out, it will do so very publicly. The subtext of being a tradwife is the idea a man will support her if she is the best darn wife out there; and when he stops supporting, she will find there’s a reason traditions end. These tradwives know the fallacy but sell the lies anyway. Our young women are buying the lies, which makes this lifestyle dangerous. Not to mention the young men who believe a tradwife is the way women should act. In today’s economy, the cold, hard reality will eventually crash down.

The tradwife trend harkens back to a simpler time, something that soothes this young generation as they look at the extreme difficulties that lie ahead. Girls see college becoming more expensive, family planning under attack, inflation and housing prices skyrocketing — it just seems easier to step away, find somewhere safe and let someone else fight over it. White men feel attacked, so there’s an attraction for some to have a woman dote and fuss over his masculinity.

Women want to feel fulfilled in their lives, in their role. If she sees her value in creating a home full time or she sees her calling out in the workforce, it’s her choice. It falls short when authenticity is lost. Self-proclaimed tradwife Estee Williams says on her social media, “A tradwife is a woman who chooses to live a more traditional life with ultra-traditional gender roles.” I wonder what a 20-something knows about “ultra-traditional gender roles” from the 1950s. The irony isn’t lost that while a tradwife espouses traditional values and roles, she still relies on modern convenience to make the look work. The minute she gets a feel of what it’s like to leave her 215-pound baby on his own, she’s sure to turn in the trad.

Meg Sanders worked in broadcast journalism for over a decade but has since turned her life around to stay closer to home in Ogden. Her three children keep her indentured as a taxi driver, stylist and sanitation worker. In her free time, she likes to read, write, lift weights and go to concerts with her husband of 18 years.


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