What The Trad Wives Taught Me About My Own Marriage

In many so-called “egalitarian” partnerships, both spouses try to do it all. But is there a simpler — and less exhausting — alternative?

Caroline Wurtzel/Bustle; Getty Images; TikTok

During a recent argument with my husband over chores, kid stuff, and who was doing more for our household, Nick threw up his hands and muttered:

“What do you want?”

“I want a wife,” I spat through gritted teeth.

Except wife was the wrong word. I didn’t want a clone of me. I wanted a false nostalgic robot of a wife. I wanted June Cleaver. Betty Draper (without the drama). I wanted someone to silently cook and clean and care for the children while I focused on work. I wanted something that really only ever existed on television.

These days, however, that type of “wife” actually exists on social media. You’ve probably come across one of these women. Over the past year, there’s been a rise of content on TikTok and Instagram of the “trad wife,” a woman who claims to be submissive to her husband in all things and who dedicates herself solely to cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing without complaint. They’re often found in flowery dresses with their hair perfectly coiffed, because that is the way their spouses like them to look. These women are largely white, conservative, and Christian, though they are often not politics- or religion-forward when it comes to describing themselves and their brands on social media.

I’m served images of these women daily. And I report on them now on a regular basis on my influencer podcast, Under the Influence. Although many disagree wholeheartedly with the idea of a woman being submissive to her husband, allowing her husband to make all the financial decisions, and giving up her agency and her personhood, it’s hard to ignore what we can take away from the rise of the #tradwife. The big thing is what we can learn about ourselves — about our own relationships, our own desires, our own needs — based on how we feel when we mindlessly scroll their homeschooling and barefoot frolicking in fields with their many children.

Trad wife Lex Delarosa makes cereal from scratch.

“What those representations of ‘traditional wifehood’ present is simplicity. Maybe the reason we are poring over those images is there is a craving for that right now. That applies for women working in the home and out of the home,” says Neha Ruch. Ruch is the founder of Mother Untitled, a lifestyle platform and movement that is trying to reshape how we view mothers who take time away from their careers to focus on motherhood. “If you are a modern woman right now, life is complicated, and we are hungry for a world and a life that is less fraught.”

Ruch worked for 10 years at an ad agency and got an MBA from Stanford. But when she had her son Bodie six years ago, she stepped away from work outside the home to focus on being a mom. She doesn’t consider herself a #tradwife. She’s managing her own business from home and she makes her own money. But she wants to prioritize motherhood at the same time.

Ruch agrees that there is a lot to learn from this new obsession with #tradwives. “What is it telling us about how broken the view of women and motherhood is in all culture?” she asked me.

A lot. Many of the women I know who work outside of the home are not happy, or at least not content — a stark contrast to the #tradwives, even if it’s just an act. When I watch a #tradwife reel, the wives seem to know what to do and when to do it. They have rules. The roles in a trad marriage are clearly defined.

It’s the haziness of who’s doing what and when that creates the “exhaustion gap” and so much friction for couples struggling to have a more equal partnership. We live with the unspoken dictum, “We both do it all.” But in reality, there’s no job description in so-called “egalitarian” marriages: It’s the Wild West when everyone’s supposed to be doing all the things.

“There are benefits to thinking you can control your environment, that you know what to do and that you know your roles. When I was doing my research for Fair Play, I saw people who were clamoring for systems,” says Eve Rodsky, a Harvard-trained organizational manager who has been trying to reframe and rework how women and men share labor in the home.

If I could concentrate on my home and kids instead of on the six jobs I’m doing right now — in addition to running our household — would that make me happier?

I was talking about this the other day with Lex Delarosa. She’s a #tradwife whose content has blown up over the past year. You can see her on Instagram wearing frilly dresses, homeschooling her kids, and baking crème brûlée in her pristine, white kitchen. She used to be a professional baker but since having two kids has chosen to stay home and take on all of the domestic labor. She wholeheartedly calls herself a trad wife, though her account does seem to take the piss out of the genre sometimes. For example, she makes reels of herself keeping the lawn perfectly manicured while wearing a flouncy dress and trimming the grass with scissors. She smiles devilishly into the camera while baking a cake to celebrate her “24-month-old.” Yes, I think she is veering into satire sometimes, but I also think she believes in the traditional roles she espouses.

“For us, the main benefit of having more traditional roles in our marriage is being able to divide and conquer every area of family and home life,” Delarosa told me. “With my husband focused on working to provide for us financially, it gives me the space and freedom to take care of everything on the home front.”

I can’t imagine not earning my own money. But I do wonder if my stress and anxiety levels would be a lot lower if I could focus on one thing. If I could concentrate on my home and kids instead of on the six jobs I’m doing right now — in addition to running our household — would that make me happier?

Personally, no. But handing off some of those duties to my husband and defining our roles better as to who does what and when certainly would. I want rules — just not the ones the trad wives have.

At the very least, these trad wife accounts portray motherhood as something dignified, as a real purpose that has value.

There are other takeaways, too. When I see a barefoot and pregnant former ballerina baking sourdough in her Utah homestead while balancing a toddler on her hip, I can’t help but let out a little sigh. It’s pretty. It’s weirdly calming. Sure, it’s probably staged (all influencer content is a performance, after all), but it’s also validating the very real work of motherhood. For decades, homemaking has been denigrated in American society, perpetuated by the false notion that women who stay at home sit around and eat bonbons and watch soaps all day. It is, of course, a bullsh*t idea: Those wives are the CEOs of their households.

“Women enjoy seeing motherhood elevated to a peaceful and dignified place. The modern view of motherhood deserves beautiful portraits,” Ruch says. “We need to get rid of the shame and stigma that has been perpetuated around the idea of stay-at-home motherhood, the idea that a woman isn’t working, that she isn’t contributing when she makes the choice to leave her career and focus on being a mother. At the very least, these trad wife accounts portray motherhood as something dignified, as a real purpose that has value.”

Delarosa agrees: “There’s so much value in being a stay-at-home mom and I think it’s a role that women should take proudly if that’s their desire and what works best for their family.”

Ruch also acknowledges the danger of the more extreme #tradwife accounts, the ones where women claim submission to their husbands and have no financial independence.

“What gets left out of the trad wife accounts is the intellectual labor of it all, the management of the household, the budgeting, the negotiations and advocacy we are constantly doing with the school system,” Ruch points out. “There is real work with real value being done when you are running a household, and women are craving any kind of platform that dignifies that.”

Rodsky agrees. “It’s just another rebranding of the patriarchy,” she says. “These images are women being complicit in their own oppression and yet another symptom of a society trying to dictate how it prefers women spend their time.”

Many of these accounts are the absolute personification of far-right, ultra-conservative ideals and extreme beliefs that want to keep women in the home without child care or their own income. They are often anti-vax, anti-mask, and anti-choice and they do the work of conservative politicians for them by making this world look easy, beautiful, and stress-free.

Traditional wife content, the perfect meals, the homemade bread, and the spotless households place unnecessary stress on women and create unrealistic expectations, adding to the never ending cycle of stress and burnout so many of us feel.

What #tradwife content shows us, even if by accident, is that you can be ambitious in things other than your career. You can be an ambitious mother or sourdough maker.

But on the flip side, it also makes work in the home feel purposeful. And at the end of the day, purpose is something most of us desperately crave. Many of us have been fed the notion that career ambition is the only kind of ambition worth having, that climbing the corporate ladder is what gives your life meaning. Those of us who ate that up with a big f*cking spoon over the past two decades often feel burnt out and run over by a tractor trailer by corporate America, especially after having kids. What #tradwife content shows us, even if by accident, is that you can be ambitious in things other than your career. You can be an ambitious mother or sourdough maker. You can be an ambitious homeschooler. Most importantly, those choices can be appreciated.

“People are just freaked out about what it means to be a man and what it means to be a woman right now, and I think the extreme examples of both are getting a lot of attention, especially on social media because they are clear answers that come with models,” Ruch tells me as we end our conversation. “They may be toxic, but at least they are models. If we don’t keep showing people better models and better ways, it is going to be too easy to fall back on the traditional ways, even if they aren’t grounded in historical reality.”

Perhaps more than anything else, #tradwife content underscores the need to find a way to elevate the models of egalitarian marriage, and of dividing and conquering labor. The problem is that it’s hard to package that in a beautiful Instagram post the way trad wives do. But maybe the answer could involve getting my husband dolled up and showing him kneading some sexy dough in our kitchen.