The shifting model of marriage

The day we were married. Source: Meredith Perdue

These days, I’m thinking a lot about the shifting model of marriage. Marriage is shaking up and many in my demographic (the ones who married very young and very Christian) are uneasy about how to proceed. Departing from the traditional marriage model–where the husband makes most if not all of the money, the wife stays home with the kids–is an issue that has frequently come up among my friends who also married young. We start talking about leadership, earning potential, childrearing, and power structures and all hell breaks loose. It’s perhaps a very weird time to be 23, Christian, and married. This subset I belong to is definitely in the American minority.

Here’s a large part of the issue. From anecdotal reports, in the newly formed households of my young married friends, the woman is more likely to be the breadwinner. Wives surpassing husbands in income might still be an unusual thing overall, but I get the sense that it’s an increasingly common phenomenon. (Hanna Rosin would likely back me up on it.) This is a great thing on the whole, that women are FINALLY starting to earn as much (if not more than) men, but it certainly shakes the foundation of the “Leave it to Beaver” marriage we all know and secretly idolize.

I can’t tell you how many different variations of this conversation I have had with young wives since I got married. Long conversations along these lines: I make more money than he does; what is going to happen when we have kids? What if I want to stay home but can’t financially? Will our children suffer if I work? (Side note from the Woolf scholar side of me: These are questions that men never somehow have to ask.) We’re all scrambling around, looking for a model, a standard–anything we can point to–but the bold reality is that we are being forced to make a new standard, a new model for modern marriage. It’s a topic that seems to be constantly cropping up among women, and not just the young Christian ones. I was really encouraged to know that I’m not the only one thinking about it, after having read this thoughtful piece by Jenna from Sweet Fine Day, “When You’re the Breadwinner in the Family.”

As children of the Great Recession, we are grappling with the traditional marriage model in a way that our parents and grandparents did not have to.  These days, it is often essential that both the husband and wife work; staying at home with the kids is an increasingly rare luxury.

So. Everything is changing. But maybe we’re just going back to the way things used to be? As external support, I point to a segment from Kate Bolick’s recent cover story for The Atlantic Monthly, “All the Single Ladies:”

Not until the 18th century did labor begin to be divided along a sharp line: wage-earning for the men and unpaid maintenance of household and children for the women. [Social historian Stephanie] Coontz notes that as recently as the late 17th century, women’s contributions to the family economy were openly recognized, and advice books urged husbands and wives to share domestic tasks. But as labor became separated, so did our spheres of experience—the marketplace versus the home—one founded on reason and action, the other on compassion and comfort. Not until the post-war gains of the 1950s, however, were a majority of American families able to actually afford living off a single breadwinner.

All of this was intriguing, for sure—but even more surprising to Coontz was the realization that those alarmed reporters and audiences might be onto something. Coontz still didn’t think that marriage was falling apart, but she came to see that it was undergoing a transformation far more radical than anyone could have predicted, and that our current attitudes and arrangements are without precedent. “Today we are experiencing a historical revolution every bit as wrenching, far-reaching, and irreversible as the Industrial Revolution,” she wrote.

Last summer I called Coontz to talk to her about this revolution. “We are without a doubt in the midst of an extraordinary sea change,” she told me. “The transformation is momentous—immensely liberating and immensely scary. When it comes to what people actually want and expect from marriage and relationships, and how they organize their sexual and romantic lives, all the old ways have broken down.” (The Atlantic Monthly)

So, if the old ways have broken down, where do we go from here? I think that’s the question that remains firmly lodged in our minds, but I have come to a place of seeing the crumbling traditional marriage model as a non-threatening event. Instead, I see it is a hopeful frontier. To be young and married in 2011! I’ve decided to see my life status as a gift, to suspend judgment on non-traditional marriage models, to appreciate the fact that we’re all figuring it out for ourselves and that it is high time to reject the cultural law that says we all have to practice marriage in the exact same way.

Monday Snax

Mama and baby
A perfect dinner out at Blue Mountain Brewery. Baby Leah is trying to decide what kind of beer she wants.
MB!
The tenacious Mary Boyce saved us from a perilously grumpy waitress.
Guion and baby Leah
Guion is undeniably good with babies.

We had a beautiful weekend in Charlottesville; the weather was exquisite, as the humidity had fairly retreated and we were left with idyllic warmth. Paul and Christie invited us on their Friday date night and a small group of us went to Blue Mountain Brewery in Afton (a few photos above; more on Flickr). We went to a church potluck and then we hosted a potluck of our own last night. It was all very wonderful.

Win and Tracy were visiting with the purpose of scouting out a place for Win to live in a few weeks. By the grace of God, Win is living in probably the coolest house we’ve ever seen in town: the Massie-Wills historical home, built in 1830. It’s amazing. He is one lucky dude.

Potlucked Snax:

Pratt’s Ex Libris Collection. Well, of course I’m posting this (if I haven’t already…) The Pratt Library’s collection of gorgeous book plates. I wish people still used these things. I know I would. (Where the Lovely Things Are)

Weird Writing Habits of Famous Authors. I enjoyed reading about the habitual quirks of some of my all-time favorite writers, including Eudora Welty, Vladimir Nabokov, Flannery O’Connor, and T.S. Eliot. (Flavorwire)

Other People’s Houses. A collection of dreamy photographs from the domestic lives of some of today’s most beloved bloggers and photographers. Who doesn’t love a dash of beautiful voyeurism? (Other People’s Houses)

Jennifer Egan Fever. It’s worth catching. (The Paris Review)

South Sudan: The Newest Nation in the World. A series of powerful photographs from the birth of South Sudan. Welcome, South Sudan; we wish you great peace. (The Atlantic: In Focus)

Iceland, Part 10: Blue Lagoon. I know I just keep posting Kris Atomic’s photos of Iceland, but I can’t help it! This place looks so otherworldly. I must go. (Kris Atomic)

Kimono. A collection of gorgeous, modern-looking kimonos from 1920s-1930s Japan. (Anne Louise Likes)

Wasabi Wonder. More from Japan: Ever wanted to know what wasabi looks like in real life, i.e., coming straight out of the ground? Take a look! It’s such a fascinating and weird plant. I bet that friendly-looking farmer just reeks of wasabi all day long. But what a gorgeous place to farm! (Tokyo Photojournalist)

Paper & Kyoto: Shops to Visit. Even more from Japan: Uuugh. This post just confirms what I already ardently believe: That I have to get to Kyoto soon and that the Japanese create the world’s most beautiful stationery and paper products. (Upon a Fold)

Intricate Pattern Notecards from Wild Ink Press. So beautiful! I always feel like I need more stationery, even though it’s almost never true. I also love the “literal” cards at the bottom of the post. (Oh So Beautiful Paper)

The Supermom Myth + Follow Up on Breadwinners. An additional post from Jenna of Sweet Fine Day, just because I always like what she writes and I think she’s a wise, judicious woman. (Sweet Fine Day)

Five Women Who Changed the Face of Ballet. I loved reading about these dancers, mainly because I’m gearing up to read Jennifer Homans’ widely acclaimed Apollo’s Angels. (Behind Ballet)

Sarah Palin for Newsweek. Noted photographer Emily Shur talks about her casual cover shoot of Sarah Palin for Newsweek. Shur really humanized Palin for me in a way that the “liberal media” have not. It’s an interesting little vignette, at least. (Emily Shur)

Dear Mom. Catching bunnies snuggling together? The best thing ever. Guion, I think you should know that even though I’m obsessed with getting a dog, I’m also still obsessed with getting a bunny. Or three. (Maura Grace)

How Handwriting Builds Character. If this is true, I must have really well-built character. Kidding! (The Atlantic)

Megegan: Un an plus tard. What a beautiful woman. And I’m so very interested in the things that she happens to be carrying around with her. (Au coin de ma rue)

On the Street: Via Fogazzaro, Milan. This looks like a still from a film I’d really want to watch. (The Sartorialist)

Women’s Magazines Are Obviously Horrible. This is true and hilarious, but I still really love reading In Style and People on the beach… (The Hairpin)

Instant Cat Pants! Why do kittens do the things they do? We may never know. (Pawesome)

The Lost Roles of “Arrested Development.” Rainn Wilson as Gob Bluth?? Can you imagine it? I certainly can’t. I love Rainn, but let us all say thanks that we were gifted by the glorious presence of Will Arnett. (The Bluth Company)

Monday Snax

Long weekends are such a gift! Yesterday, we had the pleasure of joining Andrew and Tara at her family’s farm in Rapidan, Virginia. We played with the beautiful Leah, swam in the pool, and planned our future farm commune. A lovely afternoon, and some more photos on Flickr.

Sweet baby Leah and her mama.
Andrew in the perfect pool.
One of the dozens of breathtaking farms in Keswick. We live in the prettiest countryside.

Oh, and happy Independence Day and a BIG welcome home to Grace, who has finally returned from her world travels! Hallelujah! We get to go see her this weekend and I CANNOT WAIT.

A lot of Snax with a lot of juicy watermelon wedges:

Miss USA: Should Evolution Be Taught in Schools? THIS is the greatest thing I have seen on the Interwebs in months. Tears fell from my eyes. You can’t write this stuff. After you watch that, please also enjoy Mackenzie Fegan & Co.’s hilarious response. (The Daily What and Got a Girl Crush)

When You’re the Breadwinner in the Family. The dynamics of the American family are shifting. Many newly married women I know are out-earning their husbands and yet it’s still a touchy subject. One of my all-time favorite bloggers has a beautiful and honest post about her own experience as her family’s primary source of income. (Sweet Fine Day)

The High Line. A mile-long urban park in New York. What a cool idea; looks like a great place to bike, run, or walk a few dogs. Jenna, from the Sweet Fine Day post above, has some pictures of her visit there with her family at the end of post. (Wolf Eyebrows)

From When Grandma and Grandpa Davis Came to Visit. If you’ve talked to me lately, you know that I’m not into childbearing ANY time soon. And yet I can’t help but melt when I see pictures of grandparents and their fresh grandbabies. Something about that interaction always gets me. (Rockstar Diaries)

America’s Progressive Catholics: Another Side of the Church. It’s not all anti-abortion rallies here. An interesting perspective on the small but growing group of Catholic Democrats. (The Atlantic: Politics)

Top Metros for Same-Sex Couples with Children. Do the results surprise you? They surprise me. Way to go, RTP! (The Atlantic: National)

Palin vs. Bachmann: A Poem-off. The stirring words of the Tea Party’s leading ladies, converted to poesy. (The Book Bench)

What America Looks Like: Variations on the Swimming Pool. A collection of photographs of the various forms of the pool around the country. Some are weird and jovial, others decrepit and haunting. (The Atlantic: National)

The Five Food Groups. Amen. (Little Brown Pen)

Lobsters Don’t Age. Um, hey, God? That’s weird. Why? (Broken Secrets)

Kari Herer. Dark, lush photos of beautiful bouquets. Can never get enough. (Design Sponge)

Better Book Title for Wuthering Heights. Truth! I’ve always thought that about this book, too. (Better Book Titles)

The 20 Most-Watched TED Talks. Will be adding these to my list of things to watch when I feel like killing time productively on the Interwebs. (TED blog)