Sometime over the years, the term “traditional values” has become a slur. I usually avoid using this blog as any sort of platform for my personal political/social/religious opinions because I know how many people hide behind the keyboard to “troll” posts about these issues. Maybe I’m afraid that I don’t have all the answers, maybe I’m afraid that some people that follow me will misinterpret my opinions, maybe I’m afraid I’ll lose respect or friendships. But, this is something that has been weighing on me for a while.
If you read this and go to the comments to engage in mature discourse, thank you. If you feel you cannot join in the conversation in an appropriate way, thankfully this is a country where you have the right to say what you want. And I have the right not to respond.
I was raised in the South. In a “traditional”* family. My parents met when they were kids. They dated throughout high school and college and were married soon after graduation. They had two daughters, myself and my older sister, and an assortment of cats and dogs over the years. We went to church every Sunday. We celebrated holidays with our extended family. My dad worked and my mom was the chef, chauffeur, and cleaning woman for many years.
It was in a time before cell phones, before the Internet, before bringing your work home with you really became an issue. When my dad was home, he was present. I don’t remember any time growing up—unless he was napping or working on a Bible study lesson—that I was told “Don’t bother your dad, he’s busy.” This is the man who still wears one of his many pairs of cowboy boots to work. The man who has sported a mullet for most of his adult life. The man who sat patiently after dinner while my sister and I stuck our entire collection of bows in his hair since my mom’s bob haircut didn’t have as much real estate. The man who played Barbies with me even if he didn’t do it “right” (i.e. didn’t do everything I told him to do).
My mom made breakfast and packed my lunch and made my dinners all the way through high school—even when she started working again. She went to all our sporting events, and school plays, and academic awards ceremonies. She made costumes for plays, parties, and just for fun. She tried her absolute best to teach me to sew. She taught me that being married and respecting (another dirty word today) your husband didn’t mean worshiping the ground he walked on and serving his dinner to him in cowed silence. My parents still dance in the kitchen while dinner is cooking—and my dad cooks almost if not just as often as my mom. They tease each other, they joke around, and they still go out on dates together.
I know many people did not have this kind of upbringing. I know I am blessed beyond human understanding with the things I had growing up. My parents raised me to be polite, to have good manners, to respect my elders, to behave in a way that garnered respect from others. They raised me to believe in God but in a way that encouraged me to question and search for what I really believed on my own. My sister and I grew up with a certain amount of independence of the “go out and play and come back before dark” variety.
I remember years of summers spent running around with the neighborhood kids, exploring the bayou, poking at dead snakes, getting as muddy as possible, and earning a few scrapes and scars. My sister and I played princesses and Pocahontas and Little Women. We also were Jedi warriors, with handmade cloaks from my mom. We were elf warriors from Lord of the Rings with handmade wooden swords from my dad. We played Barbies and wrestled, we had dolls and Barbie high heels and matchbox cars and army men and BB guns. We were “normal” kids.
As I got older, I realized that the “Barbie DreamHouse” life I envisioned was not a common or even realistic one. Yes, my mom spent most of my life growing up as a “housewife”—but she had just as much say in the way things were done in the house as my dad. I listened as friends dreamed up their lives post-college—shelving their degree in whatever it was to get married and have 2.5 kids and live in the same neighborhood where they grew up. I’ll admit there was a time when I wanted that, too. Some of it, on my part, was escapist. I knew what I wanted to study—English/Creative Writing—and I knew I wanted to write. As far as I knew, at the time, there was no job out there where those skills were particularly marketable. As I went through college, I met girls—and guys—who had that same goal: Graduate, get married, man works, woman stays home and raises the offspring. I met others who doubted they would ever marry, because their career demanded so much from them and they weren’t sure they wanted to sacrifice upward momentum for a significant other.
I think where I get most twisted around on the idea of “traditional values” is the apparent popular opinion that one way is “right.” I’ve told friends time after time, “If that’s what you want to do, go for it. It’s your life and I think it’s great you have that plan”—whatever that plan may be. Is it that foolish to expect that the same courtesy be granted to me? Perhaps it’s because I was raised with a good example of what I would call “traditional values,” perhaps it’s just what I want in life. I have learned new things about myself over the years. I want a job—certainly before I get married and most likely for a period of time after—I like to be occupied, I hope to find a job that I enjoy. I also want a family and I want to be the kind of mother that has time to make my kids lunch, that has time to sew…er…buy them costumes for plays, that is there in the audience, or on the sidelines, watching and cheering them on. I see nothing wrong with cooking dinner for my family, with doing their laundry, with cleaning, with driving kids to events.
Times are changing and the “nuclear” family isn’t the model any more. There’s not really such a thing as “traditional families”— there is every variety and combination of family out there. They say we are all a product of our experiences. I think that’s true. I think experience shapes us. I don’t think it defines us without our control or consent. One of the things I can’t wrap my head around—not just with this matter, but with many controversial subjects that are heatedly discussed today—is why my “traditional” values cannot be respected and discussed without assuming I am prejudiced, or bigoted, or [insert word here]. You don’t have to agree with someone’s opinion or belief; you can, however, recognize their right to have it. I have never mocked a friend for saying she puts her career before having a family. I have never judged a friend who does not want to have children. It is THEIR life and THEIR decision. And these things are not as rare as they were—or seemed to be—when I was growing up.
There’s a quote that’s been circulating on social media that I’m not going to go into detail discussing because this post is already lengthy that says, “Don’t judge me because I sin differently than you do.” I could (and might) write more on this quote, but it makes me think: is it crazy that I expect the same for how I wish to conduct my life? That I want to be respected and not judged because I choose a more “traditional” lifestyle? Maybe it’s all just wishful thinking. But I hope people will realize that a “traditional” family does not mean one in which the woman is a slave to her husband or that a “traditional” outlook is the antithesis of caring about equal rights for men and women or that it implies a hatred for other kinds of families. If you demand respect for your way of life, isn’t the flip-side of that to respect the ways of life chosen by others?
It seems fitting to me that this post ends with questions, because I have so many. I don’t have all the answers—I might not have any of the answers—but in a time when your opinions can be boiled down to 140 characters on twitter, or a picture with some cliché quote shared on Facebook, how is any real discourse going to occur? How can we take time to understand viewpoints different from our own when we are so overwhelmed by watered down or sensationalized propaganda? Like I said, I don’t have the answers, but I’d love to hear what you think.
*I have put traditional in quotations throughout much of this piece because, as I say in the opening, it’s become a buzzword of sorts. Maybe I should have thought a different word, but one of my points is that what was considered the traditional family perhaps no longer exists. I am not trying to imply that my family experience is the only one, that it is the epitome of a “perfect” family.
**You may notice that I did not speak about homosexual families outright. I am choosing to speak from my personal experience—which is that of a straight female raised by heterosexual parents. That does not mean I will not engage in discussion on this subject.
The title of this post is from this song by the Josh Abbott Band