Reinventing Traditional Marriage

I posted the following in response to “Homosexual Marriage: Only Ourselves to Blame,” an article today in the lead section.  I’ve added it as a blog post as well, because I think “home economics” so neglected, and I truly want to get a discussion going about it.

This is one of the strongest pieces of analysis, “Homosexual Marriage: Only Ourselves to Blame,” we’ve published here at Catholic Exchange.  I believe that if we understand the several forces redefining marriage long before the advent of homosexual marriage, we can reclaim marriage in its true character.  This will certainly mean more and more Catholic couples choosing to live in a deliberately counter-cultural way, and that’s happening through the comeback of large families and home schooling.  Two of our bloggers, Cari Donaldson and Dwija Borobia, are part of this movement, as they live (and write) in dramatic opposition to marriage-as-a-benefits-package.

The author’s emphasis on the economic forces that have torn traditional marriage apart is crucial; it’s also something that even the conservative Catholic press shies away from because of its reluctance to advance any criticism against a free-market system.  Sadly, the practical necessity–or what appears to be the necessity–for  most of having two outside-the-home incomes does more damage, I imagine, to traditional marriage than any other factor, and railing against the behavior this promotes while leaving unaddressed the root cause vitiates the authority of traditional marriage’s defenders.  People think, “How are we ever going to live like that?” Since there are so few good options, they ignore the biblical charge “to be fruitful and multiply” and budget their commitment to the family, as all of life becomes a cost-benefit analysis.

Let’s do something really interesting here at Catholic Exchange and think how young Catholic couples and the rest of us can participate in the invention of a new family-friendly economy that will allow traditional marriages to flourish.  We ought to have special editions devoted to ways in which Catholic couples can have a home-centered economy, particularly in non-agrarian settings.  The family farm makes home-centered economies natural, but only so many can go back to the country, albeit I’ve seen this done successfully and in a heroic way, especially around Clear Creek Monastery in northeastern Oklahoma.  In order for Catholics to supply the counter-cultural witness that’s needed (and which they themselves would benefit from), many more non-agrarian options need to be invented and replicated.

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  • When we moved from two paychecks to just one, we had to make massive changes not only to our budget, but to our worldview as well.  Even though at the time, expecting child number two and thinking we were “done”, our family was much smaller than it is now, we still had a huge mental shift to make.  Second-hand clothing stores, something I never stepped foot in while growing up, became part of the new normal (and once my attitude adjustment occurred, I was pleasantly surprised at how awesome these stores are!), “repurposing”, “upcycling” and all the buzzwords one reads on Etsy also became everyday activities.

    I am so grateful for the gifts of the environmental movement that aid us in this area.  Reduce, Reusing, and Recycling have now become such a part of the mainstream that there is no longer the stigma attached to yard sale-ing, consignment shopping, and simple living that there was when I was a child.  All these things aid in the weaning process from a dual to a single income family.

  • Harold Fickett

     Thank you, Cari.  Is there a way we can get more people from families like yours involved in this discussion?   Let’s reach out to those we can. 

  • Pam

    The biggest and best decision we made was to decide before we were married what our lives would look like when the kids came – and that was me not working.  When we bought our house ( before kids), we used just Mike’s income as a base for the mortgage.  We had one small car loan we tried to pay off before the kids came. 

     It was hard to lose that chunk of income into the house. But because we used that for fun and for savings instead of bill paying, it was doable.  As he continued to work, his income rose and things got easier as more kids came.  

  • Jjdoc2

    I agree with Cari!  When we went to a one-income house, there were several mental shifts that had to follow.  I’ll try remember what was new and shocking then, but what is everyday now.  (Most all of these strategies I learned from other big families, btw).1.  No more “Friday night dinner out.”  Most Fridays, I was exhausted from a week of working and juggling kid stuff, and Friday night out was a welcomed friend.  Well, once I was home, I was less wiped out, and we replaced it mostly with home-made pizza night.  Love.  (Did I mention the learning curve of making homemade pizza crust?) 2. Making a weekly menu and shopping list, and sticking to it.  My pantry used to be stocked full of things, but there was never anything for dinner.  Now we buy what we’re using just for the week.  So far so good.  Yard sales yard sales yard sales.  And consignment stores.  And the generosity of others (and the charity of ourselves) who pass on big bags of purged seasonal clothes and shoes.  3.  LOWER YOUR EXPECTATIONS.  I remember having 2 children and trying to coordinate sweet Easter/Christmas outfits.  I look back now and wish I had the $$$$  I spent on those ONE-WEAR efforts.  (mostly catalog orders)  Now, I’m more realistic and am glad to iron whatever we have that fits and is not considered play clothes for those occasions.  (Allowing us to focus on the POINT of those celebrations rather than on the prep for the same.) 4.  The Missionaries of Charity here in Memphis have a shelter that many families provide meals for.  The Sisters insist on ONE kind of drink, and only TWO salad dressing options, etc.  They teach that less variety is much more cost effective.  Simple.  Easier.  Cheaper.  5.  No more juice.  Yup.  No more juice boxes, (except for road trips) no more O.J., no more apple juice.  Milk, or water, and that’s all.  6.  Just say no.  We had to say no to more things.  Movies out, dinners out, weekends away.  We are living in an entitlement, convenience-based world, and we (translate “I”) pouted about this the most.  But, eh, you get over it.  Then you watch “The Bachelor” and all your decisions make perfect sense!  

  • Homemade pizza night is huge around here, too!
    And juice?  Forgetaboutit.  So expensive.  Now, juice shows up only for birthdays and major holidays.

  • I’m still pretty new to all of this, so I can’t really contribute much more than what the other ladies have chimed in. I would love to hear from the fathers of single income families.

    As for us, it really does have to do a lot with a “paradigm shift”. I was always the major bread winner, I had to be in control, blah blah blah but then our babies just started coming. I know that sounds ridiculously inane but it’s how God blessed us! Even still I kept trying to be the one in control of everything and it weakened the core of our family. I haven’t worked in four years and it was only recently that I realized what my true responsibility was. It took a lot of letting go and letting God. 

    We didn’t have far to go from where we were. So making the “greater sacrifices” wasn’t as much a stretch as letting go of the pride. It’s still here. It’s still just as difficult as it ever was. And somehow we make it. 
    It’s scary. Its fun. It’s a challenge, and it’s a blessing. When I hear other families say, “We can’t do it,” what they are really saying is that they aren’t ready to give up the creature comforts. Listen- if my family of soon to be seven can do it on my husband’s limited income then your family of three, four, etc. certainly can.There is life outside of the latest and greatest, and there is no income that can afford the love that blossoms and reciprocates. 

  • Pargontwin

    Well, I’ve never married and don’t have children, but I can still remember how my parents did it.  We didn’t have to eliminate juice, but we certainly didn’t have packets and packets of juice-drinks for during the day.  You had a glass of fruit juice at breakfast, and that was it.  It varied; one week it might be orange, the next it might be apple, and so on.  With other meals it was milk, and the rest of the day we drank water if we got thirsty.  Sodas were only an occasional trreat, and that was usually on pizza night – which might happen once a month, sometimes less often.  (My mother didn’t know how to make pizza and didn’t care to learn, so buying pizza was just an extra expense.)  Snacks simply did not exist.  We ate three meals a day, period.

    Clothes – Egad, people would shudder at the thought of how we handled that.  For starters, the way our apartment was designed, we couldn’t have anything bigger than a 9-lb-capacity washer.  With five kids, that made for a full load of laundry every day.  Each of us had only two school outfits, one to wear while the other was in the wash.  Ditto play clothes.  And only two Sunday outfirts, one for summer and one for winter.  Only the oldest boy and girl got new outfits on Christmas and Easter; the rest of us wore what the others had outgrown.  And, even worse, only three pairs of shoes:  One for school, one for play, and one for Sundays.  (To this day, the concept of dressing fahionably is foreign to me, and  I simply cannot understand the typical woman’s need to have multiple pairs of shoes – and I’m a woman!!)

    Now, I will admit that this sort of thing was extreme, even for the fifties and early sixties, but my father was a construction worker in New York, where most sites shut down during the winter, because icing made work unsafe.  We had to live “tight” when he was working so that the money would be there when he wasn’t.  But some variation on the same thing was the way most families in my neighborhood lived.  Those where both parents worked were usually immigrants; Papa’s income supported the family, and Mama’s entire paycheck went to relatives in the “old country.”  And my family was SMALL compared to others! 

    I wouldn’t expect most people today to be quite that ascetic, but I figure it might be a “jumping-off” point for someone embarking on the “single-income experiment” for the first time.

  • John

    We recommend you take a look at  We just finished a seven week program that enables family centered Catholic life as you describe above.  It has a Faith component but is not a faith centered program.  It is practical and its purpose is to teach attitudes and skills that allow the family to thrive and live joyfully, not stressfully.