Randall Smith distinguishes acts and practices of virtue from often-deficient and generationally-specific norms and attitudes. We think of both the former and the latter as “tradition,” in a sense, but Smith conveys why only the former constitutes a traditional way of life:
Gentlemen, it has become very clear from the responses I’ve heard repeatedly from bright, beautiful, devoted Catholic women that you would be making a big mistake were you to announce you wanted a “traditional Catholic wife.”
What young women hear when you say a “traditional” Catholic wife is that you want a woman who will stay home, cook, clean, and take care of the babies, while you work all day. To put this another way, you want your mother. And the one thing most bright, devoted Catholic women don’t want (especially the ones who want plenty of children) is to be some grown man’s mother.
There is also a nagging historical problem as well. What do you mean by traditional? …
The “traditional Catholic family” where the husband worked all day and the wife stayed home alone with the children only really existed – and not all that successfully – in certain upper-middle class WASPy neighborhoods during the late 1950s and early 1960s. Working in an office all day is not necessarily evil (depending upon how it affects your family). It’s just modern. There’s nothing especially “traditional” about it. …
I don’t think this sort of life [woman and man living their vocation together, both working to raise a family in as intimate a way as possible] would have appealed to young Jane Austen, as it rarely appeals to her modern-day Catholic equivalent. But it has an undeniable beauty and involves a “tradition” in the sense that it is bound up with very definite practices and virtues.
Let me suggest, therefore, that a “traditional” Catholic wife is one whose life is bound up with a tradition constituted by virtues and practices – in this case, let’s say the Catholic intellectual tradition and the life of the intellectual, moral, and theological virtues. That’s the key “tradition” you should care about. It would be foolish to define “traditional” by one particular arrangement at a narrowly circumscribed point in time.
Tough, smart virtuous women want a tough, smart virtuous man, not a boy looking to replace his mother. So man up. Accept it. You’re going to have to raise those kids along with your wife. If you think you can “offshore” that task and dump it on your wife or the teachers at the school, you’re not doing the traditional Catholic thing. You’re just doing the traditional stupid thing.
A tough, smart wife who challenges you will make you a better man.
To cultivate the “intellectual, moral, and theological virtues” is a better way to think of living “the traditional life”, not only because it focuses on the point of life and family but also because it could be instantiated in any number of apparently unconventional places and ways.