I Used To Be a Tradwife, Then I Had a Mental Breakdown

I Used To Be a Tradwife, Then I Had a Mental Breakdown

A "tradwife" isn't just a stay-at-home mom who bakes granola and puts her kid in cloth diapers. The movement is much deeper and darker than what appears on the surface.

By Brianna Bell

It was a picturesque spring day and I was pushing my two daughters, aged 2 and 4, in a double stroller through my neighbourhood. Every few minutes we’d stop and appreciate our surroundings. We smelled the lilacs blooming, peeked into our favourite little free library, and watched a group of baby squirrels climb a big maple.

My eldest hopped out of her seat and picked blackberries from a bush overflowing with fruit. We reached our favourite park and I pulled out a quilt my grandmother made. The girls joined their friends in the sandpit and I munched on some homemade granola, flipping through my latest read, The Lifegiving Home by mother-daughter duo Sally and Sarah Clarkson, two “godly” women I followed and admired for their devotion to traditional homemaking.

I Used To Be a Tradwife, Then I Had a Mental Breakdown

An engagement photo showing the author and her now husband holding bibles.

While I sat reading about how to create a soothing home for my family, I finally felt my heart rate return to a steady pace. For the first time that day, my chest wasn’t squeezing and my mind wasn’t swirling with panic and overwhelming thoughts. I embraced the moment for what it was—fleeting happiness, a small blip in my typically depressed, anxious day. I was a stay-at-home mom of two healthy girls. I was a traditional wife and believed that devoting the rest of my life to homemaking was my God-given (and God-required) calling. But inside, I was battling constant overwhelm and dissatisfaction.

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The Tradwife Movement

Tradwives are a subculture that started to gain prominence around 2020, which makes sense, considering TikTok tradwife content is home-based and meant to be soothing and comforting, something many of us yearned for during the pandemic.

Tradwives, or traditional wives, are typically stay-at-home wives or mothers and live a 1950s lifestyle. They cook, clean, keep their home pretty and focus on raising their children. Typically, popular online tradwives are conservative, white, cis-gendered women in a hetero-normative relationship.

Tradwife influencers like Estee Williams, Ashley of herblessedhome and Gwen the Milkmaid often feature bright content, with airy-soft colours. You’ll hear soothing voiceovers about the value of staying at home, old-fashioned 1950s songs, or the ASMR of daily tasks like baking. It’s easy to get distracted by the sugary sweetness of it all. But the main message behind the tradwife movement is that women should be submissive to their husbands, that 9-to-5 jobs are not for women, and that the most fulfilling role a woman can have is inside her home.

One of Gwen the Milkmaid's posts shows the former Only Fans star making homemade pizza pockets. The caption says, "When your husband wants pizza pockets but you don't want him to become a big pharma patient."

Many of these women are pro-Trump, extremely conservative, anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ—there is actually very little about this trend that is sweet.

I Used To Be a Tradwife, Then I Had a Mental Breakdown
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My Breakdown and Diagnosis

By the time I was 27, I was pregnant with my third child and spiralling. At one point, I locked myself in my bedroom and ripped the closet doors off of the hinges. I fell into a heap, sobbing and called a suicide hotline. I didn’t think I could go on.

Eventually, I was diagnosed with PTSD, depression, panic disorder and agoraphobia. I had buried my trauma from childhood and adolescent sexual abuse until it resurfaced in full force, knocking me down. It didn’t help that at 19 I had decided to follow an extreme form of Christian evangelicalism. I believed that women should be stay-at-home mothers, that birth control was a sin, that my husband was the head of the household, and that my role was to be a meek and submissive wife.

Looking back, my trauma led me towards the perceived safety that I found in the rules-based system where men led women and “protected” them from harm. Of course, viewing myself as a sexually subservient wife was harmful and only triggered my past shame.

I came across these very patriarchal teachings by following Western fundamentalist pastors like Mark Driscoll, a fire and brimstone preacher who once said that anxiety wasn’t meant to be managed. It was a sin that needed to be repented of. He also once referred to women as “penis homes” and encouraged women to joyfully submit to their husband’s sexual desires.

I Used To Be a Tradwife, Then I Had a Mental Breakdown

The author with her two daughters around 2013.

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I was a tradwife before the term was coined, but I was deeply involved in the online world of traditional wives in the 2010s. At the time, we gathered in the blogosphere, commenting on each other's blogs, writing guest posts and devouring content about the values of traditional homemaking.

My blog, This Rookie Wife, garnered a decent following and received 16,000 unique monthly views at the height of its popularity. One of my most popular blogs was titled “Why I Don’t Believe in Birth Control”.

Everything Changed

Writing connected me to other traditional wives throughout North America. It’s also what freed me from that oppressive world. When I was pregnant with my third daughter, I finally faced the reality that stay-at-home motherhood wasn’t for me. I didn’t want to be a homemaker. I desperately wanted a career outside of the home.

Once I started medication and therapy, my mental health began to improve and I could focus on figuring out what was important to me. I had been writing for years and had even made some money from my hobby. I convinced myself that the part-time work was fine since I was writing from home and only when the kids slept. But when I pulled away from my conservative values, I realized that I not only wanted to keep writing, I wanted to take it even further.

I Used To Be a Tradwife, Then I Had a Mental Breakdown

Recently, I’ve become an investigative journalist and have started covering evangelicalism and secretive underground religious sects. I’ve written openly about my past and my toxic values and beliefs. I’m even working on a memoir.

I stopped believing in traditional womanhood before I indoctrinated my own three daughters. They were so young by the time I ditched my former values that they barely remember that time in our lives. Recently, my eldest asked me why we don’t do extravagant crafts anymore and I replied: “I used to be a stay-at-home mom. Now I work full-time, I just don’t have the time to do those things anymore.”

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She replied, “You didn’t work before?”

Today, my husband is the stay-at-home parent most of the year, while I work two jobs. It was fairly easy to convince him to abandon our old-fashioned values. He never really believed in them in the first place.

Mark Driscoll, the pastor I previously worshipped, once made fun of men who stay home and called them “Marty Stewarts”. But we’re all happier this way, my own Marty Stewart, included. It’s hard to believe how much the tables have turned.

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