Those of us who live traditional lives accept the validity of headship – there has to be someone in charge in the family, and that’s the husband. Paul held that up as the model for Christian marriages, and it had worked for millenia before the church existed. So Christians held on to it, for many reasons. First, the husband was the one who moved in the outside world, who interacted the most with the official community. Father or husband held property for a woman, and represented her in court. Some of this became rather narrow-minded in Judaic custom, but Christians seem to have tried to loosen that up a bit.
Nonetheless, women ran their own businesses, had control of some kinds of property, and were in charge of the household itself. Women expected to find husbands who had been raised to be good providers and managers, who listened to their families, and who were integrated into the surrounding community. Women expected husbands who were reasonable, and who shared the responsibilities of family life.
Men expected to find wives who knew how to run a household, who could cook, clean, sew, care for children, and do what was necessary to make some money from their skills, such as spinning, weaving, trading, gardening, or raising livestock. Women were sometimes employed as scribes to copy manuscripts or as artists.
It’s not a bad model for Christian family life now.
Plain life echoes these traditions. We do as much as we can ourselves, whether it is food production, clothesmaking, raising livestock, or engaging in a craft that provides income. Sitting at a computer isn’t a Plain occupation, for many reasons, alhtough I admit it is a part of what I do from day to day. I would not want it to be my main occupation though.
The Christian model for family life is of Christ as the head of the family. We all serve Him in each other. That’s simply all it is. We look for spouses who are God-centered, and willing to be servants to the rest of the family. It’s not a matter of power or privilege.
I think that is a huge modern misunderstanding about Plain life, that father knows best and what he says goes, right or wrong. I’ve never known a family where that worked, or could work. Humans are frail and sometimes wrong; it is sinfully stubborn to refuse reason just because it comes from wife or child. If it comes down to a matter of both being equally right but in opposition (such as a matter of spending money on each one’s priority) one has to take charge, and in traditional Christian families, it is up to the husband. But first of all, the family and community needs are to be considered, not just one’s heart’s desire.
A Christian man treats his wife as an equal in reason, unless he has positive and longstanding proof otherwise! And if he is more likely to make whimsical and foolish decisions, it is up to her to gently lead him to the best choice. That may mean appealing to a relative or close friend for support in that decision; we don’t need so much autonomy that we can’t listen to the good advice of others.
I’m afraid modern marriages are made on the basis of superficial traits – who is beautiful or handsome, who is most popular, who is most appealing. Marriages are too often begun in deep debt, as couples look to start their new life together with expensive clothes for the wedding, big parties, luxurious honeymoons. Young people buy houses and cars they can’t afford, because they think it is what is expected of them. It’s a fantasy life, and not one of responsibility and reason.
In the traditional Plain wedding, the bride makes her dress, The groom will buy some new clothes, but they will be worn again and again. They will perhaps have their own household established, but family will have helped to furnish it. The biggest expense will be the huge home-cooked meal provided for the many guests!
Modern Plain people who live outside Plain communities might consider a different way of beginning their marriage. I recommend that the wedding apparel be the least of their concerns, and that they focus on receiving good counsel and preparation for the long term contract that marriage is! The wedding itself could be a small Saturday afternoon gathering of family in the church, with no expense except an at-home meal afterward. Or for those who are entirely tradition-minded, get married on Sunday morning during the service. This will throw most minsiters for a loop, having never done it that way, but it a very old and almost defunct custom. The promises are dropped in at the prayers of the people, or just before the offertory. It is right that the first meal the couple share is the eucharist. The wedding reception can be cake and coffee in the church hall afterward, with a family meal at home later in the day.
Christian marriage is a relationship of love in Christ and mutual respect. It is not one taking orders from the other, or spouses competing for control. It is not about who is most popular with the children. It is about serving Christ in one another, and in the whole family and community.