Life Advice for Young Southern Women

Flashback Summer: Life Advice for Young Southern Women

Last week I had a great time celebrating the engagement of a couple of my friends while eating Indian food, and it turned out to be a quadruple date of married, engaged, and dating couples all in our early 20s.  After dinner we went to my house and drank hot beverages, and the conversation inevitably led to romantic relationships, marriage, and adult life.

My engaged friend and I talked about the expectations that Southern culture (meaning the American South) puts on young women, especially married ones.  We're expected to take care of the home, keep it clean, make it spotless if visitors should come over, bake bread, have a tidy and pretty appearance, make pies, be hospitable, cook gourmet and homemade every night, eat dinner at the table as a family, take care of children, be genteel at all times, and make ridiculously amazing fried chicken and biscuits from memory.  (I'm noticing a pattern of food expectations... ha.)

Quite honestly, I'm not exactly sure where all those expectations come from.  Much of it, for me, came from my family and watching the kind of home my mother created for us.  It came from the stories my grandmother told about making biscuits and chocolate gravy from a young age.  I heard it in the tales of my great-grandmother Julie preparing a giant spread every morning, complete with eggs, pancakes, ham, sausage, hash browns, biscuits, etc. for all the farm hands, then cleaning it all up and immediately starting on lunch.  I saw the southern hospitality my mother and grandmother showed, and our house was never wanting for visitors.

I know that a lot of the vintage community also has these expectations as we look to women in the past for our inspiration, so many of you may have felt these things, too, whether you are married and American or not.

Flashback Summer: Life Advice for Young Southern Women - Godey's Lady's Book 1860s

Before you begin to draw the conclusion that I'm now going to hammer old gender stereotypes to pieces with my modern fist of feminism, I'm going to clarify:

I love these expectations, and I want to meet them.

I have always wanted to be able to make a good pie.  Who doesn't like pie?  I take pride in a clean home and a tidy appearance.  I want to be genteel and ladylike, respected by those around me.  I want to be hospitable and to open my arms to those who need help.  While my life's goals and ambitions are not limited to these things like women may have been limited in the past, I take pride in and value this part of my heritage as a Southern woman and strive to meet these ideals.

However, in these first few months of being married and graduated from university, I've found these expectations to be a huge burden.  I simply couldn't keep the house as clean and the dinners as exquisite as I liked while figuring out a full time job and this guy living in my house, and it frustrated me to no end.  As I failed to meet many of these expectations every week, I felt more and more like a failure as an adult and wife.  It had nothing to do with my husband, who remained encouraging and supportive all the while; it had everything to do with my own expectations of myself. 

I finally came to the conclusion and revelation that I need to let go of the idea that I can be the perfect Southern woman magically by slipping on a wedding ring or receiving a diploma.  I reminded myself of truth and came to these conclusions:

My mother didn't have it all together when she was my age either.
Even though I aspire to a home like the amazing one my mom created for my family, I've reminded myself that her skills were honed over many years of wifely and motherly experience.  I can't expect to do everything she did because I'm only 6 months into getting a handle on this stage of life!

I'm not living the same kind of life as the women before me.
I live in the modern day, and there are all kinds of different pressures, responsibilities, and expectations that the women who have lived before me did not face.  It's not the same world, and I'm not the same kind of person.  I also haven't grown up with the same tools the women before me had, and I've grown up with resources they never could have dreamed of.  I can't perfectly replicate lifestyles of the past because our environments are very different.

I need to proportion my Southern expectations to my life commitments.
Right now I'm working to help put my husband through school, and I am very glad to do it because I believe in what he's doing.  However, that means I'm not a stay at home wife like I'd like to be someday.  I simply don't have time for a pristine home and all the gourmet dinners because I'm working full time, and that's okay.  I'm not forfeiting my Southern woman aspirations; I'm simply exchanging them for other ones that are more important right now.  Perhaps someday I'll be in a position to do more of these old Southern things, but for now I need to prioritize.

Flashback Summer: Life Advice for Young Southern Women - Godey's Lady's Book 1875

I need to give myself more time to learn.
For some reason I've expected myself to adjust to adult married life in a snap. Our world is moving so fast, and we assume that we can move just as fast.  Ridiculous!  Humans are complex and deep, and life transitions are complex, too.  I need to be more patient with myself as a learn a completely new set of skills and learn to handle the load of details involved in adult life and marriage.  I'm not going to get things right every time, and I need to be patient with myself as I adjust.

I can make my life Southern-beautiful in small ways.
I don't have time for all the things I want to do, but I do have time for many of them.  Whether it's making a pie for my husband or sprucing up the living room, doing what I can to beautify my life and doing it well brings me a sense of achievement.  I know I'm building a home and marriage to last, and that happens one small brick at a time. 

I will grow my skills and efficiency over time.
While not expecting myself to do everything, I do know that I can become more intentional and efficient over time.  By working on one skill or life area at a time and getting a handle on it, I slowly build up my repertoire and increase my capability to handle more.  Of course, my ability to handle more activities won't go up forever (it WILL hit a ceiling), but I will be able to better cope emotionally, mentally, and spiritually with life as I get older.  That being said, it's okay to have fewer things going on in life right now.  I'm adjusting, and simple is good in times of adjustment.

Even if you aren't Southern (or even American!), what are some lessons you learned about yourself early on in your marriage?  If you're single, what curve balls did adult life throw you that you learned to overcome?  What lessons would you share with young women about adult life?

For more exclusive vintage content only available to subscribers, sign up for Flashback Summer emails!


  1. I got married while I was still in school so I knew a life of domestic bliss was not in the cards for me at the beginning of my marriage. I did take one summer off and I had grand plans of three course meals and a sparkling clean house, but to be honest all I did was watch a lot of tv and sew. My poor house was worse than ever!

    One thing that has really helped me keep organized with housework while in school and now working is the Fly Lady cleaning program. ( Each week, she focuses on a different section of the house and each day has a different short task to do. And each month there's a new habit to work on and add to the cleaning routine. It's really cool because it focuses on progress, not perfection. It really helps me stay organized and not get overwhelmed or forget to do things.

    1. Ooo, that does sound great! I'm going to have to check out that program! I like the focus on progress, not perfection.

  2. These are GREAT points and very important for us to remember. I put a lot of ideals onto myself as a wife and mother too, based on my own mother (but certainly not my grandmother, she can still hardly cook!)

    My mother was much younger than me when she married, but it still comforts me to know that she was very much learning in the early years. Although I remember her cooking amazing things when I was young, she informs me that she could hardly cook at all when she got married.

    My main things are to try to keep a balance with the work that my husband and I both put in to the house, and to follow the things that make me happy, whether they meet stereoptypical expectations or not. I really do love to cook and to garden, but when it comes to cleaning, I'm happy just to maintain an acceptable level.

    1. That is strangely comforting to hear our mothers weren't so great at domestic things early on, isn't it? I like your idea of balance, and I think that's really important. Neither one of us should have to do everything! The way you prioritize to do the things you love and just keep the things you're "meh" about shored up seems like a good way to do things, too.

  3. In New Jersey I feel like I am considered fairly young to get married, at least with our current generation. I was 26 when I got married (by one day, the wedding was the day after my birthday) and my husband and I dated for 6 years any been "living" with each other on and off in some way for half that time. In fact we were "emotionally married" probably 2 years in our relationship, the wedding took awhile due to school and money. But since we had been together for so long we had many newlywed quarks worked out.

    But we don't have our house yet, and renting homes is pretty rare in the area. I am pretty liberal with roles with my husband, I cook everynight but he probably does more cleaning than me. But certain ideals of domestic bliss get to me, like having children, matching dishes, posh home decor, etc.

    1. Well don't feel bad, I was 22 when I got married! It could be worse. ;)
      My husband does a lot of cleaning, too, but I totally understand on the domestic bliss ideals! Matching plates... I totally identify!

  4. I don't think i have ever related to a blog post before as I have this one! As you know I too am newly wed and new home, also working full time while my husband is currantly and university and I too want to be the perfect image of a house wife. I'm trying, particularly as it's the festive season, to do all the baking, cleaning as well as trying to keep my self looking neat and tidy and making the effort to pin curl my hair etc. I don't know how they did it back then!!! And without all the technology and gadgets that we have today! And I don't even have any children!

    1. Ha, not having a day job would definitely help me get everything done! But then we wouldn't have money to live, so.... trade offs!
      It's totally great to have lots of festive food and decorations and stuff, but don't forget to chill and enjoy it too. :)

  5. I can totally relate to this ~ even though I'm not from the South, or the States at all! I just have these huge expectations of what I want my housekeeping and home to be like, and being a perfectionist I find it very hard to let go of those ideals, even when it's not practical for me to keep them.

    Your last points, wow... That's exactly what I've been learning, but so slowly ~ and I don't think I've really been able to put it into words like you have. It's been neat to have to have that clarified.

    I think the biggest thing I've come away with is not to swear the small stuff. After all, the floor won't disappear under a cloud of dirt if I can't get to the vacuuming for the week. :) If you miss your day for doing that chore, then that's it. Do it next week, and your house won't suffer, and neither will you 'coz you don't stress over missing that job this time around! :D

    bonita of Lavender & Twill

    1. Ha, that's very true! I've also felt the slacking-guilt of missing a day's chores, but you're so right, the floor won't disappear!

  6. Just found this post flicking through your blog. So grateful, as it's just what I needed to read right now. I love homemaking, and it's been such a joy in the four months of marriage/two months of having our own place. However I put very high standards on myself, which often means thesis work slips by the wayside. Thanks for the reminder I don't have to be doing everything perfectly, and I have time to get this whole housewife thing going

    1. I'm so glad! It's very true, sometimes those things just need to be put on the back burner for the moment. We have time to learn things and how to arrange things in our day to get the most done!