Medieval Grandmas

This is DH and I a few weeks before we got engaged:

Wait–is my Geek showing? Good. And huzzah!

That weapon I’m wearing was actually DH’s first birthday present to me. He really knows how to woo. Woo me, at least. But then, we did meet in BYU’s medieval history club (aka The Quill and the Sword).

DH is not actually in this picture. I’m the hooded one on the left.

Most of our courtship centered on doing medieval-ish stuff with medieval-ish people. We had our engagement photos done at an outdoor theater built to look like a castle. We even had medieval dancing at our reception, and our Quill and the Sword friends showed up in their medieval best.

Half my bridesmaids were wearing corsets. One wore leather bracers and a bull whip.

Our friends presented us with these padded weapons, for settling

domestic disputes. We dueled right there, and I won.


We also played a lot of rock and techno.

People still say, “Oh, yeah, I remember your reception!” Like, “How could I ever forget?” Good times, good times.

So now we have our own geeky, medieval-y family. It can be weird, and socially awkward at times, but we have more fun that way.

Check out the historically correct hotness.
He rocks that houppelande.

Actually, our family’s not really that medieval-y. You see, in the Middle Ages (please let’s not call them the Dark Ages. That’s the fastest way to tick off a medieval history buff), families worked differently than they do now. First of all, if you were wealthy, you hired someone else to nurse your kids. Second, you didn’t generally rear them to adulthood like we do now. As soon as they were old enough, you apprenticed them to learn a trade or sent them to be a lady-in-waiting for a woman of a more noble rank.

People generally didn’t marry for love, and their parents had as much say as they did in the matter, if not more. Marriage was an economic arrangement, and letting a changeable emotion get in the way of such an important union could only bring trouble. Marriage for love didn’t become common in this part of the world until starting about the 18th century.1  In some parts, it still isn’t. Through the early 1900’s, a wife and her children were frequently considered the property of her husband. Like his cows. With about as many rights.

Personally, I think this sounds depressing. Stable, but depressing. I cringe any time I hear the phrase “traditional family” used in an idyllic, nostalgic sense. Folks, you don’t want your family’s “tradition” to extend past about 1993, when North Carolina became the final state in the US to outlaw spousal rape.2 Before that, in accordance with a definition written by a 17th century judge, we had what was called “implied consent.” As a woman, you marrying equaled consent for your husband to have sex with you any time he wanted. By law.Lovely, eh? Countries like Afghanistan still run that way.So give me a modern family structure with no weird property laws and no consent implied, thank you. My love of historical reenactment only extends so far.

But there’s one thing traditional families have over modern families that actually sounds pretty appealing.



We still have Grandmas now, of course. Cookies and kisses and too many noisy toys at Christmas still abound. What’s different about Grandmas now versus Grandmas then is mainly distance. And oh, what a difference that distance has made.

Go back a hundred years or more, before travel and communication became cheap and easy, and extended families tended to live much closer together. Grandmothers, Great-Aunts, and unmarried sisters-in-law lived near, maybe even with, any given newly married couple. Stressful? You might think so. But this close-at-hand network of family provided ready labor. A mom of three kids under five could easily hand them over to her mother-in-law while she made dinner, or send them down the street to her sister’s so she could take a nap. Extended family helping out with kids was the norm. As travel became easier, families scattered. Work that has traditionally been done by a family is now done, for the most part, by the mother. And the results have been less than pretty. 6

In the absence of Grandma and other relatives, we now expect moms to do the majority of the cooking and cleaning, all while watching the kids. Even in households where the mother works for pay outside the home, chances are she still does the majority of the childcare, cooking, and housekeeping.7 Add to this the fact that the definition of a “good mom” has become steadily stricter over the past few decades, and you have a reliable recipe for guilt and stress.8 The pressure to perform perfectly can be immense.

Yet history shows us that for most families, it is simply not feasible for the mother to starch and fold everyone’s socks each week, even if she wanted to. Current “good mom” expectations are unrealistic, just as “good wife” expectations were unrealistic 60 years ago. A mom who feels like she needs to spend every minute keeping her child clean, entertained, happy, and a step ahead of everyone else in school is buying into the modern-day equivalent of “have hot dinner and a clean family waiting for Dad every night, and remember not to bring up all the work you’ve done because gosh, he had a hard day and needs to relax.”

Reality isn’t a 50’s-style mommy who spends her days in complete and adoring sacrifice. Reality is mothers who love their family deeply, but some days wish they just didn’t have to take care of any one. Reality is mothers who have to leave children in day care or by themselves or with their husband so they can work to pay for food and clothing. Reality is a mother who needs to go back to school, get a job, get a hobby, do SOMETHING so that she can retain her identity and sanity during the years of intense sacrifice and care that come with having a child. And unfortunately, reality is moms who do all these realistic things and feel bad about it because they think they are falling short. Moms who think they are the exception, that they’re doing something wrong if they feel unfulfilled or stressed or unhappy or even depressed. They don’t know that a hundred years ago, NO ONE would have expected them to do the things they do by themselves today, let alone be chipper and perfectionistic about it. In the absence of grandma, we should be re-evaluating what really needs to be done in our homes, and who needs to be doing it.



1Marriage: A History, p 5

2“Marital Rape.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikimedia Foundation, Inc. 26 July 2012. Web. 8 Aug. 2012.




6 Barbara Almond, The Monster Within, p4

7 Arlie Hochschild (20th century), U.S. sociologist. The Second Shift: Working Parents and the Revolution at Home, ch. 1 (1989).

8 Barbara Almond, The Monster Within, p4


2 thoughts on “Medieval Grandmas

  1. Don’t forget the nobility in the Middle Ages sending their teenage sons to live with uncles or other family and get their military training. Or in cases of alliances or peace treaties the nobility exchanging children at act as hostages in order to guarantee both sides honored the agreement. You have a very good point about extended family helping out with kids. It looks like my parents might end up in North Carolina in the near future, and with the other set of grandparents already living in New York we’re thinking that’s too far away. So we’re starting to look at East Coast states with reciprocity for California teachers.

  2. My mother-in-law watching my oldest while I took my last two years of classes was the only reason I graduated college. I never would have managed without her help. Grandmas FTW.

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