‘All the Little Tasks of Home Can Add Up to a Lot of Meaning and Love’
A Conversation With Leila Marie Lawler on ‘All Things Domestic’
From home-renovation shows to blogs on sourdough bread, all things domestic and homemaking seem to be dominating social media and the like, of late. But domesticity and the domestic church — and the feminine genius — has long been the focus of Leila Marie Lawler.
Her blog, “Like Mother Like Daughter,” has enjoyed much popularity in the last15 years for highlighting education, housekeeping and home culture, from the big picture down to the smallest lived experiences.
A mom of seven, grandmother of 16, thinker, writer and creator, Lawler offers a balanced view, the Catholic view, on the role of women. The blog’s writings were recently bundled into a three-volume work, aptly named The Summa Domestica (All Things Domestic), and augmented by new writing, too.
How did your blog start and develop?
My grown daughters and I started blogging in the fall of 2007. At first, we were keeping in touch with each other. As people found us and as I saw the content of similar blogs featuring advice that I thought was influential but perhaps not critical enough of progressive currents of thought, I was motivated to write more in depth about the topics that matter to me: family life, education, childrearing, literature. … I tend to challenge what I consider subversive theories of how children learn, whether it’s behavior or morals or math, because I already have seen those methods undermine my generation’s happiness and my children’s. I can’t stand by while yet another generation falls prey! I felt the need to delve in to what we call “the collective memory” and to bring into the blogosphere more traditional ideas. I didn’t want to argue with anyone, but to present the ideas of someone with faith who, in Pope Benedict XVI’s words, “lives differently.” I also sensed that there is a hunger for what Roger Scruton calls “the ordinary beauty” of home and neighborhood, and I am convinced that it is the woman’s role to supply that beauty, to produce and curate it, as it is the man’s to protect it and provide for it. I try to help women discover that creativity is part of the vocation of motherhood, including spiritual motherhood.
What is your reach?
I have always been surprised to know how far the blog has reached. I’m aware of readers in many countries, and since I receive many emails, comments and messages, I’m always caught off guard by how many different kinds of readers there are: married, single, widowed. … Also, early on, I had a somewhat defensive post in which I referenced my impression that “none of my readers are atheists” and got set pretty straight on that one. Apparently, it’s not true.
Who is your ideal reader?
“The young me,” full of desire but pretty unsure of how to execute: young mothers, married women just starting out and home-schooling mothers not too sure of what the criteria are for education.
Why the books?
My work on the books was motivated by the many readers over the years who urged me to put what I was writing in book form so that they could have it, hold it in their hands, and give it as a gift to others. It has an index in each volume and a ribbon bookmark, which is a sweet touch. I knew I wanted to keep the overall tone of the blog, and especially its incremental approach, since that is what seems to help the readers most to absorb all the things I’m trying to say. My approach is not to have one article with the 50 things you must do now, but to take an area of interest and explore it with what I hope is a sense of calm, while also remaining firm about first principles. There is also a lot of new material in the books.
You invite readers to “Ask Auntie Leila.” What makes readers trust you?
I think that women respond to my call to be competent — not seeking perfection and not hopelessly giving up either; to see each individual task as a skill that can be learned and the whole calling as a path of love, beauty and creativity. I’m not writing as an “expert,” but as a fellow sufferer in an age of scorn, a fellow toiler in the vineyard, a fellow trodder of the path — just one who is further down the road. I am a beggar telling others where to find bread, in the words of N. T. Wright. And I’m not monetizing anything, so that brings trust, too.
Why do you think March’s International Women’s Day themes do not include the domestic side of women? I’ll start: Its roots are in communism.
Ideologies of equality lead to tyranny and cannot tolerate little things like a home, a mother or a child.
Is being “just a mom” even a real job? (This is a rhetorical question.)
Being a mother is a vocation that comprises many jobs. Many [workplace] jobs came out of being a mom: for instance, nurse, cook, teacher, housekeeper, counselor and even hug dispenser. (I have read that now people do pay for hugs in some places, although how that works with social distancing beats me.) I often quote Stella Morabito’s line that “a little mother prevents Big Brother.” What she argues, and I concur, is that the sphere of privacy, of intimacy, of love and affection is worth tending and represents a bulwark against tyranny of all kinds.
How did you yourself learn what to do?
I read a lot, I thought a lot, and I made a lot of mistakes, really stupid ones! I found little help outside of books, I must say, apart from a few friends who were on the same path. I searched out more timeless ways of doing things and tried to take advantage of any new tips I came across. I prayed, too. I think we really can’t be self-sufficient (although we can do a lot more for ourselves and our family than we think), nor can each generation figure out everything on its own. We need to build on others’ experience and reject the modern approach of scorning the past. We also need to know that the truly important things are not subject to progress, but have to do with eternal, unchangeable truths.
Is there such a thing as “women’s work” anymore? Is there a spiritual dimension to it? Can’t we just outsource it?
We could outsource it, and most do; and, of course, the more outsourcing happens, the less anyone feels competent to do the work themselves, creating a vicious cycle that is hard to escape. It also creates a sense that it’s impossible to live on one income, since outsourcing costs money. We have to be careful about what we outsource. Christians believe that the smallest gesture can carry the greatest meaning.
All the little tasks of home can add up to a lot of meaning and love.
I am not opposed to calling in help where it’s needed! Or going out and getting it, or having it delivered. I guess the question that every wife and every woman should ask is, “Am I making my home, or am I letting someone else do it, or is it simply not getting done?” We don’t want to abandon so many parts that in the end we have nothing.
How does a life of little services rendered to a small group of people in the confines of a home amount to much?
The world needs a home, and as John Paul II wrote many times, “All of humanity passes through the family.”
He extolled, as our faith throughout the ages has done, the beautiful example of Our Lady, whose hidden life of dedication to her little home in Nazareth is the pattern for womanhood.
The gratification of such a path must be obvious to anyone who is not caught up in worldly ambition.
Now that I’ve gone through the challenging time of raising my family, I hope to offer encouragement to others by keeping the collective memory, which has so nearly been lost.