No one would ever accuse conservative radio host Dr. Laura Schlessinger of harboring progressive views on parenting. But if this excerpt from her new book, "In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms," is any indication, the good doctor's 16th opus may turn out to be her most culturally tone-deaf dispatch to date. While I would never criticize anyone's choice to be a stay-at-home mom (or dad), Dr. Laura's insistence that women give up or radically revise their careers if they want to raise children is not only retrograde, it's downright impractical in the midst of a recession.
And if any doubt remained regarding the extremism of Dr. Laura's views on motherhood, she dispelled it in an interview that ran in Wednesday's Wall Street Journal. Asked whether stay-at-home parenting is realistic for families shouldering economic hardships, the talk-show host replied, "What I have discerned is that people of modest means have been able to handle what's going on far better than people who are used to having a lot of stuff; it's the people who put their life's worth into products, and not people, that are probably the most shell-shocked." Uh, sure. But what about the moms who... oh, I don't know... can't afford to pay their rent and buy groceries? Should they renounce their destructive materialism and hightail out of the workforce, too?
But that's not all. Dr. Laura goes on -- in a statement I'm hard pressed to characterize as anything other than pure evil -- to rhapsodize over the demise of alternate childcare solutions:
One thing I've been happy as peach pie about -- because I'm all about the children and the happiness of a woman because that makes the happiness of the home -- is that nannies, day cares and babysitters are all collapsing, which is forcing moms and dads to raise their children at home. I've gotten a huge surge of mail and calls from people who didn't make the choice to be at home with their kids, but are just now realizing how wonderful and beautiful it can be. A home should be more than just a place to park yourself after a frenzied day of too much work. So even though there's less cash, people seem to be happier.
As the interview continues, Dr. Laura compares leaving a career to giving up a nasty habit ("You know how when you try to quit smoking you chew gum? You replace one thing with another because it distracts you.") and makes the ludicrous claim that all mothers are capable of planning their work hours around their children's schedules. In one real head-scratcher of a response, she suggests that women who are thinking of becoming stay-at-home moms ask themselves, among other questions, "Do I feel like my husband's girlfriend?" (Is it a bad sign that I don't even know what the correct answer to that query should be?)
There's a revealing moment in the conversation, when Dr. Laura is discussing why she decided to write "In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms." She tells us that she made the decision to become a mother when, as a tube-tied 35 year old, she burst out crying while watching a PBS Nova episode "on the creation of life." It was then that she "realized what was missing: this womanly part of me. So I got married, struggled a bit to get pregnant and finally made it happen after a surgery." What saddens me about the statement isn't even the "womanly" business -- it's the way Dr. Laura makes it sound like her marriage was primarily motivated by the desire to have children. For a woman who seems to put a great deal of stock in the husband-wife bond, that's just depressing.