Ask Dr. Susan vs. Ask Dr. Laura ““ Anybody who doesn’t stay at home with their kids is evil. Let’s be sanctimonious together!

Once again, I’m going to be tackling some advice that Dr. Laura has given (taken from transcripts on her website), and look at it from a different, less awful perspective.

If you would like some similar not-awful advice, ask me! I am all-knowing. Except when I’m not. But mostly-knowing.

This week’s shame-fest:

“Hi, Dr. Laura. I don’t get to listen to you very often because I work at a child care center during the days you are on the air. I just want to let your listeners know there is no replacement for mom and dad. No other person will treat, nurture, guide or give your moral values to your children better than yourselves.

I had to get a job, so I chose to work at a child care center. My lunch break was to pick up my children from school and bring them back with me. I still raised my children. Remember most or a lot of the child care workers are young with no children and no experience. We certainly don’t get paid much either. I’m not saying they don’t care for your child, but NO ONE can do it like mom or dad. Please get a smaller house, a less expensive car or just tone things down, so a PARENT can stay home and raise their children.“

The most effective career mom I have ever known was Patches, the Border Collie mother of these puppies. Eight puppies, and she was at work that afternoon. Pictured here are her puppies, thriving in their childcare environment.

And Dr. Laura’s response:

“We’ve heard a lot about how women are entitled to their opportunities and their power. And they should not be held back by children hanging on to their ankles while they are trying to run up the stairs of a career and self-actualization. I’ve been on both sides of everything now. And, I have to say, the reason I start my program each and every day with, “I am my kid’s mom,” is that, even though he’s going to be 23 soon and he’s in the military and can shoot 40 bullets through the same hole at 300 meters, the most important thing I’ve ever done is raise him and be his mommy. And I have degrees and awards and this wonderful program where I get to try to brainwash you into doing the right thing for your family. And remember, when you die your legacy, your memory is not in your CV, it’s not in your bank account, it’s in the people who tell the wonderful stories about you because you meant so much, because you were actually there.”

There are so many judgmental assumptions from both the caller and Dr. Laura that it’s hard to even tease them apart.

Let’s start with Dr. Laura’s first sentence: “We’ve heard a lot about how women are entitled to their opportunities and their power.” Yes. Women are entitled to opportunities. Humans are entitled to opportunities and power. We hear a lot about it because a) it’s true, and b) for some reason, there are those who do not believe it to be true. What Dr. Laura is saying when she says this is that women shouldn’t be entitled to opportunities.

Women should not be able to have opportunities.

I realize that I fall on the “radical feminist” side of the spectrum, but seriously? There are people who will just say that women should not have opportunities, women should not have power? And people listen to them?

Her next sentence is a classic example of logic failure. From “women should have opportunities,” she jumps to “women should not be concerned with children.” Imagine if she had written, “We’ve heard a lot about how dogs should have ample space to exercise. In other words, dogs should not be attached by a leash to their owner when they go for walks.” Plenty of people have dogs with ample space to exercise and take their dogs for walks on a leash. Plenty of people have big yards and don’t see the need for extra walks. Plenty of people take their dogs for walks but don’t have a yard. One does not follow from the other.

Women can have opportunities and power and not resent their kids. Women can have opportunities and power as mothers and that is a-okay. Women, like Dr. Laura herself, are entitled to the chance to have a successful career, and how they handle their home situations does not cancel out their entitlement to opportunities.

Let’s take a look at the overall assumption of both the caller* and Dr. Laura: that what Dr. Laura refers to as “day orphanages” are harmful for children, and that mothers (and only mothers, fathers aren’t up for judgment on this one, it seems) who do not stay home to take care of their children all day are being selfish and negligent.

There are certainly some benefits to children with a parent who can stay at home. A study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health showed that kids with stay-at-home moms were more likely to take part in organized sports, and are less often sick. A study from National Institute of Child Health and Human Development showed that kids who stay at home have less stress than those that are in daycare.

However, statistics and studies on this subject are rare when compared to the overwhelming amount of anecdotal evidence. Mothers who stay at home, according to somebody’s cool story, are able to guide their children morally and spiritually, are able to give their children more attention, love their children in a way that working mothers do not:

Generally, the parent will be more willing and enthusiastic in protecting, holding, cuddling, comforting, feeding, playing with, stimulating, and communicating with their infant and toddler. And, as the child grows and matures, both in the preschool and school years, parents are also generally better able to stimulate, educate, and protect the child and enrich his or her life. Parents play an important role in language development, in discipline, in communicating moral and social values, in providing enriched play environments, and in the creation of family rituals and traditions for the family.


This is bullshit. It is bullshit being peddled by somebody who wants to believe that her way is the only way, to people who are already intending to live in that lifestyle and want to be validated that they are doing the right thing. But it abounds, and it is the same kind of crap that Dr. Laura is talking about.

Staying at home has some benefits. But the point is not in quantity of parenting, but quality. A dedicated parent does all of those things in the quote above, in concentrated doses instead of spread out over the course of the day:

Research by leading experts, like Alison Clarke-Stewart of the University of California at Irvine, has shown that if parents give their kids concentrated time and attention in the evenings and on weekends, their children are just as well-adjusted as those cared for full-time at home.

One of the assumptions that is put forth by the caller is that “I’m not saying they don’t care for your child, but NO ONE can do it like mom or dad.”

You know what it takes to be a parent? Sperm, an egg, sex, timing, and the right environment. Being a mom or a dad does not equate to being an expert in childcare, or even giving a shit about your offspring. You know who is an expert at childcare? Many of the people who go into child care as a career. Not the caller, obviously. But to suggest that I know how to care for a child just because I gave birth to one is ludicrous.

But there are, undoubtedly, benefits to kids whose parent stays at home. There are also benefits to those kids who go to preschool. Research started in the 1960s shows just how much of an impact it can have. The Perry Preschool Project gave one group of low-income 3-4 year olds two hours of preschool, five days a week, while the other group stayed at home:

When researchers followed up with the kids as adults, they found huge differences. At age 27, the boys who had ““ almost two decades earlier ““ gone to preschool were now half as likely to be arrested and earned 50 percent more in salary that those who didn’t.

And that wasn’t all. At 27, girls who went to preschool were 50 percent more likely to have a savings account and 20 percent more likely to have a car. In general, the preschool kids got sick less often, were unemployed less often, and went to jail less often. Since then, many other studies have reported similar findings.

Kids learn things in day care that they can’t as easily learn at home. They learn to negotiate with kids their own age, to take turns, to share. From the article above: “They involve things like being able to pay attention and focus, being curious and open to new experiences, and being able to control your temper and not get frustrated.” Kids being around other kids is good for them.

And for the mothers, there is evidence that working is good for their overall health. Stay-at-home moms are more prone to depression than working moms.  Working moms tend to be happier, and healthier, and their parenting skills can be boosted.

The thing is – there are benefits to having a parent stay home, and there are benefits to outside child care. In the end, what matters is what works for a particular family.

Because there are benefits to both arrangements, some people get defensive no matter their choice, and then the need to justify their own decision comes out as shaming somebody else’s. To me, this is at the heart of the “mommy wars” – justification of your own choice at the expense of another’s, not because either choice is wrong, but because cutting down somebody else’s choice makes people feel more secure in their own.

As for this: “Please get a smaller house, a less expensive car or just tone things down, so a PARENT can stay home and raise their children.” Right. Because all parents who work only love money and things, and every family with a stay-at-home is sacrificing a better lifestyle.

I know it may be surprising, but some people cannot afford outside childcare, as their income wouldn’t cover the costs. Some people cannot afford to stay home, as their income just barely covers all costs. Making people feel guilty for the choices that they have limited control over is disgusting.

I have been wrestling with including this last bit, because I don’t know that bringing family up is appropriate; as Dr. Laura mentioned her own son as an example of her successful parenting, I do think that it is important to be on the same page as to the results of her techniques. From The Drudge Retort:

The soldier son of talk radio relationship counselor Laura Schlessinger is under investigation for a graphic personal Web page that one Army official has called “repulsive.” The MySpace page, publicly available until Friday when it disappeared from the Internet, included cartoon depictions of rape, murder, torture and child molestation; photographs of soldiers with guns in their mouths; a photograph of a bound and blindfolded detainee captioned “My Sweet Little Habib”; accounts of illicit drug use; and a blog entry headlined by a series of obscenities and racial epithets.

In the end, how you parent, how you love your children, how you model your own life for them to learn from, and what messages you give them about self-worth and love and kindness and integrity matter a whole lot more than if you enroll them in daycare or stay with them yourself.

*Frankly, I would be worried about leaving my child with the caller, but not because of the reasons she brings up. Her inherent judgments about people who take their kids to day care certainly color the way that she treats such children, and I’d rather have my kid with somebody who doesn’t start out with the assumption that they are inferior. She’s right about not being a good substitute for a parent, but that’s because she has chosen to be a bigot.

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I am old and wise. Perhaps more old than wise, but once you're old, you don't give a shit about details anymore.

23 thoughts on “Ask Dr. Susan vs. Ask Dr. Laura ““ Anybody who doesn’t stay at home with their kids is evil. Let’s be sanctimonious together!”

  1. Blargh!!!! As someone who is up to my elbows in child and educational psychology articles all day, shit like this makes my blood boil. Read the damn literature, Dr. Laura! Oh wait, is she did that, she wouldn’t get the opportunity to spout her sexist, classist junk psychology:/
    Annnd that’s my angry rant. Great post!

  2. I’ll admit, I was ready to be upset when I opened your post to read it.  I am a SAHM by choice and I honestly consider myself blessed that my family is in a financial position that allows me to stay home without sacrificing too much.  It saddens me when I read ultra-radical feminist writings that state a woman who chooses to stay home is making the wrong choice and I was afraid that’s where you might be heading.   But when I read through your post I was glad to find myself shaking my head yes (to you, not Dr. Laura).   I think you sum up my feelings on the issue very well with:

    The thing is — there are benefits to having a parent stay home, and there are benefits to outside child care. In the end, what matters is what works for a particular family.

    I know some very wonderful mothers, who have very successful careers, who would feel like they are drowning if they had to stay at home.  So they choose to work.  I know some wonderful mothers, who left a career or never pursued one, who would feel like they were drowning if they had to leave their children for work. So they choose to stay home.  Who has any right to judge what one woman chooses as her her right path in life, except that woman?

    Unfortunately, there are many women who do not even get to choose what is right for them.  Some mothers are miserable staying at home, but could not afford quality childcare (and believe me, quality childcare ain’t cheap!) because they wouldn’t make enough money to cover it.  Conversely, some mother’s are miserable working but cannot afford to lose their wages – as you mention above.

    In the end, how you parent, how you love your children, how you model your own life for them to learn from, and what messages you give them about self-worth and love and kindness and integrity matter a whole lot more than if you enroll them in daycare or stay with them yourself.

    It would be a wonderful thing if feminism and society at large got behind this idea and supported mothers in the right and ability to choose what is right for them as women and as mothers.


    1. Thank you for this comment.  We have a parent at home all the time, and I am constantly fighting guilt that my daughter has no friends, socialization skills, etc. (I mean, that’s an exaggeration, but the feelings are there).  If we had her in day care, I’m sure I would be worried about that, too.  I just think that there are so many people with the RIGHT ANSWERS that it is easy for all of us to forget that all sorts of answers are right.

  3. Generally I try not to judge Dr. Laura too harshly, since I figure she generally believes the line she’s feeding everyone else. But to hold up her son as a paragon of virtue as the result of her SAHMing, and then the revelation about his MySpace page? I wonder where he learned all that shit, hey? /sarcasm

    1. I try to be careful about that stuff, especially since I realize that I am dispensing advice myself and maybe my kid is going to end up with a totally awful Facebook page and then people will judge me…but I’m also very cognizant of the fact that my parenting isn’t perfect, and I hope I never hold myself up as The Only Answer for people to look to.

    1. It made the hair on the back of my neck stand up, too.  I almost went into just how “toned down” (read: not making ends meet) my life is, and how we can’t AFFORD outside child care, and how everybody has to do what they can with what they have available, but I didn’t want to get into defensive mode.  But yes.  Yes yes yes.

  4. I’ve been on both sides of the mommy-wars, in that I had to put my first kid in daycare because I was a single parent and I ended up staying home with my second, and I just don’t see why people need to be assholes about either side. Seriously, there are pros and cons to every situation – get over it and stop being mean to each other.

    And no way would I want my kids at that daycare.

    1. This is true.  Although – I can see it as she is trying to show that he’s SO TOUGH and he’s still like a baby to her.  But that’s kind of a stretch and I don’t want to bend over backwards trying to defend Dr. Laura.  When I was talking to my mom about this column, she said, “I think the most important thing to know about Dr. Laura is that when her mother died, they had been estranged for many years, and Dr. Laura blamed it all on her mother.”  Plenty of people have difficult family relationships, but it seems like the unwavering advice that DR. Laura is adamant about – that there is only ONE WAY TO DO THINGS and if you don’t you FAIL – that’s not working out too well in her own life.

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