Tuesday, June 9, 2009

A review of In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms by Dr. Laura Schlessinger

One of Dr. Laura’s publicists contacted me and asked if I’d like to read and review this book. I said yes, I have, and here it is!

I enjoy Dr. Laura’s style. She is a very direct and no nonsense person. Being a lady who is seriously lacking tact and diplomacy skills myself, her manner appeals to me. Whether you agree with her or not, it’s refreshing to hear someone state their truth without equivocation.

Dr. Laura makes three especially salient and edifying points in this book. One, the feminist movement has poisoned our collective psyches against gender influenced roles to the extent that we now deny them to our detriment. Two, no one in their right mind can suggest to a mother that her constant caring presence in her child’s life can be adequately supplanted by a paid caregiver regardless of their quality. Three, our society has encouraged all of us, men and women, to chase dollars and instant gratification to such an extent that we often lack the maturity to face “traditional” family life with the patience, gratitude and long term vision it requires; squandering our opportunity to deeply enjoy our children’s young lives and damaging our marriages in the process.

Dr. Laura takes the position that the feminist movement of the 1960’s, has taught “modern” woman that it is “beneath the dignity of an intelligent, independent woman” to stay home taking care of children. Although touting itself as a movement that supports choice, the Dr. suggests it has also stigmatizes the woman who wants to assume a traditional role as homemaker. Additionally “ years of feminist badgering both genders about their unique gender desires have left both men and women confused and somewhat cautious about expressing what is natural to them: femininity and masculinity.” We also create a competitive environment where both spouses are pursuing the same goals in the same way.

“The feministas who still wreck havoc on women’s minds concerning marriage and maintaining home and family by suggesting they are simply becoming slaves or subordinates ignore at least two important facts. One, many women can and do enjoy creating the nest like atmosphere of the home and the family; and two, a family situation is like a factory: it all works better when there is a division of labor instead of everyone competing to either do or avoid the same task.”

In assuming the stance that men and women are not only equal but THE SAME, she posits we lose an important balance in the household.”Unisexuality is no one’s birthright-it is a mistaken notion derived from feminism’s desire for equality. Equality is of value, not of substance.” Dr. Laura asserts that Femininity and masculinity are of equal value yet they are entirely different substances and that “When there is division of labor, there is nothing to compete with. Each feels like a specialist and has pride in his or her contribution-with each contribution of talents and efforts being seen as a gift rather than a fought over task.”

Dr. Laura is quite forceful in her assertion that “No matter how technologically and aesthetically spectacular a day care is, no matter how prestigious and expensive or cheap an available. There is no way on God’s green earth it can compare to, much less surpass, the loving presence of a mother” She states that she is “surprised--no amazed-- that a whole generation and a half of women have been so easily enraptured by the suggestion that what they have to give their child is easily replaced by a nanny, babysitter, or day care worker.” She suggests, with tongue in cheek, “If you knew you were going to be recycled and come back as an infant with a choice, you’d choose a Mommy, a nanny, a babysitter, or a day care worker for yourself with equal enthusiasm-right?” Aside from the few mothers with serious mental problems or chemical dependencies, it is the Dr.’s opinion that choosing “care” for a child is always choosing a poorer quality of life for that child than choosing to stay home. She speaks a length about the financial sacrifices and personal struggles necessitated by this way of life, she does not sugar coat it. She plays up the rewards of staying home and being homemaker, not just for the woman but for the family and the marriage that is the family’s foundation. She also makes a valuable point about the much celebrated idea of quality time.

“There is no such thing as quality time as an entity separate from quantity time. You can never know when a moment of angst or curiosity will hit your child, and you have to responsive to that moment or feeling in your own way. Quality moments occur only when there is quantity time for them to spontaneously occur”.

One of Dr. Laura’s main arguments is that our national proclivity for instant gratification, our need for external affirmation and our fixation on freedom makes taking on the roles of homemaker and earner problematic.

“There has been a shift in values from obligation to fulfillment. An activity has to give pleasure or it is without true value. If the activity does not make you feel good or feel better about yourself. Then it’s usefulness is questionable...so that means that tilling the soil, planting the seeds, watering and fertilizing, protecting from the elements, aren’t worthwhile activities cause in and of themselves, they are not fulfilling? How then do you get a harvest?”

Although our work a day lives provide a superficial sense of usefulness and productivity as well as reliable affirmation in terms of kudos and monetary rewards “The freedom from responsibilities that don’t lend immediate gratification, compensation, or glorification may be a surprise freedom having deep meaning in one’s life”. Part in parcel with instant gratification and affirmation, is a lack of gratefulness and reciprocity that can pollute a traditional family.

“It is important to shield your family from your personal sufferings from feeling small, bored, frustrated, stupid, tired, sick, mad, confused, etc. One only has to look at what one has…a wonderful loving husband, children, a roof over our heads, food in the fridge, and a warm bed to cuddle in at night…Venting every feeling isn’t mature. Learning to deal with uncomfortable and unpleasant feelings is an important aspect of maturity. The pop-psych notion that you have to divulge every unpleasantness or you will have gangrene of the soul and spirit is nonsense. Learning to endure, transform by perspective or action, and be grateful is the fast lane to the good life.”

And additionally:

“If you take on the martyr/entitlement role…you’ll be a lot less happy with your life and you will have a husband not exactly wanting to come home to you. Those of you who are acting like brats, wanting the attention and the accolades without realizing that it goes both ways, need to learn that you get more love, attention, and appreciation by giving the same, not with demands or complaints.”
In short, there is a lot to be said for shouldering your burdens with dignity and being exceedingly grateful to the partner that supports your efforts.


As far as criticism of this book, I have a few. Firstly, I would have liked to see Dr. Laura take consumerism more to task for its deleterious effects on family. Surely, the Have It All Have It Now attitude that we are bombarded with through the media is as much to blame for our short coming as our attitudes about gender. Secondly, amidst all the criticism of feminism, a line or two giving props to the movement that did indeed liberate the thinking of the women in our country was in order and was notably absent. I’ve seen lots of media from the 50’s, 60’s and even the 70’s and that was messed up suppressive propaganda being served. The whole picture changes when the traditional family arrangement is imposed and not mutually agreed upon. Lastly, I felt badly at the end for any mother that is truly trapped in a working mom scenario they can’t get out of. I am a big proponent of can’t vs. won’t and “industry need not wish” and all but I also know how nearly impossible it is to get by on one salary and getting harder everyday as healthcare costs go up and the value of our mortgages stay the same even as the value of our homes plummet (and rents aren’t any better). In better economic times, this hard line may have played better. Well into my 30's, I can finally give myself permission to have an opinion that makes other people uncomfortable. In my opinion, the best choice is to stay home and be the heart of the home but I can’t look at the numbers and say we all have this choice, especially if we weren’t wise enough to plan for it from day one (and who is?).

At the end of the day, I recommend this book. It provides lots of sound, common sense ideas for living a better, fuller, simpler life by being a SAHM. As a woman who has chosen this path with her whole heart, it is a gratifying read.

9 comments:

  1. Interesting Juliet. With my first child, I returned to work somewhat conflicted about my choice. (I have worked part time, never full time since my children were fairly small.) However, with baby #2, there was never any choice...I was going back to work. Had to do it. Frankly, returning to work as a breastfeeding mother with a 6-month old was difficult. (Mind you, I was working about 15 hours a week.) However, in our house, I found my husband became an unreasonable dick when I attempted to be a homemaker. Working part time saved my marriage and my sanity. I still managed to breastfeed my kids long term. I will admit, there is nothing more difficult in my opinion than balancing home and family while returning to work when your child is small. Now that my youngest is 2 1/2, I am starting to feel human again. I realized while I don't plan to have a third, I would likely stay home with baby #3 cuz I just can't do it all! So, good for you for taking your stance. I might not agree it's for me, but we all do what works for us. Personally, I was inspired by Judith Warner's "Perfect Madness...."

    Signed,
    Peace Dale gal and birthday twin....
    MaryLou WG

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  2. I'm sorry, but you lost me with her bullshit attacks on feminism. Her term "feministas" is one notch away from Rush LImbaugh's "Femi-Nazis" and both deny the reality of the feminist movement, the benefits of the feminism movement, the great diversity within the feminist movement, and the simple fact that feminism is about equality and not gender fascism like Schlessinger and Limbaugh love to promote. I would love to know how she backs up a statement like "years of feminist badgering both genders about their unique gender desires have left both men and women confused and somewhat cautious about expressing what is natural to them: femininity and masculinity.” Does she have research? Does she bother to do any kind of scholarship in this area or does she simply spout nonsense. If you look at shifting definitions of gender, both over time and across cultures, it becomes rather difficult to pretend that gender is anything but constructed. Are there inherent sexual differences between the male and the female? Yes. Does that translate into how we perform gender? No.

    I am glad you are happy with the choices you have made. In fact, I don't know a single person who self-identify as a feminist who would deny you the freedom to do whatever you wanted, whether to be a SAHM or to have career. But Schlessinger's greatest hits include:

    "Because AIDS prevention education is so vital, especially in poorer Third World countries, the topic is used as an opportunity to deliver propaganda, primarily about gender, homosexuality, bisexuality and masturbation. How ironic that prevention education about a fatal disease primarily transmitted by unprotected anal intercourse offers, at the very least, a benign presentation about the "lifestyle" that promotes that sexual practice.

    In most of these materials designed for children, no distinction is made about the disparate prevalence of HIV-AIDS in populations of heterosexuals and homosexuals. They also continue to propagate the myth that sex is "safe" with condom use, when the CDC knows as well as I do that condoms do not prevent the spread of many sexually transmitted diseases."

    And

    "The feminist's "pro-choice" message is that women should tear their babies from their bodies to die – so that they are serving the sisterhood by being more available for workplace accomplishments or sexual promiscuity without being hampered by diaper hampers."

    And

    "Now, the feminists hold up the Britney Spears, Madonnas, Hiltons and so forth as powerful, significant, important role-models for girls. Fashions are slutty and skanky as even women with jelly-bellies wear pants that barely cover pubic (now public?) hair as they dress their young daughters to look like available Lolitas."

    I mean, come on, I don't know a single feminist who thinks that the sexualization of young girls is something to cheer about. Sure, Camille Paglia loves Madonna, very few feminists find much of use in Paglia's "women's power lies solely in their sexuality" schtick. Schlessinger's attacks on feminism are simply not grounded in reality or made with the slightest bit of good faith.

    Then there is this gem:

    "Of course a society should discriminate. Of course it should. It should discriminate against certain behaviors. And man-on-man and woman-on- woman sexual activity is a deviant sexual orientation-- does not promote any of the values set forth biblically."

    Theocracy anyone?

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  3. Hey ML,
    I hear you. This wouldn't work if Josh weren't 100% on board, which he is. That's one of my other issues with Dr. Laura's "policy" here. What if both people AREN'T on board? What then?

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  4. Hi Peter, you rascal : )
    My mom was a part of the whole 60's women's consciousness raising movement and YES being a traditional SAHM was heavily stigmatized by many of the women in this movement. I feel strongly, as the person in this conversation getting the messages, that this role is still stigmatized. As for Dr. Laura's take on other issues, in this context it is beside the point as I was asked to review just one book. I am not religious and I am pro-choice so you can deduce where I'd fall on her other arguments. As far as gender, I dunno, dude. The older I get, the longer I am married and the more I watch my son, the more I begin to feel that biology might be a good part of destiny. This is not to say that a Dad can't be great primary parent or that a womean can't be a great primary professional. Duh. However, I think we are "naturally" better at different things and trying to be the same at all things is an exercise in futility. Dr. laura's arguments about specialization ring very true in my experience. Anyhoot, my sweet, I get it. You no likey Dr. Laura and you don't want to hear from her. That's cool.

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  5. Actually, I don't know Dr. Schlessinger (who is neither a medical nor a psychiatric doctor, btw), so I can't definitively say I don't like her - though the odds are that I wouldn't if I met her. What I no likey are arguments made in bad faith (and if you look at her attacks on feminism, they are not made with any sense of constructively criticising where certain parts of the movement were flawed, instead she flings epithets and slurs and lies like a monkey throwing poo), and the willful confusion between cultural practices and biology.

    Two questions:

    How is it possible to make the argument for gender behavior as "natural" when we are immersed in culture from before the time we are born? (I would argue that individuals are "naturally" better at different things, not the entire sex of a species.)

    Why not write a book entitled "In Praise of the Stay-at-Home Parent?"

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  6. This discussion is hopelessly ambiguous because the term “feminist” has not been given a clear meaning, that is to say, there are many different types of “feminists” out there who have widely divergent views. The views that Dr. Laura represents as being “feminist” are those of what have been called “radical” or “cultural feminists” who indeed do harbor great hostility toward any traditional “patriarchal” institutions, including marriage and the traditional nuclear family with its division of labor along the lines of “socially constructed gender.” Indeed, many of these “feminists” will have nothing to do with men who they can see only as “oppressors.” And, it is true, that these women have viewed marriage and family, and stay- at- home- moms with extreme prejudice. Unfortunately, this type of feminist makes convenient “straw women” for the likes of Limbaugh and Dr. Laura, but are only a small, if vocal, minority among feminists.
    Liberal feminists, on the other hand, really have no major issue with marriage and family as institutions, but, of course, are greatly concerned with equality within these institutions and in the labor market. Thanks to the feminist movement women do have the equal right to work in the labor market and to get equal pay. Moreover, the value of their work at home, if they choose to stay at home has been recognized to a much greater degree, not only by their husbands and society at large, but in the courts. Now a SAHM who is divorced can have the value of her contribution to the family assets recognized in court.
    As you point out much has changed: women can no longer be fired for becoming pregnant, or confined to “women’s jobs,” or be routinely excluded from professional schools, or forced t have sex with her husband, to get his permission to get an abortion, or to put up with other forms of abuse.
    We could go on to speak of the specific agendas of “socialist” feminists, “anarchist” feminists, “libertarian” feminists, “Ecofeminists,” “lipstick feminists” who would probably all have one thing in common - respect for all women and their right to choose a heterosexual, traditional marriage where she stays home to care for her children. It is unfortunate that Dr. Laura feels the need to misrepresent feminism by lumping all feminists into a single, small, radical group.
    This is not to say, that there are not a valid points raised by radical feminists for there are many. As noted above historically there has indeed been much “patriarchal” oppression of women and it continues to this day all over the world. There is, for example, much truth in the idea of Andrea Dworkin and Catherine Mackinnon that pornography is a form of oppression or the idea of Susan Brownmiller that rape is a form of terrorism, or the idea of Collette Dowling that women are “socialized to be dependent on men, or the idea of Engels (who was also a feminist) that women are viewed by men to be nothing more than a form of property and will never see women as equals. The history of women under patriarchy has indeed been one of oppression and in most of the world, in varying degrees, it still is.

    Not all men are form Mars and not all women are from Venus. We are, each and every one of us, a blend of “masculine and feminine” traits. This diversity is what makes us interesting. It is only those with an oppressive personality that want to compress us all into a very limiting stereotype and to limit our social roles accordingly. I think the vast majority of feminists respect the SAHM and that Dr. Laura does them and injustice by suggesting otherwise.

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  7. One cannot disagree with Dr. Laura’s premise when she empowers women to take a stand and insist on staying home to raise their children....however, I would also says that women who do not make that choice cannot be disavowed. Life for women is very complex, full of so many responsibilities that reducing the validity of their lives to one area of responsibility; child care is too judgmental. Many women make an ultimately selfish decision to care more for themselves than their children when they choose a life of work rather than a child centered life. Many poor women do not get to make that choice at all. Some women are truly unfit mothers if they are forced to be SAHM'S. Some women make important contributions to the world that exceed what they are capable of giving to their children. Women have an enormous burden in this life. They must care for so many so often that it is possible to lose one's "self" in the process. Instead of passing judgement on those who chose not to be SAHM's what should be the cause to fight for is excellent, free child care so that all children, whether they are born to the selfish, poor or unfit moms have a chance at excellent child care. My criticism, then of her message is that she draws very narrow lines in her boundaries of right and wrong. On the other hand I applaud her strong and important support of SAHM's. There is never enough of that in this seriously values challenged world.

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  8. I likey Dr. Laura! I have just quit my job to be a full time mom - and my kids are not even babies. Dr. Laura would likey me back for that. Don't you just love the last two comments - anonymous. I feel very strongly that a mom needs to be home if at all possible.

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  9. Nice article....Well writen. I am feeling a bit uneasy getting information from a person that although calls herself Dr. she does not realy have the qualifications to do prove it. Not a lot of research has happened on the effect of fathers in the household, regarding child care. Yet the litle research that is out there does show a there there is some effect. I generaly do not think that a woman will sit back one morning and ask herself "What is the best way to mess up my family and marridge...Iknow I will go to work". I think this (stay at home) is a lifestyle that some people like-no law against it- but one should consider that sometimes it is a nessecity. In any case I can not say I agree with any of her arguments and I do think that she is only appealing to one select group of people. I personaly think that there is not a correct way to bring up your famiy since each family and family member is unique. To try to put all together in a few categories is a bit unrealistic but for anyone that has read any book about basic psychology it is human.We like to put things in categories it makes it easy for us. Anywho say Hi to Josh it was nice seeing you again. I will be intouch when the sun comes up.

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