In praise of stay-at-home moms?

Stay-at-home mothers perusing the Wall Street Journal online will no doubt be gratified to learn that Dr. Laura has written a book in praise of them. After all, they may be so busy “finding value” by looking into their children’s eyes and wrapping their bodies around their husbands’ when they come home from work that they don’t even realize that these “incredible moments…make your life more valuable than the person who replaced you at work.”

Working mothers perusing the Wall Street Journal online should be reassured that, although Dr. Laura believes that mothers should never go back to work, she “didn’t write this book about working moms.” Still, they should also be aware that “during the first three years, the mom should be at home because all of the research shows that the person whose body you come out of and whose breast you suck at, at that stage, really needs to be the mom — unless she’s incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial.” Apparently, choosing to work instead of opting to “make a house into a home,” though incompatible with being the mom, is not on its own enough to make a working mother incompetent, irrelevant and immaterial. That fact, plus knowing that Dr. Laura’s “heart hurts” for them, should console working women who will never feel “those pudgy arms around your neck” (presumably not even on evenings or weekends) and whose children will never learn their perspective on “what’s moral and of value.”

(Thanks to Alison Reiheld for circulating the link to the interview.)

21 thoughts on “In praise of stay-at-home moms?

  1. omigod! Can one’s blood pressure stand this? If yours can, readers, please go to the article. And thank you, wmhcl, for the analysis and the link.

    And might I remark, her account of what is making people shell shocked in this crisis seems to reflect a serious lack of awareness of the consequence of the number of businesses closing, jobs lost, and families losing their homes?

  2. The article also shows the cover of her book – an accurate picture of the cover, but a wildly inaccurate picture of the senior citizen Dr. Laura. Photoshop should be ashamed of the deception it encourages.

  3. I’ve always said that the majority of Americans have two particular blind spots: contrary to all evidence, they are convinced that people cannot be moral without religion, and that universal health care is an illusion. It is astonishing how these people keep refusing to look across the Atlantic, where both of these assumptions are easily negated.

    The topic of the above post shows that there’s also a third blind spot. At least where I come from, the concept of “stay at home mom” is practically unheard of (although you have to take into account that we have a yearlong paid maternity leave). Yet, we somehow manage to have valuable relationships with our mothers. Who’d have thunk?

  4. Thank you so much for the mention and commentary. My heart does hurt (after becoming a reformed feminist) when women are willing to buy the notion that a mommy’s love and attention can be replaced by hired help. I as a woman don’t want to be discounted in this manner. One can work before dawn, part time during the day when kids are at school, and after they leave home at 18 (that’s what I’ve done). You can all be replaced at work…and many of you have. No one can replace you in your child’s arms and heart. warmly, Dr. Laura Schlessinger

  5. dr laura, since you have chosen to take part in our discussion, i’ve removed my earlier comment so as to be in keeping with our policies.

    i’d like to say two things. first, “it hurts my heart” isn’t the sort of reasoned argument we engage in on this blog. and second, no one is replacing my love for my child. my engaging in a career does not mean that i cease to love and pay attention to my child. and i don’t think it’s fair to working women to talk as if it does.

  6. sorry, i realise that my talk about being ‘fair’ to working women is a bit too close to an “it hurts my heart” argument. and since i’ve just commented that that’s not the sort of argument we like to engage in on this blog, let me say something more substantive.

    first, if my, for example, sending my toddler to nursery instead of staying home with him, is “replacing” my love “by hired help”, then it’s not clear to me why sending my 6-year-old to school isn’t also “replacing” my love. why is a nursery worker a “replacement” where a school teacher is not? if you buy what you say, shouldn’t you be home-schooling your children?

    and second, it hurts my heart that your children’s father doesn’t love them. (i assume that he had a career while they were young. so, if it’s both true that a mother’s working while children are young means she’s not loving them, and that women are equal to men, then it seems to me that your husband (ex-husband?) doesn’t love your children.)

  7. elp, I am not sure that we should consider one remark as talking part in the discussion. It may be just someone in her office who is charged with repeating her message on blogs. I’m not at all sure about this, of course.

    But let me also say that I’m concerned that a historical anomaly, the so-called nuclear family present in some Western countries, is promoted as the sole model for proper parenting. In many other parts of the world, children are raised in more extended networks, and that was true in the past in the West. One size certainly does not fit all, and there are many different models for successful families.

  8. personally, i think this cute little word “mommy” is vicious. very very loaded, this whole “mommy” thing. might as well translate it as ‘person whom decency obliges to feel guilty and inadequate throughout the lifespan of the child’.

  9. Getting called “mommy” by other adults always felt to me like a very strong instruction regarding my identity.

  10. I certainly will never be a mommy.

    Is there any research that shows that people whose mothers were working when they were children actually …
    … love their mothers less?
    … are traumatised?
    … otherwise negatively affected in a more or less substantial way?
    … have a different view on parenting & working?

    My mom worked part time, so she was generally there when we got home from school. Can’t imagine that less “exposure” to my mom would have made me love her any less, nor do I think it would have negatively affected me, but heck, that’s just me.

  11. There seems to be a bit of sleight-of-hand going on, too, over who the object of Dr. Laura’s pity really is. On the surface, it seems to be working mothers who miss out on time that would be otherwise spent with their children. If this is the case, it seems to me to be just as reasonable to pity women who miss out on a career in order to stay at home. Or, rather, just as unreasonable, since presumably these women are all adults who are capable of making their own decisions about what is best for them.

    The underlying message, though, is that it’s the children who miss out on having a “full time” mother who should be pitied. It seems to me that it’s a necessary condition (though possibly not a sufficient one) for this pity to be deserved, that there’s good evidence to show that their lives would somehow be better if their mothers didn’t work. And even if there were such evidence, it’s still not clear that women who would prefer to work should stay at home. I hope that even Dr. Laura would agree that there are some limits to women’s obligations to their children.

  12. i think this anti-childcare sentiment is also–in america anyway–thinly veiled classism. yet another example of conservatives blaming the woes of the blue collar masses on their own ‘bad behaviour’.

    jj: absolutely! that’s the perfect way to put it. i have actually noticed that my saying the f word around my midwestern mother is–since i had a child–a surefire way to ensure that she uses the m word shortly thereafter with reference to me: as if to remind me that the rules for my behaviour have changed. highly amusing.

    hippocampa: i won’t either!

  13. i was thinking ‘fuck’ or ‘feminism’. ‘father’ would be okay so long as it was ‘Father’. (as in, ‘our Father’.)

  14. wmhc1, you’re right on a number of points, I think. There’s a kind of coercive misdirection to some of her comments, which is more apparent when it appears as “you owe it to yourself to buy the best X.”

    There is also something like a best mommy/mummy league who buy into the rules of ‘best parenting’ and then maintain you shouldn’t have children if you don’t want to be the best. The empirical facts are hardly relevant here and things get announced as “proved” which certainly aren’t.

    Perhaps to me the saddest is the disconnect between the best practices and our psychology. I’m taking students through a chapter on “the executive brain,” which is where we get self-control and much of what counts as self-direction. As a paper we are reading makes clear, the capacity for control and direction is very limited. There are a lot of women in very difficult situations (poverty, inadequate housing, inconstant spousal support, if any) who are tryinig to hold themselves and their families together. One might well worry that they are regarded with moral distain by social workers when they fail on the mommy rules. This is one place where lp’s (?) remarks about class come in; we can all feel better because people “like them” clearly don’t deserve the middle class life.

  15. Yes, this is one thing I didn’t address in my earlier comment – the assumption that women have a choice about whether to work (much less that they also have the power to schedule their workday around their children’s schedules) is surely only true for a very limited segment of the population.

  16. *** off topic
    I wrote my master thesis on spousal similarities and I happened to have at my disposal a huge database with data about parents. I then ran into the curious problem with sorting out field labels.
    F meant Female, half of the time, and Father, the other half of the time.
    M meant Male, half of the time, and Mother, the other half of the time.
    I never realised that before, while in Dutch it’s practically the same (vrouw en moeder, man en vader). I thought it was funny.

  17. Samia, Have you listened to her? I have some.

    I’m not sure what garden variety therapy looks like these days, but when I first heard Dr. Laura, she was actually giving advice in a way that was very unusual for any therapist. And it was often enough reasonably good practical advice, such as try to get away from abusive situations, do not marry a drug addict thinking they’ll change, discuss issues about children before marrying someone, and so on. In contrast, I’ve known women to spends years in therapy being told that they want to be abused and have to figure out why.

    I expect she does still do some of that, and it may really help a lot of confused people. It’s everything to do with sex and family values where she becomes whacko, to put it technically.

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