In defense of Dr. Laura

Dr. Laura may be shrill, arrogant and wrong on many issues but she’s right about the duty parents owe their children, writes Caitlin Flanagan in The Atlantic.

In a nutshell, Dr. Laura believes that many of the aspects of adult life that I had always considered complicated and messy and finely nuanced are in fact simple and clear-cut; that life ought to be neatly fitted around duty and responsibility rather than around the pursuit of that elusive old dog, happiness. This is what makes her the most compelling advocate for children I have thus far encountered, because the well-being of children often depends upon the commitment and obligation of the adults who created them.

. . . There are many of us who understand that once you have children, certain doors ought to be closed to you forever. That to do right by a child means more than buying him the latest bicycle helmet and getting him on the best soccer team. It means investing oneself completely in the marriage that wrought him, for there isn’t a person in the world who won’t date his moments of greatest happiness to the time his family was the most intact, whole, unshakable. I wish there was someone a bit more hip and glamorous than Laura standing up for this simple truth, but in our time and place there isn’t.

Flanagan is reviewing Dr. Laura’s new book, The Proper Care and Feeding of Husbands. She calls it “a bit of a turkey,” combining the “surrendered wife” idea with “men are from Mars, women are from Venus.” Still, Flanagan seems to be joining the critique of parenting expressed here.

On the other hand, Laura of Apt 11D disses mommy-lit.

OK, Mitten Strings from God. Need I say more? This book is written by a women who seems to have no doubts about her commitment to stay home with the kids, little outside interests, an unnatural perkiness, and a frontal lobotomy.

It was a gift from Laura’s sister. That’s what you get for not reading the blog, Sis.

About Joanne


  1. The reviews at Amazon present the essential dilemma. Is the purpose of human relationships, particularly marriage, the fulfillment of ideological ideals, or the satisfaction of real human needs?

    The answer is obvious to anybody who really wants to be happy.

  2. I have no opinions on the Dr. Laura book since I haven’t read it, although I am generally sympathetic with her view that men and women are fundamentally different and ought to learn to be aware of each their own and each others’ quirks better.

    And yes, many women really do nag, by the way. 😉

    But I do have to agree with her when she says some things are just as clear cut as they seem: do this, do not do that.

    Obviously, divorces have to happen sometimes. That’s not the point though, is it?

  3. There’s a flip side to the notion that you must sacrifice all of your own pursuit of happiness for your children: you can end up trying to live your own life through theirs. My mother certainly did that, and it took pretty much the first two decades of my adult life to really convince her that I wasn’t going to follow the path she’d laid out for me. That ongoing tension contributed to my own decision not to have children.

  4. This is from the Mitten Stings of God article, and it’s a quote from same:

    “As mothers, we are the emotional centers of our homes. Our partners may make their own invaluable contributions, but women are still largely responsible for setting the tone and pace of family life. One of my greatest challenges each day is to sustain an atmosphere in our home that nourishes not only our bodies and intellects, but our inner lives as well.”

    This makes me tired, just reading it. I’m supposed to sustain an atmosphere every single day? Do men just not have any responsibility after they’ve drug home the saber-toothed tiger or whatever?

  5. Andy Freeman says:

    > This makes me tired, just reading it. I’m supposed to sustain an atmosphere every single day?

    Dr. Laura seems to believe that women with kids shouldn’t work outside the home.

    Most of said women are relying on someone to bring home the bacon every single day. I’ll bet that said someone gets tired too.

    Just because they’re “staying home” doesn’t mean that they aren’t working. Dr. Laura appears to just be describing the job.

  6. Andy, my sister-in-law is at home with her four children, all under 8 years old. I’ve been around her and her husband enough to know that they support each other emotionally. He doesn’t expect her to uphold the family spirit all by herself. It’s too much for one person, at home or not. And it infantilizes men to suggest that they can’t or shouldn’t be expected to do their part.

  7. ..and my family must be a monstrosity then, as i go out to work and my husband stays home with the baby. oh, the humanity!

  8. Turns out Flanagan agrees with me on this point:

    “To Laura, men are simple creatures, their psychological complexity hovering somewhere between that of Boo Radley and Mr. Green Jeans.”

    See, I want to have more respect for my husband than this.

    meep, I am in awe.

  9. Ms. Schlesinger’s problem is that she insists on ideals in a world where ideals aren’t always practical. She wants us to do the right thing, but knowing the right thing isn’t the same as being able to do it. She’ll hear none of that, which is her weakness and her strength.

    It’s no surprise that her show follows Rush Limbaugh’s show on my local radio. It’s easy to see each show as having a cult-like following. If either one offers Kool-Ade, there’s a lot of thirsty followers. Luckily, there’s only sugar inside.

    Confessions: I generally listen to NPR and The Jim Rome Show, so I’m clearly, utterly, and indomitably immune to any possible unsavory cult-like behavior.

    P.S. War Dianne Riehm!

  10. Richard Aubrey says:

    The Surrendered Wife book stemmed from a pathological need to control, which led to a nearly marriage-busting level of nagging, criticizing and infantilizing. That’s the explanation by the author.
    Those who think giving up constant nagging, criticizing and infantilizing their husbands is somehow demeaning tell us a good deal about themselves.
    IMO, the thing would have gone much better if the author had chosen something, anything, else for a title.

  11. Andy Freeman says:

    Compare and contrast:
    > He doesn’t expect her to uphold the family spirit all by herself.


    > but women are still largely responsible for setting the tone and pace of family life.

    For the slow – the relevant phrases are “all by herself” and “largely responsible”. Note the difference – one can be “largely responsible” even if one isn’t “all by herself”.

    > And it infantilizes men to suggest that they can’t or shouldn’t be expected to do their part.

    And Dr. Laura, at least as presented above, doesn’t do that. She merely describes what “their part” is. His part is being largely responsible for support – that’s what he spends much of his time doing. Her part is being largely responsible for a different kind of support – that’s what she spends much of her time doing.

    Note that the roles and largely responsible goes with the amount of time spent. If she’s bringing home saber-tooth tigers while he’s watching the kids, is it really unreasonable to suggest that she’s “largely responsible” for the tigers and he’s “largely responsible” for the kids?

    And yes, both are likely to be tired, as neither job is ever done. So what?

    There’s plenty to disagree with in Dr. Laura without misrepresenting what she writes/says. When your point depends on misrepresentation ….

  12. The Surrendered Wife book stemmed from a pathological need to control, which led to a nearly marriage-busting level of nagging, criticizing and infantilizing.

    Surrender? Sounds more to me like just plain growing up and learning to behave civilly toward others, including the spouse.

  13. Richard Aubrey says:

    Well, Karen, you’re right. With the caveat that behavior thought appropriate when directed at one’s husband is horridly offensive when directed at, say, one’s friends. What’s wrong with this picture.
    But, anyhow, it’s amazing how many women seem to think that The Surrendered Wife’s recommendation that wives stop nagging and criticizing is unacceptable.
    There have been several extremely hostile reviews–that I’ve seen–which also generated responses hostile to the book and the concept. Either the critics didn’t understand the book or they really do think nagging and criticizing is a good idea.
    The author tells of a marriage on the rocks. They visited a counselor. The author told the counselor all about it and sat back waiting for the counselor to tell hubby to get his act together.
    The counselor looked at the author and said something to the effect “You have a control problem.”
    And she did, as she came to discover.
    Due to an insecure childhood, she was obsessed with controlling every aspect of her life. In that and only in that lay security.
    Unfortunately, that meant that hubby couldn’t do anything right. In part, if he did something on his own initiative, without her permission or direction, her control was threatened. After getting hammered long enough, hubby became passive and incompetent. Stop doing anything long enough and you’ll get out of practice. Stop taking care of business long enough and you won’t be able to.
    And she stopped him.
    Why anybody thinks treating a husband like that is a good idea is beyond me, but the book gets som much bad press that there must be a substantial number of women who think it a right to hammer their husbands.
    If this isn’t true, whence the complaints?

  14. Well, I skipped over the not nagging and criticizing thing because I thought it was immediately evident to every thinking person that no one should nag or criticize.

    I guess the options are:

    (1) Nag and criticize and generally make your husband’s life hell.


    (2) Take responsibility for the family atmosphere – and folks, that doesn’t mean spraying air freshener around, that means monitoring and adjusting peoples’ various moods and attitudes. What else could it mean? How can you do that without nagging and criticizing?

    Can there not be a third option:

    (3) Grown folks act like grown folks and treat each other with courtesy and respect. Then there’s no nagging or criticizing, and everybody takes responsibility for how their own inner life contributes to the atmosphere of the family.

  15. “Courtesy and respect” – exactly, Laura. I suspect these books sell because I’ve observed a lot of people for whom these seem to be alien concepts, and someone needs to teach them that the rules of civil behavior apply to domestic life. One of the biggest shocks to me when I was young and moving out into the world was to see how inconsiderate and sometimes just downright nasty and thoughtless people were to their family members – spouses, parents, siblings, whomever. Decent, “nice” people, who seemed to know how to comport themselves properly in public – but god forbid they ever use so much as a “please” or “thank you” with a relative.

  16. Bill Leonard says:

    Does anyone know if Dr. Laura practices any of what she preaches?

    Does anyone know if Dr. Laura has any serious credentials? (My understanding is, her Ph.D. is in something other than licensed social work or psychology; she once was licensed for family counseling, but the license lapsed several years ago.)

    Has anyone ever stopped to think that, as a talk radio type, Dr. Laura’s agenda is driven by by the need to build audience, hence more advertising reach, hence more and better (and better heeled) advertisers, hence more money for Dr. Laura? And where does that really leave the sad cases who call her?

    Sorry for the cynicism, folks, but Dr. Laura is about show biz, not about helping anyone.

  17. Richard Aubrey says:

    Jeez, Bill.
    What’s got your back up? Don’t answer that. It’s clear.
    Dr. Laura did get a PhD in physiology and then switched to counseling in which she got an advanced degree and was in private practice for some years.
    Her license has lapsed. So? Is it because she didn’t complete the Continuing Ed requirements? Didn’t pay her license fee? What?
    She does not practice counseling, or therapy, or psychoanalysis on the radio. Therefore, the state of her licensing is irrelevant.
    She gives advice, and she has a strong moral sense. It’s the latter that makes people uncomfortable.
    Ordinarily, one would ignore people who have such a strong moral sense if one did not agree.
    Dr. Laura isn’t being ignored. She’s being attacked.
    I can only speculate that the reason is the advice she gives has two characteristics. One is that it looks like a good idea, necessary, morally correct if you don’t have a problem with, two, doing the right thing is uncomfortable, might cost money or pleasure. If doing the right thing were simple, nobody would worry. If Dr. Laura was promoting doing the wrong thing, few would care.
    It’s the combination of knowing, down where we really know things, that she’s right, and really, really not wanting to pay the price that causes the difference between ignoring her and attacking her.

  18. Andy Freeman says:

    > Take responsibility for the family atmosphere – and folks, that doesn’t mean spraying air freshener around, that means monitoring and adjusting peoples’ various moods and attitudes. What else could it mean?

    It can mean paying attention and trying to help people deal. It can mean helping people with their load (and letting them help you with yours). You know – sharing.

    > How can you do that without nagging and criticizing?

    The people I know who successfully do it don’t nag. Interestingly enough, none of naggers I know manage to pull it off.

    Of course, that could be a sample problem.

    Or, maybe the people who succeed may have an unfair advantage – they may be dealing with people who can accept criticism and share. Or is it that they can criticize without attacking or nagging?

  19. I took a vow in my youth that I would be as polite to family members as I felt obliged to be to outsiders. As a mother, I’ve tried to keep that promise. It’s not easy, but it’s been worth the effort.

  20. Steve LaBonne says:

    I just laugh (it’s either that or grind my teeth)when I read the “mitten strings from God” kind of stuff, because I’ve always been the primary parent in our household- I’m the one who taught my wife how to change diapers. 😉 (My experience came from much involuntary babysitting of my younger sisters when I was a kid.)

  21. The hostility and obtuseness of some of the comments here suggest why the generally commonsensical points taken from Laura elicit such passion. The advice can be wrong, or lacking in nuance. But only an underlying culture war could be behind the anger of those who disagree with her.

  22. Bill Leonard says:

    Richard, my back’s not up, but my BS detector is. That’s why I asked the admittedly cynical questions about Dr. Laura and her credentials. Credentials, by the way, ought to count for something if the individual in question is soliciting questions and dispensing advice, no matter how general, to a mass audience or to any audience.

    As to whether Dr. Laura is suggesting things that are morally correct, are good ideas, or are the “right thing” is irrelevant. Just like the TV evangelists who may or may not be spouting good advice and right ideas, Dr. Laura does her talk show for money. She writes books for money. And apparnetly, she makes quite a bit of money out of all of this.

    I don’t listen to Dr. Laura regularly, and I have no need to call her show, since I am quite capable of making my own moral and ethical decisions. If that and my natural skepticism of all such performers offends you, please feel not to read any post with my name on it.

  23. “It can mean paying attention and trying to help people deal. It can mean helping people with their load (and letting them help you with yours). You know – sharing.”

    Why can this not be a mutual thing? Why is the burden on the wife to do it?

  24. Because women are supposed to sacrifice their well-being for that of the family. The mother’s/wife’s happiness is the only happiness in the family that does not count. If you don’t find happiness in duty and responsibility, perhaps you shouldn’t be a parent. I don’t know. But it seems that these books expect my happiness to derive from the happiness of others, and I’m not sure that’s healthy. I don’t mean that my happiness comes first, but it is a family priority as much as anybody else’s is. Balancing priorities isn’t clear-cut and simple, I’m afraid, and I think those are two adjectives that these audiences crave.

  25. I do find happiness in duty and responsibility, among other things, but that’s probably because my husband does not dump the entire burden of sustaining the family atmosphere on my shoulders. I am allowed to have an off-day every now and then.

  26. Andy Freeman says:

    > Why can this not be a mutual thing? Why is the burden on the wife to do it?

    You’re absolutely right. He should not only be soley responsible for bringing home the tigers, but he should also be at least equally responsible for everything else.

    We must not let any women be largely responsible for anything that might be called women’s work, even women in a situation where that might be reasonable.

  27. Richard Aubrey says:

    Bill, what makes you think you have enough mana to offend anybody?
    Get a life. You’re not that important.
    As to credentials, Dr. Laura has significant creds in the business. That she has stopped practicing doesn’t mean she forgoes what she learned in school and practice.
    If you don’t pay attention to her, you sure seem bothered.
    There is a certain discomfort in doing the right thing. Doing the wrong thing is often easier, more enjoyable, less stressful. Ditto letting things slide. That’s why those who point it out are not always popular.

  28. Well, I’ll part company with you on the bringing home the tiger part, Andy. If a couple works it out that way, fine, but I think it’s better to share that load too. Guess that knocks me out of the Dr. Laura crowd, right there.

    But in the afore-mentioned example of my sister-in-law with 4 kids – two of them are toddlers and do not go to school yet. Her husband goes off to his job as a network administrator, and she spends the entire time he’s gone interposing herself between her toddlers and death, which is what being the parent of a toddler mostly means. I wouldn’t count on his being tireder than she is at 5:30. Or on her having all this emotional energy left over, to spend on keeping up everybody’s spirits.

  29. Bill Leonard says:

    Ah, Richard…

    Since you seem to have a need for personal attack, I’ll make this my last comment on this matter.

    It comes to this: you seem terribly offended that anyone would have an opinion that differs from yours. You also seem to feel that your opinions are the only ones that matter. You are the one who seems to have to vent a lot on this subject; two of three of my responses have been to your by-now personal attacks.

    Follow your own advice: get a life — and perhaps, listen to something besides talk radio. And now, you can vent once again, and, if it makes you feel better, know that you have had the last word.

  30. Andy Freeman says:

    > Well, I’ll part company with you on the bringing home the tiger part, Andy.

    Once again, Laura demonstrates that she doesn’t read, she just responds.

    I never wrote that one person should be soley responsible for taking bringing home tigers. I wrote that IF one partner is soley or largely responsible for something, it wasn’t unreasonable for the other to be solely or largely responsible for something else. Laura is offended that a woman might be largely responsible for anything that might be considered “women’s work”.

    There’s nothing remarkable about Laura’s lack of respect “men’s work” or the fact that she finds that disrespect compatible with demanding respect for “women’s work”.

  31. jeff wright says:

    “To Laura, men are simple creatures, their psychological complexity hovering somewhere between that of Boo Radley and Mr. Green Jeans. What they want is food, sex, and respect.”

    I have no problem with this.

    Seriously, I’ve only heard Dr. Laura once and I turned it off because I couldn’t stand it. However, if she’s preaching that duty and responsibility in marriage and child-rearing are vitally important, I have to wonder why that’s controversial. Especially when it comes to kids: You make ’em, you take care of ’em. If you’re not prepared to do so, don’t make ’em. I don’t care about your self-fulfillment, your late-life angst, your voyages of personal discovery or your overwhelming sexual drive. I’m tired of paying to take care of other peoples’ kids. Take care of your owned damned kids.

    And exactly what’s wrong with advising against nagging? Shit, everybody—bosses, teachers, parents, spouses, gender immaterial—nags. And it does no good whatsoever. I guarantee you that early Cro-Magnon women kept after men to clean up the cave. You’d think we would have learned after 50,000 years. If Laura’s against nagging, good for her.

    BTW, what’s this about bringing home tigers? That’s not what you do. What you do is kill the tiger and bring his tasty prey home. Tigers aren’t good eating.

  32. Actually, studies are starting to show that nagging students works to reduce the achievement gap!

  33. Andy has misread everything I have to say on this topic (probably wilfully since I ticked him off once). He shouldn’t try to psychoanalyze strangers based on his poor understanding of their blog comments.

  34. Andy Freeman says:

    > He shouldn’t try to psychoanalyze strangers

    Interestingly enough, he doesn’t/hasn’t, which may be why Laura doesn’t even bother to try to support that claim. So, once again Laura resorts to trying to put words into someone else’s mouth.

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  1. Dean's World says:

    Dr. Laura Thoughts

    For a long, long time–nearly two years–I’ve been thinking about writing an article about Dr. Laura Schlesinger. Every time I started, I had to stop,…