Dr. Laura Schlessinger is a smart, articulate, persuasive woman. But sometimes she's just plain wrong. Leaving the mistakes in Dr. Laura's In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms unanswered could cause heartache for many working moms who read the book.
It's possible to support stay-at-home moms without condemning child care and saying working moms aren't full-time mothers, one of several mistakes Dr. Laura makes in the book.
Dr. Laura's Mistakes About Daycare
Dr. Laura's biggest mistake is her notion that daycare centers are universally damaging to children and nannies can't meet their charges' needs. In In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms, she writes that she's never heard a nanny or daycare teacher say she'd turn her own children over to child care. She also says her son cried nonstop during his first day of preschool, possibly the origin of her blanket condemnation of child care.
Since we're using anecdotal evidence, several teachers in my daughters' daycare center are happy to use the center for their own children. And my two close nanny friends plan to use child care for their own kids.
I'd never argue that daycare is better for a child than being with mom or dad, not any more than I'd say all moms should work for pay. Parents should make the best choice to fit their circumstances, goals and children's needs.
Some parents simply aren't temperamentally suited to provide hands-on care to an infant or toddler around the clock.
Or, they decide the long-term financial security of their families requires them to work while raising small children. And a high-quality daycare or preschool can make children more confident, more social, better educated and more prepared for kindergarten.
It's a gross overgeneralization to lump all daycare programs together as bad.
I've seen so many creative, successful child care arrangements, from daycare centers and home-based daycares to an aunt or grandfather being the nanny. Parents deserve to decide the best setup for themselves without being told it should always be mom at home with the kids.
Dr. Laura's Mistakes About Working Moms
I also have to take issue with Dr. Laura's presumption that modern working moms are selfish, that we simply don't feel like caring for our children or making the financial sacrifice to stay home. Working moms are usually the primary caregivers for their family, on top of holding down a paying job. We're much more likely than dads to negotiate flexible work hours to spend more time caring for children or to find a part-time job.
In fact, mothers today spend the same time or more with our kids compared to mothers a generation ago, despite the flood of women into the workplace in recent decades. Young mothers now spend 5 hours a day with children under 13, up from 4.5 hours each work day in 1977, according to research on parents' time use.
The truth is that we live in a society that penalizes women for taking time out of their careers to stay home with children. Moms shouldn't subject themselves to that if they don't want to, just to fulfill some misguided notion that only mommy can provide effective daytime child care.
Trust me, when children are sick in the middle of the night, they don't call out for their nanny or daycare teacher. They'll know who their mom is no matter who feeds them lunch or wipes their nose during the day.
Dr. Laura's Mistakes About Dads
Another huge mistake Dr. Laura makes is about the role of fathers. In Dr. Laura's world, stay-at-home dads are only appropriate once a child is 3 years old. I take her point that moms and dads are different. Children tend to be nurtured by mothers and challenged by fathers.
But that's all the more reason that both moms and dads should be deeply involved in their children's lives. Kids need the balance between mom kissing a scraped knee and dad encouraging them to get back on the bike. Frequently, when mom quits her job to stay at home, dad increases his work hours to provide fully for the family. That's often a negative for the father, mother or the children.
In my view, the ideal solution is for both moms and dads to work less, to achieve a balance between their jobs and their family responsibilities, so that children can benefit from two involved parents.
End Note: I Don't Hate the Book
All this aside, I must say that In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms seems a terrific resource for mothers who are struggling with their decision to stay home and need support. Dr. Laura offers concrete suggestions for strengthening your marriage, reminds stay-at-home moms that their role is valuable and gives tips on saving money in order to afford to stay home.
I don't believe in the mommy wars. As a mother, I've stayed home full time, worked full time, worked part time and worked from home. I don't believe any single solution works best for all mothers, fathers, children or families. The right choice will change depending on the stage of your career, your child's age and many other factors.
Gross generalizations like "all moms should work" or "all moms should stay home" do a disservice to the millions of thoughtful, loving parents who've taken a hard, often painful look at their situation and made the best decision they can for their families and themselves.