Talk-show host and best-selling author Dr. Laura Schlessinger tackles one of the most sensitive, hot-button issues: Should women stay at home? In her latest book, she argues that staying home to raise children is a challenging yet rewarding experience — and more importantly, the right choice for the whole family, even communities. Read an excerpt from “In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms”:
Until I was thirty-five, I never wanted to be a mother. At least, that’s what I thought, largely because of having been in university during the 1960s, when I was brainwashed (aka had my consciousness raised) into being a feminista for whom a career, with its promise of personal importance, power and success, was what a real woman was supposed to aspire to. I knew for sure that I was definitely not going to become like my perpetually angry, frustrated mother, who always behaved as though being a wife and mother were tantamount to self-immolation even though neither my dad nor circumstances ever kept her from doing whatever she wanted to do.
Nope, no "Little House on the Prairie" beginnings for me.
The problem was, no matter how many successes I had, there was that constant “something missing” feeling. It didn’t dawn on me that the empty feeling had to do with my uterus, breasts and arms; I was clearly missing being a mommy. I woke up to that fact while watching a PBS "NOVA" presentation on the miracle of life. Using fiber optics, they showed sperm swimming up through a woman’s cervix into the uterus, where they made their way into the fallopian tube to meet the egg newly ejected by the ovary. The moment of fertilization was recorded, as was the embryo’s trip down into the uterus to implant in the wall and continue development. The magical miracle of the whole subsequent nine months of gestation was condensed into sixty incredible minutes. The final scene was the baby born vaginally and placed naked, wet, and surprised onto the mother’s belly while Mom and Dad cooed and whooped.
By the amount of tears on my face and the ache in my chest, I had found clarity as to what was missing. After a marriage, many infertility treatments, monthly disappointments and one tubal pregnancy later, finally my quest ended in an emergency C-section wherein a nine pound son was delivered from his petite mom — and, our lives were never the same again.
The first three months were hell — sleep deprivation and a constantly crying baby made me wonder what I had been thinking! My husband kept reminding me that this phase isn’t permanent, but it was difficult to believe him. And then one day, exactly three months to the minute, our son slept through the night.
As my mother had chosen to abandon both her then adult daughters, I had no motherly advice or assistance. It doesn’t matter how book-learned you are about children and parenting; when you’re postpartum all intellect evaporates and you’re simply an emotional heap of worry, self-doubt, confusion, fear, and exhaustion. The other problem for me was recovering from the C-section. We did hire a “motherly” woman for two weeks to come in and show me how to handle things. She was a Godsend.
In the years before he started kindergarten, we did try two preschool-like establishments to see if there was some benefit for him. One of them lasted one day. When I came at 4:00 PM to find that he hadn’t stopped crying, that was the end of that. The headmistress gave me the usual argument that he needed to adjust, but I saw no reason to torture my child with my absence until he accepted his loss. The second time was when we were financially desperate, and I needed to do some part-time radio fill-in for some extra money to survive. At first he liked the experience, but after a few weeks, the routine became boring, and he yearned to be with me doing all the stuff we’d do in a day: playing, reading, errands, dancing, artwork, words and spelling, cycling, hiking, and so forth. So that was the end of that.
I am grateful for every moment I’ve had as a mommy. I have great memories of twirling my son around in a shopping cart in a local Target store’s parking lot (a lot cheaper than Magic Mountain), or of us walking through a forest, pretending that we were being tracked by monsters, selecting sticks for swords and spears, and working together to get to safety. Now he’s a paratrooper in the U.S. Army!
My husband and I came to the practical conclusion that I needed to go back to radio work to be our family’s primary financial support, while he would manage my career, the home, and our finances. Nonetheless, I refused to take any job which would require me to be out of the home every day while our son was home or awake! I would take care of him all day and then go to work on radio, leaving the home at 9:00 PM after putting him to bed. Eventually, when he started kindergarten, I landed a daytime shift while he was in school.
In order to do the writing and necessary research, I would get up at 5:00 AM and work a few hours before I woke him up to get ready for school. I always worked my career around my family, never the other way around.
The first book I published, Ten Stupid Things Women Do to Mess Up Their Lives, required me to travel up and down the West Coast for interviews. I got all my son’s teachers to give me his work for the week and took him with me. He did his work and had a blast traveling, meeting people, and keeping me company. He did cost my publisher a pretty penny, eating all the goodies in the minibar. Then I found out about satellite interviews; I could do twenty-five local and national television shows in one early-morning session, I discovered, so I didn’t have to leave home to promote my book.
I have been attacked incessantly for supposed hypocrisy concerning this issue of child care; I couldn’t possibly have done all the things required of my career without neglecting my son. Well, those critics are just plain wrong — and clearly defensive out of some well-earned guilt. It is so very doable if you are:
- committed to the priority of raising your children yourself;
- part of a marriage, which obviously provides two parents;
- willing to sacrifice some opportunities for the sake of family;
- willing to “do without” many things — but not family time and attention; and
- not willing to compromise your conviction, no matter how pressed you get by circumstances or naysayers.
None of these efforts, I should say, guarantees that your kids will never be a pain in the butt or get into stupid situations. I will say, however, that your children are less likely to be major pains in the butt or get into horrendous situations. The closer the family is and the more hands-on time spent with children, the more likely those children — as impulsive and impetuous as they normally are — will set some limits on their youthful experimentation and nonsense.
Of course, it is also possible for a child brought up mostly in day care, or by nannies and/or baby-sitters, to be successful, personally and professionally. I wouldn’t dream of suggesting that there are any real benefits to children from having at-home parents; it’s just a choice, like French or Vinaigrette dressing on your salad. Isn’t it? Well, sure that’s right, because 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?
There used to be a guilt factor about parenting your own kids versus paying someone else to. Guilt is not the motivator it used to be, as folks have shifted from “should” to “feel like/or not.” These days, the “feely” answer usually wins out. The freedom from responsibilities that don’t lend immediate gratification, compensation, or glorification may be a surprise freedom from having deep meaning in one’s life … but, you can’t have everything.
During 2007 a spate of überfeminist authors laid guilt on women who didn’tabandon their children to “other care,” lest they do the universe and their children actual harm (no, I’m not kidding nor exaggerating) by staying home with them. All the morning television talk shows glorified, in a largely one-sided manner, of course, that necessary course of action to avoid a woman wasting herself in the mire of her children’s needs and her husband’s desires.
That’s when the feminist movement’s mantra of choice got confusing: the decision to be a homemaker and full-time mother became a stupid, gross, dangerous error instead of a respected opportunity for self-expression and a deeper valuing of family life with regard to the well-being of a woman.
However, in all fairness, that’s why it is called “the women’s movement” — it is for, by, and about the well-being of women, not children or families. Wait, don’t women benefit from the joy of motherhood and the bonding of marriage? I guess feminism does not see those as significant enough to warrant making the sacrifices necessary for the commitment to child-rearing and wife-ing. I get so confused.
I recently received an email from a young girl doing a pro-con report for school on day care versus mother care. She wanted me to give her information, as arguments in favor of the mother-care side seemed difficult to find. What research could I give her which would not be vulnerable to dispute? I pondered that question for an entire morning.
The answer came in the form of an email which arrived just before I turned on my microphone to do my daily radio show:
“As I sit to write this letter, my hope is that if just one mother can hear what I have to say and holds her child just a little tighter today, I will have fulfilled my reason for writing.
“By the time I was 29 our family was complete. I had three beautiful children, a loving husband, and although never money to spare, we found ways to get by. I had stopped working full-time and started part-time shortly after my first child was born because I loved being with her. Although I had my mother and mother-in-law to baby-sit whenever I needed, by the time my middle son was born, I knew I could not work anymore. Something inside of me told me that I had to spend as much time with my children as I could. My husband worked extra hours, I made do with what we had, and we made things work for us. My husband would work at night or at home, but if there was a baseball game — he was there. I cut everyone’s hair, including my own, did my own nails, and never bought anything that was not on sale. We were happy.
“There were many days where I was pulling out my hair, found myself screaming at them, and was totally exhausted by the end of the day, thinking to myself ‘any other work would have been a pleasant relief.’ But there were also many moments I would never trade in for any job, no matter what the pay. Those moments when you child gives you a smile or a look you never forget, moments when they would give you a kiss, a hug, or just hold your hand for no reason. Those are the moments a mother treasures in her heart forever and can never be replaced, not even by a grandmother.
“I was selfish, I wanted my children to know me and I wanted to be that special person in their lives. Although I didn’t know it then, and on certain days may have told you otherwise, my life was perfect.
“Maybe life isn’t meant to be lived perfectly. Perhaps I took too many things for granted. But our life is no longer that perfect storybook tale. Two years ago my middle son was killed in an auto accident. He was 22 years-old. He was away at college when he decided to get in a car where the driver had been drinking, ten minutes later he was dead.
“Our lives will never be the same again; the world as we knew it has been destroyed. We miss our son terribly. My husband, surviving two children, and I will never be the same, but we are trying to old on to each other and pick up the pieces, one piece at a time.
“Dr. Laura, there is only one thing I can say. I am so grateful for those moments I had with my son. Those moments, the good as well as the crazy ones, I will forever hold close to my heart. All those precious years I spent with my son now are what help me get through the day.
“So please, Dr. Laura, never stop preaching to all the young moms who feel they can’t handle it, are struggling with making it through the day, for believe they ‘need’ to work instead of being with their child, just how much it might someday mean to them to have spent those precious ‘moments’ with their children. Hopefully other moms can just take my word for it: don’t let anyone or anything prevent you from holding them, hugging them, playing with them, memorizing their smile, their laughter, their heart.
“Our children are such special gifts that should never be taken for granted and life is so unpredictable, we never know if today we will breathe our last breath.” — Lisa
As obviously touching and compelling as Lisa’s letter is, I’m sure the überfeminists would recommend that the touching alternative would be to stockpile reports and videos taken by day-care workers, nannies, and baby-sitters, so that if the worst does happen, and a child is lost, you still have those memories … just through the eyes of other people.
This book is dedicated to the praise of at-home moms; from one mommy to so many others.
Affectionately, Dr. Laura C. Schlessinger
Excerpted from “In Praise of Stay-at-Home Moms” by Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Copyright (c) 2009, reprinted with permission from Harper Collins. For more information, click here.