Caitlan Flanagan has an interesting profile of “Dr.” Laura Schlessinger disguised as a review of the latter’s newest book. Flanagan gets to the essence of Schlessinger’s appeal with this paragraph:

If you want to know whether the divorce culture has been a disaster for children, tune in to the Dr. Laura show one day. The mainstream media have a cheery name for families rent asunder and then patched together by divorce and remarriage: they are “blended families.” But the day-to-day reality of what such blending wreaks upon children is often harsh. The number of children who are being shuttled back and forth between households, and the heartrending problems that this engenders in their lives, is a sin. Every June, Dr. Laura fields multiple calls having to do with transporting reluctant children across vast distances so that court-ordered visitation agreements can be honored. Whereas an article in Parents magazine or the relentlessly upbeat family-life columns in Time might list some mild and generally useless tips for dealing with such a situation (have the child bring along a “transitional object,” plan regular phone calls home, and so forth), Laura throws out the whole premise. What in the world are the parents doing living so far away from each other? One of them needs to pick up stakes and move. “I can’t do that,” the caller always says. “Yes, you can,” Laura always replies, and when you think about it, she’s right.

Flanagan later goes on to note that Schlessinger is something of a nut, not to mention a raving hypocrite. But she nonetheless admires the straightforwardness of her advocacy of children. Dean Esmay does, too.

Personally, I find her repugnant. For one thing, she masquerades as “Dr. Laura,” which is rather misleading under the circumstances. Schlessinger has certificates in family counseling but she is not a medical doctor nor a psychologist–she has a doctorate in Physiology. That would be akin to me hosting a medical call-in show as “Dr. Joyner.” Legitimate professionals are quick to point out when they’re speaking as experts and where they are merely informed laymen.

Mainly, though, she is too harsh and simplistic. She’s the Judge Judy of advice shows. Hiding behind the cloak of legitimacy of unrelated credentials, Schlessinger dispenses off-the-cuff vitriol and reactionary bromides without much consideration of real-life consequences. She thinks men have a duty to, for example, give up their careers and follow their looney ex-wives wherever they happen to go if it allows them to be near their children. While that makes sense in LauraLand it also means that the guy won’t have a sufficient income to meet his court-ordered child support obligations. It’s silly and unproductive advice. Not to mention mostly harmful.

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Dean Esmay says:

    I agree with her that men do have exactly that duty, as it happens, and yes, it really is usually that simple.

    Unless you are in a state with draconian anti-father laws (like California), you can get an adjustment in court if you have to take a pay cut.

    We should also have laws which make joint custody the default arrangement, and which make it illegal for either parent to leave the state with the children without permission. Of course, anti-father groups fight such laws tooth and nail, but we are making progress on that front.

  2. James Joyner says:

    I wish marriage was harder to enter into, children only available to those responsible enough to care for them, and divorce much more difficult. But the first and third aren’t going to happen and the second is a function of biology and unregulable.

    People often marry someone only to find out later that they’re borderline psychotic. One can’t be bound to them for all eternity, having them–or their follow-on spouses–in control of their lives, including where they live, forever.

  3. Paul says:

    Nah- It’s all personable responsibility. Once you have a kid your primary responsibility is to that kid. If that means dealing with the whack job YOU CHOOSE to have a kid with then TSBFY.

    You should have thought about what you were doing before you hopped in the sack. It ain’t the kids fault.

  4. I think you are confusing legitimate counseling services with “entertainment”.

    Dr. Laura is an entertainer, and your comments about her not being a “real doctor”, etc. are irrelevant. The real questions are: is she entertaining? Do people want to listen to her, whether they agree with her or not? Does the company (or Dr. Laura) make money from advertisers?

    Even if she were a real doctor, not a hyprocrite, and you agreed with everything she said, would you recommend that people get advice from some shrink on the radio?

    Plus, you really don’t listen to her to hear her advice (which is predictable). You listen for the callers who give little vignettes of their life. It’s reality radio.

  5. jen says:

    What Dean and Paul said. She’s not telling men to give up their careers to be better fathers, she telling them that their presence in their children’s lives is more important than their careers. It’s a fine point. There are plenty of ways that a father can move to be near his children if he needs to, it’s a matter of priorities. Countless women do just that to be better mothers to their kids – why can’t we expect that from fathers as well?

  6. James Joyner says:


    I think it’s one thing to follow a spouse; it’s another to follow an ex-spouse who has custody of the kids. That’s an awful lot of power to give someone over your life.

  7. Mark Hasty says:

    My main beef with Dr. Laura is how poorly she listens to her callers–it’s almost like she wants to make their situations fit into the points she wants to make, rather than listening to their stories. If I tried that in my work, I’d be called out on it. And with good reason.

    My secondary gripe with her show is the number of people who listen just to hear other people be morally criticized. Sure, it’s just entertainment. But sometimes listening to her show is like I imagine watching a “snuff film” must be. She just trades in human misery, like so many others.

    I’ll give her credit for something, though: her books are actually pretty good.

  8. Lana says:

    She thinks men have a duty to, for example, give up their careers and follow their looney ex-wives wherever they happen to go if it allows them to be near their children.

    I’m not trying to be purposefully offensive, but the logical conclusion of this statement is this man’s children, whom he presumably loves and cares about, are far away from him unprotected from this looney woman. And whether he likes it or not, he’s the one who put them in that position by having children with a loony woman.

    I’m not going to defend Dr. Laura the person because I think who she is, is irrelevant. It is her advice in the defense of children that must be weighed and found worthy or wanting.

    After having watched the lost, hurting souls of divorced parents pass through our house, I have to say this current generation of young people are very wounded or angry or both. They all could have used a fierce protector.

    For all that she does come off like a complete witch, she’s still right most of the time about what it means to have a commitment to your children.