January 27, 2004
Dr Laura on parental duty

A different slant on the obligations of adults towards their children to many of the usual slants you hear nowadays:

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. 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.

This being the Dr Laura in question, Dr Laura Schlessinger, who is apparently a big name in the USA. The book review article quoted from above is in the Atlantic online, and the writer of it, Caitlin Flanagan, reckons that Dr Laura is better at broadcasting than she is at book writing, but that her old fashioned ideas about duty towards children, and duty generally, are a breath of fresh air.

The trouble with denouncing divorce as a bad way to bring up children is that if you do it, or even (as here) side with someone else who is siding with someone else who is denouncing it, you risk offending friends, and for that matter relatives. Five persons in one or other of these categories spring to my mind immediately, and further thought would surely throw up as many more. But surely it's true. The best way to raise kids is for them to have a mother and a father, who live together or failing that very close to one another and who get along, or who at least do a reasonable job of pretending to.

That doesn't mean that the government should mandate this method and forbid all others. It merely means that this is what tends to be best and what parents should all do if they can, in the opinion of this pulpiteer. Yes, in thousands upon thousands of cases these single parent households are better for the children than those regular ones, and yes again, gay people can't do regular families very easily (although I'm sure that many gays fake family regularity with extraordinary completeness) and shouldn't be legally prevented from doing their own alternative versions of families. As I have said recently in another place, politically I'm libertarian, but my moral and behavioural preferences and aspirations are conservative.

Posted by Brian Micklethwait at 12:28 PM
Category: Parents and children