INTERVIEW

February 27 2006

INTERVIEW

February 27 2006

INTERVIEW

PHOTOGRAPHS BY DALE GOLD

'I have no patience for women who whine about how hard it is. They are choosing their career over their kid and trying to jUStify it/ DR. LAURA SCHLESSINGER TALKS TO LINDA FRUM

Having a bad childhood should not prevent a person from having a good life. So says Dr. Laura Schlessinger in her latest book, titled plainly enough: Bad Childhood—Good Life. The most popular radio shrink of all time, Dr. Laura didn’t have a very cheerful childhood herself. When her mother died in 2002, the two were estranged. Her mother was dead for four months before police discovered her body. Dr. Laura’s relationship with her father and only sister had been no better.

QWhen their pose childhoods, thing everyone to people has complain examine someabout, I supbut in your new book you are really talking about people who’ve had horrific childhoods: people who have lived with abuse, abandonment, alcoholism.

Well, having two parents whose careers come before anything else—so that the children are in the care of the nanny, babysitter or daycare—is to me abandonment. Society has changed so much and children have gone on such a low rung on everybody’s priority list, it is having its impact. So this is really not a book about sexual molestation and physical abuse so much as it is about how your childhood may teach you lessons you may have to unlearn about intimacy, love, safety, bonding and sacrifice.

So much of y our message over the years has been about not getting bogged down in self-pitying whining. But in this book you seem to have a gentler persona. There is more compassion.

Well, interestingly enough, those don’t have to be mutually exclusive. It is selfdestructive to whine and marinate and spend all of one’s time being miserable. I don’t think that’s tough love. I think that’s just a fact. So my job is to try to get people out of that place so that they can enjoy life, and use their unique talents in some positive ways. Most people impacted by their childhood in negative ways, I’m convinced, aren’t even aware of it. They find themselves not able to be happy. Not being able to trust. Not being able to enjoy their successes. Not being able to enjoy their spouses and their kids—and they have no clue why. And if you ask them anything about their childhoods, they’ll say, “Oh, I got over that.”

Are you suggesting that everyone needs a little therapy just in case they are in denial about their messed-up childhoods?

Well, I don’t recommend therapy. I think there are times when a good therapist can move things forward. But I find a lot of therapy is simply marinating.

For people who have been truly damaged by their parents, you suggest that forgiveness is overrated and is often not the right thing to do.

I think more often than not, forgiving somebody who has been destructive, and has no remorse, and has not changed, is just another being-a-victim position.

So being angry can be a more appropriate position?

No. Walk away. Staying angry is very bad. It gives you stomach aches.

That’s what you call “a healthy kiss-off”? Yes, exactly.

You also say closure is an illusion.

A That’s thing ple. damaged that Because another I a think lot of when phony peopeohas ple don’t achieve it, their therapist says: “Well, either you need to do more work or you are in denial.” You can keep somebody in therapy for the rest of their life that way.

You write in the book that you don’t buy the idea that someone can be so traumatized in childhood it can prevent them from becoming afunctional adult.

Well, some people may have brain damage, or whatever has happened to them causes them to become so overwhelmed that they become psychotic, but that’s not very typical. Most people can make some movement. The amount of movement is really dependent on the individual.

And not on the nature of the trauma? Definitely not the trauma. I was humbled by some of the cases in my book. Some people can go through things and come out the most decent, compassionate people on the face of the earth. And some people with less severe experiences have a harder time.

Indeed, you talk about your own childhood traumas in this book. You are very open about your life, which is something you haven’t been comfortable doing in the past.

Well, I’m a public figure and I’m well aware

of the shark mentality: you put a little blood in the water and the bad guys salivate. So I have been as private as possible and that has meant lies have been told about me and my family. But I’m 59 years old. And I’m at the point where I can say: say what you will—but here’s the truth. Some terrible person in Canada wrote a review of my book where she said that I don’t care about mothers because I left mine to die, rotting for four months on the floor. The actual facts are printed very clearly in the last six pages of my book. So she didn’t write a review. She wrote a personal attack.

Q Indeed, in remote the the book, pain as of mother, you you having explain and had a then you were doubly victimized, after her death, when people judged you harshly for your estrangement from her.

My mother abandoned me and she abandoned my sister. She walked away. I was paying her a salary for doing nothing. I was taking care of her. I was taking her on vacations. I was doing everything I could to take care of that difficult woman. I did not kiss her off.

Maybe, given how difficult she was, you should have given her a “healthy kiss-off”?

Well, as I point out in the book, there is a difference between evil and difficult. My parents were not evil. They were pathetic. And you don’t kiss off pathetic. You deal with it, which is what I did.

You write about how your father was a very critical, difficult, argumentative man.

Well, that was the nice part of him.

But to look at this in a different way—isn’t it the case that people who achieve great success in life are often the products of difficult, impossible-to-please parents? Precisely because the bar was held up so high for you, isn’t it possible that this dynamic caused you to become the high-achieving person you are today?

That’s pretty individual because there were two kids in my family and one of us strove, and the other went in the other direction. Everyone picks their own coping mechanisms. So we can’t really make that generalization.

What do you think would have happened to you if you’d had softer parents?

I would have had the same success but I would have been able to enjoy it better.

You are obviously a very different sort of parent yourself.

Oh yeah!

So how does that happen? How does someone have terrible parents and figure out how to be a good parent herself?

I don’t think anybody can not know how to be a good parent. When I hear people say that they don’t know how, I tell them that’s self-serving bull. Everybody knows how to hug, kiss and be sweet. The difference between the parents who do and the parents who don’t is how self-centred you are. I was grateful that I had a second shot at a parentchild relationship, albeit this time as the parent. I knew enough not to be a parent in my 20s. I would have been a self-centred, sucky parent, guaranteed. I was still into proving myself to my dad which meant it was “all about me.” I didn’t have my son until I was 38.1 just thank God I got caught up in the feminist nonsense in my 20s. It caused me not to be impressed with marriage and children because the feminist movement is about not enjoying being a woman. And when I finally came to my senses it came at a time when I could be sacrificing and loving and kissy and schmoozy. My son, if he were here right now, would tell you I was the kissiest, huggiest, watch-his-back, take-care-of-his-ffont mother. He had no complaints about me except that I’m too short.

He’s in the military now?

Yes. He’s training in a very special unit.

I remember reading about you when he was younger. You always explained that you structured your career around your mothering responsibilities.

My career was all worked around my son. I would not have accepted a radio show that was on in the afternoons because then, when he came home from school, his mommy wouldn’t have been there. When he was young, I would get up at 5 a.m. That’s when I would do my writing. Then I would get him up at 7 a.m., after two hours of solid work. Then I would drive him to school. Then I would come back home and write some more. Then I would go on the air. He would still be at school. By 3 o’clock I’d be home to pick him up. This kid didn’t know his mother worked.

But you know many of us do not find our child-work routines quite so tidy.

AWait don’t You find made make the a minute. anything decision a decision. You that tidy. I my kid came first. I have absolutely no compassion and no patience for women who whine about how difficult it is, because basically, they are choosing their career over their kid and they are trying to justify it. You make choices every day. If you make the wrong choice: own it. And your kid will pay the price.

So unless a mother is home with her child before and after school, she is not doing a good job?

Absolutely. That’s child neglect, unless daddy’s there. I was on the Phil Donahue Show 13 years ago when my first book came out. And I said to all the feminists in the audience, “Tell you what, you are going to die tomorrow. And then you’re going to come back the day after tomorrow. You can choose to come back to a mother, or a daycare centre, or a nanny, or a babysitter. Now, how many of you want the nanny, the daycare centre or the babysitter? Stand up.” Nobody got up. Later I said the same thing to an audience of 5,000 professional ladies. Nobody got up. And I said, “Okay ladies. Don’t do to your kids what you don’t want done to yourself.”

Of course every woman wants to be there for her children as much as possible but, as women, we also need meaningful work in our lives.

Oh give me a break! Oh please! That’s just self-centredness. Do your work at midnight.

You have 14 million radio listeners. You’ve written seven bestselling books. You are “Dr. Laura. ” Obviously you need meaningful work as well...

I never made my kid pay the price for it. I never said women shouldn’t work. I just said their kids shouldn’t pay the price. There’s a huge difference. But a lot of people don’t want to hear that difference.

You also made the choice to have just one kid.

Well, I started a little late. But if you make a choice to have more than one kid you have to be able to take care of them. With choice comes responsibility. Kids are not furniture.

'Some terrible person in Canada said I don't care about mothers because I left mine to die'

They are human beings, and their whole development, their whole future, depends on what they experience here. That women have been willing to buy the idea that they are not important to raising their kids, to me, is astonishing. The best thing I ever did in my life was to become a mother. M