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Larry King Live
Dr. Laura Discusses Her Views on Child RearingAired May 3, 2000 - 9:00 p.m. ET
THIS IS A RUSH TRANSCRIPT. THIS COPY MAY NOT BE IN ITS FINAL FORM AND MAY BE UPDATED.
LARRY KING, HOST: Tonight, when she talks, everybody listens. They don't always like what they hear, but they listen.
Dr. Laura Schlessinger, America's No. 1 radio talk show host, is with us for the full hour, and we'll take your calls, next on LARRY KING LIVE.
Our special guest tonight -- it's always good to see her. She's made frequent appearances on this program. It's good to have her back. Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Her new book is "Parenthood by Proxy: Don't Have Them If You Won't Raise Them."
There you see its cover. The publisher is Harper's. Her television show will debut September 11th. It's syndicated by Paramount and it's called "Schlessinger," huh?
DR. LAURA SCHLESSINGER, RADIO TALK SHOW HOST: Yes, they're fighting me on that, but I like that.
KING: That's what you are. You're Schlessinger.
SCHLESSINGER: Well, this is true. When I was very young, the most intelligent daytime show was "Donahue." I mean, it was new. He was talking about things of great moment with great passion...
KING: And it was him.
SCHLESSINGER: ... and very intelligently, and it was "Donahue." Then he got the cutesy first name thing, you know. So I like "Schlessinger." Of course, hardly anybody can say it but you, but all right.
KING: And it's not Arthur, right?
SCHLESSINGER: No, it's not. We're not related.
KING: It's not history?
KING: Before we talk about this extraordinary book, which will create a lot of stir, as you always do, let's just touch a couple of other bases. What did you make of the whole Elian thing? SCHLESSINGER: Oh, I've got to tell you, I was very impassioned about that, but not politically so much as it was the worst-case scenario of what I see and hear about all the time on my show and the letters coming in. Here's the scenario. This young couple gets together much too early, can't quite make it work, gets divorced. Comes back together for a brief time, has a child out-of-wedlock. The guy goes off and marries somebody else and makes a baby. The girl goes shacking up with some guy who decides, I want to leave town.
So she leaves town with said kid, taking said kid away from involved father.
KING: And endangering kid, too?
SCHLESSINGER: Well, boy, add the extra added distraction of that, and then you throw in an international incident, which makes it all the more intense because we don't have father and child together because now we're dealing with foreign countries and all those problems.
But it's in -- from where I was sitting, it's no different than the horror stories I hear about children being pulled apart from the two people who mean the most to them, their mummy and daddy.
KING: And do we know its longing effect?
SCHLESSINGER: Well, you know, it's so funny: not ha-ha kind of funny, painfully kind of funny, that if a child seems to survive something and get on with life, we think therefore it was not a bad thing they went through. But you know, surviving has its own impact. Every time you do something to your body there's some kind of scar you have to deal with.
I can't imagine what that little boy in particular is going through. He lost his mom, didn't have his dad. He's in the middle of all this turmoil and things he doesn't understand with cameras and yelling and things and the police coming in. I can't even imagine how fearful he's going to be to go to sleep.
KING: And you've also seen children used, as he's been used -- and he's been used.
SCHLESSINGER: Daily basis.
KING: I mean, no one will deny that.
SCHLESSINGER: Daily basis. One of my favorite -- again, not funny, ha-ha -- but favorite calls is, "We're divorced, and I don't have my kid's respect and I can't discipline because the mother or the father is doing such and such, and undermining." So they're resentful of each other. They hate each other, and they do it through the kids, and the kids get them back.
And the way kids get us back is very simple. They use drugs. They get pregnant. They have trouble at school. They get violent. Or they get so withdrawn that they can't even function in life, but they get us back.
KING: But we did that.
KING: All right. Before we get to the book -- and that's the main topic of the show -- we have to discuss this other area. Are you getting besieged at this Paramount thing over the gays and doing this television show?
I mean, the stories we read, they protest all the time and they don't want sponsors, what -- how much of the nation has cleared this show?
SCHLESSINGER: We're cleared in over 90 percent of the nation, and the stations are right onboard, anxious and looking forward to the show as a matter of fact. They kind of asked if we could do it sooner, but I want to have a summer.
KING: And they've stood by you then? They haven't...
SCHLESSINGER: Well, of course. I mean, I think for the most part people understand the notion of free speech, and religious persecution when they say it, when somebody has strong, profound religious beliefs, that that is a conviction which needs to be respected instead of misconstrued or misrepresented as hate speech. I mean, that's awful.
KING: Well, let's clear it up. Were you too tough in retrospect, do you think, in your criticism of the gay lifestyle? Were you too tough? So as to create this kind of anger?
SCHLESSINGER: The point of view that I have taken is that the primary responsibility of us as human beings is not to fulfill our own sense of rights or entitlement or needs or desires or any of that, but to focus in on what is in the best interests of children, and it's funny that it's become controversial -- again, not funny ha-ha -- that it's become controversial that children are best served by a mommy and a daddy in a traditional home.
That is basically all I have stood for. The rest of this is -- is some...
KING: You're not against gays having jobs or the right to visit each other in the hospital?
SCHLESSINGER: Against civil rights. Of course not.
KING: And what about being together if they choose to, as consenting adults?
SCHLESSINGER: What people do in the privacy of theirs is not any of my business. My concern is always with the welfare of children and our not being selfish about what we want and putting that in front of our children, no matter who we are, gay, straight. Doesn't matter.
KING: Do we know if it's a choice? Do we really know that if we choose our -- did you choose your sexuality?
SCHLESSINGER: I don't think I ever thought about it.
KING: Neither did I.
SCHLESSINGER: It came quite naturally to me...
KING: That's right.
SCHLESSINGER: ... to find a male person attractive.
KING: So it must -- I like the way you...
But do you think the same thing is with gays? They didn't choose it, did they?
SCHLESSINGER: You know, I'm not the expert in that. I can recommend some people to come here and clarify all these things.
KING: But if they -- if they -- if they didn't, they certainly can't be yelled at.
SCHLESSINGER: I'm not yelling.
KING: All right. And so do you feel -- you did call them deviants, right?
SCHLESSINGER: Never. I have never called anybody a name.
KING: That was a misquote?
SCHLESSINGER: You know, the problem that I have...
KING: Let's clear it up.
SCHLESSINGER: ... is that people who have a emotionally packed point of view and an agenda unfortunately often misrepresent, misconstrue, and frankly, downright fib about what somebody with a different position has to say, and I'm afraid I got caught in the crossfires of that.
KING: So your position is they're entitled to every right except marriage and raising children?
SCHLESSINGER: I have a very traditional religious point of view about these things.
KING: And it comes -- stems from your orthodox Judaism, right?
KING: We will take a break and we'll talk about "Parenthood by Proxy" with Dr. Laura Schlessinger, the star of the new television show "Schlessinger." SCHLESSINGER: Catchy.
KING: Don't go away.
KING: This book is going to be controversial, "Parenthood by Proxy: Don't Have Them If You Won't Raise Them."
Are you saying if you have to send your child to a day care center, don't have a child?
KING: That's what you're saying?
SCHLESSINGER: Yes, you know...
KING: So you can't be working parents and raise a good kid?
SCHLESSINGER: Oh, there are tons of working parents who focus in on raising their children and do what it takes to be there with them, but they're working parents. They just find ways to make it work.
One of my dearest friends was divorced. She was on her own. She was working full-time all the time, and she realized her kid was 3 years old and she hardly ever saw him.
He had good care-taking, but he didn't get to see his mummy. And she realized that can't be right.
KING: So what are you telling...
SCHLESSINGER: She quit the job and made a business at home. So the point is that we need to have the commitment to making children our first priority and working our necessities and personal desires for fulfillment around that.
KING: You say in the book, "The abdication of parental authority in the home is the No. 1 culprit behind the chaotic state of child rearing today."
SCHLESSINGER: Oh yes.
KING: Is this all factual?
SCHLESSINGER: Oh yes.
KING: I mean, do we know we have a chaotic state of child rearing today?
SCHLESSINGER: Yes. Well, one thing I do in the book is I document everything I say. One thing I don't have is a photographic memory. So this is one of those have to read the book.
KING: So you would call this a chaotic state of child raising today?
SCHLESSINGER: Oh yes. You know -- see, I have -- you were radio. You know that when you're on radio and you're international like I am -- and I don't have a niche demographic. All ages, all sizes, shapes and confirmations, socioeconomic, everything listens to my show and calls into my show, Canada and the United States. So I really feel like I have a finger on the pulse.
Twenty-five years ago, when I took a call from a kid, the kid would be saying, "My friend doesn't like me, I hate my elbows." Today they say: "My dad won't see me because he's shacking up with some girl and he won't spend time with me. My mother is" -- da-da-da -- "I'm visiting both homes. They've established new families, and I really don't fit in either place."
Chaos, our children are living through chaos. And it certainly doesn't make them feel positive about bonding, about making their own families, about child rearing in their own stead. We're really pushing this downhill.
KING: But you have an economy where two people often have to work. They go out to work. That's part of the nature. Divorce is fairly common. People meet. They like each other at 21. Things change at 30. You're telling these people don't have children?
SCHLESSINGER: This is such profound selfishness you're talking about. I don't feel happy so I'm going to make this change. I feel like...
KING: You mean you're against -- nobody should get divorced?
SCHLESSINGER: ... I'm entitled to something different.
If there are affairs, if there's abuse, if there's addictions. To me, the covenant has been crushed, and what can you do? You try to make the best out of a terrible situation. But I've got to tell you that is not what I see, and there's enough documentation that about 70 percent of divorces really didn't need to happen. We're a society...
KING: Why did they happen?
SCHLESSINGER: Because we're a society that's disposable with everything, including marriages. And you know -- I'm a Simon and Garfunkel fan, so this comes to my mind. A commitment is a bridge over troubled waters.
When you persist because you have obligations to that person and the children you have created, it is amazing how much deeper and richer relationships can become.
KING: But a lot of this is prospected. There was a book some years ago called "Children of Divorce," which pointed out that if every divorce is intelligently handled -- let's say the mother remarries a very nice man, the father remarries a very nice woman -- the child now has four influences in his life. And by the way, there are many successful children of divorce in this country, if the divorce is handled intelligently.
SCHLESSINGER: That is so self-serving I can hardly spit.
SCHLESSINGER: I've got a better book for you to read. "The Divorce Culture" by Barbara DaFoe Whitehead where you don't here agendized propaganda telling people that what we wish to do is OK.
See, I have really railed in this book against the psych types and the soc types who are saying it's the '90s -- actually it's the 2000s; I don't know what to call it; it's the zeros -- and it's a new era and we should adjust to the era, so that when we're doing something wrong we should make the bar lower so that nobody's feeling bad and tell them it's OK. It's not. Ask any kid.
KING: Are you telling people, if you're unhappy, stay unhappy?
SCHLESSINGER: No. I'm telling people if you're unhappy it's often a temporary condition. And it's often -- it's like people who say they're bored, they're usually very boring people. So whatever it is you're feeling does not give you the right to cancel out all your obligations to especially little children who are totally dependent.
KING: So let's say you stay together for the children.
KING: Now, the children are now 20. You're 50 and you hate them.
SCHLESSINGER: Again, two things. One, that isn't always the final case. I get tons of mail of people saying, because they're hearing me nag on the air that they've persisted in situations which once in their mind and heart and soul and body they recommitted to the relationship, they could bring it to another level.
Secondly, let's just say that's so. The people made the best of it and stayed together to raise their children. I call them heroes. If they had to sacrifice what you call their own happiness, I call them heroes.
I've gotten letters from people in their 20s who have such a profoundly moving sense of commitment because they watched their father stay with their mother who had terrible mental disorders or physical disorders, or the mother stayed with the father who had early Alzheimer's and didn't say, I'm entitled to be happy. They stayed and did what they were responsible to do. And these kids grow up with a lot of respect for character.
KING: If the relationship is unhappy, though, they can grow up with a lot of problems? SCHLESSINGER: You know, when you stay for the sake of the children, your obligation is not to stay and whine and make everybody miserable, but it is to truly recommit. Recommit doesn't mean to be there hissing.
It means to be there open.
KING: So therefore, if you have a difference, don't show it in front of the children? Fake it.
SCHLESSINGER: Why not?
KING: Why fake anything?
SCHLESSINGER: Well, sometimes I'm sure you must not feel so terrific being here, and you do what have to do because this is your responsibility. You don't come on and tell everybody you're in a crummy mood, do you?
KING: No, but if you live your whole life like this -- oh, the child's here, let's not even discuss...
SCHLESSINGER: No, no. We have a greater understanding. We don't say that the child's here. I'm expecting people to rise above their own petty moment.
There is no marriage -- I mean, you and Shawn love each other tremendously. Even in your marriage there are moments you've both been really ticked off and angry at each other and wondering why you even -- and all that kind of stuff. But the commitment and ultimately the sense of obligation to each other keeps you, so the sun comes out again, and you realize, I'm having a temporary setback or I'm indulging in a fantasy. I didn't realize all this responsibility. And I really want to feel more free and I want somebody to just collapse in a heap when I walk in the room with great joy.
There is a certain immaturity that looks at life that way.
KING: We'll talk about effect on kids of all of this. The book is "Parenthood by Proxy." It's just out. The guest is Dr. Laura Schlessinger. This is LARRY KING LIVE. Don't go away.
KING: Yesterday was the first White House conference on teens. Yesterday, the president signed an executive order banning discrimination against parents in federal workplaces, family leave legislation, funding for child care. Somebody's interested...
KING: ... in children.
SCHLESSINGER: But look at what the final solution is. I tuned into that for about 10 minutes, which is all I could stand before I started to scream at the TV and I realized that's probably not a healthy relationship I'm having with the TV, because what I heard is children need -- I think it was Danny DeVito's bride; I forget her name. Oh, help me. Anyway, I know who she is. She was on "Cheers."
KING: She's wonderful.
SCHLESSINGER: Rhea Perlman.
KING: Rhea Perlman.
SCHLESSINGER: Excuse me. I think she's fabulous.
KING: She's terrific.
SCHLESSINGER: She was saying at that point the children need somebody to talk to about their inner workings, they somebody to go through their homework with, they need somebody to be there when they come home. And she was going through all of these. And just as I tuned in I went, my gosh, a woman after my own heart, except for the final concept. So let's build a building where we can hire people to do what parents need to be there to do. That was so sad.
I do not -- I'm horrified, I'm frightened, I'm worried about a mentality that says the government is going to provide that kind of "nurturance" and moral training -- they can't; I mean, you can't even have the 10 Commandments up in a room -- moral training for a child that a parent ought to be doing. So the concept is right; the end thought is to me off.
KING: But since you want -- since the fact of life is two people are working, the fact of life is that this is occurring, if you say, let's not build a building, then you're saying, well, if they don't want to be good parents then just screw the kids?
SCHLESSINGER: No, I think what we do is the reverse of what we've been doing as a society by telling people -- and we have -- by telling people that other than parent care is just fine, and in some cases, as you read in the book that I wrote, in some cases even better than parenting. What a horrible thing to say.
I had letters from women saying, oh, my god, I'm hurting my kids by staying home.
So when we have a society that constantly undermines and drains, you have to have two incomes, you have to have these things, there are people who actually believe that, and largely it's a myth.
And you know, the people who would most likely deserve our compassion for this kind of predicament, the more modestly incomed, turn out to be, from my frame of reference, from the feedback I get from all the letters and the faxes and all of that, they seem to be the most committed passionately, emotionally in trying to find a way. I get so much mail. I got one today on the show, and I didn't read it on the air. I was going to bring it, but they only allow blue paper here. KING: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Jewish (UNINTELLIGIBLE) jab me like that, OK?
Yes, so it looks good. We're trying to make you look good.
SCHLESSINGER: Well, it doesn't even match. But anyway, that she said, yes, everybody's talking about how they need two incomes, but look at what they need it for. We're not talking about the people who would starve, they would not be able to provide for their families, they have been such to have misfortune or tragedy. This is where day care and welfare are supposed to help people get back on their feet when they're in terrible turmoil.
But we've turned other-than-parent care from a rescue situation into an entitlement where we need two salaries coming up to $100,000. I get those letters.
KING: But the system did that, didn't (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...
SCHLESSINGER: I get those letters.
KING: The system of success...
KING: ... and capital punishment -- I mean, capitalism and making it.
SCHLESSINGER: That's a different show.
KING: Making it. Me making it, you have to make it, keeping up with the Joneses. Someone set that up.
SCHLESSINGER: Personal choice, and I've been preaching, teaching and nagging. And I am pleased and proud and gratified and moved to say that I have gotten thousands of letters from people from modest incomes to ridiculously huge incomes who have decided to give up all the pomp and ceremony and success, struggle harder because they know that the first priority, first god-given responsibility is to be that parent.
KING: You're a working mother?
SCHLESSINGER: Oh, yes.
SCHLESSINGER: I have worked around my family.
SCHLESSINGER: Ask me how I wrote the book, please.
KING: How did you write the book? SCHLESSINGER: OK. Tuesday and Thursday mornings -- because Monday, Wednesday and Friday I work out -- Tuesday and Thursday mornings, after we get said bunchkin (ph) off to school -- and before I wake him up even I've worked for an hour on the computer. He goes off to school. I don't start my show until noon. I have all those hours to write. My kid doesn't even know I'm writing.
KING: How about before he went to school?
SCHLESSINGER: Before he went to school, the same sort of thing. We're a two-parent family.
KING: You weren't doing the show?
SCHLESSINGER: Midday, and he was in school.
KING: What about when he was four?
SCHLESSINGER: That's when he went to school.
KING: Oh, you always had him go to school.
SCHLESSINGER: At 4 o'clock.
KING: That's a nice...
SCHLESSINGER: No, at 4 o'clock. Kindergarten.
KING: That's another place to go.
KING: Send him to kindergarten.
SCHLESSINGER: Well, the kid was smart and ready for school.
KING: Isn't the truth, Laura, the fact is anyone can be a parent? You need sperm and an ovary and you're a parent.
KING: There's no training for it.
KING: There's no license for it.
SCHLESSINGER: Unfortunately. No. Unfortunately.
KING: And then how do you explain those where you had parents that drifted and the kid turned out terrific, and other places where the parents did all the things you said to do and he turns into a serial killer and everyone on the block is shocked?
SCHLESSINGER: When we take the fringe of the bell curve of exceptions and try to make them speak for the rule we're not being fair. We're taking extremes to try to get away from a truth that we know morally, intuitively we know what we need to do. I think human beings -- I mean, from the time we're born we have the ability to be selfish, we have the ability to be selfless. But I think small creatures are basically selfish, and we always have to strive against our selfishness every day in every way.
KING: Let me ask you in a minute about being a single parent. "Parenthood by Proxy" is the book. Her earlier book, by the way, called "But I Wanted" -- she's written -- how many books have you written?
SCHLESSINGER: Five adult books, two children books.
KING: "But I Wanted" was a children's book.
KING: And that is also still available in stores, not in paperback, in its original hardcover. We'll be back with Dr. Schlessinger, and we'll include some phone calls as well. Don't go away.
KING: Let's talk about single parenthood. There are all kinds of single parents: Divorce creates single parents. Widowhood, my mother was widowed when I was 9 1/2. My brother was six. She never remarried, and she said she didn't marry because she wanted to devote attention to us.
Maybe she should have. Maybe we should have had a male influence. You're saying she...
SCHLESSINGER: Did you...
KING: You think she did the right...
SCHLESSINGER: Did we have grandpa and uncles, and do we have anybody?
KING: We had some uncles and cousins, yes.
SCHLESSINGER: I've got to tell you, I sound like I'm promoting somebody else's book, which is OK, because I respect other people's work, Barbara DaFoe Whitehead in her book, "The Divorced Culture," points out that from her research children are better off in that circumstance with their single mother -- singled mother by death -- than in stepparent families. And the reason for that is, when they've lost a parent -- I mean, this makes total sense -- when they've lost a parent, that is such a grievous pain and a tragedy. And then when the remaining parent is distracted by a love life, by somebody else's children, by that new relationship, and all of that instability, because these second marriages, like after a divorce, have a higher divorce rate, that this is the beginning of a long line of instability.
KING: Are you saying then she was not entitled to her own happiness? She was only 43.
SCHLESSINGER: You have grossly underestimated your mother. Her happiness came from her commitment and sacrifice to you and your siblings.
KING: OK. And you believe that, therefore, she didn't think that she wasn't happy because she didn't have a man? She thought she was happy because she saw her two boys...
SCHLESSINGER: I'm sure every time she watched a romantic movie she would have liked Rhett Butler to haul her up those stairs. I mean, come on.
KING: OK. But what's wrong with that?
SCHLESSINGER: But she put that aside for her obligation to her children. I can't believe that that concept, which was once the cornerstone of America, is now controversial and sort of stupid. I just don't know how that happened. But it's in our lifetime.
KING: You say -- were there really good old day? Those good old days produced a lot of problems too.
SCHLESSINGER: Every days had its problems, but it was good in the respect that we thought of we much more than we thought of me, and now we is considered oppressive. And I'm obligated to you, that's some kind of oppression, I have to have my own fulfillment, my own entitlement, my own excitement, my own everything, me, me, me, me. And if you're not filling me, you're history, babe.
KING: We'll take a break and take some phone calls, and in a little while we're going to have Dr. Stanley Greenspan joining us...
SCHLESSINGER: My hero.
KING: ... a child psychiatrist. And you are not a psychiatrists, right?
SCHLESSINGER: No, I'm a marriage and family therapist.
KING: Therapist. We'll have his thoughts on her concepts. We'll take some calls for Dr. Laura.
The book is "Parenthood by Proxy." This is LARRY KING LIVE. We'll be right back.
KING: We're back with Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Let's include a few phone calls, and then we're going to meet a practicing child psychiatrist who Dr. Laura doesn't know, but writes about and quotes.
SCHLESSINGER: Well, don't know him personally; I know him professionally.
KING: You know him professionally. SCHLESSINGER: Yes.
KING: Venice Beach, Florida, hello -- or California, one or the other, hello.
Yes, I was wondering, do you think that couples should stay together for the sake of the children when there is mental or verbal abuse by a partner?
SCHLESSINGER: I tell you from where I sit, I'm not quite sure what people mean with mental or verbal abuse.
KING: Happens all the time or...
SCHLESSINGER: A pain in the tush? A pain in the tush we can work with. A pain in the tush we can go into therapy, we can go to our minister, we can work out whatever the resentments, the annoyances, the immaturity. These are things we need to confront and try to work through for the sake of the family. Where there is abuse, I've said this many times, where there is abuse, where there are addictions, where there are affairs, don't get me back into that one, we did that already, you know, to me, all bets are off, which is sad.
KING: On a basic -- all things being equal, the child is much better off with the parents, even if the parents don't have all...
SCHLESSINGER: The perfect situation?
SCHLESSINGER: Who does?
KING: Almost perfect situation, or the very good situation? Are you saying...
SCHLESSINGER: Our job is to be the best we can and to be committed to our families. If we can't be perfect at it, nobody is, and I don't require that of the universe.
KING: What you're saying to these people is, if that's what you want, don't have kids, that's what you're saying? Don't have them if you won't raise them?
SCHLESSINGER: Yes. If you're not going to make them your first priority, get a parakeet. You could put a towel over it.
KING: Santa Cruz -- why not be nice to parakeets?
SCHLESSINGER: Peter is going to come after me. You put a towel, and they go to sleep, that's OK.
KING: Santa Cruz, California, hello.
CALLER: Hi. Are there any circumstances that you think people should get divorced?
SCHLESSINGER: I think I just did that, what I call the three A's, and the automobile club is not going to coming after me for that one, right? If I could just summarize them again, addictions, affairs, and abuse, meaning violence.
KING: Those three are logical reasons. Now in those case, shouldn't the remaining spouse remarry if they can. Are you saying -- you're not saying stepparent-hood is bad, period.
SCHLESSINGER: No, I've never said that. I mean, there are wonderful stepparent families, but as I said, it is a risk, because it's a higher level of divorce and dissension because you're bringing together two entities where they're not related. The parents are in love, but the children for a situation of accepting each other and the other parent and finding a new place. It's very difficult -- some people do it very, very well. But the divorce rate is higher than in the first marriage. There's got to be a reason for that, and I think it's because it's very difficult to do this. But putting that aside, the main problem is, is that you have this ongoing unavailability or lesser availability of the parent who's involved in a couple years of another relationship, and that takes away from the children. We have to think about the children first.
I'm not against everybody being happy, and being in love and being married. I love all that. But if it is between your happiness and your kid's welfare, it's the kid's welfare.
KING: You berate a lot of your listeners.
SCHLESSINGER: No, I nag.
KING: Nag. Why do you think they keep calling and listening?
SCHLESSINGER: Because they know I'm sincere, they know I'm trying to help, they know I'm coming from deep-seated convictions, there's no schtick, I'm not doing something on the air to get ratings or to get attention, that I'm there one on one with each person, trying to preach, teach and nag about things that I believe are important to, ultimately, the happiness of everybody listening.
KING: Is there a danger in -- I don't mean this demeaning, but it's a term that is used -- "pop psychology?"
SCHLESSINGER: Yes, which is why I don't do pop psychology, or psychology of any kind or therapy of any kind.
KING: You don't give advice.
SCHLESSINGER: I preach, teach and nag. I give my opinions. When you hear people calling, they'll go am I obligated, am I morally responsible for? Is it ethical that I? Is it right that I? We're not talking about, gee, what should I do in the situation? As a matter of fact, you'll hear me all the time going, excuse me, this is not a how-to place, this is a to-do; the how-to you figure out, because that's uniquely from you.
KING: And you've also contended often that you can do something, this statements of I can't do that. You're saying that you can use will, correct?
SCHLESSINGER: What I believe and what motivated me to write this book is I think our society has sucked out and drained the will of the American public to consider children their first priority, to be there, to love, to discipline, to nurture, to guide, to bring up as moral, to have religion, that they have sucked out the will, and I'm just trying to put the will back in. I've always been impressed thousands of times from the letters I've gotten as to once people have the will how gosh darn creative they can be to make it happen.
KING: Why do you think this happened? Divorce and proxy? Why do you think it happened?
SCHLESSINGER: Because I think that since the '60s, when religion became less important, and that was part of authority, I mean God is dead, God is the ultimate authority figure, I think once we went through the Vietnam situation, we had so much riches and prosperity at the end of the War, I think people just got more indulgent with their children, who became more indulgent with themselves, who developed an arrogance.
And taking a fantastic idea, this country was founded on the most fantastic idea that the individual is important. You look throughout the world in all of history, that's not a popular notion, that the individual is important. We've taken that respect for the well-being and rights of the individual and put them into the extreme, such that the first thing I think about in making a decision is me, and it stays me. And when it comes to being a parent and being a spouse, that's deadly for relationships. I mean, we have -- there have been studies just out this week -- on one my pieces of paper -- where we have the highest level of depression in mental disorders. This is not work. This is an experiment that has failed. We're not happier, we're more miserable because we're isolated. If you're so focused in on being an individual, then you do not connect and make contact, because ultimately, connection means to be obligated to somebody else. We don't like that.
KING: We'll be right back with Dr. Laura Schlessinger, and joining us will be Dr. Stanley Greenspan, a practicing child psychiatrists and author of "Building Healthy Minds." He's a clinical professor at George Washington University, and she's a fan of his.
We'll be right back.
KING: We're in New York with Dr. Laura Schlessinger.
Joining us now in our studios in Washington is Dr. Stanley Greenspan, practicing child psychiatrist, clinical professor of psychiatry, behavioral science and pediatrics at George Washington University, and author of "Building Healthy Minds."
Do you agree with just about everything you've heard, Dr. Greenspan, tonight?
DR. STANLEY GREENSPAN, CHILD PSYCHIATRIST: I agree and I disagree. I agree with the notion that kids are getting lost. I disagree on the notion that we can go back to old solutions. We need two new solutions. One we have to embrace the changing circumstances -- new roles for everyone, greater quality. These are hard fought for and wonderful. But we need to put kids at the center of a new ethic, where parents come together in a new way, like mommies and daddies working together to care for the kids, so we need more attention to children, more attention to their nurturing needs, less prescription, because each family has to figure out their own way of doing it. But there are core essentials. We've outlined six of these, and we talk about him in "Building Healthy Minds," like nurturing care, certain kinds of interactions run through.
So we need to pay attention to kids and needs to and give the support to families to work out their own way, but embrace the changes that have occurred; let's not go back to old solutions.
KING: Laura, would you comment on that.
SCHLESSINGER: Quite frankly, I don't see where you disagree, because I've been saying all along that I'm trying to put back the will. People are creative in finding their own ways, but the will has been lost as people have been focused on what they would like to have, and these new ways, which to my mind, have been pretty much a disaster to the family.
But each family is going to work it out themselves. Some people have dad at home, and mom goes work, and then four years later, as one couple tells me, four years later, then they shifted again, having careers out of the homes, where they are both there, one of them is there. I mean, people have worked out creative ways or they simply budgeted down and decided that the old solutions had value, the tradition had value.
KING: You agree with that, doctor?
GREENSPAN: Well, here's where we I think disagree, even though we agree on some things, and I'm pleased we do. In, for example, if you have a single mom who chooses to have a child, if she can provide wonderful nurturing care for that child, if she's a wonderful loving person, if she's very interactive with the child, OK, that may be far better than a couple where neither one can be very nurturing or interactive with the child. So we can't say that one composition is going to work better than another composition. What we have to pay attention to is children's needs. They need nurturing love, they need interactions, they're sensitive to their changing developmental needs, to their individual difference, they need guidance and limits, but we should pay attention to the child's needs and how to provide for those needs, not specifying the composition of the family or the composition of this or that.
SCHLESSINGER: I could not disagree with that more.
KING: That is one of the critiques, Laura, is that you're that's it, that's it, man and wife, that's it, the only thing that can raise a kid good.
SCHLESSINGER: Well, when you bring up, as I said before, when you bring up an extreme to make a point, it's not fair, because there are always going to be the extremes.
KING: A single parent is not an extreme.
SCHLESSINGER: A single parent is an extreme, because it means -- and I'm not talking about somebody who experienced the tragedy of widowhood. We're not talking about that. We're not talking about somebody who experienced the tragedy of being abandoned. I mean, this person has had a loss and been victimized. Those are not the situations I'm talking about. I think it's downright criminal and immoral for any woman to decide, no matter how loving and how nurturing she is, that she is going to intentionally bring a child in the world with no father. It's wrong. And as loving as she can be, and I have never questioned that these folks don't have a lot to give, it is so selfish to say I need, and I can afford this, it's like having a pet. This is a human being.
KING: Are you saying, Dr. Greenspan, that Laura is not realistic in saying that?
GREENSPAN: Well, I think Laura is putting her emphasis on the wrong point. If we emphasize what kids need and educate parents -- kids are getting lost in the equation, it's because parents are getting confusing messages of what kids need. Parents are unaware these days of just how much consistent nurturing care they need, how much interaction they need. For example, they need hours and hours a day with their mommies and/or daddies or both together. But what's getting lost if we get caught up in these other issues, we're losing the core of focusing on what kids need. Let's focus on the essentials, nurturing care, ongoing interactions, guidance and limits, and the same...
KING: That's what your saying.
SCHLESSINGER: I don't understand where he thinks we disagree, except I'm kind of horrified at the notion that by a single woman by choice having a baby then going out to work is not there for all this time, and effort and nurturing that we're talking about. I totally agree that the needs of the children have to be the first and foremost thing, but to tell women because you can be loving and you're not darn there -- I mean, I couldn't call you a good television host if you weren't here.
KING: Are you no longer a fan of the doctors?
SCHLESSINGER: Oh, I still love him. He's great, very smart.
KING: Doctor, are you saying that's just not the way the world is?
SCHLESSINGER: We're making the world.
GREENSPAN: One, the world is very complicated, but you've got to separate what kids' needs are from the different ways in which these needs can be met. In other words, Dr. Schlessinger knows very well, there are many two-parent families that look very good on the surface, but don't provide nurturing care, don't provide guidance and limits, don't provide the needed interaction for their children.
SCHLESSINGER: Well, that's not an excuse for making sure there aren't two parents. That there are some people crummy at it doesn't mean that it ought not be the ideal.
GREENSPAN: No, look, I don't know any single parent who wouldn't like to have a loving helper who is constructive and can work with them in taking care of kids.
SCHLESSINGER: Are you talking about the single parent by choice?
GREENSPAN: I'm talking about a variety of single parents.
SCHLESSINGER: No, that's not fair. When people experience a tragedy, that's different.
GREENSPAN: what I object to is when you're trying to narrow it and stereotyping too much, because people are complicated, and we have to embrace diversity, and embrace people's complications and give them guidance on the essentials.
SCHLESSINGER: And that's what I'm trying to do, the essentials.
KING: One of the critiques of you is that you do seem to be black and white, not gray.
SCHLESSINGER: Dr. Greenspan, with all due respect, is mixing apples, oranges and turnips, because I'm not talking about -- when somebody has been married and their spouse dies, we have two families that have came together through marriage and commitment and the sacraments and the grandparents and they're all working together, and we have all that ongoing support. We have somebody abandoned because somebody walks out on them, we still usually have all of that around, and we deal with these losses in the most constructive positive ways.
The only point I'm making, such why I always indicate, what are we talking about when we're talking about a single parent? I'm talking about a woman who decided on her own to have a child without a father, to obligate that child to always have that loss in its life. To me, that is unconscionable.
KING: Do you think that's wrong, Dr. Greenspan, for a single parent to decide to be a single parent?
GREENSPAN: I think every circumstance is unique, and I know -- for example, let's take babies who require -- need to be adopted. I see babies in the worst foster care situations. If I could have a loving single parent adopt a baby from a foster care situation and give that baby love and care...
SCHLESSINGER: That's a rescue, and I agree. That's a rescue, and I agree.
GREENSPAN: That's wonderful. But every circumstance is unique and different. I don't think we can prescribe the way people live their lives. I think what we can prescribe, through education and awareness, what kids need, and hopefully people will make wise choices about how to best bring that about. But if we start prescribing too many specifics, you get caught up into the debates about the specifics, and the child gets lost again, the child gets lost in the debate over a single parent or two-parent working family, rather than the nurturing care that the child needs.
KING: Let me get a break. We'll be right back. This show could be a continuing thing. The doctor may be on "Schlessinger" for a week in September.
Don't go away.
KING: Dueling doctors.
Houston, Texas, hello.
CALLER: Hi, Dr. Laura.
I'm a teacher, and I'm just wondering, if one is a parent as rigid as you and the child still rebels, does that mean that you're a bad parent, or how would you deal with that?
SCHLESSINGER: Kids rebel -- that's part of their developmental psychology. I think the warmer, and more loving and more consistent all the relationships are in the family, it's probably a less horrible experience for everybody, but it's kind of a normal experience.
KING: Dr. Greenspan, do you agree?
GREENSPAN: Well, I think kids do rebel. But the way to soften the rebellion and make it a constructive experience, like Dr. Schlessinger suggested, is to provide a lot of nurturing care, particularly in the teenage years, What I call slipping in the chicken soup behind the door, so you drive child places. You've got to create access to yourself...
KING: Be there.
GREENSPAN: ... through slipping in that chicken soup, and then the rebellion is softened.
SCHLESSINGER: Be there. GREENSPAN: Yes. If you're there for them, they'll rebel, but they'll rebel in a constructive way, rather than by acting out in a way that hurts them.
KING: Arlington, Texas, hello.
CALLER: Hi, Dr. Laura. Well, you're so in belief of family values and the importance of a loving father, why do you believe Elian Gonzalez should not be with his father?
KING: I don't think she said that.
SCHLESSINGER: That's not what I said. I talked about how it was the typical, most horrible situation where people -- they were divorced, so they essentially had the child out of wedlock. He went off to get married and make a kid, she shacked up, she went after boyfriend somewhere, and took the child away from the noncustodial, and involved, nondangerous, bad parent. I talked about it in that sense, not a political sense.
KING: Do you think he should have his child?
SCHLESSINGER: I think he should have his child. I'm just sad as to where he's going to have his child.
KING: Dr. Greenspan, do you agree Elian should be with his father?
GREENSPAN: Yes, I think he should be with the father, but he should also be involved with the relatives in Miami who took care of him for a while. I think they should have worked it out. I think this is a good example adults -- United States Government, the Miami relatives and the daddy -- all acting like children and not taking Elian's needs into account. If they worked together, they could have worked this out without any conflict at all.
KING: But everyone said, Elian comes first.
SCHLESSINGER: In all fairness to the father in all of this, he doesn't have control of his own life, and rights to all his actions like the people in Miami did.
KING: We'll take a break and be back with our remaining moments with Dr. Laura Schlessinger and Dr. Stanley -- you're not divorcing him, are you?
SCHLESSINGER: No, I still love him.
KING: We'll be back. Don't go away.
KING: Earlier I mentioned Dr. Schlessinger's other recent book, but I wanted a children's book. We want to show you the cover of that, too. And that, of course, is still available, and new one is "Parenthood by Proxy" and Dr. Greenspan's book is "Building Healthy Minds."
Can we teach people, Dr. Greenspan, to be better parents?
KING: You can?
GREENSPAN: Absolutely. And we need to, we need to start parenting education surprisingly in the school years, when kids are in grade school and high school. You know, we teach biology, we teach literature, and we don't teach about human behavior and human developments, so kids are ready to be parents in their 20s, and they have no idea what it involves.
SCHLESSINGER: Gee, they would if their parents were home with them. because they would have had it modeled.
GREENSPAN: They could learn it from their mommies and daddies, but they also need to know in school about what it involves, what human psychology is about, what the human mind is about, because then they wouldn't be in the dark so much.
KING: Don't you think school should teach that, Laura? I didn't learn that anywhere. I never learned about human interrelationships and behavior. Do you think schools should not teach it?
SCHLESSINGER: You told me you had such an incredibly committed and loving mother. That is the best teacher. No exams for that. It's learning because you lived it.
KING: Yes, but you're not saying the schools should be removed from the responsibility.
SCHLESSINGER: Well, he and I vary a little there of what the schools should be about.
KING: You don't think school should be involved in teaching...
KING: You don't' think so?
SCHLESSINGER: No, I think they should be involved in social studies, history. You know, we have kids who can't do math. We have kids who can barely read and write.
KING: So in other words, if the parents fail and the school fails, you don't want the school to have any responsibility.
SCHLESSINGER: I'm -- it's not their responsibility to parent. Isn't that awful? And that's why I have the title of my book:"Parenthood by Proxy." We want to put it everywhere except where it darn well ought to be.
KING: But if it's not there, shouldn't the school do it? SCHLESSINGER: But you see, we used to have extended families and communities, where we reinforced, we had similar values about parenting and discipline, and we reinforced it. Now we have parents using kids as extension of their egos or as proof that maybe they're not parenting well. So when the kids do something bad in school, they don't hold the kid accountable, they sue and deny, and that is the main problem we have here. It's the home; it's not the school's problem.
KING: Dr. Greenspan, you think the schools should be involved?
GREENSPAN: Absolutely. We want every child to have wonderful parents and learn from experience. And that, by and large, is how you nurture a new baby. When I watch a mommy and daddy play with that new baby, I know what kind of parents they have. If they smile, and coo and make those funny little faces and get that baby to brighten up, and give a big, glorious grin, I know that they had those experiences themselves, because it's natural to them. They don't remember it, but they had it. So that's the essential, that's the foundation.
But we need to know about human behavior, about human motivation. It's silly to study history and literature to learn human beings and not learn about human beings directly.
So It's not the school taking over parenting functions, it's teaching students about life, about human beings, about human psychology.
SCHLESSINGER: Yes, let's take the classics and teach about nobility, honor, character, courage, commitment. These are the things you need to run a family. These are the values about which if you have, you focus in on what...
KING: You need to learn about behavior, too, don't you?
SCHLESSINGER: Oh come on, not everybody is going to take child psych and understand all these things as though -- and I've seen these people with the parenting books -- oh my God, in three months, my kid is not doing that. I mean, individual civilians are not going to be armed like a professional. Mostly we need the attitude, we need the values, and that has to come from the family.
KING: We only have 30 seconds. Doctor, are you optimistic or pessimistic about today's child, or is that too general?
GREENSPAN: Well, I -- no, I think it's a good question. I am both. I am pessimistic because we're going in the wrong direction right now. The child is getting lost. I'm optimistic that we can turn it around with a new ethic, where the child is at the center, but where we embrace the changes in society, but create a new ethic where we can do both, embrace the changes and still have the child's need at the center. We have to educate to do that.
KING: And, Laura?
SCHLESSINGER: I think one of the main problems is we've had the attitude of we can do both. Recently, one of the top generals in the Army just quit because she said she couldn't be a damn good major general and a damn good mother at the same time, so she quit being a general. That ought to be the new ethic.
KING: Thank you, Dr. Greenspan. We'll be using you again. Thanks, for recommending him, Dr. Laura.
GREENSPAN: Thank you very much.
SCHLESSINGER: My pleasure.
KING: Dr. Stanley Greenspan, author of "Building Healthy Minds" and Dr. Laura Schlessinger. Her new book is "Parenthood by Proxy: Don't Have Them If You Won't Raise Them." Thanks very much for joining us.
Stay tuned for CNN "NEWSSTAND."
In New York, I'm Larry King. Good night.
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