“Why Do You Love Me?”

“Why Do You Love Me?” – Dr. Laura examines unconditional love

Holly G. Miller

Talk radio’s quick-witted Dr. Laura took seven years to publish an answer to her young son’s question. Now her response has launched a series of best-selling children’s books.

America’s top radio talk-show host, Dr. Laura Schlessinger, admits she’s rarely at a loss for words. But when her six-year-old son, Deryk, paused in the middle of their usual bedtime chatter to ask, “Why do you love me?” she was almost speechless. Where did such a question come from? she wondered. Their relationship had always been of the “kissy, huggy, schmoozy” variety, and their constant conversation was jammed with her assurances that she thought he was the sweetest, smartest, most adorable kid in the world. At a time when most people struggle with emotional “issues” of one kind or another, insecurity should not have been one of his. Hemming and hawing for a response, she let her training as a family and child therapist kick in, and she answered his question with one of her own.

“Why do you think I love you?” she prodded. Now it was Deryk’s turn to fumble for a reply. He finally came up with a list of his achievements. Maybe she loved him because he was a standout at karate? Because he picked up his toys? Because he poured the orange juice at the breakfast table without a spill?

“That’s when it gelled in my mind,” says Dr. Laura. “Kids this age don’t understand the concept of unconditional love. They think they have to earn it. They haven’t learned that parents don’t need a reason to love them. Parents love their kids `just because.'”

Seven years after that pivotal bedtime exchange, Deryk’s question and Dr. Laura’s revelation have emerged as a best-selling children’s book titled–what else?–Why Do You Love Me? (HarperCollins). With help from seasoned author Martha Lambert and illustrator Daniel McFeeley, the book makes the point that unconditional love endures even when a mother is disappointed with her son or when a child is angry with his parent. The dialogue between the fictitious “Sammy” and his mom leads to the conclusion that negative feelings come and go, but love perseveres no matter what.

The same colorful characters introduced in Why Do You Love Me? carry over into the sequel, But I Waaannt It!, which will be at bookstores in March. Other titles for the series are in the works, with each new book set to introduce at least one additional character in Sammy’s world. Dad makes his debut in book two. Little sister will take a bow sometime in the future.

“The cover of But I Waaannt It! shows a mom and dad looking frazzled as they drive by a toy store,” explains Dr. Laura. “Sammy is in the back seat screaming, `But I waaannt it!’ The dilemma is familiar–parents frequently have to deal with children who want to suck up the universe. The idea is that kids want everything, and they aren’t going to understand a lecture about how they have to live within a budget. This book will help people talk to their kids about values.”

If children’s books are new territory for Dr. Laura, discussion about morals, values, and relationships are not. Her 20 million radio fans depend on her for their daily blast of logic, most of which reinforces what they already know: sex before marriage is bad, religion is good, abortion is wrong, moms should stay home with their kids, and parents should make their children’s welfare their top priority. Some 50,000 callers a day jam the phone lines for a chance to pour out their problems and have Dr. Laura scold them for their lapses in good behavior and judgment. Four best-selling books for adults–with titles like Ten Stupid Things Women Do To Mess Up Their Lives–continue her outspoken campaign for an ethical, moral society. Her style of advice-giving is best summarized on a T-shirt that she offers for sale on her hugely popular Web site. It explains: “I nag; you listen…. Any questions?”

The difference between the message she delivers to grownups and the one aimed at kids is that the youthful version is packaged in gentle words, engaging pictures, and subtle conclusions. Her hope is that her children’s books will generate meaningful family discussion as parents read, then pause to listen to their kids’ rambling insights and questions. The key is for parents to take time to tune into what is on their kids’ minds. She has little patience with moms and dads who describe the time spent with their children as “limited,” but of a “quality” nature. In Dr. Laura Land, that explanation constitutes a copout.

“What people call `quality time’ is often just an extension of their selfishness,” she says bluntly. “They stick their kids in a moment and plan some activity with them. I mean, going bowling is nice, but that’s not `connecting.’ Parents need to listen to their kids chatter; they need to hear what’s on their minds.” She believes that a good book can serve as a catalyst for the chatter. “Once kids are turned onto an idea, they keep running with it. They don’t censor their talk as much as we adults do. We get embarrassed, we get uncomfortable, we get fearful, and we shut down–fast. But kids’ mouths keep moving.”

She follows her own advice. On her talk show, she introduces herself with the same line that is printed on the hats and shirts she sells on her Web site: “I’m my kid’s mom.” She arranges her workday so she is at home when Deryk, now a teenager, leaves for school and when he returns. As devout Jews, she, her husband, Lew Bishop, and their son don’t work on the Sabbath but engage in family activities. “After we come home from shul, we have our lunch, do our power walk, and then read, read, read.” She explains that her preference for books over television is linked to her age, which is 50-ish. “There is something so important in the tactile experience of holding a book, turning the pages, and connecting with the author,” she says.

Her own connection as an author with her readers will be strengthened twice next year, first with the release of But I Waaannt It! and then with the introduction of her fifth adult book. This one promises yet another round of tough, guilt-inspiring talk for parents who have been known to shrink the children’s hour into “quality” minutes. If the book’s subject matter doesn’t capture the public’s attention, its title surely will: The Ten Stupid Things That Parents Do to Mess Up Their Kids.

“I said on the air one day that I thought that would be a natural title, but I would welcome listeners’ opinions,” says Dr. Laura. “I was absolutely deluged with comments that said, `Oh, yeah, we like that title!’ So, parents seem willing to hear my message strongly stated, which is what they’ve gotten from me for the past five years. This book is definitely not going to be a powder-puff moment.”

COPYRIGHT 1999 Saturday Evening Post Society

COPYRIGHT 2000 Gale Group