April 16, 2011


Go Ahead, Have Another (JONATHAN V. LAST, 4/15/11, WSJ)

Bryan Caplan's "Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids" is the antidote to Amy Chua's best seller, "Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother." Whereas Ms. Chua insists that parents should have few children and then drive them relentlessly toward perfection, Mr. Caplan argues that people should have more children; that they are cheaper than we think; that parenting is less important than we imagine; and that kids can basically raise themselves. [...]

If parenting does not help a child make money as an adult or increase her chances of a lasting marriage, there are still a few areas where parents can make a difference. Parents have a good chance of passing on their religious and political views to their children, for instance. Studies also show that parents can, by small degrees, cause their daughters to postpone having sex. (Huzzah!) And they can lower the chances that, as teenagers, their kids will wind up in jail. But the biggest effect of nurture, it turns out, is on how children perceive their parents.

So you can greatly increase the chances of your children voting the way you do, going to your church and thinking fondly of you. But that's about it. "Instead of thinking of children as lumps of clay for parents to mold, we should think of them as plastic that flexes in response to pressure—and pops back to its original shape once the pressure is released."

That is Mr. Caplan's first bit of good news. The second is that if you are a reasonably well-adjusted and happy person, your kids probably will be, too. All of which means that parents don't need to invest nearly as much time and energy in parenting as they think they need to. "You can have a better life and a bigger family," he says, "if you admit that your kids' future is not in your hands."

With the economics out of the way, Mr. Caplan tries coaxing parents into taking their hands off the wheel. "The first step to happier parenting," he observes, "is to abandon 'recreation' enjoyed by neither parent nor child." Your daughter hates ballet class and you hate schlepping her there? Drop it. Planning to travel hundreds of miles for a family vacation that will make everyone miserable? Try a "staycation" instead. Get take-out food, he urges, and hire a housekeeper. But above all get a nanny—even if she doesn't speak fluent English or have a driver's license. Your life will be easier, and your kids won't be any worse off—they may even turn out better, since you'll be setting a better example by being less anxious.

Despite its wickedly subversive premise, Mr. Caplan's book is cheery and intellectually honest. (The exception being a tendentious chapter on fertility technology, in which Mr. Caplan gives a thumbs-up to everything, including human cloning.) And the bedrock of his argument is solid: Modern parenting is insane. Children do not need most of what we buy them. So, yes, the "price" of children is artificially high.

Enhanced by Zemanta

Posted by at April 16, 2011 7:17 AM

blog comments powered by Disqus