As soon as I saw the article was parenting advice, I should have skipped it. Really; I should know better by now.
The article on Townhall.com is “Mothers Can Give Themselves the Best Gift This Mother’s Day: A Permanent Break.” The author argued, basically, that all that mothering stuff isn’t affecting our children, so we might as well quit. They’ll all turn out more or less like us, anyways, so kick back and relax! By the time they’re adults, your parenting will have had basically no lasting effect on them; I read this book with all these statistics that said that! Lukas writes:
As a mother of three, I found this book challenging. I’ve invested a lot of time since becoming a mom trying to cultivate my children’s intellect, through plentiful reading, stimulating extracurricular activities, and by strictly limiting exposure to television. Has this all been a waste? How should a mother feel about evidence that suggests that all her sacrifice has almost no measurable effect on her kids’ life prospects?
In short, mothers should feel relieved. Yes, it’s a little disappointing to have shouldered needless stress for years, but in economic terms, those are sunk costs. The more important question is how you will behave today, tomorrow, and for the years that remain before your children grow up and leave you.
(Why do we have all these working moms writing books and articles trying to prove that they’re just as good as stay-at-home moms? Just because someone rigged a study to say that daycare kids are just as happy as kids who see their parents more than two hours a day, and putting some effort into parenting doesn’t really do any good so don’t sweat it… we believe it? Shall I point out, yet again, that the tobacco companies also had studies that claimed to prove that cigarette smoking is good for you?)
Again, against my better judgement, I checked out the link to the book: Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is More Fun and Less Work Than You Think by Bryan Caplan.
On reading the free e-copy of the first chapter, I’m not liking the book or the advice any better.
First off, Caplan starts with most everyone’s favorite Shakespeare quote: “To thine own self be true.” Used by every irresponsible, selfish, self-centered, or just plain immature slacker in the English-speaking world to justify bad behavior without thinking it through: “But I believe it’s okay, so I’m being true to myself, so I shouldn’t have to explain or apologize for anything!” Except that, as Prof. Joseph Pearce likes to point out, Shakespeare put the words in the mouth of an idiot who gets himself killed before the end of the play. The Gospels, similarly, are not promoting agnosticism when they report that Pilate scoffs, “What is truth?” oblivious to the fact that Truth was standing right in front of him. Instead of promoting the viewpoint being reported, both Shakespeare and the Gospel writer are pointing out that bad decisions often start with bad philosophy. (Sort of like this book.)
Yes, Caplan says he has statistics. The ones specifically mentioned in the first chapter cover adoption and twin research that purports to prove that adoptees are more like their birth families than their adoptive families throughout their lives, ending as adult copies of their birth parents, with little to no discernable affect of having been raised by their adoptive parents. The twin research found that identical twins are much more like each other than fraternal twins, even when the identical twins were separated at birth. (Outside of movies for the women’s tear-jerker channels and the doppelganger episode on X-Files, how often does that really happen? Is it a statistically significant sample? Do adult adoptees who see themselves as “being different” from their families seek out birth relatives at a higher rate (and less than 10% of adoptees seek out birth relatives), thus skewing the statistics?)
Both of these studies are used to say that the dominant factor in everything parents are trying to influence (attitude, intelligence, school performance, responsibility, etc.) is genetics. Never mind that we all know people who are unlike their siblings or parents in important ways, the statistics have spoken!
As an adoptive mom, I look at this and wonder how many children will never get a family because of this latest round of pop psychology. If children are genetically predisposed to turn out almost exactly like their parents, then we should sterilize all convicted criminals, all high school dropouts, and anyone who’s just generally hard to deal with, because we sure don’t want more copies of them running around, do we? (Those criteria would have eliminated the births of both of my parents.)
And if we accidentally let these people have children, we should abort them or leave them in state institutions for life, because we wouldn’t want a family to have to deal with the disappointment of a rapist’s son or a dropout’s daughter reverting to their genetic programming. (You know, adoptees kill parents because they’re all mentally unstable; I saw it on a made-for-TV movie!)
So, somewhere, someone read this article and marked “NO” next to the boxes that asked, “Would you accept the placement of a child who was conceived in rape? Or who was born to a teenage mother?” or just threw out the whole paperwork package, since adoptees are not generally coming from birth parents who are happy, successful, and well-educated.
If this all sounds familiar, yes, you’ve heard this before. I don’t think Caplan goes into it, as he mostly uses adoptees as a useful example and assumes his readers all gave birth to their own children, but this logic and claims to scientific and/or statistical proof have been used before to sterilize the “unfit” in the U.S., with or without their consent.
Adoptees, as I think I’ve said before, are hard to research. Generally, you have to take those who volunteer as your study group. A well-known and overquoted adoption “expert” chooses to assume that her experiences, and those of the adoptees in the therapy groups she runs, are the norm. (Everyone else is in denial, of course, and thus ignorable for statistical purposes.) Another book I read at the recommendation of our previous adoption agency studied transracial adoption… by placing an ad looking for transracially-adopted volunteers for the study in Ebony. Which is sort of like advertising for volunteers on a study of “How much time do American women spend crafting?” in Martha Stewart Living; you’re going to skew your results just a tiny bit from the general population, don’t you think?
Caplan’s main argument seems to be that modern parents are working themselves to utter exhaustion trying to make sure that Johnny and Susie have the best daycare ever so they can get into the right pre-school, have all the right extracurriculars, and never scrape their knees because a parent (or both) is always hovering over them to keep them from falling. And they’re all really selfish people at heart, trying to force their kids to be just like them. This, Caplan says, is overkill.
Well, duh. I could’ve told you that. (But I’m not charging $20 a book.)
Caplan says the solution is to realize that children don’t have to be that expensive and time-consuming. Double duh.
But the way you make them less expensive and time-consuming is not to just quit trying, it’s to look at how you’re parenting. Caplan advocates considering having more kids, since they pay off in terms of support, fun, and grandchildren later in life… which I will point out will force you to consider how you’re raising your children.
From what I’ve read and been told, two children seems to be about the limit for daycare making any kind of financial sense at all. Unless you’re making well above the national average, three kids will force you to consider being a stay-at-home mom instead of paying the daycare. Private school for three kids? I hope you’re independently wealthy or your parish school has a family plan. Scared out of your wits into hovering within arms reach of your offspring at all times? Can’t do it when the number of kids exceeds the number of available parents for hovering duties.
There is something to be said for parenting to take it down a notch. Kids don’t need to be reading by preschool. If my kids fall in the lake, I’ll fish them out, and they’ll learn to be more careful. Scraped knees? Let mommy show you where I had stitches in my chin because I was biking home at dark, yes, all by myself, and wasn’t paying attention to where I was going as I pedaled against the wind, uphill, and ran into a parked car. And I am quite good at kicking my kids outside to play or making time to read a book, even before Mr. Caplan instructed me on the necessity of doing so. In fact, I seem to have avoided most of the pitfalls Caplan mentioned in his first chapter.
And I don’t have to dehumanize children into little more than a walking clump of doomed DNA to do it.