(Review of) Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids

12 Sep

“…Parents suffer from what psychologists call the illusion of control. Flying is about 100 times faster than driving, but many of us feel safer behind the wheel. When we drive, we’re in control. As long as our driving is good enough, we imagine that nothing bad can happen. When we’re flying, our safety is out of our hands. If the pilot does a bad job, we die.  This ‘reasoning’ is silly. Imagine you’re a passenger on a plane and the pilot hands you the controls. While you’d suddenly have a lot more control over your safety, you’d be in mortal danger. Control is vastly overrated.” – p.85 (one of my favorite quotations from the book, and I think ultimately describes the best and redeeming value of the entire book)

I read a short review of the book, “Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think” by Bryan Caplan, who is a father, blogger, and professor of economics at George Mason University. With such a provocative title and a review in Christianity Today, I had high expectations for this book. With my own desire to have four kids, and the quiet curiosity if we could have even more than that; paired with the fact that Matt and I both feel weird about birth control – we aren’t sure where we stand as far as how or if we think that’s something we believe in doing… My expectations were even higher.

So maybe that’s why I’m disappointed? The book is primarily summarizing twin and adoption studies, which provide scientific evidence that weighs heavily on the nature side – suggesting that the “nurture” is less important, perhaps even almost inconsequential. Expecting this reaction, he tries to make the case that people who don’t buy into this evidence are “not even listening.” I simply don’t believe that raising your child to eat healthfully (fresh & many fruits and vegetables, whole grains, no sodas…) will “wear off”, as he seems to suggest, later on in life when they’re an adult. Sure, they may indulge more or have a soda every day. But I still think a child is influenced by the world view and values of a parent. He goes into greater depth about how much chance a parent has in influencing their child (long-term, he doesn’t dispute short-term influence of parenting) in different areas of life (sexual orientation, religion, character, marital satisfaction, values, health, exercise, etc.) and does emphasize that a parent has a small ability to influence their “good memories” and appreciation of their parents.

Granted, I haven’t completely finished the book yet, but I’m close… and I wanted to share some excerpts my general thoughts on the book slash now, while it’s fresh on my mind :) I find this book interesting to consider, and certainly I would expect that his firm and extreme stance that parenting is an out-of-control, this-child-is-who-they-are-and-will-be-regardless-of-you sort of experience that ultimately calls primarily for loving and enjoying your child more than anything else is so extreme simply to make his point:

Parents of children in middle-class first world countries are stressing themselves out too much; they’re putting too much pressure on kids to become the idea of a person they want them to be, and thus are inevitably disappointed when they become something else after growing up; they are having fewer children with the hopes of maintaining their control and out of the desire to be guaranteed “good kids”; they don’t allow themselves what they need to be happy, instead always sacrificing for their kids and therefore being unhappy or not present as a result.

I certainly agree with his intentions for parents. Sometimes we need to say “whatever, I need this” and allow our child to do something we don’t think is valuable long term (watching tv, tearing up the toilet paper, drinking a sugary drink, or whatever it might be), on rare occasion, to give ourselves peace of mind. We don’t need to blame ourselves for any and every fault, challenge, or developmental delay our child may have. They will grow into themselves in time, and if we are happy, we’ll be better parents. I think it pairs well with the Simplicity Parenting book in that it is speaking to the fact that less is in fact more, despite our “more is more, and a LOT more is even better” mentality in the modern world. When considered in relation to this book, having more kids and doing less “parenting” will lead to happier, more fulfilled lives.

Another thing I like about this book is that he points out that having children is a long-term investment, and as parents do family-planning (if they do), that it is important to consider not just how you’ll feel for the first two years of your additional child’s life… but to consider your life (and lives!) in 20, 30, 40, even 50 years… Will you be happy with just one kid to visit, or would you rather have multiple kids calling you, spending time with you, and best of all – having grandkids? He isn’t talking about finances, but about emotional and relational rewards.

This is certainly a good book to consume as food for thought, but I think it doesn’t live up to the expectations set by the title. I don’t think these are entirely selfish reasons to have more kids. I think it’s more so an interesting discussion of twin/adoptee studies and looking at how we over inflate our importance and influence as parents when babies are born with their own unique personalities and inherent attributes. He later introduces the importance of free will in how the genetic traits of a child are played out in their lives, but I think he is too fatalistic and extreme in his presentation; and I’m disappointed that he takes such a primarily scientific stance throughout, rather than compelling the emotional psychological reasons for having more children along with the rational.

Here are some quotations from it that I felt were worthwhile, whether or not you decide not to read the book: 

“The chief cause of family resemblance is heredity, not upbringing – and while the short-run effects of upbringing are self-evident, they leave little lasting impression.” – p.84

“Half a century from now, your children will remember how you treated them. If you showed them kindness, they probably won’t forget. If you habitually lost your temper, they probably won’t forget that either. Out of all the wishes on the Parental Wish List, ‘good memories’ are one of the few that clearly depend upon how you raise your child. Don’t forget it.” – p.72

“Modern parenting has turned into a heavy burden. But it’s not kids that changed; it’s us! We frequently meet demands that our elders would have rejected out of hand (“I’m not your chauffeur”). We even invent demands on our children’s behalf (“M-o-m, I don’t want to take karate”). Why can’t parent’s learn to say no, or at least learn to take no for an answer?” – p.21

One Response to “(Review of) Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids”


  1. The Purpose of Parenthood « Team Schneider (1+1=3) - September 30, 2011

    […] upon was simple, and more of a similar essence than the same answer. Influenced by our having read Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids and Simplicity Parenting, I think we both feel increasingly that a child grows into who God has made […]

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