Make a baby. Make a bunch. They’ll make you happier than your single friends and they’re not as much work as you think.
That’s the message in Bryan Caplan’s new book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids: Why Being a Great Parent is Less Work and More Fun Than You Think. With Father’s Day approaching, we asked Caplan why fatherhood is not as daunting as it appears. The George Mason economics professor and father of three—including twins—told us that more parents should relax and accept a hard truth.
The data is in, and it says the positive and negative effects responsible parents have on their children are negligible.
Made Man: How is your book doing?
Bryan Caplan: I think it’s doing well. It’s gotten a lot of attention. Pretty much the only people who seem angry at me are the voluntarily childless.
MM: How has it been received by your peers?
BC: Among my peers it’s gotten very positive reception. Most of the people that I work with closely already knew a lot about this evidence and are just glad to see someone bringing it all together and showing that it’s not just abstract science that appears in some obscure journal. That it actually means something for parents.
MM: You wrote a book based on the idea that parenting can be less work and more fun than people think. What led you to this unobvious conclusion?
BC: The long-term effect parents have on their kids is very small, or zero in a lot of cases. And then realizing parents seem to be pushing themselves very hard, not having a lot of fun in a lot of cases, often pushing their kids in ways the kids don’t enjoy either. The long-term benefit would seem to be the only reason to do it. It’s not there. So when you put it altogether you realize parents have a lot of unnecessary unhappiness … They’re pushing themselves really hard, getting no return and then feeling frustrated.
MM: You’re not saying just let your kids do whatever you want, right? I’m sure that’s something you get hit with. Like, oh, so you just let your kids run around naked? Where do you draw the line between parenting and over-parenting?
BC: The simple rule of thumb that I like the best is if an adoption agency would consider you fit to adopt, you’re good enough. If you’re in that range you’re doing fine.
MM: Why doesn’t parental pressure and influence have a big effect on children’s hearts and minds?
BC: The analogy that works best is people think about kids being like clay and parents mold them for life. They’re really more like flexible plastic. It does respond to pressure but when you release the pressure it pops back to its original shape.
People naturally get more independent.
When I was seven I hated girls. (My parents) didn’t spend 10 years telling me to like girls. It’s just the natural process of maturing and people change and then a lot of what happens is parents take credit for something that is just growing up.
MM: When it comes to having more children, what’s in it for the dads?
BC: Almost all of (the stress) comes from child number one. I think it makes a lot of sense. One child does change your lifestyle a lot. You stop going out weekends. You move to a different area. You just do different things. But once you have an additional child, it doesn’t really change your lifestyle much after that. People are like, ‘Why would you want to have more kids?’ To me this is like asking, ‘Why do you want to have more friends?’
MM: You have written ‘pity the singles.’ I think most single guys think the other way around.
BC: In terms of the data, married people are much happier than singles. I think a lot of it is that when we think about singles we think about the peaks. So we think about a guy who has his hot, new girlfriend and how awesome that is. I think it’s true that single guys probably do have higher peaks. But we tend to forget all the days where they’re lonely and miserable and rejected. Like nobody wants to talk to them.
There is sort of a stereotype that even men share that men are only interested in sex and that’s the only thing they care about. That’s very unfair to them. Men get lonely. Men like to be appreciated and have someone who cares about them.
MM: Make your case. Why should the single men who read Made Man be unafraid to venture into the world of fatherhood in spite of what everything pop culture and the world has to say about being a dad and how tough it is and how it changes your life?
BC: If the idea of being somebody’s dad just has no appeal to you then I don’t have that much to say. If the idea of someone calling you dad and doing things with them just leaves you unmoved, then I say all right, some people are like that.
But if you’re someone who has some positive mental picture about that, you just enjoy the idea of being someone’s father and showing them along through the world and doing things with them, that’s great. And raising them and being there for them – if that appeals to you then I’m saying you can have that without giving up all the other things that you like in life.
Have you heard about this book, it’s called Manning Up and it’s about how today’s guys act like kids for their whole lives?
MM: Yes, I have.
BC: I think there’s a lot of truth to this. I think this actually makes being a father better than ever. In my dad’s generation they were so mature by the time a guy was, like, 30. The idea of playing a game or having fun or playing videogames or something would have been, ‘A man does not do such things. A man works hard and drinks a beer.’ Just our image of what an adult man is like has become so much more childlike that it’s just a lot more fun to be a dad.
Now that adult men have embraced being a kid-ult, they like not forgetting that a lot of things in life were fun and they’re worth doing. Now that men have embraced this, I don’t think it’s something to be ashamed of. It’s something that makes being a father a lot better. It means the stuff that you really do like in your heart – you can do it now.
Being a dad I can trick-or-treat again. I always liked trick-or-treating but when you’re a 30-year-old man? I can dress up as a ninja and go trick-or-treating with my son. Now people don’t think I’m crazy. Now people think I’m awesome.
Photo courtesy of the Caplan family
More Father’s Day stories from Made Man:
- My Son is Orange and That’s OK
- We Love You, Dad, and Here’s Why
- 2011 Made Man Father’s Day Poll Results
- 13 Things to Do Before Becoming a Father
- Father’s Day Gift Guide
- iPad Alternatives for Father’s Day