What Attachment Parents Can Learn From Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids

May 23, 2011 at 9:10 pm Leave a comment

I finally got around to reading Bryan Caplan’s Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids. Caplan looks at twin and adoption research and claims no matter what you do, your kids will turn out fine, so enjoy the ride and think about having more.  I have a lot of friends who consider themselves Attachment Parents, so I read with a question in mind:  Do Attachment Parents have anything to learn from Bryan Caplan?

Twin/adoption research makes up the bulk of Caplan’s book.  Caplan addresses his book to regular old middle/upper class Americans, and says that all of the little decisions we think of as parenting–violin lessons or karate?  Ban TV and computer?  Extreme dental hygeine?–don’t make any difference in the long haul.  Adopted kids grow up to be much more like their birth parents in all the important measures–IQ, values, success.  Identical twins are more like each other than fraternal twins are (suggesting that genes matter more than parents) and even identical twins raised apart are more like each other than their adopted siblings.  According to Caplan, once you give up the notion that you control how kind or successful or confident your kids will be as adults, you can stop making parenting into a chore and enjoy it. Now that you’re enjoying parenting more, go ahead and have another kid.  Or two!

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Caplan is no Attachment Parent.  He brags about how easy it was to “Ferberize” his kids, and thinks all of the rest of us sleep-deprived shmucks should get off our high-horse and just cry-it-out already.  This is one place in his book where he takes credit for a  parenting decision when it actually might just be his kids’ temperaments. He assumes if it painlessly worked for him, it will work for everyone.  I’m glad Caplan’s twins slept through the night at three months–that sounds lovely!–but that in no way proves that every baby can do that.  My hunch is that many people struggling with a baby’s sleep have, in fact, tried cry-it-out without success.

But if you skip over the tiny section on sleep, you’ll find a lot to like in Caplan’s book.  Here’s what AP parents can learn from Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids:

1) Pick and choose which parenting ideas work for you (without guilt!)

If the research Caplan cites can find no differences in the effects of different flavors of conventional parenting, it suggests that individual rules of attachment parenting won’t have a long-term affect on your child either.  As long as you connect with your child, it doesn’t matter if you’re not doing AP exactly right.

Co-sleeping not working out for you?  Kick the baby out of bed!  Your back can’t handle another day with a baby in a sling? Throw him in a stroller!  You’re about to go crazy from dealing with a whiny toddler?  Put some TV on!  These compromises don’t mean that you’ve sold out–they mean that you’re doing what works for you.  And if it frees up the emotional and physical energy so that you can have that extra kid you’ve always wanted, then everyone wins.

2) Take care of yourself

Kids react to what Caplan calls “secondhand stress,” so martyring yourself for your kids could backfire.  If you can’t sleep because your three year old is in your bed, kicking you in the head all night, it could be having a negative effect on your daily parenting.  Dr. Sears, father of AP, would agree with Caplan on this–he says you need to strike a balance with your marriage and your parenting.

3) Nurture your relationship with your child

Caplan explains that the only thing parents really can affect is their relationship with their kids.  AP can provide the tools that you can use to help strengthen that bond.

4) Give everyone else a break

Sometimes AP devotees can be religious in their belief that their way of raising children is the only way.  Caplan’s work suggests that kids will turn out the same no matter what kind of parents they have (within reason–he’s not talking about extreme cases like the Amish or people who lock their kids in the closet.)  So give your conventional friends the benefit of the doubt–they’re not going to ruin their kids for life by putting them in a crib or a stroller.

If trying to be the master of Attachment Parenting is leaving you so stressed and tired that you don’t even want to think about having another baby, give Caplan’s book a chance.  Maybe Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids will help you lighten up and enjoy the parenting journey!

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