A new approach to parenting

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 26 June, 2011, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 26 June, 2011, 12:00am


There are probably many Hong Kong parents intrigued with the title of Bryan Caplan's book, Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids.

In a city of money-savvy people, soaring property prices, high school fees and high expectations, and where the cost of bringing up one child runs into millions, most would say it is common sense to have fewer, not more.

So how does Caplan, a United States economics professor, set about trying to persuade couples and parents to think again before they decide 'not to leap' or 'leap again'.

According to Caplan, a father of three, we should forget about parenting's cost, worries and stress, because the long-term pros far outweigh the short-term cons.

The real problem, he says, is a tendency to make the job more difficult than it is by worrying too much, trying to do too much and by being too controlling. The better way is to worry and nag less and enjoy yourself more.

Whether you see sense in Caplan's method of parenting depends very much on which side you take in the 'nurture versus nature' debate. Caplan examines studies on adopted children and twins, and comes down firmly on the side of nature being the main force that shapes our children. He argues: with nature at the steering wheel, why can't parents opt for an easier ride?

'Instead of thinking of children as lumps of clay for parents to mould, we should think of them as plastic that flexes in response to pressure - and then pops back to its original shape once the pressure is released,' he says.

There are parents and 'nurture-believers' who will disagree with Caplan's 'worry less, nag less, do less' approach, which is why he has already been labelled the 'anti-Tiger Mom', a reference to the Yale professor Amy Chua who shocked the world with the hard parenting styles prescribed in her book Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother.

But to his credit, Caplan doesn't preach but gently persuades. He accepts that different parenting styles work for different people, but urges potential parents not to be put off having children by making the job so difficult for themselves.

Instead of worrying about the short-term, he suggests we look beyond those early stressful years to the time when it will (hopefully) get easier and less expensive.

Caplan argues his case well. He writes in an easy-to-read, conversational and, at times, amusing tone. He comes across as a genuinely nice, normal dad. Faced with Caplan and the Tiger Mother at the school gates, I know who I'd choose to talk to.

Verdict: A reassuring read for parents feeling out of their depth in a class full of Tiger Mothers.

Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, by Bryan Caplan (Basic Books). HK$200 at paddyfield.com