My kids

No, I don’t have kids. And barring any unforeseen incidents, I won’t be having kids for awhile. I’ve struggled intensely to explain this to some people, who don’t seem to understand. I love kids. It’ll be awesome to be a father. It would be sad to miss out on such a huge and incredibly rewarding part of the human experience.

Sometimes you read something and it perfectly captures why you see the world the way you do, even though you couldn’t articulate it. For me, the revelation about parenting was the book Freakonomics, written by two economists. Many of their conclusions fly in the face of conventional advice, but they are supported by extensive data. I wanted to cut and paste this review on of the book as it relates to parenting, but you should probably go read it for yourself. Here’s a little excerpt:

Steven Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, co-authors of the best-selling “Freakonomics,” pored through a massive government database called the Early Childhood Longitudinal Study. Starting in the late 1990s, it followed 20,000 American children, collecting information on many aspects of their lives. Levitt and Dubner used the ECLS to see what helps young children do well on tests.

“Not only does it measure their scores,” said Dubner. “It also conducts extensive interviews with the families of the kids, so we know a lot about each family and what they do in the family.”

Here are some factors that are strongly correlated with higher test scores:

  • The parents are highly educated.
  • The parents speak English in the home.
  • The parents are involved in the PTA at school.
  • The mother was 30 or older when she gave birth to her first child.

Here are some other factors that aren’t:

  • The child’s family is intact (no divorces, the parents were married when they conceived).
  • The child is regularly spanked.
  • The child frequently watches television.
  • The mother left work to be with her child between birth and kindergarten.

If you’re thoroughly flummoxed by now, Dubner said that the ECLS data only show correlations between different factors and children’s test scores; they do not necessarily establish cause and effect. But there still are useful hints here about what matters in parenting.

“If you are smart, hard-working, well educated, well-paid and married to someone equally fortunate, then your children are more likely to succeed,” write Levitt and Dubner. “(Nor does it hurt, in all likelihood, to be honest, thoughtful, loving, and curious about the world.) But it isn’t a matter of what you do as a parent; it’s who you are.”

That last line was what jumped out at me: “it isn’t a matter of what you do as a parent; it’s who you are.” The authors of the book assert that by the time most people pick up a parenting book, it’s far too late.

I don’t want to have kids any time soon because I’m not yet who I want to be. I’m not yet someone that I would want my kids to become. And ultimately, kids become their parents in many ways, as described in the book. They follow in their footsteps in a thousand ways. Kids whose parents are educated and value education are more likely to put similar value on education and succeed academically, which is a very good predictor of success in other areas of life.

Now, I know that financial and academic success are not everything. But if I can offer my kids a better shot in those arenas without sacrificing any other area of their lives and future development (and probably enhance those areas as well), as well as be able to enjoy “the wife of my youth” for a little while longer before taking on such a huge responsibility, why wouldn’t I? Where is the downside?

Disclaimer: Everyone’s situation is different. Use the advice above at your own risk, as your mileage may vary.