Bryan Caplan  

My Worst Parenting Mistake on Freakonomics

Response to Thomas Boyle... Republicans and Technocrats...
Freakonomics features a quorum of economist-parents on the "worst parenting mistake they ever made."  My previously blogged position on parenthood and regret seemed to tie my hands, but I tried to wriggle out with careful choice of words:
My closest thing to a major regret or mistake: I wish I had more kids. Lots more. I wouldn't trade my three sons for the world. But in retrospect, nothing has been more rewarding than simply enlarging my family. When my wife and I found out we were having twins, I was terrified. But during our second pregnancy, I hoped for a second pair - or triplets.

Sometimes people ask me, "What's the point of having another kid?." I always retort, "What's the point of having another friend?" Laugh if you must, but (almost) every person is a beautiful and unique snowflake. To share the gift of life with another piece of yourself, to witness a reboot of the human drama, to see The Simpsons through fresh eyes - all are literally awesome. The cost of another child seems trivial by comparison...
Most of the other economists claim to have a vast list of mistakes.  But the worse mistakes they claim to have made strike me as totally defensible by the Stiglerian standard of "If you never make a mistake raising your kids, you're depriving them of a lot of childhood fun."  Except for Steve Levitt's:
[One day I decided to take the two girls for a walk in the [low-friction jogging] stroller. I wheeled them out the front door and turned back to lock the door behind me. It was at that moment that this frictionless miracle of a stroller decided to demonstrate its powers. I turned back in time to see the stroller rolling down the slightest of inclines outside our front door. Before I could catch it, it smashed down the five steps leading to the sidewalk...

Being the lazy parent that I am, of course, I had not bothered to do any of the restraining straps on the kids. Somehow the stroller remained upright. Somehow neither of the kids were thrown out. It was still gaining speed when I caught it just before the next set of steps.

I'm an absent-minded professor too.  But once you attain this self-knowledge, you need to condition yourself to design and rigidly follow safety protocols before you start to daydream.

Comments and Sharing

COMMENTS (6 to date)
Phil writes:

None of my business, really, but ... why have you stopped having kids, then?

blink writes:

Perhaps if you had answered "What is your most embarrassing moment as a parent (that you are willing to reveal)?" you could have stayed within the spirit of the question without contradicting your views. Would you try that one?

And with Levitt... he reports that his kids loved it and wanted to do it again! I'm surprised you picked that as a *real* mistake.

robert writes:

I just listened to the podcast on parenting and really enjoyed your perspective and align with your philosophy. I too am a econ major but work in accounting to facilitate having a child. The fact that you enjoy spending time and doing the things your kid likes is the best thing to hear. I am 35 and just had my first at 33 and I also enjoy the things he seems to like while other parents question our parenting and why we are not being the type obsessive compulsive family. My only response is that I want enjoy kids not enslave them into what I am told is the proper child raising technique. My wife and I are both educated and post BS educated and both our parents are still together so maybe there is something to that.
I would like to know if there is any more literature that echoes your sentiments regarding child raising because I would be interested in reading it.

Judith writes:

Don't you think an answer like yours helps perpetuate the perfect parenting obsession you speak out against? It reminds me of the "I try too hard" answer to the greatest weakness question in a job interview. And then to tsk tsk Steve Levitt for admitting to a genuine mistake?

Minus the Stigler reference this post would look at home on one of those uber mom message boards.

Tracy W writes:

I'm expecting my first child in November and the question I'm contemplating is how to persuade my husband of the value of the low-stress approach.
As for the why only 3 kids question, during my first trimester there was a fair bit of swearing "only child".

HispanicPundit writes:


You must not be a long time reader of Caplan's posts. The answer seems easy to me: he can't convince his wife to have more. It takes two to tango.

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