Parenting Doesn’t Really Matter

A recent article in the Wall Street Journal was written by Bryan Caplan, a father of twin boys. In the article, Mr. Caplan explains that while raising his children, he found himself struggling to understand why other parents were “making parenting into a chore.” He was watching parents “shuttling children” to activities of little interest and “forbidding television” for the sake of their children’s developmental outcome. While observing these uber-parents, Mr. Caplan believed they were making extreme personal sacrifices, and in doing so, they had lost sight of the real joys and fun of parenting. His confidence in not participating in the parenting lifestyle he was witnessing was his belief that this type of parenting - or any parenting style for that matter - is not changing the outcome of children. He believes that based upon his examination of twin studies that focus on factors that create adult success, the outcome of a child is the same regardless of parental involvement.

Mr. Caplan's conclusion is that parenting doesn’t really matter.

This brief article did not provide any links to the twin research his belief is based upon, so I am unable to actively share his same conclusions. However, I don’t believe Mr. Caplan is really trying to engage us in a nature-nurture argument. And, I doubt that his hands-off parenting conclusion was so desperately simplified to exclude the basic rights and needs of his children. But, if what he is implying is true, are many of the things we choose to do as parents futile? Are our kids going to be the same as an adult regardless of the opportunities we can afford them as children?

I find this concept intriguing because, as a pediatrician, I have the pleasure of closely witnessing the dynamics of hundreds of families. And despite each family’s uniqueness, the consequence of similar parenting decisions do emerge. For some, parenting causes so much stress that parents’ physical and mental health are suffering. Some families cruise so smoothly through the ups and downs of parenting, it appears sickeningly effortless. Most of us are somewhere in the middle, our daily choices are a constant debate of pros and cons. Can Mr. Caplan’s conclusion allow those of us who struggle with the unlimited choices of parenting to simply relax and enjoy the ride knowing that our kids are going to be OK regardless of what we do?

Although Mr. Caplan’s belief that “serenity parenting” accommodates for larger families, I don’t find this a very convincing argument for having more children. I think having additional children may simply be a personal revelation based on his parenting lifestyle. But, his refreshing attitude may certainly help all of us who struggle with the challenges of parenting the children we already have.

Maybe Mr. Caplan’s argument that “parenting doesn’t matter” is just a reminder that the ACTS of parenting are not as important as the EXPRESSION of parenting. Outside of meeting basic needs, maybe our role as parents is to provide a space for our kids to feel genuinely needed, appreciated, challenged, and valued. Could our kids thrive and reach their potential if we, as parents, simply provide unconditional love?

If so, maybe our debate and stress about piano lessons, soccer tournaments, and organic meats doesn’t matter because those parenting choices will never provide what the expression of parenting can offer. And can limiting those extraneous stresses, knowing that our child’s adulthood will not be altered, help us to relax and enjoy? Maybe.

What do you think? Does parenting matter?