Freakonomics and the uselessness of parenting

I just finished the book "Freakonomics", and it's a good book. It's very interesting, and says some really fascinating things. Among the more controversial stands in the book are the ideas that abortion has caused the crime rate to drop, and that what parents actually DO matters less than who they ARE when the baby is born. If you want to know more about the abortion thing, read the book. I'm not going to get into it here (yeah, like I really want a flame war on a Mommy blog about abortion. That's T&S's department!). But I would like to discuss this idea that what you do as a parent matters less than who you are before your baby was born. Now, this assumptions are all based on test scores, of course, which we all know don't amount to everything George Bush had hoped they would. But still, standardized tests do give us some irrefutable numbers and patterns which then can be matched to coorelating factors. And they have found that kids who perform well have some unifying aspects of their background, which include race, socioeconomic status, family background (2 parent family vs. single parent), etc. That's not all that surprising, right--rich kids tend to succeed in school more often than poor ones. But the numbers do say that there is no correlation between success and having a stay at home mom until the child went to kindergarten. What IS shown is that kids with mothers who had them at age 30 or older, who have mothers with a known high IQ, or who have a mother with an education, are the ones who are succeeding, at least at the standardized tests. Frankly, reading that DID surprise me, and I'm wondering what to do with this information. Take it for what it's worth, get a full time job and pack my kid up to day care because what I'm doing all day doesn't really matter? I'm highly educated, I have a fairly high IQ, I'm 30, and I'm white, so apparantly, my kid has it made. He has all the tools since birth to succeed, and I don't need to give him any more. Somehow I can't really believe this. I've read too many other things that say the exact opposite, that a mother has the most profound impact on her offspring, and staying at home is the best thing a mother can do. But I guess we've all known some SAHM whose children probably would be better off in day care. Anyhow, I am a little bit disturbed about the findings of these guys, and I don't think they are doing it to be politically correct. I mean, c'mon, saying that the kind of people who are having abortions are the kind of people who would raise criminals is seriously politically INcorrect, so I'm not sure what kind of political agenda this book has. But since this is already the longest post ever, I'm going to end it soon and throw out my confusion and dismay to the bloggernacle at large to find out what everybdoy else thinks. How important is a mother, I mean besides providing good genetic make-up? Am I overestimating my effect on my son? Would he succeed or fail, regardless of what I do, just because of who I am and what kind of genes I passed on to him? To be honest, sometimes it might be nice to think nothing that I do matters--it would erase a whole multitude of Mommy sins I commit every day!


Blogger The Wiz said...

Did the book talk about adopted children? What if a highly educated person adpots somebody whose birth mother has a ninth grade education? Are those children high in the test scores?

Also, I have a HUGE problem with the thought that good test scores equals success in life. Most millionaires weren't the top in their class, most of them do have bachelors, but no graduate work, and most of them went to public school, and they are successful. But then that's equating success with money. I guess it's all about what "success" means.

I think success is all about happiness, spirituality, and productivity in life, and parents have a huge impact there. The first three years are also the most important for instilling values, which don't really show up on standardized test.

Also, other studies have shown that a high EQ(emotional intelligence) is more important than a high IQ when it comes to job satisfaction, job retention, and basically, job success. High EQers are more likely to be managers than high IQers, because people want to work with them. We all know people with high IQ's who are brilliant, but have trouble having a normal conversation. Those people got good test scores, but do not do well in the work force, simply because they have no people skills. So they stay in academia, and publish papers that nobody reads. (sorry, Nate, but you KNOW that you know people like that)And parenting has a lot to do with the EQ of a child.

Anyway, longest comment ever, but bottom line, I think that anyone can teach a kid their ABC's, but nobody can teach a kid to be moral, loving, productive, and happy as well as a parent can.

9/14/2005 05:02:00 PM  
Blogger Heather O. said...


The book did talk about adopted children, and found that they struggle across the board, and that it's very difficult to overcome genetics. But the good news for the adopted kids is that even though they struggle academically, they tend to pretty well adjusted adults, and usually go onto college and do just fine. That's not always true of kids who are kept by their teenage mothers.

9/14/2005 06:11:00 PM  
Anonymous JKS said...

I'm a SAHM. A happy one. One who thinks it is worth it. But, I don't do it because of studies. There are plenty of studies that show daycare kids have an advantage. Why get all excited over the SAHM kids getting less ear infections or whatever.
I have no doubt that if I was a working mom, my kids would still be good readers and good at math and my daughter would still be energetic and my son would still move in slow motion. Being daycare kids wouldn't change their entire personalities.
I happen to believe it is more important to be a SAHM once they go to school (after school, vacation days, etc.). That is when the issues get bigger. Sure you can spend all day with them at age 2, but if you don't bother spending time with them at age 10, what good did it do?
I'm a SAHM for my own satisfaction. It is my style of mothering. I don't bother listening to those who act like my children will have easy, wonderful lives because I have made some sort of huge sacrifice for their sake. That is completely unrealistic. Being a SAHM doesn't give my kids a ticket to paradise on earth.
My kids are still going to have problems....no matter how many hours I log as a SAHM. My kids have their own personality, their own potential, their own experiences, in fact, they have their own lives to live.
Being a SAHM is about MY choice, MY life, MY experience as a mother.
Of course I honestly believe that my choice benefits my children in many ways, but I also believe that there are so many choices on how to parent that putting too much weight on this particular issue is naive.

9/14/2005 07:27:00 PM  
Anonymous ESO said...

saying that the kind of people who are having abortions are the kind of people who would raise criminals is seriously politically INcorrect

I think what they meant was that any UNWANTED child is likely to feel unwanted, which leads to abnormal behavior, like crime.

Personally, I am a stay-at-home mom not because I think it is so great for my child but purely for selfish reasons--I don't want to miss a minute.

9/14/2005 10:40:00 PM  
Anonymous tiff said...

There are so many studies about parenting (or lack thereof), each with their own biases and agendas. The common theme seems to be one of the first lessons in a statistics class: Correlation is not Causation. The common factors among "successful" people--or at least those that can test well--may not necessarily be the cause of the greatness. There are arguments that tests are biased, blatant discrimination, etc etc.

It all seems to me that this is another book to calm the troubled souls of parents realizing that perhaps their choices aren't having the intended consequences. If we take the responsibility out of parenting, that means we can blame others for any problems. The day care isn't good enough to challenge my son and that's why he isn't performing; the teachers aren't doing their job even though I have no idea what my daughter is studying this week; my son is overweight because the nanny can't control his snacking. I gave them excellent DNA and all these opportunities, so his problems can't be my fault.

The nature/nurture pendulum swings back in forth in research, and it looks like we're seeing a shift back towards nature.

9/16/2005 12:15:00 AM  
Anonymous JKS said...

I think you make an excellent point. However, I think it is important that we, as parents, realize that the pendulum IS right in the middle.
Yes, there are many things we do that influence our child so much. We should do our best.
But there are so many factors that we can't control. And we do have to give up some of our control.
I, being a perfectionist, with a belief that if you try hard enough you can be a perfect mother, need to realize that sometimes no matter how hard I try I will fail my children.
I'm going to keep trying, but I think that I need to accept this fact. The overwhelming depression and feeling of failure that happens when your child's life doesn't turn out perfectly is something that you can't completely take onto your shoulders. (Christ can help in this).
What if my child gets divorced. If I blame myself or my husband, what good does it do our child. My child will feel this.
Imagine your child failing in all your expectations of them.
Would your child feel your love, or would they know that you consider their failure your failure and you can't even bear to think of them without being depressed about your failure as a parent.
My natural inclination is to blame parents for everything.
But, as good as a parent that I am, I could easily be the mom who loses her child at the mall....who is driving the car that caused an accident that disfigures my child....that has a child who becomes a discipline problem in 5th grade.....who becomes sexually active in high school.....who becomes addicted to prescription drugs at age 30....
Its a hard middle line to walk. To do as much as you can, but realizing it will not be enough to protect your child from everyting.
I think I need therapy. Sometimes being a mother feels like you are completely responsible for everything turning out perfectly in your child's life. But there are a million different angles that life is coming at your child, and it is impossible to do it all perfectly.

9/16/2005 02:14:00 PM  
Anonymous io said...

As the former boyfriend of a woman whose sister is the wife of a bishop, I have a question. Why do you women put up with this stuff? Are Mormon women the slaves of the church and their husbands? What about you? What about the honest freedom to think and feel and have great sex?

9/24/2005 11:30:00 PM  
Blogger Us said...

I think it's kind of a 'sins of the father' sort of thing. I made poor relationship choices in my youth because I had no idea there were other options, since I had only observed one type of interaction in my life. That's just one example. The mistakes my parents made were passed on to me, like they were passed from their parents before them, and on and on. It's like the continual cycle of welfare you always hear about. That being said, I ended up being sealed in the temple with a healthy marriage and wonderful family life, so free will and even luck certainly have their place in the equation. Mitch Albom wrote in one of his books that children are like mirrors. You are going to damage them somehow, we just have to try and be sure it's just a little crack instead of completely shattering them (just paraphrasing, you get the idea)I have been told recently by a number of teachers that it usually doesn't matter how accelerated a child is when they begin school(ie, letter recognition, colors, numbers, reading, etc)they are generally on equal ground when they exit kindergarten. I have to say that I place a great deal of importance in what The Wiz pointed out about morals, virtues, etc.
BTW io, what do your comments have to do with this? You don't see them as being a bit stereotypical? I have a wonderful sex life, I am certainly a free thinker, my husband and I run our home TOGETHER, and frankly, I'm busy enough with the things I do that I'm glad I needn't worry about running the church as well(perhaps that's just me though) It sounds to me like you wanted to belittle women who enjoy their roles as wives and mothers, or perhaps just goad someone into an argument.

9/25/2005 03:55:00 AM  
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10/08/2005 12:22:00 PM  

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