Forget Tiger Mother - meet Economist Father

Eric Crampton
Parenting is only "all joy and no fun" if you decide to run things that way. It's totally up to you. If you like that kind of thing, well, de gustibus. But know that it doesn't have to be that way, and especially so if all the doomsayers have put you off having kids.

Things we've done that make parenting fun:

  • The kids never got to see any TV shows we don't like so they don't ask for them. They get to choose among TV shows we do like. The Wiggles have never entered our house. We don't have Sky with insipid Disney cartoons. Instead, the kids get:
    • Classic episodes of Sesame Street
    • Animaniacs
    • Pinky and the Brain
    • Adventure Time
    • PowerPuff Girls
    • Samurai Jack
    • Classic Bugs Bunny
    • Freakazoid
       
  • The kids never get cutesy kid music that we don't like. They can choose among the things we do like. And, I spend time finding music that we'll all like. Like Dan Marcotte's brilliant Dungeons & Dragons kid-friendly tunes. My daughter demands "Jello Music" sometimes when we're driving. What's Jello Music? This is Jello Music. Songs sung by Jello Biafra. The kids love Weird Al Yankovic. Why oh Why are you listening to The Wiggles?
     
  • We buy books to read to them that we also like reading. Our son started into illustrated versions of The Hobbit, The Odyssey, and the Ring Cycle before he was 4. There are TONS of books that are great for both parents and kids. Shaun Tan works great. We've almost finished Eddings' Belgariad series. 
     
  • Audiobooks while commuting can be great too. StoryNory.com has, for free (donation recommended), great audio renditions of:
  • We play games with them that we also enjoy playing. You can totally run Dungeons & Dragons scenarios that work for 3 year olds if you don't expect that they'll be writing things down on their character sheets. Set up simple puzzle quests and see how they work them out. What could be more fun than that? They beg for me to run scenarios while we're commuting to and from daycare/school. Because of bad traffic, I sometimes have to turn down my childrens' pleading requests that we play Dungeons and Dragons in the car. My children have excess demand for Dungeons and Dragons. What could be better?
     
  • For a few months, when he was 5, the boy's favourite thing in the whole world was to play Skyrim with me. I'd play, he'd watch for monsters and point out things I should be doing. All joy, all fun. Then, when we'd go out to the park afterwards, we'd LARP Skyrim. He'd set up an alchemy table on a stump and we'd find things to mix together. Then we'd kill monsters with sticks. So long as you don't care about looking ridiculous, it's awesome. And ceasing caring about what other people think about stuff is a great general purpose technology anyway.
     
  • We've been playing 2-player Lego Batman. The three year old is almost old enough to handle a controller - I give it another couple of months. She's ridiculously good at solving some of the puzzles and giving advice as her brother and I go though. 
     
  • If he's good, I'll play Pocket Minecraft with him as LAN play. And if he saves up enough money from doing chores around the house, he'll be able to buy PC Minecraft for the machine in the living room. 
     
  • If you've forgotten how to have fun playing LEGO, are you sure that kids are right for you in the first place?

Yes, the first year's insomnia is awful. Toilet training is horrible. Feeding can be a disgusting mess. There's much tedious training required if you want to produce kids that others might find acceptable adults later on.

But the fun stuff should be fun for both of you.

I don't get people who decide to kill the fun stuff. What a horrible horrible pointless and stupid waste.  There are little people in your house who would love to play Dungeons and Dragons with you, if only you would give them a chance.

Folks like Ruth Graham need to ignore all the whiny parents. A lot of it is just signalling from people who think that others will hold them in higher esteem because of all of the work they've put into parenting. Don't encourage this labour-theory-of-value-thinking by sympathising or awarding approbation. Read Bryan Caplan's serenity approach to parenting and have fun.

Dr Eric Crampton is a senior lecturer in economics at the University of Canterbury. He blogs at Offsetting Behaviour.

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