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Investing In Kids

Kids are a terrible investment

People like to talk about "investing in their kids". It does not seem like such a great idea. So far, it has been a terrible investment. Nothing but cost centers. I have always preferred more tangible investment returns, but perhaps in this case, people are referring to investing figuratively, the way that politicians market government spending as "investing".

So should you have kids?

No! Absolutely not. In the same sense that you should not get married. You wouldn't care what I think about either matter unless you are truly ambivalent. As I always prefer to make reversible mistakes these are commitments to avoid if they feel like close calls.

But what do I do if I mistakenly (or on purpose) "invested" in kids?

I am ambivalent about answering, because the topic of kids is far too tied to the topic of advice. It hardly ever matters. Within the normal range, parenting as an activity has pretty minimal impact on kids. You are somewhere in the middle of the line in terms of influence on them, behind their friends and many others. Worrying about it is almost wholly useless. Yes, expectant mothers shooting up heroin are hurting their kids, but they are probably not worrying too much about the long-term. Who is worrying? The red faced yuppie couple in the Whole Foods (WFM) aisle arguing over which organic kale to buy their kids. On the margin, where people are worrying, it does not have any statistical significance. In short, it does not matter. But I am happy to share what I do and how I think about kids.

Make it <24/7

In one of its last days as an independent bank, I was having lunch at Bear Stearns' quite subdued partners' dining room with a friend. Since I was about to have my first kid, I was full of theories. New parents start off with a lot of theories. With each subsequent one, it becomes more and more practical until you have had most of these theories beaten out of you. Unbidden, I was lecturing my friend (a father of many kids and many years) about the virtues of 24/7 attachment parenting. He let me go on for a while before interrupting with, "but no one wants to see you 24/7. You should get your kids on a schedule". So I did and it worked. As it is nearly impossible to get them scheduled once they are much older this fit into the theme of erring towards reversible mistakes (no facial tattoos, etc.)

I am not raising kids; I am raising adults

I want them on glide paths towards being useful, productive people when they are eighteen (because that is when the locksmith is scheduled to show up to change the locks). I want them to have as much freedom as possible. However much I want them to have freedom as individuals, they are not yet fully formed individuals. So I picture a committee of their future selves as 25, 50, and 75 year olds. What would they want? They would want me to enforce some basics to make it most probable that they will be healthy and happy. So they have to brush their teeth, do their homework, and save their money.

I love natural consequences

Short of any permanent damage, I love natural consequences. Natural consequences are useful, convenient, and often hilarious. They replace almost all nagging. (Again - within the normal range) it doesn't much matter what you say to kids. They mostly will just copy you. Maybe they pay some attention if you work on stuff together. It is roughly 90% copying, 9% working together and at most 1% listening to you bang on. So, if you forget to ever tell them anything, you are probably in the clear.

Embarrassment

Pre-commit to being horribly embarrassed. Just accept it. They can blackmail you if they think you will give in to avoid tantrums in public. If you tell yourself that their character is more important than your appearance, you are bulletproof.

Incentives matter

I only accept complaints from my kids in plank/pushup position. When two are fussing and come to me to complain about one another, they get into plank. In plank position, they can complain, argue, and go at it as long as they want. The first one to apologize, forgive, and name three things they love about the other can get up and go. Plank is really easy for a few minutes, but it gets tiring after a while, especially if you are spitting mad and griping about your brother or sister the whole time. I don't have to ask them to stop arguing - eventually they stop. They will end up getting along and/or will end up with great core strength. For more about fatherhood, please check out my interview on this podcast: Raise Your Kids to be Successful Adults.