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Bryan Caplan, The Serenity Dad, Does Christmas

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Bryan Caplan's kids on Christmas Day 2010.
Bryan Caplan's kids on Christmas Day 2010.

WASHINGTON -- Bryan Caplan, the George Mason University economist, espouses the world's least neurotic parenting philosophy: "serenity parenting."

In his book Selfish Reasons to Have More Kids, Caplan -- father of twin 9-year-old boys, a 2-year-old boy and a baby girl currently on the way -- makes the case that parenting style doesn't actually affect a kid's future success very much at all. His evidence: Twin studies show upbringing has very little to do with how a person's adulthood turns out -- it's genes, not extra piano lessons, that'll have the most effect.

As an economist who studies scarce resources, like time and effort, Caplan concludes that it's better to have some fun than to be a relentlessly perfectionist "Tiger Mother", since being a Tiger Mother won't do your kids any good in the end anyway. (And now we've got someone claiming the Tiger Mother is a kitten -- the Wolf Father, who beats his kids into academic success.)

Which brings us, naturally, to Christmas. How does the serenity dad handle the pressures and stresses of the joyful holiday season?

"I try to avoid the biggest mistake, which is screaming at people when you're supposed to be having a good time," he told The Huffington Post. "Not overdo things to the point where they're not fun."

For example, Caplan says that most years the family does have a Christmas tree, and it does get decorated, but he does not get too worked up if his kids are ready to stop trimming the tree before it is perfect. Once they get bored, they are allowed to stop.

Gift-wise, Caplan says his greatest feat was convincing his extended family a few years ago that only kids should get gifts. "Everyone was sick of getting gifts for other adults," he said. "No one's ever happy. You're pretty much just exchanging $50 bills back and forth. I'm amazed my family listened to me. Only some stodgy economist is going to say 'What's the point of giving adult gifts? If they want something they're going to buy it.'"

Kids do get gifts in the Caplan household -- lots of books and comic books, and DVD players and hand-held video games that make long drives less tedious. "When I was a kid there were so many fights in the car because kids get bored and it takes forever to get someplace. I never have that in my family now because my kids have a DVD player and they just watch it when we drive. That's the kind of present that, not only would I give it, I would give it early."

Cash or gift cards are also good gifts for the kids, Caplan said, like a true free marketer. "They get whatever they want," he said. "The kids themselves aren't there saying that lacks the personal touch."

Overall, Caplan explained, the serenity family's Christmas rituals are easy-going. His wife may do some baking; the kids may "help out a little bit, see how cookies are made."

"It could be a lot worse. We have a lot of fun," he said. "To me the worst thing is a holiday that's supposed to be fun for everyone and instead people are on the edge of exploding, losing their tempers. I just try to do whatever I can to prevent that from happening. Not worrying about whether you're doing it right. It's graded pass/fail."

RELATED VIDEO: Bryan Caplan discusses his book Selfish Reasons To Have More Kids.

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