The Evolution of Parenting
Evolution of Parenting

Throughout world history, differences in parenting styles and strategies have existed. These differences can be seen between population groups and within them. Even within groups, variation can be observed from one time period to another, reflecting evolving attitudes over time. However, there are also some constants. This essay discusses the broad differences and constants that exist, as well as their impact on the evolutionary fitness of offspring and lineage.

Indeed, some parenting styles and strategies are, in evolutionary terms, objectively superior to others. Yet, we live in an aberrant period of history where critiquing other people’s parenting is a faux-pas, opting instead a relativist attitude. To the contrary, this essay encourages an attitude among readers where this discussion can take place in a healthy and constructive way, much like how diets and exercise regimens are discussed. Here, we come to understand why elite families have historically engaged (and continue to engage) in familial practices which draw negative judgment by commoners. The information presented herein is intended to bolster the evolutionary fitness and familial relations of the reader with science-based parenting principles.

Topics:

  • Evolutionary Purpose of Parenting
  • Microparenting vs Macroparenting
  • Gender Difference in Parenting
  • Evolutionary Return-on-Investment (eROI)
  • Familial Branding & Coalitions

Evolutionary Purpose of Parenting

Here, we begin with our foundational principle. Genes which populate the future are those which copy themselves the most, in the long-term. Conversely, genes which copy themselves the least have no future.

From this, it is self-evident that one’s best interest is best measured in terms of maximal long-term gene replication (LTGR). In fact, the mere act of creating any offspring at all is justified on this basis alone. Furthermore, that which is “good” and “bad” is objectively defined in terms of its evolutionary impact; this includes parenting.

Therefore, good and bad parenting practises are objectively determined based on how they impact the evolutionary outcomes of their offspring. Thus, good parenting entails practises which promote LTGR the most. Conversely, bad parenting is that which harms it.

Importantly, this evolutionary understanding of parenting enables its betterment. In the same vein, it can help offspring rate their own parents and hold them accountable to an objective standard.

The evolutionary outcome of murdering someone vs harming their LTGR by non-violent means is equivalent. As such, parents and children should understand that to harm a child’s LTGR is, in practical terms, equivalent to murdering a portion of the child’s future offspring. In fact, the total number of future children murdered increases exponentially, as seen in green below:

Attribution: @ApolloRegime
License: CC BY-SA 4.0

In other words, bad parenting is a heinous betrayal. Those who have good relations with bad parents should do so with the understanding that they are rewarding treason and promoting a culture which puts other children (especially within their own family) at an increased risk.

Microparenting vs Macroparenting

An important distinction exists between microparenting and macroparenting, and they both comprise components of parenting styles and strategies. Defining them involves looking at the scale and focus of parental involvement and guidance in a child’s life.

Microparenting

Definition: Microparenting refers to the detailed, moment-to-moment interactions and decisions parents make in relation to their child’s life. It focuses on the immediate, small-scale aspects of parenting, including direct supervision, specific guidance, and immediate feedback on a child’s actions or behaviors.

Characteristics:

  • Attention to Detail: attention to the fine details of a child’s daily activities, behaviors, and needs.
  • Direct Involvement: close involvement in the minutiae of their child’s life, from how they do their homework to the way they interact with peers.
  • Immediate Feedback: direct and immediate responses to their actions, which can be beneficial for learning specific skills or correcting unwanted behaviors quickly.
  • Control: strict rules about specific aspects of the child’s life, such as screen time, diet, and social interactions.

Pros:

  • Can help children learn specific societal norms and expectations.
  • Provides children with a clear sense of right and wrong in specific situations.
  • May enhance safety by closely monitoring the child’s activities.

Cons:

  • Can limit a child’s ability to develop independent problem-solving skills.
  • May lead to increased anxiety or rebellion in children who feel over-monitored.
  • Requires a significant time and energy investment from parents.

Macroparenting

Definition: Macroparenting refers to the broader, more overarching approach to parenting that focuses on setting general guidelines, principles, values, and customs for a child’s upbringing. It involves less direct management of daily activities and more emphasis on fostering a child’s independence, problem-solving abilities, and self-regulation.

Characteristics:

  • Broad Guidelines: general rules and values that guide the child’s behavior, without micromanagement.
  • Encouragement of Independence: children are encouraged to make their own decisions within the framework of the family’s values and expectations.
  • Focus on Long-term Goals: emphasis on the overall development of the child’s character and life skills than with immediate behavior correction.
  • Supportive Environment: parents provide a supportive backdrop for the child’s growth, focusing on emotional support and encouragement, as well as financial investment, rather than direct intervention.

Pros:

  • Promotes the development of independence and self-regulation in children.
  • Reduces the likelihood of power struggles or rebellion against overly strict rules.
  • Allows children to learn from their mistakes in a safe and supportive environment.

Cons:

  • Children might make more mistakes or poor decisions without close guidance.
  • May be perceived as less caring or involved by some who equate direct management with parental love and concern.
  • Requires trust in the child’s ability to navigate complex situations independently.

Both microparenting and macroparenting have their place in a balanced parenting strategy and children benefit most from different balances, depending on their age. In early life, that balance consists of extreme microparenting and no macroparenting at all. As the infant enters childhood and acquires greater mastery of language and higher-order concepts, it is most beneficial for macroparenting to be introduced and for microparenting to be reduced. In adolescence, macroparenting begins to takeover and microparenting is gradually on the way out. By the age of maturity, that balance (ideally) flips to the opposite extreme: maximum macroparenting with no microparenting whatsoever.

Finally, when the offspring has reached the age of family formation, the most evolutionarily beneficial parenting practise is to encourage the offspring’s own parental behavior and to promote the legitimacy of familial authority, culminating in the succession of the head of the family. One bad strategy is better than many good strategies because a bad strategy can be course-corrected by the one leader, whereas with many good strategies, multiple leaders vie for their own strategy, resulting in dysfunction, the inability to fix it, and inevitable family conflict.

When grandparents attempt to impose a certain direction for the family (which is a highly inappropriate continuation of macroparenting), it comes at the expense of the direction set by the parents and, thus, it is an evolutionary cost upon the grandchildren. By delaying succession and withholding familial resources, grandparents harm the evolutionary fitness of their offspring (provided that the offspring has demonstrated its evolutionary value to the family). This is an invitation for conflict because there will always be a higher evolutionary payoff to protecting one’s family from elderly, out-of-touch grandparents who can never be as invested and committed to a child’s well-being and development as the child’s direct parents.

In turn, the evolutionary value of offspring can also be measured objectively with the same standard that parenting is judged. The greater the offspring’s positive impact upon the family members’ LTGR, the greater the evolutionary value. By extension, family members stand to benefit the most, in evolutionary terms, when the highest-value member (HVM) of the family is the head of the family. Conversely, the entire family is harmed when someone other than the HVM is the head of the family. Thus, evolutionary value legitimizes the authority of the head.

In marriages where the male is selected for the formidability of his social antler (i.e. eliteness) rather than for convenience (i.e. when females settle for a commoner), the HVM is the father. However, this is a minority of marriages because, by definition, elite males are themselves a minority. As such, the majority of marriages are between females and commoner males and, thus, the male fails to offset the evolutionary value contributed by the mother and this makes the mother the HVM, in that scenario. This perfectly explains why most women, by default, resist their commoner husbands’ authority and why roughly half of marriages end up in divorce.

The general trend for elite marriages is that the father begins as the HVM and ceases to be the HVM when the offspring, usually the eldest son, reaches the age of parenthood. The idea is that, by that time, the offspring has sufficiently contributed to the family brand such that when the time comes to produce grandchildren, the offspring’s contribution and imminent reproduction offsets the evolutionary value of the now-grandfather. In this case, the grandfather’s offspring (who is now the father) becomes the new HVM and, thus, the succession of authority as head of the family is legitimate and in the best interest of the family as a whole, as measured by LTGR.

In the end, we are the way we are because those who weren’t this way were killed off by mother nature. So, when we see that the elites of society have certain familial customs which are foreign to commoners, rather than passing judgment, we should regard it as we would when analyzing how elite boxers train differently from amateurs. There is a reason why the winner is the winner and if winning (i.e. LTGR) is your objective, it is to your advantage to understand and apply it.

Gender Differences in Parenting

For evolutionary reasons, mothers and fathers tend to differ in their parental tendencies. Moreover, children evolutionarily benefit most from different types of macroparenting, depending on gender.

At the pinnacle of the mother’s internal motivation lies care, fairness, compassion, and harm avoidance. This maternal instinct is highly appropriate, given the overwhelming effect size on LTGR of the mother’s microparenting in infancy. In evolutionary terms, infants benefit from these protective tendencies, due to how vulnerable they are. Just as female memetics increase the sexual value of females similar to themselves, they also serve to justify parental investment and lenience. In other words, the mother is an advocate for her children who “deserve” their father’s love, attention, and investment.

On the other hand, the father places a greater value on sanctity, authority, and competitiveness. In post-infancy, this predisposition for macroparenting is, in evolutionary terms, highly advantageous. Sanctity is motivated by moral disgust; elite males are the predominant culture creators of the family and morality, culture, and religion are what legitimize authority. When the father’s worldview is undermined, so is his authority. In turn, the entire family’s LTGR is harmed without a legitimate authority. Moreover, there is a tradeoff between short-term pleasure and LTGR. The longer it takes offspring to be accustomed to long-term decision-making, the greater the harm to LTGR.

Daughters, for example, are more physically vulnerable than sons and a very attractive target for wrong-doers. As such, it makes sense for a father to set certain protective restrictions in place. Sons, on the other hand, face a permanent existential crisis. Daughters are, by default, sexually valuable often even prior to the age of maturity whereas males have no default value to society whatsoever. The onus is on the male to prove his worth with the development of his social antler. Only then does the male gain the respect of other males and, in turn, the attraction of females; see Kordsmeyer et al. (2018).

Here, we see why fathers play such a crucial role in the lives of their sons. The development of a social antler requires a tremendous amount of male sacrifice; see the Y-Dominance effect. It is not enough to be culturally contributive; instead, the male must be more contributive compared to other males. This is the only way that a male can be depended on and, thus, be a patron of his community and nation. Understandably, a son’s natural tendency is to take the path of least resistance, e.g. they would rather play video games. However, a father’s evolutionary role is to understand that a life wasted on frivolities is the equivalent of extinction, i.e. gene death, and that the best parental course of action is that which fosters the son’s social antler. Typically, this entails a healthy dose of discipline and tough love.

Lastly, the social antler is heritable. When works of artistic, scientific, and technological significance are associated to the family brand, the offspring benefit by association. After all, copies of the offspring’s genes developed that social antler. The LTGR of every future family member is promoted, as a result. In adulthood, the offspring can imbibe that social antler to the next generation while adding on to what has been inherited, thereby ensuring that the family builds towards a greater body of work in each subsequent generation. To contrast, commoner families hit the reset button in each generation. In evolutionary terms, commoner males impose a huge opportunity cost on their offspring by failing to provide what elite males do; see the ROI vs Time Preference chart at the top.

Evolutionary Return-on-Investment

One of the common themes in any direction taken by the family is investment, e.g. paying for the offspring’s education, extra-curricular activities, or family activities. As with all parenting decisions, the objective standard for measuring the correctness of the decision is its impact on LTGR. Just as a financial investment is considered with return-on-investment (ROI) in mind, it is beneficial to LTGR to consider familial investments based on their evolutionary return-on-investment (eROI).

For example, many parents place their boys in team sports. It is believed that, in doing so, males learn to cooperate towards a common objective and this serves them later in life when they must do the same in a professional team. However, the opportunity cost is often not considered. Many parents don’t realize that, while martial arts are a one-vs-one affair in competition, training for martial arts is very much a team sport. The goal is to help our teammates discover their vulnerabilities in a reciprocal manner. However, the ability to fight gives a man more confidence among other men, something which women are socially attuned to. Unsurprisingly, the ability to beat people up has a higher eROI than the ability to kick a ball.

Even within the realm of martial arts, many parents opt to place their children in “safe” sports where they don’t get hurt. This is a well-meaning but ultimately counter-productive parenting decision. For starters, full-contact combative martial arts like wrestling, BJJ, kickboxing, and MMA offer classes for children, where they prohibit full contact sparring. Some gyms even go as far as to prevent head shots. Thus, full contact sports safely provide children with necessary skills to handle themselves in combative situations whereas someone who has only ever done Kung Fu would be destroyed in a real fight. Investing in full contact martial arts objectively has the superior eROI.

When it comes to females, some parents question why such combative skills ought to be reserved for males. Here, we must consider the opportunity cost. The ability to fight, while not inherently harmful to a female’s LTGR, comes at the expense of other skills which, unlike combat sports, could have increased her LTGR, such as ballet or singing. Again, the eROI is the litmus test by which we determine the viability of a familial investment and that a difference in eROIs exist for the same investment, depending on gender, should not come as a surprise.

Another important consideration is inheritance. At some point, parents will have to decide who inherits what. Should the money be split evenly or should some children get more?

Here, inheritance is a form of direct investment, similar to that of venture capital. To that end, eROI can inform parents on how to make inheritance-related decisions. More precisely, money enables one to do more of what is already being done. If one of your offspring is disproportionately contributive to the family’s LTGR, the entire family will benefit, in evolutionary terms, if that family member acquires a disproportionately higher portion of the inheritance, given that the money will help support that member’s evolutionarily valuable work. I refer to this inheritance model as the “Evolutionary Value Inheritance” (EVI) model.

The EVI model is a modern and more sensible approach to an ancient, more rigid practice known as primogeniture, where the eldest son inherits 100% of the inheritance. Archaic as it may be, primogeniture was a crude way of serving an important evolutionary purpose. With EVI as the alternative, we get to keep the baby while we throw out the bath water.

In fact, an added benefit of the EVI model is that it fosters a healthy form of sibling competition where the offspring are competing to be more evolutionarily valuable to the family. With competition comes quality and quantity whereas, under primogeniture, there is no incentive for such a competition to take place. Worse still, the equal inheritance model of the modern West not only disincentivizes that competition, it ultimately rewards the youngest, most genetically distant members of the family equally to the eldest who are most genetically similar to the parents who have demonstrated their worth. With respect to LTGR, the latter option is the worst.

Familial Branding & Coalitions

There exists a Pareto distribution in culture creation. The vast majority of the family brand will be borne by a minority of family members. Often, a family brand’s social antler is made formidable by a single nuclear family. In that case, that family is known as the brand bearer.

The brand bearing family can increase its brand prestige by welcoming its extended family and related families under that brand, collectively known as a Dynastic House. In doing so, the brand bearer acquires supporters who can collaborate and contribute to the brand, by leveraging coalitional behavior. On the other hand, constituent families of the House benefit from their association with the brand itself, as they are part of an exclusive prestigious club whose membership inherently increases their sexual attractiveness. In addition, the brand bearer can economically favor members of the House for contracts or employment positions, especially in cases where the candidates are of equal skill levels but one of them is part of the House.

While the constituents of the House and the brand bearer play different roles, they possess copies of each other’s genes such that the LTGR of one is inherently beneficial to the other. Families who engage in such coalitional behavior sexually outcompete those who do not. Hence, the familial customs of the old European Nobility make a great deal of evolutionary sense; while they are outdated, there is an evolutionary basis to their essence and a more modern science-based version of those customs would be highly beneficial to LTGR.

On a concluding note, human memetics, like any other phenotype, evolves towards an optimum. It is usually difficult to determine in advance what the precise optimum is until after its evolution has taken place. Ancestral organisms possessed primitive versions of physical and behavioral phenotypes of modern-day species. Birds have not always flapped their wings quite the way they do it today, nor did they possess the exact anatomy to do so. The same can be said of a slithering snake or even human copulatory thrusting. Parenting is no different.

Purely as a result of evolutionary outcomes, those of us who engage in science-based parenting shall inherit the Earth and the future of parenting will resemble that which has been described herein.

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Conceptual Open-Source License (COSL)

The original ideas and arguments presented herein are published under the COSL license.