Hidden Brain

The Carpenter Vs. The Gardener: Two Models Of Modern Parenting


Want your kid to succeed? Don't try that hard.
sturti, Getty Images/Vetta

Want your kid to succeed? Don't try that hard.

Parents these days are stressed. So are their kids.

The root of this anxiety, one scholar says, is the way we understand the relationship between parents and children. Alison Gopnik, a psychology and philosophy professor at the University of California, Berkeley, thinks parents—especially middle-class parents—view their children as entities they can mold into a specific image.

"The idea is that if you just do the right things, get the right skills, read the right books, you're going to be able to shape your child into a particular kind of adult," she says.

It's a view that's gained popularity in the last few decades, along with the term "parenting" — which is itself a relatively new idea.

"It's only around the 1970s in America that the word first begins to really take off," she says.

Alison has researched children's development for decades, and thinks modern views of what it means to be a parent don't align with the way children learn and grow.

"I think the science suggests that being a caregiver for human beings is...much more about providing a protected space in which unexpected things can happen than it is like shaping a child into a particular king of desirable adult."

In her latest book, The Gardener and the Carpenter, Alison lays out this science and an alternative way to think about the relationship between parents and children.

Support comes from

This week on Hidden Brain, two ways to approach being a parent, and the consequences.

Hidden Brain is hosted by Shankar Vedantam and produced by Maggie Penman, Jennifer Schmidt, Rhaina Cohen, Parth Shah, and Renee Klahr. Our supervising producer is Tara Boyle. You can also follow us on Twitter @hiddenbrain, and listen for Hidden Brain stories each week on your local public radio station.

Copyright 2017 NPR. To see more, visit
KNPR and NPR Thank-You Gifts including t-shirts hoodies and cap