Bare Minimum Parenting // by James Breakwell

//published 2018//

Subtitled “The Ultimate Guide to Not Quite Ruining Your Child,” Breakwell’s parenting book probably isn’t like any other parenting book you’ve read.  Breakwell is a father of four (and the owner of two house-pigs) who, among other things, tweets regularly about the adventures within his own household.  Personally, I love his weekly newsletter, which just updates on some randomness from his life.  This week’s installment included the sentence: “Her best find was a box of chocolate lobsters, which actually contained zero percent lobster and 100 percent chocolate,” so I’m really not sure how you can not like this guy.

This is Breakwell’s second parenting book.  The first, Only Dead on the Insideis the first parenting book ever to delve into the nitty-gritty details of how to get not just yourself, but your dependents, through a zombie apocalypse.  Bare Minimum Parenting isn’t quite as event-specific.  Instead, Breakwell pokes a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun at our culture’s obsession with superior, over-achieving parenting that strives to create perfect, outstanding, genius kids.  As he points out in the first chapter, while your child is definitely special and one-of-a-kind, the odds of him doing something that’s going to change the world are extremely slim.

Chances are they’ll lead an ordinary life not that different from your own.  Right now, there are literally billions of amazing, creative, and brilliant people who will never do anything particularly amazing, creative, or brilliant.  …  That’s okay.  Your kid doesn’t have to be a once-in-a-generation talent to lead a good life.  Being a genius at something doesn’t lead to a high job-satisfaction rate.  Tortured artists seldom die of old age surrounded by loved ones.

Instead of trying to raise THE BEST KID EVER, Breakwell encourages parents to achieve three simple goals:  Your kids should be able to support themselves.  Your kids shouldn’t be social deviants.  And your kids shouldn’t blame you for everything that’s wrong with their lives.

While it’s obvious that a lot of Breakwell’s advice is meant to be a bit over-the-top for the sake of humor (I don’t think he genuinely advocates having your kids watching television all day), his overall message is genuinely refreshing.  I’m not a parent, so I can’t speak from experience, but I know a lot of parents, and so many of them are so worried all the time, so guilty that they aren’t doing enough, so caught up in the “well so-and-so is doing such-and-such so we should do probably do it to” game.  While Breakwell’s book is all in good fun, it’s still a good reminder of the fact that raising kids is a huge crapshoot.  You can’t really control how they turn out.  Kids from great families go on to be terrible people, and kids from terrible families go on to be great people.  All you can do is your best, and sometimes your best means relaxing and not trying to do everything.

Some of the chapters were funnier to me than others.  I particularly enjoyed the chapter explaining why you shouldn’t have just one kid.

You children will have a hard time being deviants with other kids around to teach them social skills – and to tattle on them when they step out of line.  Never underestimate the value of a narc.

At times, Breakwell’s writing can be a little uneven – sometimes it seems like he goes a smidge too far in making his point on the importance of relaxed parenting – but overall I found this to be an enjoyable and entertaining book, and an important reminder that none of us – or our children – are the center of the universe.