The call-to-action parents didn’t know they needed

A new book by Dr Susie O'Brien invites parents to relax their standards to 'good enough' and find more joy in the act of parenting, Natalie Moutafis discovers.

It’s not often that a parenting book draws you in with humourous anecdotes of times past, but that’s what this one does for anyone that grew up in the 70s, 80s or even 90s. The Secret of Half-Arsed Parenting: raising kids with half the guilt and twice the joy by Dr Susie O’Brien, a journalist and columnist with a PhD in Education, has a way of making you feel like you don’t need to be a perfect parent but rather take note of how we were raised and implement some of that into our parenting today.

The book is the call-to-arms that parents didn’t know they needed. Being encouraged to not feel the need to be perfect in a world full of #blessed hashtags, to not worry about what other parents think of your parenting ‘style’, to not make parenting any harder than it needs to be. Susie encourages you to stop trying so hard saying,

No one cares as much as you about the way you’re bringing up your kids. They may act as if they do, but they don’t. Trust me.

Today many parents feel pressured to follow the research around ‘better ways’ of parenting and trying to cover all the bases of their child’s emotional and physical wellbeing. It’s not unfounded this basis for parenting today, more research, more knowledge – it all counts for something.

We now know that lead paint on children’s toys = bad and that SPF30+ sunscreen = good. But this age of constant connectedness is putting parents under intense pressure to always be doing the right thing. While good in small doses, it’s making many parents anxious and left feeling like failures. Our parents certainly didn’t have this level of societal pressure upon them, so why should we?

Susie speaks of John Marsden’s book The Art of Growing Up and how ‘he rails at parents who view their child as their hero, think their child is extraordinary and avoid tough decisions and discipline’.

Half-arsed parenting encourages parents to step back from parenting – consider the approach that parenting doesn’t have to be a verb. Letting kids ‘get on with it’ whether that’s succeeding or failing, it’s on their own terms, not yours. It’s not about not caring, it’s about doing half as much.

Susie echoes the sentiments that today’s parents are guilty of overparenting – doing too much for their children – an issue that The Parents Website also covered when both Dr Judith Locke and Alison Gopnik wrote books about it.

This ‘overparenting’,  combined with what Susie refers to as the third shift: the emotional labour that has to be done in families, finds many parents – mothers in particular – left feeling exhausted and shells of their former selves.

The book serves as a reminder that kids can and should be doing more than parents often think, and by doing so, everyone in the family gets to have a life and one that they enjoy.

Susie's golden rules and reminders

Susie includes a list of golden rules and reminders that should become mantras for modern-day parents wishing to raise kids that aren’t self-entitled:

  • Just because it’s on, you don’t have to go.
  • Just because it exists, you don’t need to have it.
  • Just because the kids want it, you don’t have to buy it.
  • Just because they ask you, you don’t have to say yes.
  • Take care of yourself the way you take care of everyone else.

By inviting parents to do less hands-on parenting and take on more of the ‘half-arsed’ approach the hope is you’ll fully enjoy life again – because it’s not that we don’t all love our kids – we do – it’s the act of parenting that leaves us feeling less than great.

Enjoying a simpler life, being okay with serving a toasted cheese sandwich for dinner, letting your child learn the consequence of not packing their sports uniform for school, or simply being told the answer is ‘no’, Susie is hoping that parents will become ‘more relaxed and less insecure because they’ve stopped competing and doing things to make others happy’. She also hopes it helps build resilience in our kids and lower their anxiety – something all parents wish for their kids.

About Dr Susie O'Brien

Dr Susie O’Brien is a journalist and columnist with a PhD in Education. For the last 19 years, she has written about parenting and social issues for the Herald Sun and other News Ltd papers, and she appears weekly on Channel Seven’s Sunrise. She and her partner have five kids between them – they’re the Brady Bunch, without Alice to cook dinner every night.

The Secret to half-arsed parenting: raising kids with half the guilt and twice the joy is published by Murdoch Books and retails for $32.99 AUD.

Image of Dr Susie O’Brien by Nicole Cleary for Herald Sun.

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