When I was growing up in the 70s and 80s, kids were free-range, like the underarm hair.
Back then, we knew less, we cared less, we did less. We didn’t have play dates, we played with all the kids in the neighbourhood. We rode home when it got dark, not forgetting to grab some smokes for our parents from the shops on the way.
Over the next few decades, mums and dads forgot about freedom and fun and the need to raise kids that are strong and resilient.
And they forgot to relax and enjoy parenting.
As a working mother of three kids and two step-kids, I know what it’s like to feel stressed, guilty and over-stretched.
We love our kids – it’s parenting we have a problem with. We’ve become so wrapped up in our children’s lives that we forget to have lives of our own.
It wasn’t like that when I was young. My dad had better things to do than live his life through me and my sister – like wearing budgie smugglers as daywear and cementing things into the ground.
I also can’t imagine my mum putting love notes in my lunchbox, capturing every sporting disappointment on camera or giving me veggies fanned out like a rainbow for dinner like parents are expected to do today.
Nor would my parents feel guilty for doing things I do, like skipping pages of my kids’ readers so I can get them to bed faster or getting take-away for dinner again. Oh, and using the clothes dryer when it’s sunny and pretending I’m working when I’m really watching Bridgerton on my laptop. (Told you I’ve got lots of guilt.)
It’s time to do things differently and embrace a half-arsed approach.
We need to stop being helicopter parents and become half-arsed parents.
Half-arsed parenting is about doing half as much and knowing it is still more than enough. It’s not an invitation to give up and do a bad job across the board.
Here are some half-arsed secrets to get you started.
Drop your standards
Half-arsed parenting is about getting back to basics. Whatever happened to toasted sandwiches for dinner? Buying birthday cakes instead of baking them? Making meals with what you’ve got, not what you buy from the biodynamic organic market? Half-arsed parents know that when it comes to raising kids, you don’t have to be perfect. Know your limits and set the bar low enough so you succeed. It’s okay that your child’s first word was Bluey or Elsa rather than Mama or Dadda. No one else cares, and nor should you.
Celebrities pretending to be perfect are faking it. They spend their days posting inspirational phrases like ‘Be the best you #glow, #bless’ but only get out of bed thanks to a generous slug of vodka in their green goddess breakfast smoothie. (I am not green or a goddess. I once tried to drink hot water with lemon and it looked like a giant cup of wee.)
Ditch the guilt
Parents juggling demanding jobs guilt themselves into feeling they should spend more hands-on time with their children. The answer is not to do less socialising or less paid work but to do less parenting. Let kids ride their bikes to school, build their own Lego creations and make their own dinner. Even better, let them make you dinner. Even a ten-year-old can make toast.
The kids will be fine
Half- arsed parents know the kids will be all right, like they always are. What’s important is that mums and dads are all right too. Half-arsed parenting is about doing what you can, not doing as much as you can to impress others who don’t care. There’s a reason why third and fourth children are often more resilient – they have to be. When my third child was young, I only paid full attention to him when he was screaming or bleeding.
Step back and let go
Half-arsed parents also don’t assess their own success through their children’s attainments.
And they don’t feel the need to be overly invested in every aspect of their kids’ lives. They refuse to attend every sporting match, manipulate every friendship and orchestrate all aspects of their children’s school life. It’s time to step back, say no and walk away from the parenting rat-race.
Becoming a Half-Arsed parent means ignore all the unrealistic goals and expectations thrust on us. Parents don’t need more thrusting: it’s how we got into this mess in the first place.
By Susie O’Brien