Bare Minimum Parenting, by James Breakwell, is a book every parent can enjoy.  It’s a comedy book, not a serious parenting guide, but in the finest spirit of comedy it provides a serious critique to the excesses and absurdities of modern life.  That absurdity is, in this case, the anxious and neverending efforts of the “overachieving parent,” who spend all of their time and money and worry trying to give their kids exactly the right scientifically-proven foods, activities, lessons, toys, and everything else.  It’s a hypercompetitive world out there (we’re told), so kids will need every possible advantage to get into the best college, get a good job, be successful in life, and avoid living on the streets selling your body for heroin. That process starts in the crib—er, make that the womb.  You know you were tempted to play Mozart and talk nonstop to that little peanut in your uterus, and if not, you probably felt guilty about it. We’ve all been there. Is it really worth it to spend twice as much on the organic milk? Of course not, but you never know what those hormones might do, and you don’t want your kid to lose their Ivy League scholarship to some organic milk-drinking kid who had responsible parents.  They would never forgive you.

Breakwell facetiously argues that most kids are going to turn out average regardless of what kind of milk they drink or what after school activities they did or what clothes they wore, so you might as well spend the least amount of time, money, and effort to get them there.  Parents only need to achieve 3 goals when raising children: 1) They can support themselves and move out of the house. 2) They are not social deviants or mass murderers. 3) They don’t blame you for all of their problems. If you can do all of that, you’re a successful parent.  Anything else you try to accomplish is probably going to be wasted. He offers some helpful tips on doing the bare minimum in each area of parenting, from sports to clothes, from friends to television.

There’s a kernel of truth in this everyone-is-average argument, though it’s probably more accurate to say that most kids will turn out basically like their parents and that trying to forcefully push your children up the social ladder isn’t likely to succeed.  But the real value parents can get out of the book is in learning not to take parenting quite so seriously. It’s healthy to laugh at ourselves as parents, to realize it’s a little crazy to think our kids’ exact caloric intake or hours spent on the iPad or quality of diapers will have any kind of lasting impact.  Be reasonable, give them some freedom, don’t worry so much. The kids will be fine.

Comedy writing is hard.  So much of what makes something funny is in the timing and tone and environment, which doesn’t easily translate to the page.  The book throws a lot of jokes—nearly every paragraph ends in a punchline—and while many of them don’t land, many of them do. You’ll probably find yourself laughing out loud (lol) plenty of times while reading it.  That’s not easy to do, and it’s worth the cost of the book (especially if you get it from the Library), so do yourself a favor and read it. The kids can watch TV or something.

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