Book Review

The Secret of Half-Arsed Parenting: Raising kids with half the guilt and twice the joy

Dr Susie O’Brien

Murdoch Books  RRP $32.99

The Secret of Half-Arsed Parenting is a readable ‘how-to’ guide to raising kids to live, survive and thrive as grown-ups – without crumbling at the first whiff of adult responsibility, resorting to therapy or packing themselves chock-full of anti-depressants.  

A book such as this has been a long time coming. After all, it’s about time modern parenting received a metaphorical slap to remind those enslaved by their entitled and over-indulged offspring that the whole point of parenthood is to bring up adults, not children.

On the surface, Dr Susie O’Brien’s first book is a hilarious takedown of the sometimes idiotic, irrational and indulgent ideology that has pervaded the modern parenting zeitgeist, and the so-called ‘experts’ and narcissistic social media goddesses who inflame it. Delve a little deeper, however, and The Secret of half-arsed Parenting is a credentialled, well-researched and sober assessment of a generation of obsessive and infatuated parents who, in viewing their cookie-cutter child as extraordinary, are potentially sabotaging that child’s future happiness not to mention society’s well-being.

‘We are pushover parents raising a generation of pampered, privileged children,’ O’Brien warns.

With a PhD in Education, Herald Sun journalist and columnist and – most significantly – solo, full-time working mum of three, O’Brien interweaves personal anecdotes with national and internationally published, peer-reviewed research to question the current epidemic of poor parenting choices.

From the reality of early motherhood, monster toddlers and pampered brats; to the puerile and pointless mummy wars; to not saying ‘no’; to detached dads; anxious and scheduled children; to avoiding failure; to being too scared to stand up to your own 11-year-old, O’Brien uses humour to unleash on the very things that are undermining the ability of our next generation to be functioning, contributing members of society. She nails the parental pariahs who think their children are always right, regardless of the facts, and who spend their time orchestrating their child’s friendships and lives. How does that help later, when said child is 24 years old, can’t take instructions in a workplace and hasn’t the first clue about how to get along with colleagues?

Or those of the gifted child who believe their precious offspring is way too smart to be bound by the normal conventions of behaviour, schoolwork or friendships. Yep, good luck kid, when you get sacked from your future job for trying to make your boss understand that your particular genius means that a 9am start just doesn’t work for you.

O’Brien argues that it is the half-arsed parents who are the ones doing right by their kids’ and our community. That, by letting kids fail, and hurt and be scared and bored, by not handing opportunities over on a solid-silver-platter-being-flown-by-miniature-rainbowed-unicorns or by not making the child the centre of their universe, the half-arsed parents are establishing individuals who are more likely to have successful, contented lives.

Whether a hyper or half-arsed parent, this book is a light and soul-cleansing read that will help strip off years of pent-up guilt and chip away at those embedded feelings of inadequacy. 

For us on the ‘half-arsed’ end of the spectrum, who collapse into bed every night grateful the children are not only asleep but still alive, it is cathartic and reaffirming. 

For those on the hyper end who need help to let it go, O’Brien will take your hand and show you how it’s done. In a nutshell: ‘Cut corners, diminish expectations and underwhelm your loved ones at every opportunity.’  

O’Brien comprehensively sets it all out.  

In doing half as much for your kids, introducing a bit of benign neglect and dropping ludicrous standards, parents can more easily succeed in one of their primary functions, which is to deliver well-rounded, self-aware, resilient, empathetic, and hopefully humorous adults to the world.

Katherine Towers is a freelance journalist, speech writer and communications specialist.

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