When is the best time for a hurricane? Or an earthquake? How about a sandstorm? Have you ever said to yourself, “This is a good point in my life for a ﬂood” or “I’m ﬁnally ready for that forest ﬁre”?
Then why do overachieving parents think there’s a “right” time to have a kid? Children are a natural disaster every bit as devastating as an avalanche or a landslide. And they don’t even require mountains of mud or snow to destroy your house. All they need is one permanent marker.
But overachieving parents think they have it all ﬁgured out. They plan to wait the perfect amount of time before they add their perfect child to their perfect life. Those parents are soon perfectly disappointed, and that’s perfectly ﬁne with me.
Bare minimum parents know that no matter how prepared you think you are for a kid; you’ll never be fully ready. No amount of emotional, intellectual, or ﬁnancial groundwork will ever make it easy to scrub poo off the wall. And, no, university parties won’t train you in advance. You can’t let your kid sleep it off on the cold bathroom ﬂoor, no matter how much they deserve it.
Parenting in your middling mid-to-late twenties
By their mid-to-late twenties, potential overachieving parents are done biding their time. They’ve moved up a few rungs on the corporate ladder by stepping on the faces of the people below them. Scuffed up their shoes, too. But now they have money, and that solves all problems. This is the best time to have a kid, right?
Wrong. This is just one of the many myths overachieving parents want you to believe, like that hard work is rewarded or that poverty is contagious. Stay quarantined on your own side of the tracks. Overachieving parents think that by waiting, they’ll give their kid a more privileged life, but in reality, they become just as broke as everybody else by wasting their money on pointless upgrades. Instead of buying a basic cot, they will buy a super-deluxe model that costs four times as much but still serves the same function of housing their kid in a nocturnal baby cage. But buying their child anything less than the best would make them a terrible mum or dad. They always give in to their guilt. The economy depends on it.
This is one of the worst stages in life to try to overdo it. If you’re an overachieving parent in your mid-to-late twenties, not only will you waste all your extra money on those point- less upgrades, but you’ll also have less energy to chase your kid. Eventually, you’ll just lie down in the middle of the ﬂoor while your child rampages around you. Accept it. This is their house now.
You can still be a bare minimum parent at this stage, but it’ll take more effort to do less work. You’ll be tempted to use your increasing resources to try to make your child’s life better. Resist. Spending more money on your kid won’t turn them into a more functional adult, but it will turn you into a poorer one. You have my permission to be cheap, guilt-free.
Parenting in your Thirsty Thirties
If you make it to your thirties before having a kid, you most likely have an incredible life. You travel, excel professionally, and have an extensive network of cherished friends. If you’re an overachiever, it’s the best time of your life. Too bad it’s over.
There’s no law that says you have to give up everything that makes life worth living when you have a kid, but for overachieving parents, it happens anyway. If you lived for work, you’ll have to cut back. You can’t put in eighty hours a week at the ofﬁce and eighty hours at home with your kid. Well, technically you could, since there are 168 hours in a week. That leaves eight hours a week for sleep, which is a normal amount for a new parent.
Read more about parenting:
- 7 ways to strengthen your relationship when you have kids
- 6 common relationship hurdles parents face and how you can work through them
- Does your relationship need baby-proofing too?
Or maybe your pre-kid focus was on overachieving at your social life. Perhaps you met your regular crew every night at a bar where everybody knows your name. The best friends are the ones who enable your functional alcoholism. After kids, you’ll lose touch with those people, both because you’ll develop different interests and because friends are work. Even if they’re willing to come over to your place, you’ll just silently count down the minutes till they leave so you can go to bed. Not that you’ll stay asleep if you have a baby. The key to a full night’s rest is starting your insomnia early.
Most overachievers wait until their thirties because, no matter what they were passionate about, they thought a kid would ruin it. And they were right. That’s why people who put in the bare minimum at everything have the right idea. By not being passionate about work or a social life, they won’t have anything to painfully give up, not even in their thirties. Kids can’t ruin your life if you never had one in the ﬁrst place.
Parenting in your Frantic Forties
Starting a family in your forties isn’t usually on the radar for either overachieving or bare minimum parents, but there are plenty of reasons why it might happen anyway. Maybe you didn’t ﬁnd your partner until later in life. Or perhaps you had a partner, but the baby-making process didn’t go as smoothly as you’d like. It’s tough to know which parts go where, even with the instruction manual.
Whatever the reason, this isn’t a position most parents end up in by choice. Even the procrastinators usually have their ﬁrst kid in their late thirties. But the deadline for kids isn’t as hard and fast as you might think, especially for people old enough to think they don’t need to think about preventing kids at all. That’s when they sneak up on you. Past a certain age, all surprises are bad surprises. Defend yourself accordingly.
If you have your ﬁrst kid in your forties, you’ll feel more pressure than ever to overachieve. Tragically, you won’t be able to use poverty or youth as an excuse to cut corners. You’ll have more ﬁnancial stability and life experience than at any other stage. You’ll be the adultest of adults. That might sound like a blessing and a curse, but it’s actually just a double curse. Those aren’t covered by your health insurance.
This is when the exhaustion that’s been creeping into your life for the last two decades will ﬁnally reach its full potential. Add kids, and the only time you won’t be eager for a nap is when you’re already taking a nap, and even then you might dream about napping. The parent version of Inception would just be a tired mum slipping into a double coma.
Your body will give up, but your pride won’t. Rather than doing the bare minimum on your own, you’ll be tempted to use your midlife money to hire a nanny to overachieve on your behalf. What could go wrong? Every kid needs a parental ﬁgure who can be ﬁred at will.
In a shocking turn of events everyone saw coming, throwing money at your problem will only backﬁre. Normally, even when your kid blames you for everything, they still love you, which will almost make up for how difﬁcult they make even the simplest things in your life. But if you pay someone else to parent for you, you’ll still get all your kid’s blame but none of their love, which will go to the nanny or robot butler depending on how far into the future you wait to reproduce. As for self-sufﬁciency, if you can’t take care of your kid, how do you expect your kid to take care of themselves? They’ll try to solve all their problems by outsourcing them to the lowest bidder. While that might be an admirably lazy approach, it’s not a sustainable one. Eventually, they’ll end up broke and bitter, just like you. They’ll experience all the shame and disappointment of being a parent without ever having a kid. Maybe they’re on to something.
In your forties, it’s critical that you ﬁnd just enough energy to be lazy. Don’t overachieve, and don’t pay anyone else to overachieve on your behalf. Parent with whatever you have left in the tank and you’ll achieve the bare minimum for your kids. The easy way is always the best.
This is an edited extract from Bare Minimum Parenting by James Breakwell, published by Allen & Unwin: RRP: $19.90 © James Breakwell, 2018.