Comedian, and father of four daughters (Betsy, 11, Mae, 9, Lucy, 7, and Waffle, 6) and two pigs (Gilly and Luna) James Breakwell always says that even on the worst day of your life, there are a few seconds here or there that can make you smile or make you laugh; staying one step ahead of the nervous breakdown, he jokes, comes from the ability to keep your focus there as much possible.
When it comes to guiding his daughters on how to react and deal with adversity, he believes that shaking up the perspective on what really matters is a major asset. “Right now my 11 year old is in sports and, you know, sometimes sports go well, and sometimes sports really do not go well. There’s drama with kids, drama with coaches, and I have to just sit her down and say, you know, this is sixth grade sports. Don’t let it get to you in a major way because deep down, it really doesn’t matter at all,” he says.
“I mean, this could be high school sports, it could be college, I ran all the way through college, there’s really no point where it starts to matter. It’s just for fun! I look back at all the stress I put on myself through all of school and realize how little of it comes into play.” For James, what actually matters is the relationships that you build and the kind of the person you grow up to be as a result of nurturing those relationships. And when something genuinely upsetting does happen with something or someone that really matters? Find a way to use it to fuel something better.
In his book “Prance Like No One’s Watching”, a guided journal based entirely on this idea, he provides prompts to help kids learn how to look at their lives so they can take whatever problem they’re facing and reframe it. The ability to do this, James says, will allow them to redirect the power to work for, rather than against, them—and is exactly what he does in his own life.
Every time there’s a disaster in my house, the silver lining is, oh, this is gonna be a great tweet, or this is gonna be a great newsletter
“The worse things go, the better my writing gets. I’ve taken two things I enjoy—spending time with my daughters and writing—and used them to create something that seems to do good in other people’s lives too.
Many of my followers say they’ll turn to my Twitter page when they need a break from the world, because I don’t do politics, I don’t do anything else, I just do jokes. When you show up there, you know what you’re going to get—something ridiculous and relatable you’ll almost always be able laugh at.”
James considers this outlet to be his therapy and the best way to release any stress he faces in daily life; when he doesn’t get the chance to write, he notices immediately how much easier it is for things to feel overwhelming. “When I can take something crazy that happens with the kids, a messy house, something broken, and turn it into a post that makes other people feel better about their bad days, it instantly changes my perspective and usually helps me let go of whatever happened. Naturally, I want my daughters to be able to do this too, so I created a version that’s relevant to their experiences.”
When it comes to advice for other fathers, his answer is also one that tends to bring about a smattering of uncomfortable laughter and its fair share of harsh judgement calls, which he blissfully ignores: take a step back and let your kid be a kid. Stop freaking out and pushing them so hard. It’s going to be better for them because they have more freedom, and it’s going to be better for you because you’re not as stressed out. In “Bare Minimum Parenting: The Ultimate Guide to Not Quite Ruining Your Child”, he furthers this theory, which he says initially began as a joke that he accidentally ended up proving has a solid foundation.
What if, instead of pushing your child to their limits and beyond, insisting they exceed your wildest dreams and always be engaged in something excruciatingly productive, you just backed off, chilled out, and did the bare minimum to turn out a decent human being?
“If you’re a kind and supportive parent, doing your best with the simple, basic stuff behind caring for your kid as opposed to always going to the extremes of effort and motivation, there may be haters, but ultimately, it’s up to you to be confident in your choices and do what you want. You can always log off social media, distance yourself from that snarky mom or dad in the carpool lane, and just focus on what naturally feels important to you because ultimately, those people are going to go away. Focus on what you think is best for your family and don’t worry about what the mob thinks. The mob isn’t going to help you raise your kids. It’s up to you to decide what’s right and to create a life for you and your kids that supports that—nothing more.”