a dad and his blog

With 5 kids, 10 and under, the chances that everyone is happy at once is lower than you'd wish.

With everyone's personal preferences about temperature, sound level, who they want to sit next to, and who has permission to look at who, it can be very challenging to have a quiet meal time.

Cross that with a belief that kids should be allowed to cry when they're sad, that expressing emotions is a good thing to do, and we're left with a conundrum. Domino theory implies that when one kid starts wailing, it's merely a matter of time until the stoplight hits red, as the decibels go through the roof.

So... when one kid starts at it, here's a quick trick that might work a few times:

Say “You're sooooo sad!” (Start by acknowledging their emotions. According to the text books, this is all you need to do ;–)

Then say “It's too loud here for us to cry, but I want to take care of you. I'm going to carry you to your room, and hold you while you cry. When you're all done, we can go back to the table.”

You aren't ostracizing or punishing them. You're loving on them, validating their right to feel strongly and express it, but also letting them know their impact on the rest of the family.

If it ends up that the crying is taking too long in their room, you can let them know “I'm really hungry right now, I'm going to go eat, and I can come back when I'm done. If you are all done crying first, come down and join us!”

Make them feel wanted and loved, and chances are they will be ready to join soooner rather than later.

There is a new wave of teaching kids about consent.

And don't get me wrong... that's a good thing.

With 4 boys under our roof, I want to make sure I do my part to ensure they won't rape, assault, or molest anybody.

But more than that, I don't want them to be silent bystanders or witnesses. I want them to be vocal outspoken allies, and loud bearers of human decency.

I want them to decry their peers commenting crudely about other people's looks, who they would “do” or the myriad of other “locker room” talk that is nothing more than misogeny.

But I digress.

My kid went to a preschool where consent was THE theme of the school.

They really wanted to make sure he understood, he is in charge of his body. And adults may not touch him without consent. And his peers cannot touch him without consent.

And again, don't get me wrong... I think that's a crucial part of giving our kids the tools to stand up for themselves, and not quietly accept abuse (sexual or otherwise).

But I think it would be better taught in the context of “you need consent before you touch someone else.”

That seems like a much better tack to reduce hitting, hair pulling, grabbing, tugging, and even spitting on.

And from it you can grow a sense of your own bodily autonomy.

As it stands, our kid learned to tell us “you can't touch me... I don't consent” as we try to hold his hand to cross the street.

And yet he has no problem climbing on us, or slapping his siblings on the back as he tears around the dinner table.

And while we're at it...

Tickling is the perfet platform to demonstrate and practice consent.

It is a fun playful interaction, that quickly turns from YES PLEASE to NO THANK YOU.

If you use it as an opportunity to model how to treat other people's bodies.

If you are tickling them to the point to the point that they can't talk, and you keep on going... What are you teaching them?

If you tickle them to that point and then STOP and ask “would you like me to stop or keep going?” You're modeling a much better way to handle touch and consent.

And giving them a sense of bodily control and autonomy.

Showing them how they should treat other people, while teaching them that they have the ability to decide how they want to be touched.

Winners all around.

By inducting your kids into the cult of your family from birth, you can have a much easier time instilling a sense of family unity from early on.

Now I don't have teenagers yet, so I can't tell you if it will help mitigate any of the anticipated turmoil, or rebellion, but I have to believe that inducing an intrinsic sense of belonging and family identity early on will have lasting subliminal impact (even if it seems distant for a decade in the middle there).

There are a few things we've done to create a family identity. Try the ones that seem up your alley.

Theme Names.

All of our kids names have a theme, but it's not obvious. They each know how their name relates to eachother, but if you saw a list of their names, it wouldn't be obvious. See if you can spot the pattern:

Spanky Spunky Slinky Stinky Marble

See how hard it is? That last one really throws you off! I'm kidding. Those aren't our kids names. But each of our kid's names relates to a different type of animal in way that is more or less obvious in a different way.

Individual Totem

This has led to each kid having their own totem animal, or class of animal.

And the impact on each kid so far has been profound. One kid is associated with sea animals. He doesn't like to eat seafood. He has tons of shark paraphernalia, and can breathe underwater.

Another kid prides himself in his ability to find things in nature, with his “eagle eyes” and has a penchant for finding and collecting beautiful feathers everytime he walks outside.

Another kid believes he has iron is teeth, and can eat sticks.

On a playful level, they each have superpowers, associated with their animals, and we've of course explained that they all share eachothers superpowers to some degree, in order to forestall the inevitible comparisons and competition.

This instills in each of them a sense of connection with nature on a deep level, and with eachother in a secret society kind of way.

Family Name

Of course we have a last name. But we also have a Family Name. Like how when our powers combine, you get Captain Planet's power, or Voltron is the sum of his parts.

Let's pretend our last name were “Sandovel,” well then our Family Name would be Sandove(anima)l.

When we are all on the move, we say “Sandove(anima)l, let's roll” and we motivate out together. It has a nod to the fact that they each have (animal) references, plays off of our last name, and has the word (anima) in it, which gives up a little spunk from the Spanish definition.

It gives a sense of pride and belonging and unification, that will hopefully tie them together when we're dead, and bring them connection even in the times in their life when they hate eachother (or us).

Personal Mottos

We've also created a unique affirmational personal motto for each of our kids that involves a pun in their name.

For example, if these were our kids names, Jenny, Bill, and John, these would be their sayings:

“To infinity and be John!” “Where there's a Bill there's a way.” “You can do Jenny thing.”

Each one is a private mantra that bolsters their true inner sense of self. Reminds them of their potential when things can be hard.

We all say them to eachother when we need them. And like their animal powers, they all can be shared. Bill can do “Jenny thing” we wants, and where there's a Jenny, there's a way too.

If you would like me to write a saying for you or your kid, please send $20 in bitcoin to me, and I'll send you one, or your money back.

Family Crest

Lastly, as a gift, a wonderful family member designed a family crest for us that incorporates all of our totems. She gave it to us as a vector image, that we have used over and over.

We have stickers, laser etched leather crests, mugs, tote bags and hats. Perfect gifts for all the grandmas.

Make it you.

Those are some of the ways our family does it. But do it your own way!

Do each of you have a secret State that is your home base, that you travel through?

Are each of you a color, that when put together makes a personal rainbow of green, red, orange, and purple? An innocuous four color arc, you will all recognize anywhere as a source of your combined beauty and power?

Do you each have an instrument, or a note you play? Is your family a chord? Or a band?

Sandove(anima)l out!

The world is conspiring against you.

Powerful secretive societies have invested billions (trillions?) of dollars in developing technologies and techniques to control your behavior.

They are all trying to get you to throw your money away.

And on average, it works.

So, one of the earliest lessons we teach our kids (besides the anatomically correct words for anus, vulva, and penis) is “Advertisements are trying to get you throw your money away.”

This is our actively repeated mantra, as we move through the world as a family.

When there's an advertisement on the radio we start saying “LA LA LA LA LA LA we won't through our money away!”

When the they're listening to has a crossover episode we say “they're trying to trick you in to throwing your money away!”

And that's one of the big reasons we don't have a TV. We do have a screen with a Chromecast, so they can watch shows and movies, but we try our hardest to not allow advertisements.

Why the F does Netflix not allow me to turn off the teaser promos for shows when casting from my phone to the screen. Why the F does my projector running Android not give me the ability to turn off teasers for shows??? We've ceded control over our desire to third parties

When our kids do see the big teaser on the screen with us there, we remind them “you're not allowed to watch that show, they're trying to trick you into wanting to watch it.”

When there's product placement in a movie, we say “I'll never buy an Audi now, because you're trying to trick me into wanting one.”

So hopefully, through this one little act of consumer rebellion, we are creating more conscious consumers. Consumers of media, and consumers of products.

And I've got a feeling there are positive knock on effects.

It is creating a culture of critical media consumption, making them more willing to question their entertainment, and eventually news sources.

I have a feeling rejecting advertisements will make my kids happier too. So many advertisements are based on creating a feeling of inadequacy in the viewer. “You're not beautiful enough.” “You don't travel enough” “You deserve a nicer car (cough cough crushing debt).” While I know those messages get in your brain as soon as you hear them (even if you know they are tricking you), I have to hope that talking back to them, literally, is helping our kids inner voices grow the ability to talk back to negative self talk in general.

And lastly I hope that this act of self-determinism, of positive assertion of autonomy of thought against mysterious corporations, will lay the groundwork for standing up for their own preferences, and tastes, and comfort level as they're increasingly faced with peer pressure.

Perhaps they'll be more likely to wear the clothing that makes them feel good, and less likely to make some naughty choice, because they can say “you're just trying to trick me” to their peers when they need to.

Phew, that was a long post that got me all riled up. When I'm riled up, I like to relax with a nice cold Brew Dr. Kombucha. I think I'll go get one now. I think it also helps get rid of my acne.

Sometimes you have to stop for ice cream.

Not always.

But sometimes.

Even if it is not on your schedule.

Even if you're late.

Even if it will run all down your shirt.

And you'll have to stop and wash your hands 3 times.

And it will fall on the ground.

And there will be tears.

Sometimes you just have to do it.

The secret to marital happiness lies in this post.

There's a paradox here. If both partners are doing the same amount of work, they will each feel like they are doing more than the other.

Why? Because you know every little thing that you do, but it's impossible to recognize everything that your partner does. And even if you did, you wouldn't value it the same way.

You, almost by definition, do the things that matter to you most. And so does your partner.

And herein lies the rub, even if both partners are doing the same amount, it will feel like the the other is doing less, and less important work.

So that sucks.

The only way to escape is to make it your goal to do more than your partner. And ideally have them approach the same goal!

Once you have mastered this, and gotten beyond using it as an excuse to do less, you can just the true secret. Once you are both trying to do more than each other, be able to afford a house cleaner. And hire one. There. That's the secret.

I always misunderstood Nature vs Nurture. It's not a question of which impacts who your kids will become.

It's an all-out frigging war.

And nature has the upper-hand. I'm fighting nature with all the nurture I've got, and I hope you're rooting for me.

In case I haven't mentioned it yet in this post, I have five kids. And they're all SOOOOO different in so many ways.

Raising our first kid (our only kid for the first 2 years), we interpreted our experience as “normal.” As if any parent copying our choices would have similar experiences. Their kids would have similar reactions and behaviors.

All of the good things we experienced we took credit for. And the hard parts we tried to figure out what we could have done differently.

Then we had a second kid, and suddenly we had two data points. It was enough to let us know that we had been sorely mistaken. Yes some of the things we had done with our first child worked the same, but others were yielded completely different results.

Kid 3 gave us yet more evidence that there weren't just “2 ways to be.”

And lastly, when we ended up with twins, we were provided a natural experiment that shows how kids in the same environment can be oh so different.

With our first kid, we were spending a lot of time talking with him about “complex emotions.” “What you're feeling right now is happiness mixed with nervousness.” This is “exhaustion combined with disappointment” as the ice cream fell to the ground after bedtime.

We felt so proud of ourselves. Helping our kiddo gain the language to understand and explain complex emotions at such a young age.

Then we had kid number two. And we didn't do it at all.

Had we just become such amazing parents that we had done it subliminally? Perhaps!

Until many years later, when it became clear that our oldest has autism.

That was the reason for the differences. For the need to explain what emotions are, how they are expressed, and how they can mix and match.

Nature dealt the cards, we were just playing them as best we could.

Then there was kid number two. At age three or four we noticed a speech impediment. He was almost unintelligible to other people.

But we could understand him... Why? because we are such amazing parents! We had spent years with his older sibling, learning to listen, with sign language, patiently interpreting what he was trying to say until we were good at it!

And then we were faced with the conclusion that we had caused his speech impediment... by understanding him! If we hadn't understood him, he would have learned to enunciate better... and wouldn't have a speech impediment.

Until kid number 5.

When kid number 5 started speaking the same way kid number 2 had, we weren't going to succumb to the same mistake. Every word we were able to make out, we made her repeat correctly.

And it didn't help.

Turns out, it was actually nature.

So there's your answer. And here's the silver lining. It means, that as a parent, you can blame everything bad on nature. And take credit for all the good as your nurture.

You're welcome!

Perhaps this post isn't even necessary? Or perhaps it is.

Writing a blog about parenting requires a certain amount of hubris.

And it inherently colors how you present yourself. I don't blog about my least proud parenting moments.

I look back at the things I thought when I was the parent of one child who was less than 2 years old.

Damn I thought I was a good parent then! Oh if I only knew.

When I hear “judge not lest ye be judged” I think whoever wrote that must have been a parent.

No matter how many experiences I have had, I know I can't know what another parent is going through when their kid is screaming in the middle of the restaurant.

Of course my first thought is “they're a horrible parent” but then of course, I think back to the many times my kids have freaked out a restaurant, and find a modicum of compassion.

So, this post is to go on the record and say: “it's not easy.” Yes I'm proud of some of my parenting choices, some of the tips and tricks we've come up with or learned over the years. But that doesn't mean we've got it figured out.

I'm not always the parent I wish I were.

And my tricks don't always work.

Sometimes my kids bite eachother.

Sometimes they kick eachother.

Sometimes I pick their bodies up and put them outside.

Sometimes the whole restaurant is staring at my eldest child wondering “What is wrong with that parent?” while I'm trying to shrink down in to nothingness.

And if you're the parent, for whom everything is easy: you've got it figured out, your kid is quiet, obedient, a creative and respectful genius... I see you judging me. I'll let you know I've got one of those. And they've shown me that it's not a result of parenting choices... The kid gets all the credit. So stuff it.

“Your night”

It's tricky business, balancing all the people you love in your life.

And with 5 kids it can be challenging to make sure they are all getting the individual attention they need and deserve.

And with one kid, it can be challenging to say no to them, in order to get time with the person who (hopefully) you love more. The person with whom your love created this little animal.

So that is where “your night” comes in to play.

Every kid in our family gets “your night” once a month. It's basically their opportunity to stay up past bed time and get unadulterated adult time. (pure adulterated time?)

What they do with it is purely up to them. But the night is purely up to the adults.

Our kids look forward to the changing of the months, as they start asking “when is my night going to be?”

We schedule their nights on our terms, preferably not a Monday. Or a Friday. Or a Saturday.

And then they get to come down and have 2 parents dote upon them. Or read to them. Or paint their fingernails. Or watch a movie with the adult.

It isn't about going bowling, or on a date, it's about having our full attention.

The length of a night is purely up to us as well. It can be as short as 30 minutes, or as long as 2 hours, depending on what we need it to be. It can even be cleaning the kitchen together.

There's nothing worse than undermining your partner in a parent-child fight.

Well... Maybe being undermined by your partner?

Here's a little tip that we've used to make those moments of parental conflict seem like parental harmony, even if they're not ;–)

The main goal is to have you show a unity of force between parents (for those of you lucky enough to have two or more parents (though more challenging with more than 2, it works with 1 and n + 1, therefore I have full confidence it would work with 4 parents as well cough cough.))

If you and your coparent show any signs of fracture or difference in approach to a situation, it's an opportunity. What kind of opportunity is up to you.

Is it an opportunity to pit one parent against another to gain heretofore unimagined privileges?

Or an opportunity to display how your parents calmly and coooperatively come to a consensus (perhaps even with child input????) on how to resolve a difference of opinions?

Now if you're like me, you certainly don't want number 1. And sometimes you're too tired/grumpy/exhausted to take road number two. And that's why we came up with path number 3:

A rule to resolve all parental conflict immediately (with time for private parental conversation at a later time.)

If the parents disagree, sometimes it is better to come to an agreement in front of your kids immediately, instead of letting things become a discussion (argument/tantrum/meltdown).

In these cases, it is SUPER useful to have a rule that you and your partner have agreed upon before hand to allow you to align immediately and without discussion.

I don't care what your rule is, as long as it is instanteously applied, and applied without consideration.

You could choose “shorter parent wins” or “older parent wins,” but we've come up with something that works pretty well in a lot of situations, and leads to good short and long term outcomes mostly.

“More conservative wins.”

What does that mean?

It means that when parents disagree in front of kids, we err on the side of the more conservative judgement.

“Can I jump off of this wall?”

“Yes” “No”

No wins. It's the more conservative answer: more risk averse, more restrictive. Even though it might be perfectly safe, and reasonable, the parent who said “yes” backs up the parent who says “no” in the moment.

More conservative wins.

This one little trick can align so many intra-parental conflicts:

“Can I get ice cream?”

“Can I go to the movies with my friends?”

“Can I go hotwire vehicles and drag race downtown?”

It is a shortcut that allows you parents to show a united front, and not undermine eachother, even in cases of very conflicting opinions on parenting. Don't let the kids pit you against eachother, or they win automatically.

Of course there are a few caveats:

If the more conservative parent changes their mind immediately, they can cede, without conflict.

If you said “no” to watching a movie out of default, or a desire to train your kids to expect less, but your coparent said “yes,” but you then realize... “hey ice cream will give us 10 minutes to go upstairs and makeout with the love of my life, by all means, you can both switch to “yes.”

And here's a caveat for you, ultra conservative parent reading this blog: You can't use this to always get your way. You have a conversation with your partner afterwards in private, in an attempt to align on why you said “no” or at least understand eachother's differences.

Is it different risk tolerance? Different values? Different beliefs about health food or safety?

The point is you can make it a private conversation, instead of a kid-witnessed fracture.

But you can't use it to railroad your partner in every decsion. If this is you, please use “shorter parent wins” as your rule instead. Congratulations if you are the shorter ;–)

Bonus captain obvious thought:

This should be common sense, but... You have to teach your kids that if the first parent says “no” the answer is no.

Otherwise they will ask one parent, and then go to the other and hope for a different answer.

You need to explicitly tell them that if they are caught tryingn to fish for a “yes” not only will the yes be rescinded, they will be more likely to get “nos” in the future.

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