a dad and his blog

“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.

There was a little Jack.

And then the letters floated away in a boat in the water.

And they floated back.

Then they floated home.

They felt sad. That was why they want their mommies.

The mommies did go to them.

And then the babies did go to the mommies.

And that is all of the story

This book is the secret to world peace.

And confident children.

And a launching point for so many good conversations.

It’s not polite to stare at people who are different than you.

But you can stare at this book.

It has gorgeous paintings showing the rich variety of human life.

Colors, shapes, sizes… Games, food, clothing… Religions, hair, and work choices.

This book is a menagerie of how beautiful the variety of life is and can be.


Kids are more capable than we give them credit for.

If you can master this little secret, you will be heralded as an amazing parent.

It is no small part, a huge important thing that we’ve used to make our kids stand out in a few remarkable ways.

And of course… Again… It is down to my wife’s no nonsense belief in kids. And her excellent intuition on child rearing.

It comes down to expecting more from kids.

Society tells us so many stories about life, and they become our inner stories. Things we take to be true, but are not necessarily.

In your home, if you have the privilege (really?) of being at home with them from birth, you can create the reality.

It is your world. Make it how you want it.

And fuck the rest of the world.

Take, for example, this cute little book called Little Pea. In which a pea is forced to eat candy »blech« in order to get the privilege of eating vegetables.

Well guess what the real message of the book is? Kids need to eat yucky vegetables in order to get dessert.

Fuck Little Pea.

Make your own world, with your own rules, and block out everything else for as long as you can.

Here are some things that amaze other people about our children:

» They walk long distances (like more than 2 miles) up mountains, without being carried (at age 2).

» They eat vegetables.

» They eat REAL food.

» They talk to adults.

» They eat spicy food.

» They have independent activity time every day.

» They take a “polite no” for an answer

And what is the great secret? There is none. We just opted out of the false narratives from birth.

Or actually before birth. My wife was eating spicy vegetables all during pregnancy, while breastfeeding (guess what, the tastes come through the milk!) and our kids first foods included spicy Thai chicken soup.

You don’t have total control for long, so take advantage of it. Eventually, friends, school, media will start giving your kid ideas.

Yes it is true that when you have more than one kid, ideas trickle in from the older ones down. Which might explain why my three year olds say fuck. Yes. We’ll blame the 10 year old. I don’t cuss.

But there is a tiny little bit of good news for those you with growing broods. It’s a lesson taken from the Montessori classroom with 3 grade levels all commingled in one class. Once the culture is set, the new kids fall in line. The first graders come in and see second and third graders unrolling mats, and so they accept it as just what you do.

So for us, having done the hard work with the first kids, watching the twins follow along without pushing back has been a bit of sweet reward.

If only they would all stop their goddam cussing.

So one of my kids loves to cook.

It's uncanny, his ability to just wing it, and make yummy food.

The other morning, before he went off to camp, he asked if he could make muffins.

My answer?

“Yes, but don't ask for any help.”

Lo and behold! A bowl full of batter and chocolate chips was sitting on the kitchen table as I clicked open the van door, and began the 10 minute process of getting kids into shoes.

“There's no time to bake them,” I said in what was probably too gruff a tone. To which he replied, “That's okay, they're for family day. You can bake them for my siblings while I'm gone.”

He's 8, and without a recipe, he made muffins that were actual muffins. Yes they would have done well with a little more (any) butter in the batter, but they rose! and they had chocolate chips! and they didn't taste like baking soda!

A resounding win all around.

This morning, I started making pancakes. (Thank you Kodiak Cakes for making pancakes with protein, that are yummy, and have slightly less sugar crashiness).

The first three were doing their thing on the griddle when he asked “can I flip them when they're ready?”

“Yes please!” was the obvious answer. I had to make coffee. Pick out outfits. Let out the dog. Pack a snack. Check water bottles for strange smells. Gather shoes and track down masks.

“Oh no! I'm horrible at pancakes!” came the sad sound from in front of the cooktop.

I turned and saw a half-cooked pancake half on the griddle, half on the glass cooking surface.

Somehow, in a moment of grace, I thought not about the mess, but the future.

“That's awesome!” as I sidled up to his gloomy (nearly teenage) response of “why?”

And so I explained to him that it meant he was learning how to flip pancakes. And that next time he would flip it a little better. And maybe the time after that, he would nail it.

And that meant that in the very near future, he'd be making me pancakes. Just like he'd made the muffins.

And maybe. Just maybe. SOMEday... that might translate in to 10 extra minutes of sleep for me one Sunday morning.

Bedtime is a war of attrition.

And with 5 kids, us parents are doomed to lose.

And so, one evening, in a fit of flabbergastion deeper than our pile of laundry, the “bedtime ticket” was invented.

Have I mentioned that my wife is a genius? Well she is. Every idea intuition she has on rearing kids is astoundingly spot on. This one hers.

We kick bedtime off after books, at 6:30pm. That's when our 10 year-old heads to bed, and I start corralling kids up the stairs to start brushing teeth. going potty. drinking water. being tucked in. getting hugs. getting kisses. getting flies out of rooms. going potty again. kissing again. going potty again. putting oxalic acid on warts.

And finally I make it back downstairs to await the next interruption.

What follows is an onslaught from all directions.

The creak at the top of the stairs presages a descending need “to find the library book I left in the living room.”

The sound of a sliding door creaking open to send up a pretty pair. One complaining their white noise machine is off, and the second, an adoring sibling tailing like a puppy.

Occasionally my heart lurches as I hear the front door opening. A half-proud / half-guilty kid (or pair of kids) slinks inside holding up a handful of freshly dug carrots.

“Look what we found!” is met with “Why are you out of your bed? Take those carrots to your rooms right now.”

And thus, in a characteristic stroke of genius, my wife said “You just used your ticket.”

“What ticket?” came the confused kid's response.

“Well, from now on, you get ONE bedtime ticket every night. If you forgot something... a book, a midnight snack, or an extra goodnight kiss... You get one chance to come to the living room. Then you've used your ticket, and are henceforth banished to your room.”

And somehow... it worked!

The scarcity begets a sense of hesitation which forces them to take stock “Is this what I want to use my ticket for?”

Now, of course, nothing is a perfect system.

As I've said many times, you can only baby-proof your house for kid you had YESTERDAY.

So there are inevitable relapses. Emotional breakdowns are met with hugs, and talking, regardless of ticket status. And some nights the tickets seem to have no magic power at all.

And, with 5 kids, as soon as they are all using tickets, that's 5 interruptions a night! Too much. So we are preparing the older kids that soon they'll be down to one ticket a week.

Assuming it all works as planned... that's less than one interruption a night (on average).

Of course I know how well plans work with 5 kids, so my expectations are tempered.

But any reprieve is gratefully accepted.

At the moment, I've got a three year old. Well, two actually. We ended with twins.

Last night he was crying because he really wanted to outside and play in the garden.

It was the kind of crying that had no end.

The kind of crying born of tiredness. And three-year-old-ness.

So what did I do?

I squatted down to look his tears in the eyes, and spoke quietly to him.

He couldn't hear me. The cries continued.

I repeated myself even quieter.

He couldn't hear me.

He quieted. Hesitantly. Distrustingly.

He wanted to know what I had sad. But he is learned enough to know this might be some sort of ploy.

And so my gambit began.

“We've had dinner. We read books. So now it's time for bed.”

And the wails were back.

He has nodules in his throat from crying.

And so... Quietly... Again.

“We've had dinner. We read books. So now it's time for bed.”

My sweet little boy just wants to go outside. That's all he wants. But it's too late. He should be in bed. With teeth brushed.

“We've had dinner. We read books. So now it's time for bed.”

Confession time. I was lying.

We hadn't read books. None of his siblings had heard any books yet.

And so my deed was done.

I had replaced his need to go outside with 2 more primal needs:

  • the need to not be left out, and
  • the need to correct the adult who is wrong.

One more time to set the hook:

“We've had dinner. We read books. So now it's time for bed.”

He stops crying. Struggling, he gasps to catch his breath from the sobs.

I wait.






I can't let him have it this easy. He needs to feel like he worked for it. So I counter in my steadfastness:

“We've had dinner. We read books. So now it's time for bed.”

“I didn't read a book!” comes his reply.

And now my face drops. The moment I've been waiting for.

I transform from the villain of bedtime, to the hero.


“You didn't get a book?”

“Oh no!!!!! You need a book!”

With doe eyes I say optimistically: “Do you want a book?”

And so he has transformed from devastated wild child to hopeful literary audience.

And I can deliver to him a win. He has corrected the adult. He will get a book.

And I will get bedtime.

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