You may wonder what sound parenting advice Alex McCord and Simon Van Kempen may have for parents. What kind of tips could an extremely wealthy couple living in New York City have for the average American family? Their posh lifestyles aren't exactly typical, and on the Bravo series The Real Housewives of New York City, they've received flack for their children's moments of unruliness (remember when they were shrieking and eating food off of a guest's plate at a fancy dinner party?).
But that hasn't stopped them from making themselves heard -- they're working on a book together called The Urban Parent: Tales From a Real House in New York City. Alex and Simon are dedicated to their family, obsessed with their sons, and aren't reserved in talking about them. We grilled them about their sons, their parenting skills, and their luxurious and hectic New York City lifestyles. You be the judge -- will you buy their book?
Tell me about your book.
Alex McCord: It's a collection of experiences, what we learned through traveling and exploring, and life in the city. When I was a mom of one, I started writing down funny things Francois would do. We've recently had a ton of emails from people wanting to know about raising bilingual kids, having two full-time- working parents, babysitters, how to travel with kids.
Simon Van Kempen: Also, the pitfalls. Like learning what to do on vacation, when a Saudi nurse feeds your baby all of the breast milk you've pumped at once, to the point he gets sick.
Wow, that does not sound hypothetical. What are your boys, Francois (5) and Johan (3) like?
SV: We just had a parent/teacher conference and at the end, I said to the teachers, "C'mon, give me some negative things about them." And they said, "There aren't any!"
AM: They are growing at the speed of light. They change every week. Every day is an adventure with them. I love how we're just getting to that point now that the four of us can sit and have a conversation they both participate in. We play "I Spy" at dinner.
SV: But Johan hasn't quite grasped it. Every time he says "I spy something beginning with black! Mommy's car!" But he can't really see the car.
They're just super creative -- making you think outside the box.
AM: Yes. Definitely creative. They're different from each other, too. They have wonderful imaginations and they're great story tellers. Some of their stories are completely off the wall.
SV: That's because of Alex. When Francois was three weeks old, she read stories to them, not just at night, but throughout the day.
AM: I always thought it was second nature, but the more I talked to other parents, the more I realized not everyone does that. You have to do that.
SV: Babe, it's a luxury we have. We can.
Well your kids have a lot of luxuries?
SV: There are pros and cons. I grew up in a single parent home, and we were very independent. We grew up faster. But as long as kids get love and attention, it's okay. Francois is almost at the age I was when my father died, and I had no paternal role model. It's just a joy to see my two guys grow up. I'm lucky because I don't work from 9 to 6. I get to experience it all.
So what are some of the cons?
SV: It's unrealistic to say that everything is perfect, but we are honest with ourselves and our children. We talk about the good in the bad.
AM: We are in a constant state of discussion. Anything about the kids, Simon and I debrief.
SV: Like, we always used to say that we would never reward with dessert, but we lost that battle.
AM: Yes but what we gained was that they'll try new foods. So it's okay.
SV: I also believe in reverse psychology, that worked wonders with Francois and it's starting to work with Johan. It's also hard to make sure working full-time and the city don't overshadow the need for them to grow up as normal kids. We work against the New York City stereotypes of putting pressure on them or overscheduling them. We let them do one or two activities a week. And Alex and I don't go out more than twice a week. We spend most of our time with our kids.
AM: We have never experienced that nightmare where the child is crying for the babysitter. They show affection for her, but when we come home, they run straight to our arms. With so much going on, we try to be present where we are.
Do you ever think you're overprotective of the boys?
SV: No. For example, we have never been one to block the stairs.
Why do you think that works for your family?
AM: We're kind of Montessori at home, without going by the book. We always let our kids have glass glasses. At the same time, you shouldn't speak to them like they're mini-adults, that's not fair to them. But you don't have to be all mushy and treat them like idiots.
SV: In season 1, we dealt with the death of my step-father. Francois wanted to know why he died. He asked, "What's cancer?" And I told him that it's when the cells grow too rapidly and take over. There was a big response on the parenting blogs -- some thought it was fantastic, or some thought it was way T.M.I. The thing is, there's no right and no wrong way, there's no one right thing I should tell my son. Parenting is not absolute science. It's something we love to do. Ten years ago we thought we'd never have kids. Now, we pinch ourselves and can't picture life without the boys. Each phase is different. Sometimes I see a newborn and think, "I miss that age, that was so beautiful," but it keeps going and there are good things with every stage.
How have your children changed you?
AM: How have they not?
SV: We have our time together, Alex and I. We were here first. We're still important. We manage our great relationship and the hours we invest will help our parenting. For me the love of my children has an intensity I didn't know existed. It's a different kind of love.
AM: I didn't want children at first, but eventually I started thinking "maybe this is a good idea."
SV: As soon as we had one, we knew we wanted two, and we wanted a two year age difference. It was tough having two in diapers, but now they are three and five and we are reaping the rewards. They play together, grab hands, run around the house -- they are great friends. They also look after themselves a good amount.
How do you teach your children that money is not the most important thing?
SV: When I was a boy, we were poor when it came to money, but rich with the things we did. That's important.
AM: When I was growing up, we generally had more than most, less than some. Now I am adamant that your personality should not be affected by the zeros in your bank account. I don't want to be friends with people just because they are wealthy, and I try to impart that to the boys.
SV: Francois and I talk about it, but he hasn't quite mastered it yet. I try to tell him that money isn't a bottomless pit, and that it has to be earned. He wants to buy a BMW. I asked him, "How will you get it?" and he said, "I'll have to work for it." But it's still abstract to him.
AM: Once he said to me "I want to have 6 kids." And I reminded him that he'd have to work very hard to support them. It's a balance. When he wants to buy a toy, we explain that it costs money -- not in a prohibitive way but in appreciation.
Do people tell you that the boys are spoiled?
AM: Sometimes the fact that I work upsets Alex. He says, "Why don't you come to school lunches like the other moms?" And I tell him, "My working allows us to do what we do and have what we have." What's your day like?
SV: We leave the house at 8:15 -- we take turn taking the boys to school -- and we get home at 6:15. We choose to participate equally in everything; we both do all the work.
What the most surprising thing about parenting?
AM: How much fun it is. How much work it is. I was a night owl, and I never thought I'd be up at 5 in the morning, without an alarm. But now I need to get up to get things done.
Quick, -- your five best parenting rules.
1) Trust yourself -- your body and your instincts. There is no right or wrong way to parent. Don't read What To Expect When You're Expecting. It will scare the bejesus out of you.
2) Believe in tough love. Children expect boundaries
3) Maintain a sense of humor and don't expect perfection.
4) Be present. Don't text on your Blackberries when you are with your children.
5) Enjoy! Don't work your life away. Don't miss it!