My good friend Alexander and his wife Nicole just celebrated the graduation of their oldest daughter from high school. I have admired them as parents for years because they maintain a very offbeat lifestyle while simultaneously raising two capable and independent girls who are more mature, respectful, and confident than many teens I’ve met. I wanted to know what their tricks and tools for raising such stellar kids were, and what I can learn from their experiences. The following is an interview with Alexander.
Tell me a little synopsis of your family unit. Include accomplishments your children have achieved.
Nicole and I became parents when I was 23 and she was 20. I am a computer technician and artist, and she is an audiologist. We have two girls, aged 18 and 13. Both are accomplished artists in their own right. Tayah has shown an aptitude for drawing and painting, while Mekayla produced and co-directed a high school play and commands the ceramic arts. Mekayla has competed for three years in high school mountain biking and Tayah has just completed her sixth year of recreational league softball. We are clowns, and have multiple professional grade clown noses.
Once we rediscovered our inner weirdos, we found ways to include the youngins.
Have you and your wife always been offbeat/weirdos or is it recent?
Oh, yes. This sort of thing does not just appear one day. It starts deep in your bones. I will say that we have all begun to polish our weirdness more actively in the last six years or so. Nikki and I have been able to go out in search of strangeness more effectively when the eldest child got old enough to babysit the youngest for an evening. Once we rediscovered our inner weirdos, we found ways to include the youngins.
What were some of your biggest parenting challenges related to being different from other families? Did your kids get flak at school or did your family members give you a hard time for doing things your own way? How did you combat teasing/criticism/discrimination?
Mekayla was teased horribly during fourth grade. It was a difficult time for everyone. I had never before thought violent thoughts towards fourth grade girls, but there was a specific classmate I saw red when I thought of. There was a lot of coaching, on our part. We really tried to let her know that most bullies are bullied at home and those who are important will be supportive of you. Those who say anything they can to make your life miserable are not worth the emotional currency they seek. Mekayla came through the ordeal very grounded. She knows the value of “circling the wagons” with real friends. It seems to me that Tayah got to learn that lesson second-hand. Plus, Tayah lives out loud and bullies get scared off from that sort of behavior.
What was one parenting mistake that you made and what did you learn from it?
Every move you make has the possibility of being a mistake. If you discipline your child, are you too lax and thus are not setting up your child for self-discipline later, or are you too strict and thus stifling your child? I imagine there are things I have done that make it hard for them to become organized. Basically, you have to simultaneously trust yourself, yet still keep a critical eye out. Parents WILL make mistakes. It is more about being flexible enough to adapt as you go.
What parenting successes are you most proud of?
I am proud that I am due to send a young adult to a college. I am proud of the confidence that she inspires in everyone who knows her. I am proud that Tayah is a young artist who also happens to have had the best batting average on her last softball team. I am most proud that I have two kind, loving, intelligent girls. I am proud that they seem comfortable talking to us about almost anything. I am possibly most proud that they both have a sense of who they are.
What are your top parenting priorities?
Priority one is to keep them alive and reasonably in one piece. Priority two is to make sure they both know that they are loved by a lot of people. Most everything else is centered around making sure they are self-confident and have the tools to excel in life. Excelling has more to do with their own definitions. There are things I would like to see, but it is of more importance that each girl be able to feel accomplished, whatever that may mean to her. I really believe unconditional love is the key to being confident enough to take risks in life.
Now that your oldest has graduated high school, how do you feel about your parenting journey? Lucky? Proud? Baffled? All of the above?
I have seen Mekayla take the hard route. She has been told that she cannot do something, and made the means to do it anyway. That sort of determination can only help her succeed. I feel a little sad that my first little baby is leaving, but there is this great sense of anticipation. I want to see how this plays out. I fully expect her to take the world and wring everything she needs out of it.
What advice or sage wisdom do you have for new parents who are offbeat who want to be successful parents while maintaining their unique identities and fostering a sense of self in their own children?
Letting your children know that you are interesting is its own reward. Many times, I have repeated that children are going to be crazy. There is nothing you can do about it. You have two choices. You can either pretend the child will not be crazy and let the crazy go where ever it will, or you can funnel it towards a more compatible form. More seriously, I suggest finding time without the children. Recharging one’s batteries really makes it easier to devote energy to your child. Don’t talk down to your child. Challenge their mental capacity.
I decided at a young age that parenting must be like art. To be successful, you put in your passion, imagination, focus, and intellect.
Anything else you want to impart to readers?
I always thought I’d become a parent. I decided at a young age that parenting must be like art. To be successful, you put in your passion, imagination, focus, and intellect. There is a great deal to learn from other people, but it ultimately has to feel right in your gut. I have two works of art. So very different, yet both are still obviously my girls.