I didn’t have kids until after creating the hit kids TV series Blue’s Clues. By then I was an expert when it came to kids: teaching them and connecting with them… or at least I thought I was. How real life mocks our fantasies! When I did have my own kids, I had to navigate the practical realities of parenting with an open mind and fingers crossed just like everyone else. Everything you need to know about raising children is NOT learned making kids’ TV! Let’s review the axioms:
1. If you’ve got a good character bible, you’re golden.
The character bible is the playbook for your television programme. You create the character you want to see on the screen and from then on they always behave the way you want them to. But it doesn’t work like that with the character that is your child. Your plan was to have an observant, origami-folding little boy philosopher, but your kid’s more like the scrappy rabble rouser who will sell their brother’s baseball cards and fight you every step of the way… AND recasting is NOT an option.
2. Audience testing proves your concept.
In television production, you can test and refine your ideas until you get them right and the overnight audience numbers show you have a hit on your hands. Raising kids, there is no single ‘right’ way and the only ‘hit’ is the kind your kid’s preschool teacher reports. In hushed tones. With that “what’s-happening-in-your-home?”-type look on her face.
3. Repeating episodes leads to mastery.
With Blue’s Clues, we pioneered repeating the same show for five days, so kids develop mastery. If only sleep training or potty training took five days. Or even five months! And mastery can be summarily suspended when your kid is having sooooo much fun he would rather slowly leak into his shorts in front of your co-workers than take a minute to go to the loo.
4. When in doubt, re-write.
When the television episode you’re planning pushes the envelope too far, you can re-set and get it back on track. But your offspring have no filter called “over-the-top.” When you are performing at your most exhausting fun-mommy/daddy peak, they will demand that you do it longer, take it higher, and do it again for the billionth time!
5. Being re-commissioned is GOOD news
In kids’ TV, success begets new opportunities and new projects. And your colleagues are excited to get started every time. But when you deliver similar news to your first-born child (or even your spouse) — that you’re going to have another child — you’ll have to think of something a lot more clever, deep and inspiring than “we love you so much, we want to have another child!”
Now, several years later, I think I’ve got the hang of the parenting thing, and it’s informed my professional work tremendously. Before kids, TV for me was always about creating the perfect final product. After kids, I think I’m a little more focused on the ‘process’. As a parent, I want each of my children to shine. But as they’ve grown, I’ve slowly realised that I can’t really control their how they turn out – I can’t ‘create’ the perfect outcome the way I could with TV. The best I can do is guide my children by providing an environment in which they can thrive and grow. That has been a real lesson for me, and in my new professional venture, a kids media company called yummico, my partners and I have tried to apply that lesson.
We’ve enjoyed seeing our brands go live in the App store and grow. But from the beginning, we’ve also been focused on the journey. We’ve surrounded ourselves with partners and companies that spark us, that share our goals and ideals – consciously trying to create a work environment in which, hopefully, our products will shine. In other words, we are trusting the process. Work worth doing is its own reward and, like kids, there is never really a final product.
Of course, the other difference is that unlike a kids TV show, you can’t take your kids to MIPTV or MIPCOM and sell them…