Why this lit­tle boy’s dad says you should spend PRE­CIOUS TIME with your chil­dren

Au­thor Benji Ben­nett gives his poignant ad­vice to par­ents...

Irish Daily Mail - - Femail Magazine - by Pa­trice Har­ring­ton

HIS beau­ti­fully il­lus­trated books cel­e­brat­ing his son Adam’s short life have won sev­eral awards and sold al­most half a mil­lion copies. Eoin ‘Benji’ Ben­nett’s sim­ple mantra — de­liv­ered via Adam on his cloud in Be­fore You Sleep — is for par­ents to con­nect more with their chil­dren.

The mes­sage he sends from his cloud ev­ery day is to spend more time with each other and play. The most im­por­tant thing in life is sim­ply this, show your love for your fam­ily with a hug and a kiss.

Beau­ti­ful Adam, with his mop of blonde curls and big brown eyes, was just four when he died of a brain tu­mour in Au­gust 2007. Benji and his wife Jackie, from Black­rock, South Dublin, have three other chil­dren, Harry, 17, Rob­bie, 11 and Molly, 9.

‘The mo­ment we lost Adam, I was hold­ing Adam’s hand and I was told he was gone,’ he says, fight­ing back tears when we meet this week in a nearby ho­tel. ‘I ripped open my shirt. Adam had no top on and I just lay on him and held him. The sin­gle thing of a shirt was like a chasm, a bar­rier. It was at that mo­ment that I turned around and said, “Jackie, the whole world has to know about Adam.”’

Now as Benji, 47, launches his muchawaited ninth book, Adam Saves The Sea­sons, he sug­gests ways we can make more

time for our chil­dren given the busy na­ture of mod­ern life.

‘It’s all sim­ple stuff,’ he says. ‘I’m not a child psy­chol­o­gist, I don’t know what’s go­ing on in peo­ple’s lives and I don’t want to be pre­scrip­tive. What works for me and my fam­ily may not work for every­one. But what I would say is this: give it a go.’

Here’s some sage ad­vice from Benji:

SAY YES

THANK­FULLY there was never once an oc­ca­sion when Adam said, ‘Daddy will you kick a ball with me?’ where I said no. No mat­ter how tired I was. In fair­ness, Jackie would say, ‘Go on out and kick the ball with him’ and I’d say, ‘Okay’.

When Adam died I said to Jackie: ‘We need to re­mind par­ents of the im­por­tance of spend­ing time with their kids.’ I don’t want to sound like I’m beat­ing par­ents with a stick about this. I’m very con­scious that ev­ery­body has dif­fer­ent chal­lenges.

SUP­PORT YOUR PART­NER

I AL­WAYS want to be around Jackie. When she goes off to the shops I’m like the puppy at the win­dow wait­ing for her to come back.’ We have our down days as well, like ev­ery­body. I’d say 90% of the time it’s good — the rest of the time it’s has­sle and stress and wor­ries and the kids are shout­ing at you or what­ever it is. Ev­ery­body is the same.

Jackie is a huge in­flu­ence in my life. She is the one who says, ‘Benji, go for a run, you’ll feel better af­ter­wards.’ As par­ents you have to sup­port one other. A lit­tle bit of sup­port makes the house a hap­pier en­vi­ron­ment. And for kids to grow up in a happy en­vi­ron­ment is the best thing.

GET INTO NA­TURE

A LOT of my books are in­spired by my love of na­ture. We have a mo­bile home in Brit­tas Bay and our lit­tle place by the sea has prob­a­bly been the most im­por­tant and best thing for fam­ily time. It’s meant that I’ve had to forego the nice car. But we love it, it’s our favourite place in the whole wide world. It in­spires ev­ery­thing — hap­pi­ness, re­lax­ation, spir­i­tu­al­ity. Adam has a bench there, over­look­ing Brit­tas Bay beach, where he ran around and played and swam in the sea. For me, na­ture is the essence of ev­ery­thing I do. We’re very lucky for what we have.

LET THEM FIND THEIR STICK

THE beauty of the car­a­van is that the chil­dren can go out on their own. Chil­dren who grow up in ru­ral ar­eas of­ten do that, but many city chil­dren don’t get to do it — and that’s a na­tional prob­lem, not a par­ent­ing thing. We are pro­tec­tive of our chil­dren and we don’t let them out on their own. But they need to dis­cover the world for them­selves.

In Brit­tas they have the free­dom to run out and call over to a friend. Sticks are a big thing — they’re all walk­ing around with sticks. From ba­bies up to nine year olds. So what I’m try­ing to say is that they need to find where their stick is.

READ TO YOUR NEW­BORN

FROM the day they are born you in­flu­ence your chil­dren — not from when they’re five, six or seven. They’re never too small — chil­dren are smarter than we give them credit for. The emo­tional con­nec­tion is made from birth and that’s the one which needs to be nur­tured.

I tell ev­ery­body to read to their chil­dren from the mo­ment they’re born. Don’t wait to ‘de­velop’ that bond with your baby. Just have that ten min­utes at the end of the day. It’s very quiet, it’s the time you can in­stil con­fi­dence in them. Now, when I’m tired and with Molly, I’ll say, ‘Do you want to read me the story book tonight?’ The amount of times Molly has put me to sleep with her voice!

CHATS

AFTER read­ing a book, you can have a lit­tle con­ver­sa­tion — pre­sum­ing you haven’t fallen asleep! Ask your child how their day was, if any­thing is both­er­ing them. All those won­der­ful con­ver­sa­tions will come later after get­ting into this rou­tine.

I LOVE YOU

I TELL my chil­dren I love them ev­ery sin­gle day, in the morn­ing, evening and night. I do this be­cause as our kids get older we shout, we hurry them, we tell them, ‘You haven’t done your home­work right’ or ‘You haven’t done this or that prop­erly’. They’re get­ting all of this stuff from us as par­ents. So be­fore bed, that rou­tine of read­ing and chat­ting be­comes like an eraser rub­bing out the stresses of the day. Say some­thing like: ‘That was a re­ally busy day — to­mor­row let’s try and do a lit­tle bit better. Don’t for­get your coat or what­ever. Or maybe do your home­work when you get in.’

Make sure you tell your chil­dren you love them be­fore they go to sleep so they go to sleep happy. I think that af­fir­ma­tion makes them less stressed and it helps with their con­fi­dence.

BRING THEM OUT

PEO­PLE some­times won­der how to en­ter­tain chil­dren. Open the door and walk out with them. That’s it. Bring them out­side. I know there are times of the day when it’s too busy or there’s stuff on after school. I still say bring them out ev­ery day if you can. Even to say, ‘Okay kids, there’s a ten­nis racket and ball, go out onto the green and throw the ball for the dog for ten min­utes.’ So they’re out. And they’re hit­ting the ball and they’re chat­ting and look­ing at the dog run­ning up and down and gig­gling and laugh­ing.

I wouldn’t even worry about the dark, you can still go out. I mean, kids love go­ing out in the dark with a torch. It’s an­other way to keep them away from some of the stuff you don’t want them do­ing.

There was a stage when Molly and Rob­bie were scrap­ping with each other. I used to say, ‘Right, that’s it, we’re go­ing out­side!’ They were get­ting cabin fever from be­ing in­doors. When there’s too much in­door time and too much TV, kids go nuts. Again, I’m not say­ing they shouldn’t have TV — it’s about get­ting the bal­ance right.

We went for a walk. As soon as we were out­side, the two of them were gig­gling. So we went from a scrap to gig­gling. I’m like any other par­ent, I’m like, ‘Oh God, I’m not go­ing out, I have too many things to do.’ But it’s al­ways worth it. Have you ever in your life seen an un­happy child in a play­ground? Or scoot­ing along with Mum and Dad?

It also gives me a lot of hap­pi­ness, watch­ing them ex­plor­ing and look­ing around them. It’s won­der­ful to ob­serve. That’s a re­ally im­por­tant thing to me. A happy young child is a happy adult.

HAVE FUN

WE HAVE to teach our chil­dren from a very young age how to have fun. There’s a cer­tain amount of show­ing them and a cer­tain amount of let­ting them fig­ure it out for them­selves. I spend my time go­ing around putting tea tow­els on my head and things like that. Be play­ful. My par­ent­ing phi­los­o­phy is to in­stil magic, won­der, na­ture, de­ter­mi­na­tion, drive and am­bi­tion into our chil­dren.

AD­VEN­TURE

ONE day I told the kids we were go­ing on a big ad­ven­ture. We just took their bikes and went from our

house in Black­rock to Dún Laoghaire along by the sea to the Peo­ple’s Park. The kids were get­ting tired so we got the DART home. They were gig­gling and laugh­ing as they got on with their bikes.

When we were cy­cling up Mount Mer­rion Av­enue, Rob­bie, who was only about six at the time, was say­ing, ‘Dad, I’m re­ally tired’. I replied, ‘I can tell you now, when you make it to the front door you’re go­ing to feel great that you ac­tu­ally went the whole way to Dun Laoghaire and back.’

We sprinted the last bit of the way — I ran and he was on his bike — and it was bril­liant for him. That type of thing is what we are try­ing to in­stil from the day they’re born — that they’ve got to get out there and they’ve got to do it.

BE CRE­ATIVE

WHEN we’re on the beach, we get two sticks and it’s all, ‘Right, it’s a game of long jumps ev­ery­body!’ Play hop­scotch on the beach, go swim­ming, take them up moun­tains, look what’s around that cor­ner, ad­mire at those lovely flow­ers. Point stuff out to them.

NA­TURE WALKS

NA­TURE and a re­la­tion­ship with the nat­u­ral world is one of the most fun­da­men­tally im­por­tant things that I think you can give kids. It’s in our DNA.

Every­one’s heard the ex­pres­sion, ‘There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothes.’ It’s so true. The worse the weather, the more ex­hil­a­rated you feel be­cause you have that fresh­ness on your face. You’re all wet, you’re tak­ing off your coat say­ing, “Oh my God, that was amaz­ing!” You’ve done it, you’ve been out.

Last Satur­day was one of those aw­ful win­tery days, Rob­bie had rugby and I said I was go­ing for a run. I said, “Come on Molly, we’ll take the dog. Why don’t you come with me on your bike? I’d love the com­pany.”

She was say­ing, ‘It’s a bit rainy,’ and I said, ‘You’re go­ing to feel great af­ter­wards.’ We did two laps of the park, I was run­ning, she was on her bike. Af­ter­wards I asked, ‘How was that?’ and she replied, ‘That was great — I loved it.’

I SPY

BE­FORE the kids could spell we played I Spy with colours on long car jour­neys. ‘I spy some­thing blue.’ ‘The sky!’ ‘Well done!’ We’d be gig­gling away.

MAKE BE­LIEVE

SOME­TIMES you see an ac­tiv­ity to do with the kids and it’s €15 each. But you don’t need to spend money to con­nect with each other. You can pre­tend you’re in a space rocket to­gether in the TV room — ‘Oh, there’s the moon!” — even if you just do five min­utes. Then they might go off and draw a pic­ture of it.

THAT FIVE MIN­UTES

I’D LIKE to think five min­utes for an adult is like an hour for a child. Spend­ing even five min­utes en­gag­ing or play­ing with them will reap re­wards.

MISS THE MATCHES

THE In­ter­na­tion­als are on at this time of year and I used to find my­self say­ing, ‘The rugby’s on, I’ve got to watch the match.’

When the kids came along I couldn’t re­ally watch the rugby. All of a sud­den I loved go­ing out with the kids more than watch­ing the match. Just chat­ting with them and be­ing with them. Now they’re a bit older I do try to watch the games. It’s a lit­tle eas­ier now.

LIMIT PHONE USE

I THINK ev­ery­body knows when chil­dren are too young for tech­nol­ogy be­cause it just causes prob­lems. There are rows, com­mu­ni­ca­tion breaks down, the kids aren’t happy, they’re not go­ing out­side, they’re not be­ing cre­ative.

We had no idea on our first­born. A lot of new par­ents aren’t aware of the dan­gers of mo­bile phones. It’s only when you have a sec­ond or third child that you re­alise. Our el­dest, Harry, had a phone for play­ing games — luck­ily there was no Face­book at that time. But we were al­ways re­ally strict in that we would keep the phone and give it to him, then take it back. It was never in his bed­room or any­thing.

Rob­bie is 11 and Molly is nine. They don’t have their own phones but they take mine and play with it. When their time is up, I get Jackie to ring my phone. That in­ter­rupts them and I say, ‘I need the phone back.’

The point is, if it’s your child’s phone it’s more dif­fi­cult to take it off them. The longer you keep them away from phones, the better — or at least reg­u­late their use within the house. They’re a dan­ger­ous thing but they’re also a won­der­ful thing. When the kids are look­ing for in­for­ma­tion for school, they’ll say, ‘Oh Dad, I need your phone for my home­work.’

FAM­ILY TRA­DI­TIONS

WHEN I was a child my fa­ther would bring us out walk­ing on the Dún Laoghaire piers or to what we called the windy tower, which is the old lead mine you can see from the N11. I loved it and it in­spired me.

Get­ting out for walks has given me the tools to deal with the chal­lenges I’ve had in life. I’m nat­u­rally pass­ing that on to my chil­dren and they’ll do the same to their chil­dren. In that way a sim­ple walk can be­come a fam­ily tra­di­tion through the gen­er­a­tions.

SELF-CARE

WHEN I’m hav­ing a bad day, if I’m ratty or narky with the kids, I go for a run. And I feel bloody great after it. It’s hard to do but you feel better af­ter­wards. Some­thing else might work for an­other per­son.

WEEK­END BOND­ING

IN BUSY mod­ern life, when both par­ents can be work­ing, it’s just so hard. Mum and Dad are work­ing hard and do­ing their jobs to pro­vide for their chil­dren and that’s why I think week­ends are so sa­cred. It’s tough.

If your kids are do­ing sports at week­ends you might feel like a taxi ser­vice. Some­times they have a re­ally hard game of rugby or hockey or what­ever and they’re re­ally tired. And maybe that’s the time to sit down for a chat or to watch a fam­ily movie to­gether. It’s all about spend­ing time to­gether.

A fam­ily movie is al­ways nice. You’re not talk­ing to each other but it’s a shared ex­pe­ri­ence. Kids love it when you en­gage with the films they like so feel free to get ex­cited and shout, ‘Go on, go and get him! Save the day!’ It’s all about that en­gage­ment.

SPIR­I­TU­AL­ITY

SPIR­I­TU­AL­ITY is a very im­por­tant gift to give your fam­ily. For me, spir­i­tu­al­ity is in the beauty of the world around us: jump­ing into the wa­ter with your kids, en­joy­ing the calm­ness af­ter­wards, go­ing up to the top of a moun­tain and look­ing at the view.

School teach­ers are in­cred­i­ble — we can learn a lot from them too.

I re­ally wish ev­ery par­ent the best. I would never judge any­body for not do­ing these things be­cause not every­one is able or ca­pa­ble. But what I will do with all my heart — and all of the love I have for Adam, my own kids and other chil­dren — is to en­cour­age them. En­cour­age them to have that chat, that bit of en­gage­ment and in­tro­duce their chil­dren to the won­ders of the world.

That’s what I’m about and that’s why I’m do­ing what I’m do­ing.

ADAM Saves The Sea­sons by Benji Ben­net is pub­lished by Adams Print­ing Press for €10. Avail­able from book­stores and at adamscloud.com

Fam­ily man: Au­thor Benji Ben­net and left, with wife Jackie and sons Adam and Harry in 2007

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