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Simon Barnett: ‘What I’ve learnt about being a Dad’

Radio host and dance champion Simon Barnett reveals his secrets to raising daughters.

By Donna Fleming
There are a number of achievements in Simon Barnett’s life of which he is justifiably proud of – such as becoming the Dancing with the Stars New Zealand champion, despite the fact that he reckons he has two left feet.
But nothing in his long broadcasting career, not even winning the TV competition, can come close to what he considers to be his greatest achievement – raising his four daughters.
“Parenthood is the toughest job any of us can take on, and I really mean that,” says the More FM radio host, who is dad to Samantha (21), Sophie (19), Isabella (16) and Lily (15).
“Being the father of my four girls is the scariest, but also most rewarding thing I have ever done. From the moment our first child came into the world, I have wanted to be the best dad I could possibly be, and I hope I have been. It’s definitely been a challenge, but it’s one I have relished.”
He readily admits there have been times when he’s wondered what on earth he was doing, and also occasions when he has screwed up.
Simon and wife Jodi
“There were times when I got really grumpy when the kids were younger and lost it with them. But when I calmed down, I went to them and said, ‘I am so sorry I yelled at you.’ I think it is important that parents can say sorry to their kids. We should never stop trying to be the best we can be.”
He can still recall the moment he and wife Jodi brought their first child, Samantha, home from the hospital. “I remember putting the car seat on the kitchen table and thinking, ‘Oh, my goodness, that’s my child and I am responsible for her.’”
Fast-forward 18 years, and there was more overwhelming emotion when Sam left the family home in Christchurch to go to medical school at the University of Otago.
“When we dropped her off in Dunedin, I said to everyone, ‘Let’s not make this any harder than it needs to be. Let’s just give her a kiss goodbye and jump in the car.’ So the girls all gave her a kiss and when it came to my turn, I kissed her and hugged her and I couldn’t let go.
“Jodi and I cried all the way to Timaru because we couldn’t believe that all those years had already flown by, and she was gone. It made me feel so sad.
“But the thing is, she may not be living at home but that bond is as strong as ever. She phones just about every day and loves coming home for the weekend. We are as close as ever.”
Listen to Simon’s live broadcast tribute to daughter Sam
For the time being, second daughter Sophie is still at home while she studies Speech and Language Pathology at the University of Canterbury – she’s hoping to work with special needs children and people who’ve had strokes.
Isabella wants to be a vet and Lily would like to follow in big sister Sam’s footsteps and also train to be a doctor. So within a few years, Simon and Jodi could find themselves on their own.
“That’s just crazy,” says Simon. “I don’t want to think about how much I will miss them when they are all gone!”
But he will always be able to look back on the special times they have shared. When the girls were younger, they’d go on a driving adventure based on the toss of a coin.
“If it was heads, we’d go left at the next intersection, or right if it was tails. We’d say, ‘Wherever we end up, that’s where we are going for dinner’ – and arrange it so we’d end up at McDonald’s or Pizza Hut.
“We would also have family nights on a Friday, when we would play games and sit and talk or watch movies together,” adds Simon. “Having kids is like a marriage – you have to work at building that bond.”
Some of his happiest memories involve family holidays. “For the first 15 years, we had an old tent we would put up in a campground, and we would cook sausages on the barbecue, pick shells off the beach and go swimming together, and they were the best holidays.
“I would look at my kids and my wife around me and in those moments, I would say to them, ‘I am the happiest man on earth’. I still feel that now when we are all together.”
The parenting advice Simon lives by
After becoming a dad 21 years ago, Simon was determined to learn as much as he could from parenting books and courses. A lot of the advice he and Jodi were given has seen them through the rollercoaster ride that is parenthood – he shares some of it.
Love means time when you are a parent:
One of the greatest things we can give our children is time. I read somewhere that, on average, fathers have around 60 seconds of quality time with each child per day, where there are no interruptions. And it is nothing. We have always made sure that we eat dinner together with no TV, no cellphones, no stereo – just us around the table eating and talking. I also used to take the girls on dates when they were little. We’d go to the movies or to a café to get a fluffy. Now, the two younger ones and I still walk to a café every Saturday morning for coffee and hot chocolate.
In matters of taste, swim with the current, but in matters of principle, stand like a rock:
This is about deciding what is worth getting tough over, and what isn’t. My eldest daughter wanted her tummy button pierced. I’m not big on that stuff, but I thought, “It’s just a taste thing, she will probably get bored with it and take it out.” But when it comes to things like drug taking, then you have to stand firm and say “no”. That’s a matter of principle.
Rules without reason create rebellion:
Parents are often afraid to lay down rules because they think if they are too strict, the kids will rebel. But, actually, it’s when you give them rules without reason that they rebel. If you give them a reason why they shouldn’t do something, it will make sense to them and they’ll accept it. In our house, one rule is there’s no Facebook until they are 17, because some of the hate that happens on Facebook is really horrible. We thought that by 17, they would be better equipped to block any haters and handle it much better than they would do at 13 or 14. We also have a rule that they can’t date one-on-one until they are 18. They can go out with a boy as part of a group, or double or triple date, but the one-on-one dates have to wait until they are better able to make informed decisions about things like sex and their future. It might sound like something out of The Waltons, but it has worked out okay for our family.
Don’t try to be their best friend:
I’ve been guilty of this, but you have to remember that your job first and foremost is to parent them. It is up to us to provide rules and boundaries – kids feel safe with them. That’s why the girls have to be home by 11pm. If you say, ‘Come home whenever you want, I’ll be asleep anyway’, kids interpret that as a lack of love. And the good thing is that when they get older, as well as being their father, you can also develop a friendship with them.
Be a priority parent, not a perfect one:
To start with, I tried really hard to be a perfect father, and I constantly failed. Then I read about setting your priorities when it came to parenting. Jodi and I discussed what our top five priorities were for our kids – things like teaching them to love each other and to be kind – and we focused on those things. It took a lot of the pressure off.
Believe in your kids:
They want to know that, not only do you love them, but you believe in them, and you know they are capable people. That gives them such a boost.
Keep the lines of communication open:
I have always said to my girls, “Remember that you can tell me anything.” Sometimes it is hard if they tell you something you don’t want to hear, but it is better than putting your head in the sand and ignoring it.