You might know Chris Ballew as the frontman of '90s alt-rock band The Presidents of the United States of America. But if you’re under, say, eight, you’re probably most familiar with him as Caspar Babypants, a “kindie-rock” icon who makes family-friendly music about topics such as a bubble that doesn’t follow the crowd, a tick that finds residence in a free couch, and a blackberry pie that falls from the sky. An experienced dad of two, he shared with us how he parents.
Name: Chris Ballew
Family: Mary-lynn Ballew (former wife), Kate Endle (wife), Augie (21) and Josie (18)
What kind of music did you grow up listening to?
A little band that people don’t know much about called The Beatles dominated my whole childhood. I had Sgt Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band when it came out in 1967 and I did not even know there was another band on the planet until much later. I did not even know that The Beatles had other records until I was five!
I loved the way they took me on a journey into a surreal visual world on Sgt Pepper’s, and that tone dominates my own songwriting to this day.
Tell us a little bit about your family and your career. Did life happen mostly as planned or were there surprises?
The whole thing has been a surprise. I really never knew where my crazy life was going and in some ways, that open feeling of possibilities probably made it all happen. I suppose I was banking on being successful with music but it was far from a foregone conclusion when I made the commitment to go full-time with songwriting.
The career and the family took off at the same time so everything changed all at once. It was pretty disorienting but also thrilling. The adrenaline carried me through those sleepless nights and rock-and-roll touring for a few years.
Take us through your morning routine.
Back in the day with the little kids, I was the one that got up early with them so my wife could sleep in. Those were the greatest moments of my life as a parent. Everything was peaceful and our house faced east with a view of the Cascade mountains, so watching the light change and the day come on with a little warm peanut baby was the best part of my day.
These days, with the kids grown and gone, my routine is a bit different. Rise up around 7:30AM, then I do Qigong for 30 minutes, and then a light breakfast. It is a lot less memorable than my days with the newborns.
Do you involve your kids in your work?
When they were little and still unable to crawl or move, I would lay them out on a blanket and improvise songs about how much I loved them so they were not “involved” but they definitely were “involved” in the work of songwriting! Later, they wrote songs with me and helped me out by selling merchandise at my shows.
What are your favourite family rituals?
After we all sit down for dinner, we link up our little pinky fingers or hold hands and all take in a deep breath while we raise our linked hands up in the air. Then we let out that breath and lower our hands. It separates the making from the eating and gets us grounded.
How do you decompress?
I do mediation and take walks in the woods and eat really clean food. I find that doing something good for my body helps me relax.
What’s been your proudest moment as a parent?
Watching my kids take off and become independent humans is my proudest moment. Way before they existed, I had this concept in mind that to be a parent is to make a good human that can go out into the world without you and be a contributing healthy positive member of the population of the world. My kids are just starting that part of their lives and it is my proudest moment watching that happen.
What do you want your kid to learn from your example?
I want them to learn to think creatively and to find out how they want to live and make that happen for themselves. Living a script that is not your own is one of the most destructive things you can do so I want them to know them selves and make choices based on how they feel in the moment. That is what I struggled to do and finally achieved and I hope they learn by my example.
How can parents spark a love for music in their kids early on?
Just playing music around the house is the best way. Making up silly ridiculous songs with the kids is another great thing that we did. I am not as much a fan of lessons — listening and singing and creating dumb songs out of thin air are great bonding moments for parents and kids.
Has anyone ever given you a piece of parenting advice that has really stuck with you?
There is a book called How To Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So Your Kids Will Talk by Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish that functioned for me and my family like an instruction manual for human beings. We kept it by the phone and would run to it when confronted with a situation that we could not handle.
[The authors] studied with John Gottman and the book offers an incredible opportunity for parents to learn how to relate to their kids through empathy. Really hearing some one’s needs even if they are unrealistic and unattainable makes that person feel heard. That makes a kid feel powerful even if they do not get what they want.
It also makes them feel safe and cared for even if they do not get what they want. That feeling of security will go a long way toward that child growing up to feel self aware and capable of expressing what they want in life to others.
The one thing I would tell other parents who are juggling a career:
Show your kids who you really are. First, you have to learn who you really are, of course! If your career is demanding but reflects a standard that is admirable or philanthropic or serves the greater good, then your career is part of your example that your kids will absorb through osmosis as you raise them. Know yourself and your offspring will follow suit.