A Big Apple Family

TV star Alex McCord on family life in the city.

On and off camera, Alex McCord of Bravo TV’s Real Housewives of New York City is a metropolitan mom who uses all that the Big Apple has to offer to raise her family. “New York City is like a wonder for young children,” she says. “There’s so much to do in the city that it’s almost impossible for any family to take advantage of it all.”

McCord and husband Simon van Kempen are featured on the popular reality show about Manhattan socialites as the jet-setting couple raising two young sons, Francois and Johan, in Brooklyn. McCord is pleased with the producers’ success in creating a show that people are interested in watching, as well as the portrayal of the love her and van Kempen have for their family. But she also accepts the influence of ratings. “The thing about reality shows is that they’re meant to be entertaining,” McCord says. Referring to the last season, she adds, “There were moments that were very, very accurate and other moments that were geared more toward entertainment.”

McCord and van Kempen try to instill personality traits in their children that allow for success on reality television, such as “honesty with yourself and others” and “not taking yourself too seriously.”

McCord and van Kempen also know how to slow things down in their fast-paced world. “We try not to project the manic-ness of our day-to-day lives on our children,” says McCord. The parents’ laptops come out when the boys go to sleep. When Francois and Johan are awake, McCord and van Kempen make sure the children come first. “It’s very easy to run the risk of not being available when your children have a question,” says McCord of the importance of balancing fame and family.

In real life and on reality television, McCord and van Kempen try to keep things age appropriate for their children, especially with the overwhelming amount of entertainment and educational programs available to children in New York. McCord is happy to say that the popular children’s entertainers of today, seen on stations like Noggin and The Disney Channel, are practically their neighbors, so it’s easy to catch a kids’ concert in the park. “We are going to stay in New York City forever,” says McCord. “Simon and I are absolutely in love with the city, and the boys are, too.”

But like any place you choose to settle your family, there are challenges that come with the advantages. City traffic can be an obstacle for parents who need to get their children to school on time. McCord’s advice? “Get up early and calculate exactly how long it takes to do everything.” She rises a half an hour before the boys do to get the coffee, and herself, brewing. She also puts her sons’ breakfast out before they hit the table. Like many little ones, her kids are less likely to refuse the meal mom has chosen when it’s already in front of them. And as any mom knows, the less arguing that goes on in the morning, the faster you get out the door.

The events of September 11 might have made some families second guess living in New York City. When asked if the tragedy changed her family’s perspective, McCord says, “9/11 was a devastating, awful event that happened once, and after it happened New Yorkers demonstrated their usual resilience. It’s important to keep your cool and recognize that no matter where you live, pretty much anything can happen at any given moment, or in the words of Monty Python, ‘No one expects the Spanish Inquisition.’”

Familiar to many parents in the five boroughs are the rigors of school admissions, even for preschoolers, and the importance of finding the right school for each child. McCord and van Kempen tackled these feats as a team, exploring both private and public schools. “We made sure that every school that we toured, we toured together.”

McCord recommends avoiding the mistake many parents make by trying to find a place where your child will graduate high school, given that children’s needs change as they get older. “We continue to evaluate where we want them in the future and act accordingly,” says McCord.

Fans of the Bravo show likely remember, McCord and van Kempen endured home renovations last season. “We moved around within the house and had construction-free zones,” says McCord, sharing insight on how to live with children amidst construction. “It was important to always have a place where [Francois and Johan] could be.”

McCord and van Kempen also took full advantage of the situation by using it as a learning experience for their sons. They involved the boys and encouraged their interest in the renovations by taking them to pick out furniture and paint colors.

And valuing their alone time without the kids, McCord and van Kempen make a conscious effort to incorporate private moments together into their schedules. “Couple time is extremely important— if parents aren’t happy and secure in their relationship, they can project their negative feelings onto the children,” says McCord.

McCord and van Kempen are currently writing a parenting book, due to be released later this year. It will take readers further into their family experiences in the big city, as well as explore universal family topics and family travel. McCord says it’s humorous and informative, and touches upon things she and van Kempen have learned along the way.