Neil Patrick Harris on how he parents his twins: ‘They need to know that with discipline comes love and respect’

·4 min read
Neil Patrick Harris speaks to Yahoo Life about parenting. (Photo: Getty; designed by Quinn Lemmers)
Neil Patrick Harris speaks to Yahoo Life about parenting. (Photo: Getty/designed by Quinn Lemmers)

Welcome to So Mini Ways, Yahoo Life's parenting series on the joys and challenges of child-rearing.

Fans know Neil Patrick Harris as the eternal bachelor Barney on How I Met Your Mother, or even the diabolical Count Olaf on Netflix's A Series of Unfortunate Events. At home, he’s dad to his and husband David Burtka’s 10-year-old twins, Harper and Gideon. The author of The Magic Misfits book series is all about bringing magic into his kids’ lives — especially after a year of on-again, off-again Zoom schooling and social distancing.

This year, Harris is preparing for the holiday season by working with his favorite toy of the season: Magic Mixies Magical Misting Cauldron, an innovative item that allows kids to conjure up their very own plush toy by mixing together some special ingredients. (A real magician never reveals their secrets, right?) "It lets them act like a wizard — you put potions in, real mist comes out, and you create this little creature that is a Mixie they get to name," Patrick Harris tells Yahoo Life. "It feels like real magic is happening."

Below, Harris also shares how he plans on spending the holidays, what it’s like parenting twins and how he uses his kids’ middle names to show when he’s really, really serious.

How do you approach parenting?

I kind of approach parenting as a “let’s see how it goes” attitude. I think rigidity gets us into more trouble than being flexible. We have our rules and we have our edicts and boundaries, but if you’re super hardcore about things, it turns into more conflict than is necessary.

Has parenting changed for you during the pandemic?

The pandemic is so unprecedented just by design. We had all these plans that we had to change. Our kids were in in-person school last week, and this week they apparently were in close contact with a student who tested positive for COVID-19 so now they’re in Zoom school this week. It changes all the time. They’re very resilient kids, and I think everyone is trying their best.

I’m always interested in the time spent keeping track of equality and fairness. Like, Gideon loves a certain game on his iPad, so he works hard, finishes his chores, and earns the right to play the game. And as soon as he does, Harper’s like, “Why does he get to play the game? Why don’t I get to play the game?” But she doesn’t even want to play the game! It’s like, why is that an issue for you? But they’re cute. They’re so hardcore with each other, but they’re so protective over each other.

Holiday season is fast approaching. What are your plans?

We’ve been splitting our time between the city and East Hampton, so we may spend time in East Hampton, which has a bit more room. It’ll be nice to see our parents and the kids’ grandparents. Given the last 18, 20 months, it’ll be nice to be near the people we’re close to. Hopefully, we won’t have to wear masks the whole time. It’ll be nice to have that camaraderie again.

How has parenting surprised you?

I think what’s surprising is that kids grow in such a way that it requires parents to shift. With babies, it’s changing diapers, and how to get them to sleep. Then, all of a sudden, they start crawling and you have to get into that, and remove things from the floor. Then they start walking. Once you think you get it, you’re like, "Wait, what’s happening?" The older they get, the smarter they get.

Have you received any good advice over the last year?

We were given advice to operate from a larger perspective. It’s hard when you’re dealing with daily conflict or conversations, or hourly upsets for new changes in situations, like Zoom school. You’re so in all these micro conversations that it’s nice to take a step back. All over, if you’re writing the year down, we can find magnificence.

I read in an interview that you described yourself as a “bad cop,” compared to David, who is a “good cop.” Has that shifted?

We’re still cops, just on different beats. If David and I parented exactly the same, the kids would figure that out quickly and how to adjust in that regard. We keep them on their toes. I’ll be hardcore about certain things, and David will be hardcore about other things. They need to know what the lines are and what’s legit “don’t cross this line.” They also need to know that with discipline comes love and respect. I mean, I think my voice gets deeper and angrier than David’s does, which is why I’m the “bad cop.” I will say their first and middle names together, which really freaks them out. “Gideon Scott! Harper Grace!” That stops them in their tracks.