Mama Rock: Chris Rock's mother on raising your kids right, by Jennifer V. Hughes for Babble.com.Jennifer V. Hughes
Not long ago, my almost-five-year-old was throwing a fit over the fact that I had turned off the TV for the morning. At the height of her outrage she wailed, “I don’t like you!” I got down on one knee, held her tear-stained face in my hands and said: “You don’t have to like me, sweetheart. I’m your Mommy.”
Clearly, I’ve got something in common with Rose Rock. The first chapter in her new parenting book, Mama Rock’s Rules: Ten Lessons for Raising a Houseful of Successful Children, is: I Am Your Mama, Not Your Friend.
Rock, the mother of comedian/actor/director Chris Rock, has got the chops. She gave birth to seven children, cared for one stepson and informally adopted two other girls. Over the years the family welcomed more than twenty foster children into their modest Brooklyn home. Her book covers topics like the importance of family meals (Feed Them and They Will Tell You Everything) and helping your kid bounce back from adversity (Push “Unable” Off The Table) while offering no-nonsense advice on getting your kids to respect you, standing up to peer pressure and having “the talk” (the predictably hilarious chapter Don’t Lie Down With Anything You Don’t Want to Live With Forever).
It’s also got a few great oh-I-am-SO-stealing-that ideas. For example, Mama Rock suggests that the next time you’re flummoxed over how to discipline your kid for something, ask him what he thinks the appropriate punishment should be. “My kids,” she writes, “always offered worse punishment than I would have given out.”
In her South Carolina home, Rock runs a non-profit youth group that provides theater arts for needy kids and assistance for teen mothers. Babble talked to her about what’s wrong with kids today, spanking and the things Chris did as a kid that still make her shudder. – Jennifer V. Hughes
I’d bet that most parents are sure that they follow the rules in your book – set limits, follow through on consequences, demand respect from their kids. And yet there are so many ill-behaved, out-of-control children out there. What’s up with the disconnect?
A lot of parents do have rules and whatnot, but they’re not sticking by them, they don’t really follow through. Following through is when you absolutely set a rule and you absolutely have consequences when the rule is not followed. It’s not something you do it sometimes and don’t do at other times.
Why don’t parents follow through?
It’s easier to give in. It’s easier not to have a child who is pouting, to be the good guy.
What do you think is the most important piece of advice you can give parents of young children, like toddlers and preschoolers?
Start very young. You don’t wait until they are ten years old to say, “You need to pick up your things.” You start when they start dropping them.
Do you think kids are better behaved now or worse?
They are so much worse than they were years and years ago. Each generation has gotten a little more liberal with their children and we are seeing the results. All you have to do is walk outside and listen to conversations between teens or seeing kids yell at their parents or even four- or five-year-olds talking back to their parents, saying “No! Shut up!” That would not have happened in the old days.
I’m overwhelmed by the fact that you took care of so many children throughout your life. At one point in your book you talk about how important it was to spend private time with each one. How did you have the emotional energy for that?
Children are the gift I was given. Everyone is given work to do here. God didn’t just put us here to be here. My work happens to be children, it’s just a part of me. I always tell people it doesn’t make me a better person, it’s just my gift.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently in raising your kids?
I’ve been asked that so many times, but I really can’t think of anything. Yesterday I got to spend some quality time talking to Chris and my son Brian is coming up this weekend. When we are talking I am always amazed at how they turned out to be such wonderful children.
“A spanking is over in two minutes, but if you say something, it never goes away.” Of course, there are always little things. I remember the time when Chris’ bus was coming and Andre was a baby. Instead of putting Andre into the crib and walking Chris out to the bus, I said “Run! Run!” and he just dashed out and as he was going out the door he fell and scraped his face on the sidewalk. I didn’t know about it until he came home from school. I always said that was my fault and I still feel bad about it.
In your chapter Pull Out That Can of Whup-Ass, you talk about consequences for bad behavior. (One line is: “Let me be clear: my whup-ass expands far beyond just a physical punishment. It’s about whatever I can do to change a negative behavior.”) But did you ever use corporal punishment on your kids?
Yes, I did spank my children. I would much rather spank a child and sit them down for two or three minutes than get angry and scream stuff that doesn’t go away. I’ve heard parents scream “I wish you were never born!” I would much rather pick up a child and smack them on the behind. A spanking is over in two or three minutes, but if you say something, it never goes away.
That’s not a very popular opinion right now.
I really don’t care. I don’t want to be popular – I want to do what’s right.
Is there something Chris did as a kid that still makes you shake your head?
Once at Christmastime Chris goes downstairs and opens a gift. (It was the first time they had those little hand-held games.) And he takes it into his bed and he’s playing with it. We could hear this thing going bleep-bleep and we’re wondering what is going on. We woke up and followed the sound. He had sealed the gift back up and put it back under the tree, but he was up in his room playing with the game.
Did he get in trouble?
[Laughs.] He got in trouble, but not major trouble.