A Moms' Year-In-Review

Before 2010 dwindles to an end, regular Tell Me More parenting contributors Jolene Ivey, Dannette Tucker and newcomer Mary Kate Carey talk about news stories within the past year that led to them having heart-to-heart discussions with their children about the world in which they live.

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MICHEL MARTIN, Host:

I'm Michel Martin, and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Now it's time for our weekly moms conversation, and because we're nearing the end of 2009, we decided to have a series of conversations reflecting on the past year.

It was one that was chock full of what parents like to call teachable moments. So we decided to call a few of our regulars to ask them about which big stories from 2009 are informing their parenting conversations.

With us are Jolene Ivey, a mom of five and one of the co-founders of the Mocha Moms, a parenting support group; Dani Tucker, a mom of two; and Mary Kate Carey, a former presidential speechwriter. She writes opinion columns and blogs for US News & World Report, and she's a mom of two. Ladies, moms, thank you for being with us. Happy new year.

JOLENE IVEY: Hey, happy new year.

DANETTE TUCKER: Thank you, happy new year.

MARY KATE CAREY: Happy new year.

MARTIN: Dani, I'm going to start with you. A big story for a lot of people that I think is something that you've been reflecting a lot about is back in February, pop star Rihanna and fellow pop star Chris Brown were in the news because they got involved in a - what do we want to call it, a - he hit her. Why don't we just stop beating... He hit her. He then faced charges for doing this and has pleaded guilty. And I wanted to ask: What conversations did you have with your kids about this? I know this was something that was very painful for you, having both a son and a daughter. And if you don't mind my sharing his experience to some of this in your life.

TUCKER: Not at all. We took the opportunity, of course, to discuss not just the violence in the community that has happened with the celebrities, as well as, like, what happened with T.I. You know, for some reason, he decided that he wanted to buy an arsenal of weapons, you know, and got caught with them and had to go to jail, you know. He felt like he had to protect himself. There was a beef.

So a lot of that is going on in, not just the rap community, but also in, you know, in our community, in our culture - and I just talked to my kids about why violence is just not your first response.

MARTIN: One of the things that I think you were telling me about before we started this conversation, is that - the realization that a lot of these kids are, in fact, afraid of each other.

TUCKER: Oh yes, big time. I mean, talking to (unintelligible), you know, if you live around a corner, why are you scared to walk around a corner and vice versa. And they are. They are frightened of each other. They're so now, just staying in their own little communities. I'm thinking that's ridiculous. You only live two blocks from each other. You should not be scared of each other. You should not be scared to go in each other's backyards.

MARTIN: But they are.

TUCKER: But they are. They are because that's how they've drawn the line, you know, and we've got to stop that. We've got to find a way, because our young men are dying, our young women are getting caught up in it. And that's my number one priority for 2010.

MARTIN: What conversations are you having with your kids about this? It's easy to say what you shouldn't do, and you shouldn't feel that way. So what kinds of conversations are you having?

TUCKER: I'm asking them to discuss what - well, they call it the beef. Discuss the beef with us. A lot of us adults don't do that in our communities. And I have a good rapport talking to my son's friends and my daughter's friends. I will come out and ask them. I will come out and ask them at the bus stop. Why are you all arguing? Why are you fighting? Why are you attacking each other? What's wrong? Why do you hate him? Because he lives, you know, over there. Well, he lives here. Is that really a reason? So we are really just opening up dialogue, especially in our communities after all the things that have been going on.

MARTIN: I know, Jolene, that the Chris Brown issue was one that was of interest to you, as well, in part because your husband is a state's attorney in a jurisdiction outside of Washington, D.C. I know that this is something that he's been very concerned about. I just want to play a short clip about Chris Brown. He's talked about the violence that he experienced in his own family, and here it is.

CHRIS BROWN: I grew up in a home where there was domestic violence, and I saw firsthand what uncontrolled rage could do. I saw it, and I'm continuing to seek help to ensure that what occurred in February can never happen again. And as I sit here today, I can tell you that I will do everything in my power to make sure that it never happens again, and I promise that.

MARTIN: Does something like that resonate with your boys?

IVEY: Well, we were all horrified about what happened with Chris Brown, and I don't think that - the statement that he made was certainly a start, but I'm hoping that he's really taking this to heart. And I've certainly used this opportunity to talk to my own children about it - not just about him, about Chris Brown - but generally speaking, we talk about domestic violence and encourage them, you know, if you know a kid who's got a problem at home or - please let us know. It's an issue that we've dealt with, and I've had a lot of involvement in Prince George's County trying to help keep down domestic violence and help victims.

MARTIN: And finally, Dani, before we bring Mary Kate into the conversation - we haven't forgotten you Mary Kate...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: ...is what's about the Rihanna side of the equation? Is that something - Imani, your daughter is a little young to be thinking about dating. But, you know, kids are always thinking about relationships at any age and I'm interested in whether the Rihanna side of this conversation has engaged her this year? Is this something that you've talked to her about or that she's talked to you about?

TUCKER: Oh, both and most definitely, she's at the age where she's interested in dating. We talked about it, you know, about why it was wrong, what happened. You know, she knows of a friend that, you know, was in a relationship that was abusive at 13 years old.

MARTIN: Thirteen?

TUCKER: Thirteen. You know, so you have to have the adult conversations with them now because they're in adult situations, you know?

MARTIN: Can I just play a short clip from Rihanna? She's talking here. She's talking to ABC's Diane Sawyer about the issue of girls, women, returning time and again to the men and boys who have abused them. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA")

RIHANNA: To any young girl who's going through domestic violence: don't react off of love. F love. Come out of the situation and look at it third person and for what it really is and then make your decision.

MARTIN: Do you think that this situation has resonated with girls Imani's age and in what way?

TUCKER: You know, when me and Imani first talked about it and a couple of her friends, you know, she was like well, she was upset that Chris Brown did it, but at the same time she wanted to know, you know, what Rihanna did. And I said, well, I don't care what she did. It doesn't justify what he did, you know.

And again, you guys, we need to talk to you all because you're playing relationships which have feelings and you claim you're in love and these come with a lot of responsibility that you all aren't ready to handle. And this is a good opportunity to talk about it because these two young people evidently could not handle the responsibility of the emotions of what was going on. And they see it but they don't understand really what they're dealing with.

MARTIN: Another big story this year that prompted a lot of talk was the pregnancy of former vice presidential candidate Sarah Palin's teen daughter Bristol. Now Mary Kate, you're a former speechwriter for George H.W. Bush, was this a teachable moment for you for your children?

KATE CAREY: The most exposure they had to her in real time was during the campaign when she got named to the ticket. And that became part of a larger conversation of the fact that she was the first woman on the Republican side to be named to a national ticket and have at the same time Hillary Clinton getting as many votes as she did, having Barack Obama win the election. There was a disconnect with my kids where I said, wow, this is really historic. This is really amazing that this is happening. They said, well, what do you mean it's historic? And I said, well, we've never had an African-American elected president. And they said, we haven't? And to them, you know, memorizing the presidents is a list of names, not pictures. And I was in this sort of uncomfortable situation having to explain why. And when you think about it, some of the major aspects of race relations in this country are not taught to the kids until probably middle school, late elementary school. And so your average second, third, fourth grader has no idea about slavery. They know Martin Luther King Day. They know some of this but no one ever sat down and said this is a first to these kids and...

MARTIN: You know, you make a very good point.

KATE CAREY: ... the disconnect...

MARTIN: You make a very good point.

KATE CAREY: ...of why is everybody crying at the inaugural? Aren't they happy? You know, like, yes they're happy but it's a different kind of joy you know it's...

MARTIN: And what about the girl aspect of it? I know that one of my friends gave my children a book called "Grace for President," which is a wonderful children's book about a little girl who runs for class president, who's shocked to discover there's never been a girl president or woman president. And they're teaching the presidents and she sees all the pictures and she says, well, where are the girls? And the teacher says well, there hasn't been a girl yet. Well, that's not fair. And I have to say that that's my daughter's reaction too. She says well, that's not fair. Where are the girls? I can't believe that? What about...

KATE CAREY: Yeah. What's that all about?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: So what conversations are you having over the course of the year? The inauguration that was, you know, almost a year ago now and, of course, the campaign and some great highs, great lows - what conversations do you think flow forward going from this year? Just that it's going to happen for women or it did happen for an African-American, it's going to happen for a woman some day?

KATE CAREY: Oh yeah. Yes. Absolutely. There's no question of that in our household at least that okay, we're done with that now and it's going to be very commonplace, especially as you girls get older, you're going to see more and more of this. They see it in my business. When I first started writing freelance, after we left the White House for Bush 41, all of my clients were men and there weren't any high ranking women in politics to write for. And now, almost all of my clients are women and they see that and think that's pretty cool. And I keep saying, well it's just going to keep on like that for you girls. There's going to be more and more of that.

MARTIN: Since we're nearing the end of 2009, we're taking some time to look over the past year. We're talking about what teachable moments we did draw out of the big stories of 2009 as parents. We're visiting with Mary Kate Carey, Jolene Ivey and Dani Tucker.

Jolene, what about you? What other big stories for you? Was Sarah Palin a big story for you, a teachable moment for you?

IVEY: Well, I would just say the whole thing about her daughter being pregnant, the whole teen pregnancy thing, that I worry a lot more about with my boys because you never know. You think you know your kids and they put themselves in situations and I've definitely had to have conversations with my older teenagers about what positions they allow themselves to be put into.

MARTIN: Can I just play a short clip to that end? For example, that Sarah Palin, as we previously discussed on the program, has a new memoir out and she did a number of interviews in connection with that memoir. And here's one she did with Barbara Walters about the very issue you're discussing about what we know about our kids and what we don't. Here it is.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "GOOD MORNING AMERICA")

BARBARA WALTERS: Did you know that she was sexually active?

SARAH PALIN: No, and that is why it was shocking and that's the understatement of the century too, that we were shocked and we were - truthfully, we were devastated.

MARTIN: So.

IVEY: Absolutely. So that's why when I found one of my kids in the basement alone with a girl I took him aside and said, don't ever let yourself be in that position again because you're both normal, natural kids your age and the most normal, natural thing is for you to end up having sex. And then the most normal, natural thing would be for her to get pregnant and that would be really bad. So don't even put yourself in that position. And he understood.

KATE CAREY: This is Mary Kate. One thing that came up along those lines was when Ted Kennedy died and the kids saw that something happened at Chappaquiddick. And when I told them the story, the teachable moment of that was, here was Ted Kennedy, you know, when he died, just an absolutely beloved person, and yet he spent most of his life atoning for one night where he made some really bad choices. And from the girl's point of view, I said think about it: She's at a party on Chappaquiddick. She accepts a ride. They're both drunk and driving and here he is a cute, famous, rich guy. And she let herself be put in a situation that certainly changed her life - ended it - and changed his life for the rest of his life. And, you know, think about when you get in situations like you're saying, even if it's just in the basement of the house, what the consequences are if things go wrong.

MARTIN: To that end of the idea of a famous person who's brought himself to shame because of decisions made impulsively: Tiger Woods. Has that been a teachable moment for any of you? Dani?

TUCKER: Yeah. I...

MARTIN: Now I know your son doesn't play golf, but.

TUCKER: No, but he's a, you know, he's an athlete so, you know, he looks up - and that was one of my teachable moments that I want to remember because I, like a lot of parents, were disappointed that Tiger let the kids down and then I had to rethink about it. I'm like well, Tiger, why do I have so many expectations of Tiger? Tiger's a guy who plays golf really well. He's a human being like everybody else. And when I asked DeVaughn about it, he was, you know, he's like, he just kind of shrugged it off. And I'm looking at them like, you know, is society bringing you all so much that it's just a shrug? You know, you're not shocked about it or - no, you know, and they're not. They are so, DeVaughn was so knowledgeable of everything that was going on that I had to catch up, you know, because he wasn't really shocked. And here I am upset that Tiger done failed my son, you know. So I'm like wait a minute. Something is wrong.

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

MARTIN: Well, that raises a good point. Do you think we're perhaps just as concerned about celebrity conduct as more our issue than their issue? That they...

TUCKER: I think it is our issue.

MARTIN: ...accept the foibles of celebrities because everybody's a celebrity now?

TUCKER: This is Dani again and they do. I mean I learned something in there because they looked at me like, what's the big deal. And I you know, that was a wake up call for me.

MARTIN: Jolene, what about you?

IVEY: No. I can't say that we focused a lot on Tiger Woods. But I would say a positive thing that we've talked about is the Obamas and the Obama girls and how they've been really involved with community service with their mom particularly. I just something in the paper where she went to read to some kids at a children's hospital, I believe, and the girls went along and they helped read the books. And I think that that's a great example for parents and for kids, to get your kids involved with community service, to do it with them. So I look at the Obamas, I see what they do, and I think that they're a great example.

MARTIN: Mary Kate, you brought up the inauguration of Barack Obama at the beginning of our conversation. Do you have any further thoughts about that apart from sort of the history making aspect of it? Is it that people like this can just do normal stuff?

KATE CAREY: It's all about finding balance, I think. And they seem to have found that balance. And I try to say that to the girls a lot. Like, if I've got a big speech due, let's say for a client, but the laundry hasn't been done and the dishes haven't been done, I say okay, I can't do it all and let's have a vote. Do you need clean underwear or do you want dinner? You know?

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

KATE CAREY: And we all vote. And I'm trying to get across to them that you can't have it all, all the time. And you've got to make some choices and I suspect that's what's going on inside their house too, that we can't go all of us on the trip to Europe. Some people have to stay home and go to school and I've got to make my appearances and, but you guys need help with your homework and I think there's a lot of juggling like in a lot of American households. And I think that message is probably getting across pretty well to the kids.

MARTIN: Dani, I want to give you the final thought because I remember during the course of the campaign and around the inauguration you actually had the opportunity to volunteer during the inauguration. And one of the things we talked about was just how happy you were that your son and daughter had people to think about, celebrities to look up to the degree - and I take your point that, you know, a lot of the people around them are really more important as role models than these people who they're never going to meet, but how excited you were to have somebody like the Obamas that - who aren't celebrities who your kids can look up to and have they fulfilled your expectations in that regard?

TUCKER: Oh, exceeded in my opinion, because we knew it wasn't going to be easy for them and we weren't looking for perfection. We weren't looking for him to go in and solve all the world's problem, but to be able to look at DeVaughn and Imani and say you can be them, it's the greatest gift that we've been able to give our kids. Because they've never seen a black president or a black first lady and just never thought it was going to happen and that was their natural realm of it.

So to be able to say to them you can do that, look at what they're doing and we can go in the White House and we can do what we do. You know, their biggest question is hey, do you think they have cookouts? I'm sure they have cookouts. You know, so, that has been a wonderful thing, you know what I mean, because they can actually see a family in their that looks like them and it has made them want to be involved, wanting to know what's going on and I have loved it.

MARTIN: Dani Tucker, Jolene Ivey, Mary Kate Carey, I thank you all so much for being with us throughout the course of the year. We look forward to another - I'll say it - great year of moms' conversations, of parenting conversations. And thank you all so much and happy new year to you all.

TUCKER: Thank you.

IVEY: Thanks, Michel.

TUCKER: Thanks to you everybody.

IVEY: Happy Kwanzaa.

KATE CAREY: Happy New Year.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow.

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