Comedian Chris Rock's Mom Offer Parenting Advice
MICHEL MARTIN, host:
I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News.
Coming up, want to travel during Passover but want to keep it kosher? We'll speak to an expert on kosher travel. That's next.
But, first, they say it takes a village to raise a child. But maybe you just need a few moms in your corner. We visit with a diverse group of parents each week for their common sense and savvy parenting advice. And speaking of parenting advice, was your mom kind of strict? Was she one of those moms who made it clear she was not trying to be your friend and she was very clear about a lot of other things when to come in for dinner or how to speak to her and other adults?
If so, then you might have had a mom like Rose Rock. Her tough love style helped her raise a houseful of successful children, including one you may have heard of, the comedian, actor and filmmaker Chris Rock. Now she's the author of a new book, "Mama Rock's Rules: Ten Lessons for Raising a Houseful of Successful Children." And she's with us now to offer us a few tips. Welcome, Mrs. Rock. Or should I say Mama Rock?
Ms. ROSE ROCK (Author, "Mama Rock's Rules: Ten Lessons for Raising a Household of Successful Children"): Well, everyone now says Mama Rock.
MARTIN: Okay, so Mama Rock it is. Thank you for joining us.
Ms. ROCK: Oh, thank you for having me.
MARTIN: Now, you start off by pointing out that you raised ten children, but you also fostered a number of other children, including 17 foster children. Did you always love kids?
Ms. ROCK: Always loved kids. The first kid I ever brought home, I was 11 years old.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: What do you mean? How did that happen?
Ms. ROCK: Well, I just had a friend and they were very, very, I mean, we were poor, but they were really, really poor. And there was so many kids just running around. And there was this one child that was always, like, kind of left out and kind of quiet. And one day, I don't know what possessed me, I just went to the mother and I said, can I take her home? And the mother said yes.
MARTIN: Which was a sign that she probably needed to come with you, right?
Ms. ROCK: Yeah. She really did.
MARTIN: Do you think that there's a key to successful parenting that you could share?
Ms. ROCK: Oh yes, the key is being there, being fully engaged and wanting to be there. It's a conscious decision you make.
MARTIN: Do you ever feel or did you feel that you were missing out?
Ms. ROCK: You know, my husband would ask me, because we had a large family, did I feel like he and the children, you know, were in my way or that did I feel left out? And I never ever did because I stayed, raised my children the way I did, now I'm able to enjoy all of that.
MARTIN: But you're no pushover either. In fact...
Ms. ROCK: Oh no.
MARTIN: No. But we are going to play, we just have to, because I think a lot of people will know, you have a number of children and you're very clear in the book that you are proud of them all, but the one that a number of people will know, of course, is Chris Rock. And I think a lot of people may also know that he based his television program, "Everybody Hates Chris," on his growing up years. And we assume that Rochelle, the character is...
Ms. ROSE: Oh my God.
MARTIN: ...who is played by actress Tichina Arnold is a little based on you.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: We're just going to play a short clip.
(Soundbite of TV show, "Everybody Hates Chris")
Mr. TYLER JAMES WILLIAMS (Actor): (As Chris Rock) Can I go play over at Trisha's house?
Ms. TICHINA ARNOLD (Actor): (As Rochelle Rock) What you need to go over to her house for? What you going to do over there you can't do here? And why you acting all suspicious?
Unidentified Man: Hey, mom, what time is it?
Ms. ARNOLD: What do you need to know the time for? What are you going to do, go rob a bank? You're acting suspicious.
MARTIN: She's a little over the top.
Ms. ROCK: She is a little over the top. It's based loosely on our lives.
MARTIN: Is there any part of it that's true?
Ms. ROCK: You know, everything has a grain of truth in it, but a lot of it is just written for laughs.
MARTIN: Let's talk about your rules. What are some of your favorite? I have some of my favorites, but why don't you give one of your favorites and I'll give you one of mine. How about that?
Ms. ROCK: The one I like is: no child wants to be left alone. Children cry out for structure. They really need parents that tell them, I want you in the house at 8:30. I want you in bed by 10:00. Because structure and rules let them know that somebody cares.
MARTIN: One of the rules that I like is chapter three: wipe your mouth out before you come into the house.
Ms. ROSE: Okay, that's a good one.
MARTIN: And you talk a lot about respectful communication with children and demanding that children speak to you respectfully. But one of the things I also appreciate is that you expect parents to speak respectfully to their children, too. One of the things you say is that shame is a dirty word, too. And about the worst thing you could do to a child is allow him to be shamed or humiliated, including by you. How did you come to that?
Ms. ROSE: People talk about spanking kids. And I've always said, I would rather spank my child, sit him down for two minutes and come back and get him and talk to him about what happened, than to in a fit of anger say, I wish you were never born. Oh, you are so stupid. Because people do this everyday and what they dont understand is a spanking lasts for two seconds, but words stay around forever.
MARTIN: Well, can I talk to you a little bit about the spanking thing for a minute?
Ms. ROCK: Mm-hmm.
MARTIN: You know, a lot people do feel that that's just not appropriate anymore.
Ms. ROCK: Oh, yeah, so many people. I dont agree. I would never harm my child. I would never beat a child or slap a child in the face. But even when I was writing the book, in the foreword they asked Chris how did, you know, we manage? Like, 10 kids in Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, da, da, da, da, da, and he said with a lot of love, a lot of rules and a big belt. People called and they said, you can't use that, a belt, that's child abuse. My thing is this, back in the day when every house in America had a belt at the back door, we had no juvenile delinquents. We had a few bad children.
Back in the day when you could say to a child, wait till your daddy gets home, that kid got in the corner and he shook for the rest of the day. But now we can't say that because there is no daddy to come home. There is no belt at the back door. What we have is children standing on every street corner in the middle of the night because we took away the whole concept of parenting and we took out of the parent's hand the right to discipline their children.
MARTIN: Well, the only argument I would make to you on this is that, and as you may know that, you know, spanking - corporal punishment is actually illegal in some countries. And...
Ms. ROCK: Mm-hmm. It is. I'll just have my little orange jumpsuit on.
(Soundbite of laughter)
MARTIN: But their argument is A, how do you teach kids not to hit by hitting? And B, how is it ever ethical for somebody bigger, stronger and older to hit somebody weaker, younger and smaller?
Ms. ROCK: When I spank you it's not saying it's okay for you to go out and slap somebody in the face because I didnt slap you in the face. I tapped you on your bottom and I sat you down. That's not something you would do to a 10-year-old or a 12-year-old. You would find a new way and a different way of disciplining that child.
MARTIN: But you do come out strongly against the kind of verbal, you know, humiliation that unfortunately too many people...
Ms. ROCK: Oh...
MARTIN: ...we see, you know, in the supermarket and so forth like that. Have you ever intervened...
Ms. ROCK: It hurts my heart.
MARTIN: Yeah. Have you ever intervened if youve seen that?
Ms. ROCK: I have done it and have gotten cussed out for it, but I would do it every time. But more often than not, the parent is embarrassed and they're just overwrought. And especially young parents, I always tell them, I say, did you tell your child before you came in the store that you weren't buying anything today? No, ma'am. I say, well honey, this is what you do, I say before you leave home you say, listen, I've got to run into whatever, Wal-Mart or Kmart. We're not buying anything today. Mommy just needs to go in and get this, this and that. And you tell them specifically what youre going for. That way there is no problem.
MARTIN: If youre just joining us, youre listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. I'm speaking with Rose Rock, also known as Mama Rock, and she's the author of "Mama Rock's Rules: Ten Lessons for Raising a Houseful of Successful Children."
Can't let you go without talking a little bit about Chris, and you have another son who's also an entertainer, right?
Ms. ROCK: I have two other sons.
MARTIN: Two other sons...
Ms. ROCK: They always talk about Chris.
MARTIN: Yeah. And so it's interesting how - and, of course, as we mentioned, your other children are also doing well and doing lots of different things.
Ms. ROCK: Mm-hmm.
MARTIN: And I just - do you think, is it their key to developing that kind of creativity?
Ms. ROCK: You know what, it's expectations. We also held our children accountable for certain things. They didnt get away with anything. Chris often talks about that. So often we have parents that no matter what their kids do, they're never wrong and the kids are never held accountable. So not only were they held accountable and they knew that there was a consequence for everything, whether it was good or bad, also we had certain expectations. They were the children of Rose and Julius Rock and they were expected to behave a certain way, to bring in certain grades, to do certain things and not do others.
MARTIN: Well, the other thing I enjoyed about the book is you talked just about the simple traditions that kids - that seem to mean a lot to kids, like the new PJs at Christmas. And I think there will be some who will say well, gee, of course, you know, youre Chris Rock's mom. You know, he's famous and I guess what's the take away for people who see perhaps your family as being special or - they say, well, I couldnt do that?
Ms. ROCK: Why can't you start whatever tradition you want to start? And the thing is, if you can't go to Wal-Mart and buy PJs or go somewhere and put them on layaway, go to Salvation Army, if that's the tradition. But whatever tradition you want to start, start it and keep it.
My kids even today, Andre just turned 42. At Christmas he came home and when he got to the house he says, where are my PJs? And I was like, oh my god, I didnt buy PJs for the grownups this year. And he was, well, I can't go to bed without my PJs.
(Soundbite of laughter)
Ms. ROCK: I didnt even bring any. And so that was the only year that I didnt buy PJs for everybody, including Chris and his girls and Malaak and all of us.
MARTIN: So what are you doing now that youve got - you had this house full of kids for so many years and how are you putting your parenting mojo to use now?
Ms. ROCK: I'm traveling all over this country doing parenting academies and just speaking. I'm a public speaker for HarperCollins and just came back from Vidalia, Georgia, doing my first parenting academy, which was great.
MARTIN: Do you feel that people are responding to your message?
Ms. ROCK: You know what really has gotten me so humbled is that when I wrote this book it was really because someone had gotten wind of all of the community stuff I did and, you know, started asking questions and the book came up. And I just thought it was just a book about how I raised my kids. I never, ever, ever knew that it would touch people the way that it did.
And sometime when I'm reading about myself I'm like, wow. Like, they said, look at some of thing I say is how she made her home such a safe, you know, and comforting place for her children to be. And so that really makes me feel good. And some of the things that my children said that I had never heard, that makes me feel good. Because I have a chapter that says: the best thing you can give your children are good manners and good memories. And just the idea that I was in those memories, that means a lot. It really means a lot.
MARTIN: Rose Rock is the author of "Mama Rock's Rules: Ten Lessons for Raising a Houseful of Successful Children," and she was with us from Myrtle Beach, South Carolina. And I should also mention that she has from time-to-time hosted a radio program called "The Mom Show," so she comes by her broadcasting chops honestly. And we thank you so much for speaking with us.
Ms. ROCK: Thank you for having me.