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Excerpt: ‘Mama Rock’s Rules’

In “Mama Rock’s Rules:  Ten Lessons for Raising a Houseful of Successful Children,” Rose Rock, comedian Chris Rock’s mother, shares her no-nonsense philosophy of responsible parenting.  Drawing on her wealth of child-rearing experience, she demonstrates why parents need to be consistent, even when it means being unpopular, for their children's own good. Here’s an excerpt.
/ Source: TODAY

In “Mama Rock’s Rules: Ten Lessons for Raising a Houseful of Successful Children,” Rose Rock, comedian Chris Rock’s mother, shares her no-nonsense philosophy of responsible parenting.  Drawing on her wealth of child-rearing experience, she demonstrates why parents need to be consistent, even when it means being unpopular, for their children's own good. Here’s an excerpt:

I am your mama, not your friend I never felt the need to be friends with my children — not when they were eight or ten. Not even when they were sixteen years old. My kids had their own friends and I had mine. I never set out to win any popularity contests on the home front. Like my mother, I know my kids don’t have to like me — neither do yours.

My mother’s overall message was a good one; I finally under­stand it: being a parent is not about being right, it’s about doing right. It’s about serving as a steadfast role model for your children, no matter what.

Children really do look to adults for examples and guidance (you just never meet a teenager who would admit it).

Here’s a secret: I didn’t even like my mother until I was forty years old. Did I love her? Yes. I also respected her. Sure, when I was growing up I resented her when she was right about things — and, believe me, she always was.

In my world, there is no decision to make. It was made when you had your child. As a parent, you are responsible for your child’s mental, emotional, and spir­itual growth. Your friends don’t ask you to be accountable for them in the same way, do they?

After all, I don’t tell my friends what to do or punish them if they don’t keep a promise to me (OK, I usually act kind of cool toward them for a while, but you know what I mean). I don’t make rules for them and certainly never enforce any. My friends also don’t expect me to provide their security or be their protector.

You ask me: Mama Rock, can’t I be both a parent and a friend to my children? Listen, when parents say they want to be friends with a child it is usually about pleasing the child; after all, no one likes friction. Every parent must have the courage to be in charge and to say no. You can have fun with your kids just like you can with a  friend — we had plenty of  fun — but you  can’t be afraid to enforce the rules because you might lose your child’s affection.

As parents, we have to protect our children. That is a job for a parent — not a friend.

Draw the line to win respect Just as I talk differently to my children than I would to my friends, I expect my children to talk differently to me than they would to their friends. Once, when Andi was a teen­ager, we were together in the car having a funny, girl conversation about boys. I don’t remember what I said, but suddenly she blurted out, “You lie, that’s just a lie!” I felt like throwing her out of the car. Then I re­alized I had allowed that moment. I had to quietly remind her I was not her girlfriend; there were certain things she was not al­lowed to say to me, ever.

I think there are topics (like girl talk) where you can be friendly or joke around

My father didn’t try to be our friend and neither did my mother. They were our parents. Friends were people who liked you and who you liked; mutual feelings and all that. It damages a child when you only act like a friend. They will think the world revolves around them and always will. without having to be a stern parent.

But, at no time should you let your children think they can disrespect you or treat you like a buddy. It’s never OK for your child to disrespect you in any way, at any time, for any reason. They need to know that up front. We’ve all seen those crazy mothers on Maury or Jerry Springer. You know, the ones who complain how their  children — even  ten-year-olds — talk back to them. I want to shout to the TV screen: “Hey lady, you are the parent, you need to draw the line and get some respect for yourself.”

The message to children is this: you cannot live in my house, spend my money, and disrespect me. It is that simple. I don’t hand out freebies. Brian remembers one time when he was angry with me for not allowing him to go somewhere with a friend. He started to yell at me. I said to him: “Where is YOUR child you are yelling at? I don’t see any child, I just see your Mama being yelled at, and you are in some big trouble.”

Start early to stay strong So how to start being a good, strong parent? First and foremost, establish a hierarchy about who is in charge in your family. It’s re­ally quite simple:

Rule #1: I am the Parent. I make the rules. Rule #2: You are the child.

You follow the rules. Rule #3: Any problems, refer to Rule #1.

The whole thing with rules is this: it’s all about responsibility.

When you make guidelines, it makes life easier, it manages expectations. Don’t wait! Start early and start them young.

What happens if you don’t? Well, have you ever seen parents who allow a toddler to hit them in the face because they think it’s so cute? Later, when the child is five or six and hits them in front of others, they are embarrassed. What if the kid keeps on punch­ing when he or she is older?

Think about that. Negative behavior like that means the parents started the rules too late (or not at all). Listen up: if you don’t stop those things early, you will be scared of your own child in your own  house.

Think about it this way: approach child rearing like you would if you had a flat tire on your car. As soon as you feel the first jolt of the flat, you stop and change it, right? If you try and drive to the nearest station (even if it’s only a few blocks away) the tire will be damaged and the rim will be bent out of shape. The same holds true when you raise a child. Stop and regroup at the first blowout. Provide a powerful, initial action or conse­quence when the offensive behavior first occurs so you won’t end up bent out of shape.

So, when your baby tries to hit mommy or daddy, touch some­thing dangerous, or do something  inappropriate — move fast. Re­direct your child right away to something  else — anything  else — a toy, a book, even a funny sound. Do it every time to refocus their attention. This is important, as it is more effective to redirect a child’s attention from the wrong behavior than to snatch the of­fending thing away or grab their hands too hard. That only sets off a kid’s crying  jag — it does nothing for learning. Sometimes, kids start to wail because they know it will get your interest when they do it. Yes, they are that smart.

I’ve seen people slap a little kid’s hand when they try to hit or touch the wrong thing. Come on, that is good for nothin’ because it doesn’t teach the right behavior. Worse, sometimes the same parent turns around and spanks the kid for crying because his hand hurts. That reaction is just about the dumbest thing I have ever seen.

Don’t hide the cookie jar As I said earlier, children are never too young for rules. They can better appreciate the rules if parents allow them to understand how behavior becomes a matter of choice. Your child, even as a little one, can learn to avoid bad consequences and seek good re­inforcements through their actions.

In setting up your rules, it is important to balance a child’s need for exploration and freedom with safety. Start at square one with a few practical plans. For instance, early in your parenting career you should baby-proof your house to some extent so you do not con­stantly have to say no every time your baby turns around. But, you don’t need to go overboard and remove everything. If you do, it will be hard to take your child to someone  else’s un-baby-proofed house. Do the basics, of course, and remove obviously harmful items. After you take care of that, make it possible — by your rules — to allow your child to move around in the  house and make the right choices.

The cookie contracts It’s all about balance. Don’t make something completely forbid­den. After all, if children think a thing is forbidden, it will become even more enticing. For example, I think it’s plain horrible to have treats in your house and have to keep them hidden. Of course, I am not referring to Mama’s valentine chocolates. No one gets those except Mama. I am talking about things your children use — like the cookie jar; they should be kept at a kid-appropriate level so they can get at them when the time is right. This is where the Cookie Contract comes in.

Chris started out as the oldest in our cookie world. He knew how many cookies he could have and when he could have them because I set the cookie boundaries — it was an informal “cookie contract.” Because our cookie jar was not forbidden, it was no big deal. All the other boys followed suit. When we said to go ahead and have a few cookies, that’s exactly what they did (even the youngest ones). No one had to sneak.

Don’t forget the hug factor Remember this: every consequence your child experiences be­cause he did not follow a rule should be something he can learn from and apply to his future behavior. Parenting should never be only about  punishment — or you need help way beyond the scope of this book.

Be sure to offer some reward just for being good — that’s a top incentive. It makes a child’s choice clearer if hugs and kisses are given for good behavior, at least sometimes. Let your child know the specific good behavior that earned a big dose of positive at­tention. If you do that, kids won’t be tempted to do so many “bad” things to get that attention.

Keep in mind what is age-appropriate as you begin. For example, the smallest child can learn to say “please” and “thank you.” Add on new rules or expand them as your children mature. Here’s another way of getting your kids to understand boundaries: assign your child a toy chest and a clothes hamper. You can start as early as two years old. (Don’t sit there and tell me you can’t do this because you don’t have a big toy chest or a fancy hamper.) Go to the nearest value store and get each child a basket and hamper — those stores have laundry baskets and those pop-open hampers for a buck. The laundry bas­kets are helpful for toys. If you have more than one child, give each a different color. Here’s how it worked for me: I’d announce it was clean-up time for all toys right before dinner. The consequences of not doing so were that the toys would “disappear” for a week.

Now, on to the laundry: tell the kids to take off their dirty socks at a certain time and put them in their own hamper where they belong. If you have a few kids, make it into a contest: who can get the dirty clothes in their hamper the fastest? If it’s your first child, make a big deal with your watch or count out loud. Kids really like games and a sense of order in the chaos.

Excerpted from “Mama Rock's Rules” by Rose Rock. Copyright 2008. Reprinted with permission from HarperCollins. All rights reserved.