Mama Rock's Rules: Chapter 1

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 ?nally under-stand 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.

Be honest. When you ?rst had your baby
Andre: I thought my mother didn’t know what she was talking about. But, let me tell you, I found out she knew everything. I didn’t give her enough credit, especially when she told me about women. However, she was right. Now, I tell my kids they’ve got to listen to their Mama (my wife).

Were you torn between being a parent and a friend to the child? 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 spir-itual 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 awhile, 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 teen-
ager, 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 re-alized 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

Brian: 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.

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

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 re-ally 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 ?ve or six and hits them in front of others, they are embarrassed. What if the kid keeps on punch-ing 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 ?at tire on your car. As soon as you feel the ?rst jolt of the ?at, 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 ?rst blowout. Provide a powerful, initial action or conse-quence when the offensive behavior ?rst occurs so you won’t end up bent out of shape.

So, when your baby tries to hit mommy or daddy, touch some-thing dangerous, or do something inappropriate—move fast. Re-direct 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 of-fending 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 re-inforcements 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 con-stantly 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

The Cookie Contracts
It’s all about balance. Don’t make something completely forbid-den. 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 be-cause 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 speci?c good behavior that earned a big dose of positive at-tention. 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 bas-kets 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 ? rst child, make a big deal with your watch or count out loud. Kids really like games and a sense of order in the chaos.


If your child is too little, have a laundry basket available for him where he can easily reach it—right in his room. All he’ll have to do is toddle in and pop those dirty clothes into the basket. It’s easy for him and you’ve started the trend.

When you are busy ironing or sorting laundry, nothing works better than a big laundry basket of socks (could be your un-matched pairs) for something to keep your child busy. Kids can take the socks in and out of the basket and have a great time. Ally has a vivid memory of when she would play in the sock basket while I was ironing. I must have been happy too, because she remembers hearing me sing during those times. I probably was singing because I didn’t have to scold a little girl who happily played in the sock basket.

Join the Congregation of Expectations
Setting your rule expectations is the most important thing you can do for your children. You must state clearly what you want. Then, remind them again—at least once. The main expectation to con-vey is simple: you require your child to listen and follow you.

Mama's Mojo


Look your children square in the eye when you make rules and requests. This is no time to be wishy-washy. Speak strongly (don’t scream). Ask them to repeat what you said so there’s no problem later on with what went down. Listen up: if your kids always agree with everything you say, you’ve got another problem—either they don’t care what you say, or you are
not asking enough from them. }

Long before you and your child ever get in a car or set foot in a grocery store, restaurant, or friend’s house, you need to talk about what kind of behavior is expected. Create realistic expectations of what will happen when you are at these places. Believe me, they have no idea—especially when they are young. You need to spell it out exactly.

For example, an important grocery store rule is: look with your eyes and not with your hands. Before we entered a store, I would outline the action plan. For example, I’d tell the kids we can get two cereals today—one sweet and one regular. Then, I’d assign one child to pick out the sweet cereal and another to pick the regular. Maybe I’d tell a younger one to choose a favorite snack for us to take home. If everyone behaved well in the store, that snack was to be the reward.

If we were going somewhere like Wal-Mart, I might say, “We are not buying today.” That way, the kids knew before we went into stores that toys and such would not be purchased. Don’t wait until you are in the store to announce this—if you do, you end up having to say no, repeatedly. Reinforce what you came to buy in the ?rst place.

One time, when I was at a store, I happened to overhear a mother tell her young son, “If you behave, I’ll buy you a nice toy.” The boy promptly sat up straight in the cart, full of expectation. Our carts would pass as we browsed the aisles—each time the little boy was happy and quiet. Then, on her way over to the housewares section, the mother passed by a big toy display. Of course, her son was all excited because the promised toys were in sight. Instead of picking one out and putting it in the basket, the mother pushed the cart away from the toys and kept on walking. The boy started to cry. The mother became angry and things es-calated fast. Later, I saw the mother go out of the store with her weepy child (and no toys). Honor the expectations you create. It is a mistake not to do it; what do you think will happen the next time these two go to a store?


Here’s some great toy mojo: If we’d go shopping anywhere with lots of toys, I’d put a few of the sturdy ones in the basket with my boys. They’d be busy with the toy and play with it (I only used nonbreakables). Usually, by the time we got to checkout, they didn’t even care about that toy. Then, we’d either leave or I’d get them something small and they would be happy.

Rules for visiting a friend’s house begin with a reminder to be on your best behavior. These rules should include reminding your child to use his quieter “inside voice,” not his noisier “outside voice.” Kids have to be reminded about their noise level because they laugh often and express emotions out loud—much more than we adults do. That’s great, but not inside the four walls at someone’s home, or sometimes inside your own house.

Once, during a visit to a friend’s house, a place where everyone always had a good time, there was a young girl with manners that were not just good, they were great. I had to compliment her. She told me her mother said the trick to a return invitation was to have good manners. What a smart idea to keep kids on the right behav-ior track at a place they enjoy and want to see again.

The Truth About Consequences

The Truth About Consequences
Parents, you have to be tough enough. Get up your nerve to leave the grocery store in the middle of shopping or doggy bag your restaurant meal and go home. You have to do it. Otherwise, you’ll feel like you have déjà vu everywhere you go—Oh no, he’s doing it again! Sure, it will mean the hassle of going back to the store or wherever, but think of the time and energy you’ll have to sacri? ce if you have to deal with awful behavior as the norm rather than the exception.

But also remember to be realistic. Children who are tired, hun-gry, or both cannot be expected to exhibit their best behavior. Many times, parents have to compromise their schedules in the best interest of their children. After all, when you have no kids you can pick up and do what you want. For example, maybe you like to go grocery shopping at 10 P.M. when everything is less crowded. That’s ?ne, but don’t expect your little child to handle it well. We’ve all seen a parent who tries to shop with her kid long past any child’s decent bedtime. The child is often exhausted, so he ends up crying or whining. Then—guess what—the parent yells or slaps him to keep quiet and he cries again. Unless it is urgent, plan for a better time to do your necessary activities (or, see if you can get someone to watch your child).

Remember, any explanation of rules must be followed by spe-ci?cs about what happens if rules are not followed. This can be anything from a time-out (public or private) to loss of certain privileges like TV or outings. Be ?exible. If your kid broke the rules at Grandma’s house, it makes no sense to say you are not going back there ever again—you know you can’t avoid Grandma. So, enact the “no TV” penalty phase instead. Otherwise, you will look like a fool.

Get in Touch with Your Big Bad Wolf
Yeah, if you are the parent, you have to be the one responsible for everything—and you have to be the enforcer. Sometimes, you do have to be unpop ular like the Big Bad Wolf. You can’t be pals with your kids and then turn around and enforce punishment—that shape-shifting doesn’t work. You need to be consistent.

It’s best to stand tough with your house rules. Then you don’t need to be a policeman or a big, bad you- know- what. With all the outside in?uences children deal with today, strong parents are needed more than ever. If you don’t impart a sense of respect and of boundaries, you are not parenting. And, if you think your kids will be prepared for the “real world” with all of its everyday frus-trations, you’ve got another thing coming.

Remember, what you don’t teach them the world will—and it won’t be kind about it. The government, police, and others will deal with your children if they go astray. Once in that system, everyone loses.

If you do not establish boundaries for your children, you deny them the skills they need to cope with life’s problems. Even if they don’t have any problems now (because you shielded them from every consequence or disappointment), they will probably have big troubles down the road, because life is not a bowl of cherries. Maybe that’s the real history behind the latest rush of stars and sports ? gures in jail or in rehab.

Warnings May Be Bad for Your Health
Warnings are ?ne on a pack of cigarettes. I don’t like warnings used as threats for misbehavior, as in don’t come in late again or you’ll be grounded for a week. If the formula is set (a certain broken

Andre: I notice that if my wife says something over and over, my kids know by the second time she’s not going to do anything. They got her number, they stopped listening because they ?gured she was all talk. But, it’s never too late to change.

Threats with no follow-through are no good. At least, act on the second threat if you can’t stop yourself from another warning. If you are all talk and no action as a parent, you are a bad disciplinarian.

If I call upstairs, my child better come down. If I have to call a second time and go up there, he’d better be sleeping or unconscious. Don’t say something unless you mean it. My kids knew we meant it!

The Scoop on the Snoop

The Scoop on the Snoop
Some parents tell me their kids inform them their bedrooms are off limits. Are you kidding me? In what world do these parents live? News?ash: everything in the whole house belongs to the parents. This includes the kid’s room and everything in it.

Being ordered to stay away from your child’s room by that child is not acceptable. Being ordered to do anything by your child is not acceptable. As a parent, you need to be a winner in the authority game. You do this by having a clear line about who is in charge—namely, you. If you’ve lost your authority, take it back. It’s better if you didn’t lose it in the ?rst place—by acting like a friend—but it’s not too late to grab it back. Do it now.

On the other hand, unless you suspect problems with illegal or dangerous activities, there is no good reason to snoop around your child’s room. Andi had all kinds of notes strewn around her room when she was a teenager. Once, I picked one up and started to read it. I discovered it was only about her personal stuff and gossip. She trusted me enough to leave those notes out in the open, so I needed to trust her enough not to go back and read them all—even if I wanted to.

Now, if I thought she was on drugs or something else I’d pull out the mattress and rip through her closet. Some parents do that kind of thing anyway, just to be all up in their kid’s business. There is no need for that; certain privacies must be observed—children do deserve a certain respect.

Don’t Just Set the Table: Set a Good Example
You simply must set a good example. Who hasn’t heard “don’t do as I do, do as I say”? Even as an adult, there are some things you just cannot do—you know what I’m talking about. Our children are our messengers, and we need to send them out into the world with a positive message.

It works best if the hero/role model is from your own family.

I want to be that hero for my children. I don’t want some model or TV star to be my daughter’s role model, I want it to be me. After all, who needs Wonder Woman when you’ve got your mama?

I wanted to be a hero to my boys too, in a different way. On Mother’s Day one year, Andre gave me a card he made in school that depicted me as Super Mommy. I loved that card. I guess I wanted to be the one to burst through walls and leap over tall buildings and big kitchens to do the right thing for my kids. I wanted to let them know the sky was the limit for their aspira-tions. Along with all that bursting and leaping, I still have the re-sponsibility to carry myself as a respectable parent.

I know my children did not have to look at ?ctional heroes for good examples. A real-life hero sat at the head of the dinner table every night at our house. He was their father, Julius Rock. His dedication and commitment to his family was a powerful model for all our children. He came home every Thursday and put his paycheck down. He made sure everything went well in our house. We never worried when Daddy was in the house. Just his pres-ence made us feel we were OK and nothing could be wrong as long as he was there.

Be a Mama Rock from the Block

Be a Mama Rock from the Block
There will be times when you are called to outside duty. My Kenny told me I was the extra mama for lots of kids on our block. He said our family values in?uenced some of his friends—even to this day. Whenever you get a chance, be a Mama Rock. An excellent resource for any parent is the Big Brother and Big Sister Clubs of America (BBBS). This organization helps children of all ages, races, and religions all over the country. BBBS has volunteer mentors (“Bigs”) involved in one-to-one mentoring matches with children (“Littles”) in thousands of schools across the country. It is one of the largest in-school volunteer forces in the nation’s history. Call on them—that is why they exist. Offer guidance and be a good role model to any child who needs it. There are never too many good mamas.

It’s important for single parents to ?nd a role model of the op-posite sex for their children. No matter how committed and dedi-cated you are as a parent, I know you could use some help. If your own parents are good examples, use them. You can also reel in a brother, sister, cousin, in-law, or family friend to serve in that capacity. Otherwise, ?nd a coach or teacher who will have great in?uence. It really does take a village of mamas, daddies, brothers, sisters, grandparents, and members of the community to raise a good child. Call on whomever you need, and be someone who is needed whenever you can.

All that aside, no matter what, as a parent you are the role model—good or bad. How you set examples in your behavior every day (in every way) determines your child’s perspective. Hey, I never said it was easy. You may have to clean up your act and ? y right. {MAMA’S MOJO Get your child’s input about whom they consider a role model outside the home. Ask them why they look up to this person. You will learn a great deal from that discussion. It may shock and surprise you, but it’s a start down an important path.}

To Keep a Balance, Check and Recheck
It’s a good idea to keep a system of checks and balances on your kids, just like the government. While I don’t suggest you monitor your children 24/7, you will regret it if you don’t know what’s go-ing on before someone rings your doorbell with news you don’t want to hear.
It’s a tough world out there with a lot of pressure for a teenager. I happened to be walking outside near a Manhattan Catholic high school at the end of a school day. Some of the young girls had hiked up the skirts of their modest uniforms and tied their shirts at the waist. The girls pulled some sexy shoes out of their backpacks and slipped them on. Then, off they went. I guess they felt safe because no parent was scheduled to come along at a certain time.

And, how about kids who go to the mall to be with whomever they want? Tricky teens sometimes use a decoy pal who gets in the car on the way to mall, but after they get there, they split up and hang out with others you don’t know about, including that one bad in?uence a parent doesn’t want near her child.

If I walked up on my child at the mall and she was with John instead of Stephanie, I would start in with questions like: “Where is Stephanie?” If the answer is not good enough, I’d say: “Let’s call Stephanie’s cell phone”—you do have your children’s friends’ cell phone numbers, don’t you? This kind of thing goes on all the time.

The point is, you can stop your child if he never knows when you might show up. After all, who says you didn’t happen to remember something you needed at JCPenney in the mall on the same day your daughter planned to be there?


There are times when—every once in awhile—you should show up after school. Be casual. Say you took a late lunch and thought you’d swing by to take your child home. Even if you do it just that one time, your child will never know when you might do it again (or where). He won’t be sure, so that should keep him straight for quite awhile.

And I was walking with friends in the mall one day. Her girl-friend told her she saw a lady coming the other way who looked just like me. I was close enough to hear Andi loudly say: “Oh Lord, you are right, it is my Mama.” When I walked over, she said the same thing she always did then I’d walk up on her somewhere: “Uh-oh. Here she comes, Big Rose came to town, look out.” She might laugh, but I’m sure she got the message.

Mama's Mojo


Now listen, are you going to let your kids snub you? Do they get all huffy and annoyed if you show up at the mall, for instance? What? Are you going to not check up on them so they will “like” you? Where’s your head? It’s much more important for your child to respect you and your judgments than to be your buddy. How many times do I have to say this?

Every Action Has a Reaction
Everything has a consequence, good or bad. If you say no, mean it. Kenny always said I was tougher than his father about discipline. True, but Julius and I were a tag team and we didn’t back down. Don’t let your kids get between you and your spouse. Any indecision can be viewed as permission for your children to do whatever they want (you never of?cially said no). Use the phrase “I’ll tell you later,” if both parents/caregivers can’t agree on a decision at the moment. Be sure to tell them later, too.

How come so many parents just give it up? Honestly, it’s be-cause it is easier to say yes than to say no. It’s much simpler to let your children go somewhere on their own—even if you aren’t sure it’s the right thing—than it is to plan an activity together or spend time at home. Some parents think it’s more pleasant than having to deal with sulks or tantrums.


Nobody ever died from crying or pouting. Who cares if your kid sulks? Don’t be afraid of his reaction to your actions. If he wants to huff and puff and blow the house down, he is going to have to do it behind closed doors in his own room. Get him out of your sight—and away from TV and computers. If you’re stumped on what to do, send him to his room until you can think of appropriate consequences.

I'll never forget one time when Andi told me she needed a black skirt and white blouse for the school band. After work, I took her over to Wal-Mart to look for the clothes. She announced how she didn’t want anything from Wal-Mart, only from Belk Department Store. We got back in the car and I kept driving right past Belk. She wanted to know where I was going. “Listen,” I said, “you asked me for what you wanted, and I took you where I was planning to buy the out?t. You decided you didn’t want it. Therefore, we’re going to shop in your closet instead.” She wore what she already had and never pulled anything like that on me again.

Pull Out That Can of Whup- Ass
Sometimes children learn consequences for bad behavior all by themselves. Most of the time, though, we parents have to take care of delivering those consequences. Chris likes to say I know “100 kinds of whup- ass.” Let me be real clear: my whup- ass ex-pands far beyond just a physical punishment. It’s about what ever I can do to change a negative behavior. It is about taking something away from a child and how he feels about it.

Believe me, I’ve got a lot of tricks up my sleeve for making that happen. I can unleash whup- ass disciplinary techniques like nobody’s business. Even the threat of opening a can of my whup- ass will have just the right psychological effect on my kids. It takes clear action, sometimes, to let your child know who is in charge. I still rely on my mystery can of whup- ass because no one knows what it’s going to be until the lid is already off and they have to face the consequences.

One time, my son Charles, “Shabazz,” bought ?reworks for his brothers before the July 4th holiday. Chris could not resist the temptation of those rockets sitting in the corner of his room; he launched a giant Roman candle out of the upstairs window around dinnertime. It ?ew by our neighbor’s head. Still upstairs, he watched the angry neighbor run across the street toward our home.

Apparently, Chris ran downstairs to greet the fuming fellow on the stoop outside. He put on a shocked, wide-eyed look as he lis-tened to the man’s story. Chris informed the man about the awful tenant upstairs who did this thing all the time with ?reworks. That seemed to work until later, when the neighbor discovered the truth—we didn’t have any tenants. Chris ended up with no TV privileges, games, or friends over for two weeks.

And sometimes your children can learn the lessons alone. For example, Chris landed his ?rst big job on Saturday Night Live. After all his struggles, here was the big paycheck. He ignored some ba-sics about money management. He immediately bought a fancy new sports car. After he insured it, he was ?at broke. That woke him up better than any money lecture I could give.
No matter what the actual action you use in your house, you need to be consistent about enacting consequences for breaking the rules. Set it up beforehand. If you are stumped, send your child into another room (without privileges) until you can think of something. Be sure to say you’ll come up with something really soon. Most times, the anticipation of an open can of whup- ass is worse than the ?nal punishment.

Know When to Lighten Up
Don’t punish for every infraction. If you lay the right groundwork, you can choose your battles wisely. Some actions are only childish mistakes or just plain accidents—they are not intentional. I’ve seen kids hurry to cover their faces after they have spilled a glass of milk at school. Who in the world would hit a child for spilling milk acci-dentally? Sometimes you have to laugh about the mishap and say, “Ohmigod!” One time Tony broke our window when he hit a home run from way down the street. What a hit! Wow! I said, “Omigod!”

Another time, Tony and Andre accidentally turned over a gal-lon of bright yellow paint in my kitchen on the ?oor. They looked over at me in absolute horror. We all looked at that bright paint all over the place and burst out laughing. We laughed until we cried. Then, we cleaned up every single drop.

They shouldn’t have been roughhousing indoors—but it was not intentional. I didn’t call them a bunch of dumb idiots or lose my cool. Instead, as a family, we cleaned it up. Let me tell you, I was so grateful we got it up off the ?oor or else I’d have had to paint the entire kitchen yellow.

Let the Punishment Fit the Crime
Don’t use overkill like removing all privileges for two weeks over a minor offense like not doing the dishes. Make a punish-ment appropriate, fair, and immediate. After all, the purpose of
consequences for kids is to learn from them and change—not be so ticked off that later they will let their own kids do anything.

Most often, severe, inappropriate, or utterly ridiculous punishments are applied during a moment of fury. Your child is NOT really going to stay in his room all summer, is he?


When you don’t have a consequence, ask your child what HE thinks is an appropriate consequence. Yes, ask. My kids always offered worse consequences than I would have given out. It’s worth doing this because they are going to be punished anyway—you are just giving them a hand in their own punishment. Doesn’t that seem fair? Of course it does. Use this and you will give the impression of being fair. }

Don’t Ask a Yes or No Question
I want to share with you one of the most important things I learned in parenting. NEVER ask a yes or no question, especially when it relates to crime and punishment. Don’t say, for instance, “Did you break that cabinet door?” Forget it; you’ll never ?nd out because the answer will always be no. Nobody knows “nuthin,” ever.

If no one comes forward to discuss a mess, wait a day or two. Then, let your children think you already know what’s going on. Sit down with the suspected culprit over a bowl of ice cream or have some cookies together — nice and casual. Phrase your question like this: “When you did this (broke the lamp or piece of china) were you bouncing a ball or did you throw it around the room with someone else?”

Pick Your Battles, Don’t Gum It Up!

Pick Your Battles, Don’t Gum It Up!

My older sons love to talk about their self-proclaimed statutes of limitations every time we get together. The statutes refer to secret happenings around the house or the family, which we parents didn’t know about until long after the fact—sometimes years after-ward.
The statutes would often be their own justice system. It was their way of handling sibling in-house bickering or minor ? ghts in school. As the oldest, Chris shouldered much of the responsibility of “not telling” or taking care of the problem in-house without us.

Chris, Andre, Brian, and Tony were the early band of brothers who didn’t get each other in trouble with Mama. They also learned that tattling was not the way to go unless it was something impor-tant. (Tony likes to say Kenny and Andi slept through the Rock justice system because by the time they were eligible, Julius had passed away and the dynamics had changed.) Sometimes they’d cover up for somebody who lost some money or ?ubbed up some-where. Some things took awhile to ?nd out—but we always even-tually found out. One example was the tale of the bubble-gum machine.

We had an antique bubble-gum machine (with real gumballs) in our house on Decatur Street in Brooklyn. It was an interesting piece with a heavy wrought-iron bottom. The coin slot still worked. We kept it stocked with gumballs and the boys got to keep the change if any visitors put in money. Later, we moved it upstairs to the game room area. But then it disappeared. Of course, no one knew any-thing about it. The statutes of limitations must have expired at some point because—years later—I ?nally found out what happened.

My husband always putted golf balls around the house—he got on my last nerve about it, too. Following his lead, the boys went one further and chipped the balls. Well, I guess one of those balls headed straight for the old glass gum dome and shattered it. The boys took it apart, cleaned up the gum and the glass, and never said a word. They were ingenious about it, too. The machine pieces were snuck out inside a coat, one by one, under cover of night. Thank God it wasn’t a body. I didn’t make a stink about it—sometimes you have to pick your battles.
{MAMA’S MOJO The bottom line is: kids are kids and boys are truly boys. You never want to totally zap that spirit, browbeat them, or pound them down so they are no longer special. }

Always look for the teachable moments. Never let one pass. Sometimes kids come in from school and talk about different things that happened—someone got in trouble for badmouthing a teacher, had a ?ght, found out a friend was a liar. All these are important. Use them to reinforce your rules and beliefs.

Remember, above all, the key thing you can do for your children is to spell out exactly what you expect from them. Don’t be all talk and no action—follow through on what you say and be a good role model to your children.

It’s not possible to be a pal and an enforcer at the same time. As a parent, you need to win the authority game by letting your children know who is in charge. Help them understand that their behavior is a matter of choice—look for the intention in their ac-tions. We’ll explore more about the surprising truth of discipline and why children really long for structure.
A tree is known and recognized and judged by its fruit.
—Matthew 12:33

Summary of Mama Rock's Rules

Remember Mama Rock’s Rules and Strategies:

Draw the Line to Win Respect
You can’t be both parent and friend to a child. You need to be a winner in the authority game—the stakes are higher than you think.

Don’t Hide the Cookie Jar
Help kids understand how behavior becomes a matter of choice. Don’t forbid the cookies in the jar—just show kids how to get them without fear.

Join the Congregation of Expectations
The most important thing you can do for your children is to set down exactly what you expect from them.

Don’t Just Set the Table
Set a Good Example Be your child’s role model by carrying yourself in the right way—children need to ?nd their best hero in their own home.

Every Action Has a Reaction
You can’t be wishy-washy about your response because you are hurried, tired, or fed up. React consistently each time.

Pull Out That Can of Whup-Ass
It takes clear action to let kids know who is in charge. Store some cans of whup-ass in your pantry to change negative behaviors.

Sometimes You Have to Break the Rules
Pick the battles to reinforce your rules and beliefs. Don’t browbeat your kids so they no longer feel special—remember, children are children and boys are truly boys.