Spirit of The Holidays

Kelly Rowland On Raising Joyful Black Sons & Making Sure Every Mom Has The Basic Essentials

As board member and ambassador for Baby2Baby, the mom of two is dedicated to making the holidays a little brighter for families everywhere.

The Spirit Of The Holidays

“I think that sometimes, especially with social media now, it’s just like ‘You need this and you need that,’ but no one needs anything more than basic essentials,” Kelly Rowland tells me one afternoon as we chat about all things mom life over Zoom. But of course, even basic essentials are a struggle for too many families in America, where 11 million children live in poverty, including 1 in 7 children of color and 1 in 6 children younger than 5, and where 1 in 3 low-income American families struggles to afford fundamental necessities like toothpaste. That struggle for the basics is something that Rowland, a mom of two boys (Titan, 8, and Noah, 2), is dedicated to alleviating with her work over the past eight years as a board member and ambassador for the nonprofit Baby2Baby.

“From diapers to food, to just clothes, it’s just the simple things that Baby2Baby distributes,” the Destiny’s Child alum tells me. “And it’s not just over the holidays. It’s all year round when there are disasters, whether a hurricane or a tornado. They are right there to help and to provide and do whatever they can.”

Since launching 12 years ago, Baby2Baby has topped 350 million donations of essentials like diapers, formula, and clothing to kids facing poverty — children in homeless shelters, domestic violence programs, foster care, hospitals, and underserved schools, as well as to children who have lost everything in the wake of disaster — and it’s still counting. As ambassador and board member, the multifaceted musical artist Rowland plays a key role in helping shed light on this work. (“We literally give our hearts and our souls to Baby2Baby,” she says.) And this holiday season, she’s excited to spread the word about Baby2Baby’s partnership with children’s fashion brand Janie and Jack, which not only made a donation to the organization but debuted its holiday giveback campaign: Through January of next year, shoppers can easily make a donation to Baby2Baby when they’re checking out at any Janie and Jack store.

I think about all the things that I thought that I needed when I had my babies — and the things that I really needed were basic essentials. And love.

As I chatted with Rowland, a few things became clear. First, her passion for motherhood extends not just to her own kids but to all kids. Then there’s her desire to use her position as one of the most iconic voices of our generation to contribute to the national community of mamas by making sure as many as possible have what they need for their kids. As someone with a strong network of her own, Rowland knows the strength of folks you can lean on. (“I’m so grateful for my village,” she recently told Parents. “My husband’s mother is a wonderful part of our village. My Mama T is a part of my village, of course. My sisters [from Destiny’s Child] are a great part of my village.” ) And lastly, raising sons who don’t turn out to be toxic men is an intention she takes very seriously.

“God has, smiled on me,” Rowland captioned this sweet photo with her two boys on Instagram.

Tabitha St. Bernard-Jacobs: How did you first get started working with Baby2Baby?

Kelly Rowland: I’ve been a Baby2Baby supporter ever since I was pregnant with Titan. I’ll never forget being on a treadmill — I was eight months pregnant — and I remember bumping into Kelly Sawyer, [the co-CEO of Baby2Baby,] and she’s like, “People are going to send you so much stuff, but I need you to do me a favor. Some stuff you use and some stuff you won’t, but the stuff that you won’t use, can you give those to my babies?” And I’m like, “What babies do you have?” And so she started talking to me about Baby2Baby, and when she talked about it, it was with so much passion, so much zeal, you’d think that all of these children that Baby2Baby provides for are hers and Norah’s [Weinstein, the co-CEO of Baby2Baby]. When I saw what they were doing, I wanted to be a part of it. And then I saw this opportunity with Janie and Jack where they were incredibly generous in making sure to spread the awareness of Baby2Baby. I feel like there’s a beautiful spirit and joy to Janie and Jack, and I think that them and Baby2Baby linking up is a really great collaboration.

How did your own experience becoming a mom influence your advocacy work in this area?

I think about all the things that I thought that I needed when I had my babies — and the things that I really needed were basic essentials. And love. Which is necessary of course. But the basic essentials were the things that I use all the time. Basic essentials are just really priceless.

At Baby2Baby distribution events I’ve hosted and attended, I’ve watched the moms’ faces and the children’s faces. You get a chance to interact with all the kids and the families and it’s just really beautiful. The first time my son Titan saw that, he was so excited to give and he went home, he went through his own toys. I was like, “Well, babe, I’m sure they would appreciate this, but let’s get them some new toys because you get a new toy for Christmas!”

Rowland and her son Noah, 2, dressed in Janie and Jack The Tartan Poplin Shirt ($36) and The Tartan Holiday Pant ($72).Baby2Baby

What’s been the biggest shock for you as a mom?

The biggest shock for me would probably be the balancing part. It takes a second to figure it out. I think that with motherhood, period, it’s all about giving yourself grace.

I see that a lot in this new generation, or maybe it’s just my algorithm, but there’s this new parenting, from “gentle parenting” to “kind parenting” to this kind of parenting to this. There are so many different ways and techniques and things like that. I know some really awesome mothers, and I’m like, “You are an awesome person. The things that you would like to make different or change about how you mother as compared to how your mother mothered — you do those, but don’t change everything up!” [One thing that I’m not changing is] “yes, ma’am; no, ma’am; yes, sir; no, sir; thank you; please” — those things go a long way!

I remember interviewing a school for my son to go to, and they said, “We let the kids call us by our first names.” Now I’m Southern. That just sounds so wild to me. I understood that concept, but I’m still Southern. I like what I like. And I love me a “ma’am; no, ma’am; yes, sir; no, sir; please; thank you.” It’s just what I remember! As my mother would say, it’s just home training.

I’m the same way. I’m from the Caribbean, and I am like, “Yeah, you’ve got to have your manners. You just have to.”

Yes, yes.

On Titan’s 9th birthday, Roland shared this sweet video of mother and son singing.

As someone raising sons, what’s been the biggest concern for you in terms of not raising toxic men? I also have a boy who’s 8 years old, and it’s coming at them from all around — from video games to shows — these ideas about manhood and masculinity and so forth. What’s been the biggest sort of pressure for you?

And I knew that he knew what joy felt like and I felt like I did my job as a mother.

Having emotions, and if it’s a big emotion, we talk about it. When Titan was really small and was figuring out how to use his words, he would say, “I’m red right now.” You know what I mean? He equated that to anger. Green was calm, and blue was happy, and yellow was... I don’t remember what yellow was, to be honest, but what I will say is it helped him navigate his way through his emotions. So when he had this big emotion, he was able to find what colors worked for him. Sometimes it was two colors at a time —I remember him being red and blue at one point in time, and I was like, “Tell me why.” He was like, “Because I’m happy that Grandma was here, but I’m really sad she’s leaving.”

I love that my son has that, and when we talk to him, we like to encourage him to be able to communicate and use his words. It’s not “I’m OK.” I’m like, “Well, if you are OK, then you wouldn’t be stomping. So what is the intention behind the stomp?” And then we sit and we talk about it, or I give him space, or we have family meetings and we talk. I like giving them the tools to be able to express how they feel. And respect — like I said, that’s a really big thing in this house.

How do you center joy in raising bold, audacious Black children?

We talk about the difference between joy and happiness — that’s so funny you ask this question! I asked Titan, I said, “What do you think happiness is?” He said, “Happiness is like, sometimes it’s quick, and then it goes away.” And then he said, “But joy is like,” and he does this. [Rowland spreads her hands opening over her heart.] And I knew that he knew what joy felt like, and I felt like I did my job as a mother.

I said, “Well, what does that mean?” He’s said, “Because it feels like my insides are happy.” I was like, “That’s your soul.” I said, “Exactly, baby, that’s so beautiful. That’s how I feel when I experience you shooting a basket. And it’s not happiness, it’s joy because I watched you work really hard.” Another thing that we implement in our kids: Success doesn’t just happen; it doesn’t just come to you; we have to work for it. Even if God gives you a gift, you still nurture the gift and you respect God’s gift to you by nurturing it and making it better. So I was like, “I watched you shoot and practice and everything, and I watched your face and the pride in your face because you did the work, you put in the time. And the joy that you had when you walked away, I almost cried.”

He was like, “Mommy, that’s dramatic. Don’t cry about it!”

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.