While we often get to see the glossy red carpet moments and stunning Instagram photos that share the work and appearances and business moves of Kelly Rowland, behind the scenes, she is a mother, like most moms, trying to juggle it all. In the midst of doing that, she deals with the sadness that comes with having to be away from her sons, Titan, 7, and Noah, 1, for work. Knowing how realistic of a struggle that is for so many mothers, Rowland and her writing partner Jessica McKay decided to pen a children’s book for both parents and their kids dealing with separation anxiety.
“I would tell her about my trips coming up and what I was doing with the boys, and she was like, ‘I kind of have an idea like that,’” Rowland tells ESSENCE. “And I was like, ‘Well, let’s partner up on it.’”
Due on bookshelves April 26, Always with You, Always with Me navigates the bond between a mother and child and how they both cope with being apart. With illustrations by Fanny Liem, the book is a reassurance to both moms and their children dealing with guilt and sadness during the workday. As it rhymes in a soothing way, Always with you, always with me, mommy and child, together we’ll be.
We chatted with Rowland about her upcoming book, how she deals with her own separation anxiety after the pandemic made time with her kids a constant, and why it’s so important for moms, and women in general, to uplift each other.
ESSENCE: Where did the desire for you to do a children’s book come from?
Kelly Rowland: I just love the idea as far as there’s so many working mothers out now, and now that COVID is hopefully coming to somewhat of a close, everybody’s going back to work, and that’s a shock for not just the kids, but the parents, too. As much as we were stressed, I know for me, I can’t speak for everybody, but I know I was stressed out at the top of COVID with it being Titan’s year in kindergarten and what that meant. I was like, “Oh, my God.” I wish I had his teachers or whatever. It was a lot, needless to say, but we got through it, and here we are now out of COVID, but we’ve all bonded through COVID.
Everybody’s separating all over again and I just love the dynamic of the book and the fact that it’s a bond between a mother and a child, and that’s the sweetest bond. I think kids always think that they’re the only ones that feel their feelings when they’re separated from their parents and we feel the same thing with them, so I just love the book and just the fact that we’re both experiencing what it’s like to have distance between us.
Now that you have two children, how do you cope with that? Knowing that when you have to get up and go and fly for different events, does Noah come with you, or how does that work?
He’s old enough to just chill. When I was filming Merry Liddle Christmas Baby last year in Vancouver, Noah stayed with me. They flew with me up there, but then Noah stayed with me the whole time I was shooting. Titan came back home and was with his friends, which is where he wants to be. Noah just has different needs. He’s smaller.
I had a trip to New York last week and they both stayed back. I FaceTimed them all the time. It’s hard. I read books with them, a book that I have a copy of, that they have a copy of. We read the books together, so it’s like you try to figure out as many possible ways as you can to bond. Of course, I bring them toys back when I come back. I try to do a scavenger hunt sometimes in the house and plan it before I leave and hide things in the house and then ask them, “Well, how was your day? Did you finish your work on time at school? Perfect. I have something for you. It’s actually hiding in the…” Then he goes to get it, so it’s a thing. We try to make the distance still something where they feel like they’re always on my heart, they’re always in my thoughts, they’re always in my brain. It’s a real thing because I miss them so much.
What advice do you have for moms who are dealing with that guilt of going back to what they know is necessary for their own dreams and their family’s success but feeling like it takes them away from their babies?
My therapist asked me the other day, “What do you do for you? What’s your you time?” I said, “Well, it’s working out,” I said, “and I love what I do for a living. I’m so grateful. I’m so blessed.” She said, “Well, that’s awesome.” She said, “Make sure you are always tapped into that,” because I guess on the call, I was talking about everybody else, but she was just like, “You just have to always stay in tune with that.”
The truth is that when we’re at work, and I hope that people are in occupational spaces to where they’re enjoying what they’re doing, then our kids actually get the best version, sometimes a little tired version, but the best versions of us, because we’re out doing what we love. We also get an opportunity to have a job, allow them to see us work towards something, and then bring it home to them. Just the fact that they have a home, the fact that they have food on the table, the fact that they have clothes on their back.
I remember Titan had a whole meltdown one time. He’s like, “Why do you have to go to work?” I was really busy in a course of like five months. He was mad at my assistant and everybody around me and he was like, “Can you cancel it? Can you cancel?” He just wanted me to stay home. I said, “Baby, do you like your house?” Because we just moved into our new house. I said, “Do you like our house?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “You like those new shoes, huh?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “Go to the refrigerator.” He opens up the refrigerator. I said, “Look how full that refrigerator is of food.” He said, “Yeah.” I said, “It’s great to have food and you can open up the refrigerator and get right to food.” He said, “Yes.”
I said, “That’s why I go to work. So that you’re able to do all of that.” We were getting ready to go to Disney World. I said, “We’re going to Disney but I have to go to work and I love work. I was like, “Mommy gets a chance to actually make money from this and I get to bring it home to you and your brother,” and so he understood immediately. We haven’t had any problems since.
With that in mind, you get to go to work and provide all these things for your kids. How important was it to take part in the recent Baby2Baby event where you distributed clothes and food and more to low-income families in L.A.?
Well, the thing is that, and Titan also understands the component of charity as well, when we’re able to give, we give. This event went incredible. One, because I saw so many beautiful smiling faces from these kids. I see Kelly [Sawyer Patricof] and Norah [Weinstein’s] efforts and their team’s efforts when they’re caring for all of these families. In each place that they get to go, each setup that they have from the groceries to the backpacks to vaccines to tests, it’s all these things that have gone into tremendous thought for them. They also want the kids to feel seen and the families to feel seen.
I think that when you watch the kids just get the opportunity to pick a backpack of their choice, that’s a real big deal, you know what I mean? I came up in a time where my mother was a nanny and I had to get a hand-me-down from maybe her boss’s kid. So, I understand that look on their faces when their eyes light up because they get something brand new that they chose. It’s a power in that, especially being a kid, you know what I mean? Kids don’t ask to come into the world and circumstances happen to us all, so when we do have an opportunity to bring light, and some sort of joy and a feeling of being a kid, just a feeling of them just being a kid and being able to have the groceries and say what they want, there’s a power in that for a kid, and that is important. That, for me, is the payoff. I love it.
Lastly, with all these things in mind, all the work that you do to be of support to moms and families in that way with your charitable giving, and then this new children’s book that you have and even your first book about your own experience as a mother, how important is it for you to connect with the community of mothers? To be of encouragement and of support?
Oh, gosh. I think that women being in support of women is so important, period, but mothers being in support of other mothers is necessary because the truth is that we’re all just trying to figure this thing out. We didn’t get a rule book. We didn’t know the circumstances that we would be dealt. We don’t know what’s going to happen day to day. We don’t know what happens with each age with each kid.
Somebody told me, “When your child is born, so are you as far as being a mother’s concerned, or a father’s concerned,” or when you have two, a mother of two, father of two. Titan became a brother. That’s a new thing that he has to navigate his way through. We don’t know motherhood.
That’s why I get so upset. I remember this one time I guess I had Titan’s seatbelt on the wrong way on a post, on Instagram. My comments lit up so terrible with the worst things said by mothers to me: “What kind of mother would put there —?” I’m like, “Wait a second. Okay, you’re obviously the judgmental mothers, but nobody has time for that, one, and two, just a polite, ‘Why don’t you raise his seat thing up?’” Something like that, but don’t be judgmental. We’re all trying to figure this out, so there needs to be space for that. We’re figuring it out as we go, so when we are patting each other on the back and seeing each other, like, “Wow, I see you’re doing a great job,” or, “Can I help you?” you look at the mother and there’s an understanding between mothers and there should always be.
Always with You, Always with Me will be available on April 22 everywhere that books are sold.