EXCLUSIVE: See Monica’s Mother’s Day Photo Shoot, Letter to Her Mom
Rob Ector Photography

Monica celebrates four generations of women in her family with her latest shoot with celebrity photographer Rob Ector. Here, the Grammy-winner is pictured with her 8-month-old daughter Laiyah, her mother Marilyn Best and a photograph of her beloved grandmother, Edna Mae Paige, who passed away when she was 18.

Just in time for Mother’s Day, she spoke with ESSENCE.com about how motherhood has changed her, her prayer for her children, and lessons learned from her mother, whom her children affectionately call “Nana.”

I’m a strong believer in divine order. Growing up, my mother used to always tell me how we were God’s special gift to her. I understand what she means now, because as different as all three of my children are, they all play a significant part in who I am. The things I used to do, I have no desire to do anymore. Some of the things I would have chosen, I haven’t chosen anymore. In a way, my children saved my life. They opened doors for me that I never even knew existed. Each day, my main goal is to make sure that they understand that nothing comes before or between them and I.

I pray that my children be productive. That they be loving. That they be respectful and understand that even though we’re in a world, we don’t have to be of it. I learned a long time ago that … I work in an industry where you see a lot. It can be so negative. It can be so fast. I didn’t have to be of that. My gift is the only part of the industry that I really involve myself in. I kind of try to keep myself separate. I just try to make sure my children understand the same thing.

If I had to write a letter to my mother, I would first say, ‘Thank you.’ I would tell her that every prayer was heard—everything that she taught me. All those things that I did not understand 15 years ago, I completely understand now. I would tell her that because of her I’m able to be the person, the mom, the artist, and the woman that I am now. If it had not been for her, I would not be able to do the things that I do with the love that I do it with. Especially when it comes to my children.

I would also tell her that it too is because of her mother, my grandmother… Just seeing loving women, dedicated women, Godly women, allowed me to grow into the woman that I know I need to be. If it had not been for them, it wouldn’t have been possible.

My mom has never asked me for anything. She has worked my entire career until I became pregnant with my oldest son, Rocko. She took a package, but she worked at Delta for more than 30 years. She refused to ever let me help her. She refused to ever let me move her. She just told me that what’s mine is mine.

She said, ‘My prayers were answered. You’re doing what you love. I don’t need anything. I’m your parent. It’s my job to be here for you.’ I always thought that was so admirable, but sometimes it’s a little frustrating when I want to do things for her. So this year, I just stopped asking her. Moving her and buying her a Ranger Rover was a surprise a month ago. Then, for Mother’s Day, I’m going to take her and my mother-in-law to Miami with me—I’m performing on Mother’s Day. I’m going to do something for the both of them on stage and the next day we’re just going to take them out on the boat, fish, have food, just have a good time with each other and with the kids. Make more memories and take more pictures.

Happy Mother’s Day!

As told to Yolanda Sangweni