Raising a teenager, especially in the social media age, is hard work. It can be difficult to communicate, to keep an eye on what they’re exposed to online and in the world, and to steer them in the right direction. Now add to that the responsibility of raising a child who is well-known because of your own fame, and it can get even more complicated. But for Tammy Rivera, singer and star of the WEtv reality series Waka & Tammy with husband and rapper Waka Flocka, (which just wrapped its second season), she’s been successful in leading 15-year-old daughter Charlie by going about parenting in a thoughtful way. She tries to think before she reacts and listen before she talks. By doing so, she’s been able to find the right balance between being a parent and a friend.
“What has worked for me is communication, being able to listen and be that friend, even if it’s not what you want to hear,” she tells ESSENCE. “There are times where she comes in the room and she’s talking about something, and she’s telling me, ‘Yeah, because my friends the other day, they were smoking, and we were just chilling…’ And I’m like, ‘Oh…’ I can’t be like, ‘Oh, what the hell?! They were smoking?’ I have to listen instead of reacting.”
The ability to hear her daughter out without judgment has kept an open line of communication between them, which has allowed her to give advice to help Charlie make good decisions.
“If I react to that one thing, she’s not going to tell me anything else,” she says. “And then that one comment or conversation could go deeper, and I would never know if I react to the first thing that I hear.”
Tammy, who had Charlie when she was 18 and growing up in Baltimore, isn’t naive to believe that her daughter wouldn’t find herself in complex situations or try different things with her friends as a teenager. So instead of trying to be overprotective and close-minded, which could push Charlie away, she chooses to equip her daughter to handle different circumstances. That includes dealing with social media trolls of all ages as a public figure, her first teen heartbreak, and for living in a world outside of her cushy life as the child of celebrities.
“I want her to be like, ‘Well, my mama told me how to stand firm, my mama told me how to do this,'” she says.
“This world is not for the weak. This world is for the strong. I’m sorry. I’m not one of those parents that’s going to be like, ‘Aw, baby, you got a booboo? Let me kiss it. Let me do this,'” she adds, opting instead for teaching her daughter not to stay down for too long in any situation. “Let’s wipe that off. It’s okay. You fell. Get back up, baby. Come on. Let’s get it.”
Because of her efforts, mother and daughter can talk about anything. So when Charlie came to her mother not long ago and shared that she had feelings for a girl, Tammy took a step back from trying to change her child’s mind, and instead, heard her out.
“I’m not going to lie. When she first came to me, I did tell her, ‘You’re too young. You don’t even know what you want to eat,” she says.
Instead of sticking with the thought that Charlie was too young to know what she wanted or was being led by classmates at school, she concluded that she needed to be of support as opposed to offering discouragement.
“I had to sit back and think about it. I watch my daughter. I know my child. I know her behavior, I know her attitude, I know her personality,” she says. “I sat down with Waka and I said, ‘You know what? I’m not going to be that parent.’ I said, ‘Charlie has never been a follower. She’s always been who she is. So if she’s gay or says she likes girls, it’s because that’s what she wants.”
That realization, as well as Waka’s support, proved beneficial for the entire family.
“It’s crazy because as soon as I got to that point, it’s like she opened up completely. And we got closer. Even her and Waka got closer. And she was able to be herself,” she says. “It’s crazy because even when I used to say back then like, ‘Oh, you sure you like girls? You sure you not going to like boys again?’ she’s like, ‘No, I like girls. I like girls.’ And I’m like, ‘Are you sure?’ ‘Yes, that’s what I like…’ Now she’s dating a boy. So it’s like, when you let your kids just be them, they’re going to go through life, and it’s going to be what it is. And there’s nothing you can do to change that. Trying to force a narrative on them or not accepting them for who they are is only going to make things harder. The more you let them go through and be [themselves], the more they don’t have a point to prove and they just live truly for who they are.”
Now that Tammy has parenting a teenager figured out to a T, there have been questions, from both family and fans, as to whether or not she will have another child to both nurture and be a confidante for. She tells us that while having another child sooner than later was what she thought she wanted, and what many want for her, as she’s learned from parenting, she can’t force anything. Instead, she’s letting things happen naturally.
“It hasn’t happened, and I’m not going to force it. I just feel like it’s in God’s timing,” she says. “Whatever’s supposed to happen is going to happen.”
In the meantime, she’s focused on Charlie, and walking that line between being a mother and a friend.
“It’s a very, very thin line. And a lot of times the kids tend to cross it. But you’ve got to pop them back into their side of the line,” she jokes. “That’s when it goes, ‘Girl, I don’t know who you talking to. I’m not your friend. I’m your mother.'”