Ebony - May 1995

Ebony, Vol. 50, May 1995
Whitney and Cissy Houston on the joys and worries of motherhood
by Lynn Norment

I'VE never found anything more fulfilling than being a mother."

That's quite a profound statement, considering it flows from the mouth of Whitney Houston, the world-renowned supertalented diva with the golden voice and more than 66 million album sales to her credit.

Yet, this simple, from-the-heart declaration is not surprising, for neither fame nor fortune, nor a truckload of awards and thousands of adoring fans can compare to the incredible feeling, the state of being, the satisfaction that comes from and the art that is motherhood.

"I never thought I could love as much as I love her," Whitney continues, referring to her daughter, Bobbi Kristina, who is playing nearby. "I never thought that I could worry as much, and she's only 2 years old. I worried when she was inside of me and I worry more now that she's out of me. She teaches me about love everyday."

Seated comfortably in a spacious rented house in Scottsdale, Arizona, where she was filming the movie Waiting To Exhale, a slim and vibrant Whitney Houston talked about the "joys and worries" of motherhood. She also praised the job that her own mother, singer Cissy Houston, did in rearing her and two brothers while pursuing her own show business career.

It was just three years ago in July that a proud, teary-eyed Cissy Houston watched her daughter walk down the aisle and exchange wedding vows with hip-hop recording artist Bobby Brown in a dazzling million-dollar wedding attended by hundreds of celebrity friends and family members at Whitney's New Jersey estate. Since then the famous couple has been hounded by reports that there is marital discord. But Whitney insists that theirs is a loving, harmonious marriage, and that they have no more marital spats than any other couple.

Since her marriage, Whitney, who has won five Grammy Awards, has experienced the incredible high of appearing in her first film, the very successful The Bodyguard opposite Kevin Costner, and receiving numerous awards for the movie's soundtrack (which has sold more than 28 million units worldwide) and its popular single, "I Will Always Love You."

But Whitney says that none of that --not the fame, not the accolades, not the wealth, not the awards--compares to the joys of motherhood.

"Having a child is like a whole new world, a whole new thing," she asserts. "My mother said to me when I was a child, 'You'll understand better when you have your own.' And I do. I understand the concern, the responsibility of having a child. There are a lot of joys and a lot of worries." She tells of how a few days earlier, she became alarmed that the baby-sitter and her daughter had not returned when she arrived home from the movie set. "It was dark and I was very concerned," she reveals, recalling how she just stood in the driveway with tears streaming down her face. When her husband asked why she was standing outside, she replied that her own mother had stood in the doorway many times when she was a child, awaiting her return home.

"As a mother you try to give your child the best that you can," Whitney continues, "and the best thing I can give Bobbi Kristina is the love of God, and to teach her the way I was taught. Whatever you do, train a child up in the way of God, no matter what."

Whitney points out that she was quite a different 2-year-old-child from her daughter, yet there are some similarities. "I was more mature than Bobbi Kris," says the adoring mother. "I was shy. Bobbi Kris is very outgoing, like her father. She is very independent, and she and I are alike in that respect. And sometimes she has moments when she is very shy and she just wants to be to herself."

Whitney recalls how as a shy little girl, she tried to fit in with the other kids at her public elementary school in East Orange, N.J., but often got teased for her "nice clothes" and "pretty hair." At times, says her mother, Whitney came home from school in tears.

After sixth grade, Whitney transferred to a private school, where she says: "I didn't have to fight anybody and I didn't have anybody who wanted to fight me. I hated hiding."

But Whitney is confident that her daughter will not have such experiences. "Bobbi Kris will stand up for herself and she will fight you," says the mother. "And I like that, because it makes me feel a bit more secure about how she's going to deal with people and how people should deal with her."

In separate interviews, Whitney and her mother both refer to similar incidents in Whitney's childhood and use the same adjectives to describe a young Whitney. And both mothers indicate unequivocally that they do not believe in sparing the rod.

"Yes, I discipline her," Whitney says, "on occasion when I really think that Bobbi Kris is beside herself, which sometimes she is. And I am the disciplinarian, because her father is putty and he never lays a hand on any of his children. But he has a way of making things understood, like my dad did. I try not to spank Bobbi. The Bible says, 'Spare the rod and spoil the child.' If you take a rod to the child, you make the child respect you, help that child understand that there has to be mutual respect. Bobbi Kris can't cross a certain line with me. She knows that.

"But when I must discipline her, I cry harder than she does, because it hurts," the mother admits. "My mother used to say, 'It hurts me more than it hurts you.' I understand that now. I never understood that concept before, the pain of having to discipline a child."

Cissy Houston says that Whitney was a "real good" child. "It's unbelievable, but she never acted like that," she says, nodding toward her granddaughter, who has just thrown a tantrum. "Whitney was a very big talker," she says. "She loved to talk. People used to tell me she was a delight to take anywhere.. She was a perfect little lady."

Cissy Houston, who was in show business long before she married and started a family, says that she often took Whitney with her to recording sessions and even on the road. During the '60s and '70s, Cissy Houston sang backup for Aretha Franklin, Luther Vandross, her niece Dionne Warwick, Bette Midler, Chaka Khan, and Elvis Presley. She also formed a rhythm and blues group, The Sweet Inspirations.

She says Whitney was 7 or 8 years old when she first started singing. "She would be down in the basement singing, screaming at the top of her voice," the mother recalls with a chuckle. "She really didn't have a voice at that time. But she was trying. She would get my microphone and sing to the records, at the top of her lungs. Her father would say, 'Can't you do something about that girl, about that screaming?' And I would say, 'Maybe one day it will develop her voice.'" It did. A few years later, it was at New Hope Baptist Church that Whitney sang her first solo, "Guide Me O Thou Great Jehovah."

Like all adolescents and teens, Whitney went through what her mother calls a rebellious stage, "When she wanted to do what she wanted to do." Young Whitney did not like doing the dishes and other housework. And there were heated discussions when she wanted to wear stockings "like the other girls," before her mother felt she was old enough. "Most times I could just talk to her," says Mrs. Houston. "Her last spanking came when she was about 16. That was the first real spanking she got. A real good one."

At about that time, Whitney started pursuing modeling jobs in New York City in an effort to, according to her mother, help pay fees for her private high school. During her teen years, Whitney modeled for a number of magazines. (Cissy Houston points out that she and Whitney's father, John Houston, separated when Whitney was in high school. Yet, the family is still very close, and John Houston is president/CEO of Nippy Inc., Whitney's company.) Whitney signed with Arista Records in 1981. Her first album, Whitney Houston, was released in 1985 and won a Grammy Award for the single, "Saving All My Love."

Without a doubt, Cissy Houston must be given a great deal of credit for honing her daughter's talent and grooming her for a career in show business. But the mother never dreamed that her daughter would achieve the success that she has, especially in the highly competitive profession noted for heartbreak and unrealized potential. "I'm pretty proud," says Cissy Houston. "She's growing still...She was always smart, beautiful. Not just because she was my child, but she was a very nice person, too. There was nothing weak about her. She didn't like confrontation, and she still doesn't. But she can handle it if she has to. I'm real proud of her now."

As Whitney's mother watched her budding talent, so is Whitney, the mother, keeping a loving eye on her own daughter, whom she says is already into music.. "I just watch Bobbi Kris, and maybe she's singing, trying to mimic me or her father," says Whitney. "She loves music. She and her father were in the recording studio, and it was amazing to watch Bobby and his daughter at the board. He would do a knob and listen for the sound, and then she would do a knob and listen. So the rhythm is in her. She's been doing that since she was eight months old."

Whitney says that she herself was about 5 years old when she realized she could sing. "I had been around show business since I was born," she says. "My mother sang with me in her stomach; I sang with Bobbi Kris in my stomach. I believe the child starts to develop within, and whatever is put inside of you--whatever you read, whatever you think, whatever you do--affects the child.. So basically I just read and listened to music. And I traveled with my husband on the road, so Bobbi heard music constantly."

Whitney confirms that her three-year-old marriage to Bobby Brown is healthy and strong, despite press reports to the contrary. "Marriage is a beautiful institution," she says. "People don't know Bobby because there hasn't been much on Bobby except that Bobby is this sexy man who does all this bumping and grinding. But Bobby is a family man. Bobby loves his mother, loves his family. He goes out when he wants to hear music, when he wants to know what's happening. He comes home. I know where my husband is; I know what my husband does. There are certain things that I don't go for, and Bobby knows that. And there's stuff that he doesn't go for. That's why we can be together, because we both have the same standards."

She says her husband is the same romantic man who courted her before their marriage. He pulls out chairs for her, carries her bag when its too heavy or she's tired, sends her flowers and cards, leaves notes on the pillow.

Whitney goes on to say that she often has heard that "two successful Black people cannot make it as a couple," but she defies that notion. "Is this why Black women sometimes marry White men?" she asks. "Bobby and I work it out because we are determined to make it work. And it works because we trust each other and we don't trust what people tell us. Bobby and I are man and woman.. We're married, we have a kid, we go through our things, we have our fights like everybody else."

Yes, Whitney Houston the phenomenal pop star is also a devoted mother and wife, and a loving daughter. But her titles do not end there. She is also an actress. And the reason she spent two months in sunny Arizona in the first place was to film the movie adaptation of Terry McMillan's popular book, Waiting To Exhale. Whitney, at the author's urging, is playing the lead role of Savannah. Co-starring with her are Angela Bassett, Lela Rochon and Loretta Devine. Acclaimed actor/director Forest Whitaker is directing the project, which is scheduled for release in the fall.

Whitney says it is a "good film, with a great script, great actors and actresses, a great director," but the work was "hard and long." Some days she rose at 6 a.m., and often worked late into the night. She says Whitaker encouraged her not to take acting lessons in preparation for the role. Instead, he wanted her to just be natural, to be herself.

"In just two weeks, Forest has taught me a lot about acting," she says of the director. "Bodyguard was just that I was simply playing a character, and I was familiar with her world because she and I have the same world; but the character was totally different from me. Savannah is a lot like me. She allows me to be a lot like myself. The great thing about it is that I have three other beautiful ladies who are all great actresses and whom I can play off of."

After finishing the film and recording a song for the soundtrack, Whitney says she looks forward to taking a long vacation with her husband and daughter before she starts work on another film, The Bishop's Wife, in which she will co-star with Denzel Washington. In addition, she plans to record four new tracks for a greatest hits album.

On the home front, Whitney hopes to have another child. "One more, and I'm praying it's a son," she says.

When asked her aspirations and dreams for her daughter, she says: "My hope for Bobbi Kris is for her to always be true to herself, no matter what people might say or think. You have to do what you feel is right, what you know is right. Be true to yourself. Be a decent human being. I don't have dreams like I want her to be a singer or a doctor or lawyer. I want my daughter to be a good human being and a God-fearing child. Then everything else will fall into place."


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