This mother of five fostered creativity and individuality in her famous children.
Ann Dexter-Jones is the mother of DJ Samantha Ronson, designer Charlotte Ronson, music producer Mark Ronson, actress Annabelle Dexter-Jones and musician Alexander Dexter-Jones. How did she raise such creative kids? She shares her secrets with momlogic.
momlogic: Wow -- you have such talented, artistic children!
Ann Dexter Jones: I give them credit for their own talents. They each have their own multi-talents. I don't think you can force them to do something that they're not comfortable doing. You can for a while, I suppose, but it won't last.
ML: Did you see those talents in your kids right away?
ADJ: Of course, I'm a mother, so if our kids sneeze, we think it's perfect! But I encouraged them in the things they wanted to do. If they had an ear for music, I would wait for them to request lessons. I wouldn't push them into them.
We always had creative and interesting people around, whatever walk of life they were from ... people who embraced life. Children pick up on that. My kids always had a natural curiosity. When they were quite young, if I was having a dinner party, I would say they could stay up for cocktail hour if they wanted to walk around and mingle. But if they weren't going to mingle, they could stay in their room.
They became quite social. I taught them that nobody is boring. I said just because they look old from your point of view, everyone has something interesting to say at least once. So the kids would talk, and they'd make the effort when we had company. They would gravitate to whoever engaged them. I taught them that a lot of adults are interested in what children have to say.
I always encouraged them. I brainwashed them that it was as exciting to go to the
bookstore as it was to go to the toy store. I'd go to the bookstore and walk around with them and help them choose something. But I never chose for them. I think if children get to choose what they read, then it won't be like homework.
ML: Tell us about your kids' artistic talents.
ADJ: All my children are musical -- they haven't all pursued in music, but it's involved in their own creativity at one time or another. If the kids asked for musical instruction, I signed them up for lessons. When Mark was about 3 or 4 years old, I took him to Suzuki piano classes. I'm a great audience but I really don't have a musical bone in my body! Mark, Alexander, Samantha, Annabelle ... they all asked for music lessons, but I didn't push on them. They all had an acute ear for music. Anabelle at about five years old became fascinated by Jimi Hendrix when her friends were listening to their first Hanson.
Even when picking out clothes, Charlotte always had an eye for fashion. When the twins were about 5 or so, I gave them more freedom to pick out their own outfits. Most little girls would pick out pinks or lilacs, but she'd pick out brown, olives, and earth tones. Very Prada and Miu Miu. She was always highly sophisticated in her eye.
Annabelle models, and is very creative with design. She's also very talented at acting and writing so she has found her own individual passion. Alexander is very gifted at music -- he's in the studio writing new album.
When they were little, we went to museums and art galleries but I didn't overload them with it. And of course we had friends who were musicians.
ML: How was it for your kids growing up in the public eye?
ADJ: It makes it harder when parents have a certain profile. Sometimes, it can be intimidating for the children. But my children are very down to earth, very natural, and were very comfortable with people. Growing up, I don't think they thought about it. Their life was very structured, I had a routine, and I was very strict. Mealtimes were very structured. Up until the age of 9 or so, the kids would have to go to bed by 7:30 PM. My nickname is Mommy Dearest!
They had a pretty glamorous environment growing up. Robin Williams would
read bedtime stories to Mark, and Mark thought it was Mork from Mork and Mindy.
But I've always disliked being called a socialite. Mark is insulted when someone calls me that. He says, "My mother gets invited to places because they like her!"
ML: What were your top priorities as a mother?
ADJ: I wanted to instill values in my kids, and I wanted them to be grounded. At 13 years old, they all had to get jobs working one day a week. Annabelle worked at the coffee shop in Union Square -- working the cappuccino and espresso machine. Mark and Samantha started to DJ to make a little bit of extra money for themselves -- they didn't get paid a lot in those days. I wanted them to learn the value of money. I thought if they were working , they would understand how the majority of people would want the respect of people they were serving. They were more excited to make a few dollars in a tip than getting their allowance, because they had earned it.
ML: How much was their allowance?
ADJ: It went by age -- a dollar a year. So if they were 15, they'd get $15 a week. When they turned 16, I raised it to $20. Some of their friends were given much more spending freedom. I didn't want them to be spoiled. I mean, how much do you really need when you're going out with your friends at 16? You can't drink, so how much can a Pepsi cost? I'd say, "I think this is sufficient ... if you want to get into trouble, you'll have to be creative!"
ML: How is your relationship with your kids now?
ADJ: I have a good relationship with my kids. You go through different stages with the children at different times. I enjoy them. And they enjoy being with me -- well, maybe not all of the time! There are idiosyncrasies I possess. Some might find them annoying and some find them endearing. I'm learning when to sit back and say nothing with my children ... that's important for a mom -- to know when NOT to say something.
ML: Were you overprotective as a mother?
ADJ: I've kind of been a single mother to my children. My first husband worked a lot, so I was very involved. I came over from England when we separated. When I met Mick [Mick Jones of Foreigner], he was in studio and on tour a lot. I suppose when you're thought of as a single mother, by definition anyway, you get used to having control. You're overprotective. I didn't let them date until they were 16. They could have friends but they couldn't date. And I put them in single sex schools. I have 5 children -- it's not like they needed to learn to socialize with the opposite sex. Our house was very busy and it was always full of people.
ML: Why were same-sex schools important to you?
ADJ: I was brought up in England with that -- I just thought that single sex schools when they were growing up would mean one less distraction. I remember at school, I took physics and chemistry. But then I went to a coed school once and I remember hesitating to answer a question. I didn't want my kids to experience that. I wanted them to be comfortable with themselves.
ML: How did the school uniforms go over with your creative kids?
ADJ: I was always in favor of school uniforms. It's one less thing for them to be competitive about with the other kids. Sure, you hike your skirt maybe. I remember Charlotte was very creative with her uniform, and Samantha was very innovative. I remember Samantha introduced wearing pajama trousers under her uniform skirt! And she was the first one to have a belly button ring. They both wanted to have their own look, being twins.
ML: How was it having twins?
ADJ: With twins, it's hard initially to give them that individual time that you would to a single child, but I think having twins was easier in the end, because they always have a playmate. Maybe if I would have planned it, I would have had quins! [laughs] Looking to be Octomom!
ML: How was it having five kids?
ADJ: Well, I was never one to read the parenting books. I'm one of five children. I was only 10 when my mother died, so I became a little mother. I don't know how efficient I was at it, but I suppose I took on responsibilities that I didn't think about.
ML: Was it tough losing your mom at such a tough age?
ADJ: I didn't know any different, but I would be quite envious when I would hear other boys or girls saying," My mom's driving me crazy!" I would wish so badly my mother was alive. My father was an incredible father and dedicated himself to us ... hours and hours around his kids. I didn't grow up with anything frilly, but what you don't have you don't miss. And I think when you have a mother, you take her for granted. You don't think of what it would be like not to have one.
ML: Did your kids get along when they were younger?
ADJ: My kids are very supportive of one another, very close. Now they don't need me to round them up to get together -- they just get together on their own. It's nice as a parent to see that they enjoy being together. All kids have their spats, of course, but they get along quite well.
ML: You raised your kids in NYC. Was that important to you?
ADJ: I love living in the city of NY. I remember when we first came here, Mark and
the twins were 6 and 7 at the time. Mick said we could always live outside NY
and have a garden and some land, and I said if I'm not living in NYC, I might
as well be living in the suburbs of England! I really love in NYC.
ML: Can you tell us about your Reiki work?
ADJ: I'm a Reiki master ... an energy healer. I believe we all have the gift in us. I've done it for many years, but I didn't talk about it a lot. I was worried I would end up in a straight jacket! Now I work on kids on Medicare and kids who couldn't normally afford the opportunity.
ML: Besides your Reiki work, what else are you working on?
ADJ: I've come out with a line of rock 'n roll jewelry, for women and very secure men. It's called Anne Dexter Jones. My kids are very supportive. I took a hiatus from writing but I'm going back to it. In my writing, it wasn't my husband who encouraged me, it was always my children. I was in awe of their own literary talents -- I didn't think of myself as doing it professionally. I am very grateful to them for that.
ML: What was your parenting motto?
ADJ: I was very strict on matters and structure and school. I grounded them a LOT. That will be in the Mommy Dearest book. I realize I was a little overly strict when I look back. I was kind of using the strictness I was brought up with. Mark snuck out one night, and I changed the locks on him. The younger ones, I eased up on. I had a little saying I made up that might help other parents: "I didn't become a parent to win a popularity contest." I can be out in the club and bump into my children, and that's fine. But I'm your mother, I'm not your best friend. I don't need too much information. For me, it was very important to keep boundaries. On a lot of levels.
I think kids need boundaries, even if they don't like them at the time Charlotte told me when she graduated high school: "I was so mad at you ... you were so strict! But I look around at how a lot of these other people I went to school with are now, and I want to thank you." I didn't think I was ever going to hear that. I nearly fell over in surprise and delight.
ML: Your daughter Samantha is in the news a lot. Tell us about her.
ADJ: Samantha is my renaissance child. Whatever she had a passion for, she does, with amazing results. She is a brilliant writer, funny, satirical and lots of irony. Her poetry professor at New York University said she was one of the most talented poets that had walked into his class in the past ten years. She was so humble and modest, and she had absolutely no idea how gifted she was. One day she turned her poetry into lyrics and pursued her passion for music -- composing, writing and producing. Her love for the piano and the guitar are all combined in her songs. It brings tears to my eyes and it's like someone read my diary.
ML: Anything else?
ADJ: Mark and Alexander had a devoted passion ... it was music and they never wavered. Annabelle's passion was for writing, art and acting. Charlotte never wavered from designing fabrics and clothes. Such was their desire.