The eldest daughter runs hurriedly past me as I enter the grand forest-green door of the Barris household. I venture further inside and suddenly a very familiar feeling and a warm energy embrace me. Women are talking and chatting in the kitchen while the boys play Lego around the living room coffee table. This is what home feels like.
As I'm breathing it all in like a child, Rainbow Edwards-Barris, MD, walks over to greet me with a bright smile and a loving hug that makes me miss my mum. I am in complete awe of this inspiring woman. For those uninitiated, not only is she the real-life mum of the hit television series Black-ish (Tracee Ellis Ross plays her on the show), but Edwards-Barris is also an anesthesiologist and loving mother of six children—Kaleigh, 18; Leyah, 16; Lola, 12; Beau, 10; Kass, 8; and Bronx, 1. And somehow, in between all of this, she managed to write her latest book, Keeping Up With the Johnsons: Bow's Guide to Black-ish Parenting. Now that's the definition of a super mum.
As a mum, I know firsthand that the path to parenthood is a long and winding one with its fair share of obstacles along the way. Yet no matter the size of our shoulders, we all find the strength to carry the weight with grit and grace. "There's no one right way to do it all," Anine Bing once told me. For Denise Vasi, it's about being unafraid to ask for help, and for Abigail Spencer, it's about leaning on the "village" that it takes to raise our children with the love and qualities we value in humanity.
But for Edwards-Barris, it's all about embracing this idea of imperfect parenting, and as a mother of six, she's certainly an authority on the topic. It's also a huge reason she wrote the book.
"I believe that we are all imperfect and that if I was perfect I wouldn't be here," she explains matter-of-factly. "I wouldn't have anything to offer. I wouldn't have any room for growth." It was early on, as a young mum, when Edwards-Barris had the realisation that she didn't have to do things the way her mum did. "I went through this phase of like, Oh my God, I'm not going to do anything the way that she did it because everything was the wrong way," she says candidly.
"I can listen to the things that she did. I can learn from her experiences. I can learn from her successes and mistakes. And then, I'm going to take that and formulate it into my own life, and for each of my children in a different way. I cannot discipline the kids the same way because they all are so different. They're different people. And I feel like accepting that, and understanding that, and knowing that has been life-changing for me."
This approach has also helped the busy mum maintain her sanity. As a mother of one, I can't even begin to imagine how she found the time to write a book while raising six children. "Trying to control everything that your kids do and make them be exactly who you want them to be is not going to happen," she tells me. "I think this makes for a lot of struggle and sadness, not just as a parent, but as a kid, too."
In the age of social media, there’s a huge shift now for all of us to move beyond the filters and share what it's really like to be a parent. The joys and the struggles, the highs with the lows. This is truly what Edwards-Barris wanted to express in the book too. "I think the actual situations are so common for so many of us, as women, and as mothers, and as families," she explains.
"I want people to know there's not necessarily a right way or a wrong way to handle it, but that the experience in itself is what is helping me be a better person, and to learn, and to grow. I think to let other people know that you know what? It's okay. It's alright that you didn't do it the way that your mum said that you should do it. I didn't either, you know? And I'm okay; we're all okay. That's a huge part of what I hope people are able to take away from this. This kind of idea of just doing the best you can and it doesn't always have to be perfect."
Being real and honest about the challenges in our lives (and on Instagram) is just as important for parents as it is for our children. "I am not perfect," she says. "None of us are. We really have to convey that, too, not just to other mums, but to other children as well. This is a new generation. They're growing up in a world that is so different, so it's easy, especially for young people, to look at someone's life and someone's pictures and say, 'Their life is so great, and their life is so perfect.'
"We really have to know and teach that no one's life is perfect. I don't care who you are. This is a human being, a human experience. We all go through stuff. It may look different depending on your circumstance, but we are all going through stuff, and what I went through five years ago may not be what is important today, or makes me happy or sad today, but it's a part of life, and it's a part of the experience, and I think that's the beauty of being a human being."
As a practicing doctor, Edwards-Barris has had to transition back from working woman to working mum many times over, but often the idea of going back is much worse than the reality. "I think one of the biggest things I've learned is that the thought of going back to work has always been much scarier and challenging than actually going back," she says. And once she quashed those thoughts, each time actually ended up being "pretty smooth" and seamless.
"I appreciate the time that I had at home," she says. "I think each time I get better because I'm learning more about myself. I'm learning more about people, and how to interact with people, and how to be a good listener, and just appreciating the time at home. I've brought that experience back each time, and once I'm there, it's like, Oh, yeah. This is like riding a bike. Oh, yeah. I know how to do this. I can do this. And I think it has also given me a chance to feel appreciated and respected, both at home and in my work environment."
If there's one thing this whole parenting experience has taught her, it's the art of letting go. "You just have to let it go," she says. "I think this is one of the biggest lessons that I've learned with my kids." This has been a helpful strategy as their family went from just one child to two, then three, until Bronx, the sixth child. While Edwards-Burris isn't in the business of complaining, she is happy to acknowledge that the "coming home" process for each child is "traumatic," and there is a huge adjustment for everyone, not just her.
"It's so traumatic because there's this huge change, and it didn't just happen in my life, it happened in everyone's life because everything is different now," she explains. "So each time, it's that initial phase that's very challenging. I don't know why people tend to think, Oh, well, you've had more than one. You've got it. And you're like, No. I need more help now. Why would I need less help? How does that make sense?"
She's also against the one-size-fits-all approach. Each of her babies has been very different, and you really need to tap into your gut and that good old-fashioned maternal instinct. If it wasn't for that, she might not have realised her third daughter had food allergies. "Everyone thought, Oh, she's a crazy baby," she says. "And I knew she wasn't, but I didn't know as much then as I know now after my fifth and sixth kid."
So when Bronx came along, Edwards-Barris knew there was something wrong at five weeks old. "I said to myself, There's something wrong with him. He does not feel good. Because I don't believe that there are babies who are not good or who are naturally cranky. He just can't communicate with me." Just acknowledging that each of her babies is very different, letting go of the expectations, and asking for help has really been a critical lifesaver. "You have to acknowledge that some days are better than other days, some times are better than other times," she says. "That has been very helpful and important."
So with two thriving careers (doctor and author) and six beautiful children, how does she find time for her marriage to Black-ish creator, Kenya? "Judging by the number of kids we have, we clearly make some time," she laughs. "That's another dynamic part of my life." So every Friday night, they go to the movies or have a drink somewhere, but as soon as another baby comes along, Edwards-Barris tells me that kind of gets thrown off, and they have to shift their priorities. "Each of us has been at different stages of our lives and our careers over the years, so that has also affected what we can and have been able to put into our relationship," she adds.
Just even recognising that care and attention are needed for the relationship and for each other has been a learning process for both of them, and it's changed over the years as she has matured too. "If you had asked me that when I was 22, I would have been like, 'He's a grown man. Why do I need to put care into this relationship?'" she says. "So it changes. It really does. But I think the recognition and acknowledgment of caring and putting time into the relationship, which are so vital and so important, has helped make our relationship stronger and helped, I think, me be a better wife and friend as well."