Oprah Talks to Camille Cosby
Oprah: Many of the millions of women I speak to tell me, "I'm wearing a mask. My mask is cracking. I don't know who I am. I've lost my soul." What do you say to a woman who's in that place? Because for everyone, it can't be "I'm going to get my master's degree."
Camille: Oh, no. Absolutely not.... It goes back to the issue of philanthropy. I feel that all people, except for the extremely poor, can give something of themselves to others, even if it's just time or a dollar. Just being a good listener—that helps a lot. And if you give, you see how the returns are so great from the giving. So it helps one to be human, to regain one's soul.
Oprah: Is that why you and Bill give?
Camille: Absolutely. Both of us are just giving people. But we do have criteria. We don't give just to give. We want people to use the gifts to improve themselves. We give them opportunities.
Oprah: What sustains you, Camille?
Camille: Self-definition. To be loved and to have people to love. To be joyful. I'm beginning to find the joy again since our son died. I like to be joyful. What also sustains me is feeling that I am achieving something in my work. To see my daughters turn out to be okay sustains me, because I feel that that is my mothering and Bill's fathering.
Oprah: You mentioned that raising children was one of your most difficult jobs. How do you raise five children to respect their individuality? How do you raise responsible, thoughtful, kind, generous, smart children?
Camille: With five different children, you have five different ways to parent. You're not always successful, no matter what you do, because nothing is definite about how your children will turn out. Sometimes they take a wrong turn, and you have to rein them in. But in terms of environment, we moved to a rural area, and I put them in public schools. I didn't put them in private schools until they were in high school. I wanted them to be in an environment that was diverse culturally, ethnically, religiously, and this town provided that.
The children were clear that Bill and I had rules, and that doesn't mean they didn't break them sometimes, but there were rules. And if you disobeyed the rules, there would be ramifications. And we always let them know, "This home is our home, this is our money, these are our material things—not yours. You haven't earned them yet. We're giving you a gift to be raised in this environment. You have to prepare to forge your own way in the world."
Oprah: Isn't teaching children that lesson difficult? At least when they have an environment in which they don't have a lot of the things they desire, their focus is getting to that point.
Camille: I teach by example. I don't expect my children to be like me, but to have my same sense of morals and values. They are clear when I am displeased. I tell them, "I don't care what your peers are doing; you cannot do that. I don't care how much money your father and I have; you cannot have that." I am very clear, and Bill is, too. We are together on this.