Kathy Fowler, of Galloway Township, grew up with a mother who stayed at home with her.

Fowler works full time as a nurse while raising her children, but to Fowler, her mother is probably the strongest woman she’s ever known.

“My mother’s life is unique. She was Japanese. She had to learn a new culture, embrace that culture, and live that culture and leave a lot behind. She really raised us (Fowler and her two siblings) pretty much by herself because after my dad passed, she did remarry, but he passed away, too,” said Fowler, 53. “She is a great parent, and she’s really amazing.”

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Japanese parents are very hands-on with their children, Fowler said. Fowler’s mother was like that, and it is a value Fowler shares with her.

“I was difficult for her because she was Japanese. She was learning just how to speak English and read English,” Fowler said. “I like to be a part of my kids’ lives. I want to know what they are doing. I want to help them.”

Fowler was raised as a Christian in the Methodist Church. Instead of dictating what church her daughters, Jessie, 19, and Maya, 14, would attend, she let them have input.

“Probably when Maya was 5 and Jessie was 10, we started going around to different churches and checking them out,” said Fowler, who added they visited Methodist and nondenominational churches. “When we landed at the church we are still going to today (Absecon United Methodist Church), there was something about the youth program, the people in the church, the atmosphere in the church. … They immediately thought, ‘I could have fun here. I think I like it here.’”

Fowler wanted to pick a place her children would want to attend.

“As they always say, it takes a village to raise a child, and I just felt that if it was the right church environment, they were going to help me raise my children,” said Fowler, who added she has been parenting her daughters with Bob Fowler, her husband of 23 years.

The job got harder

Even though Natifah Tolbert, of Egg Harbor Township, believes today’s moms have a harder job than their predecessors, she doesn’t take a “my way or the highway” approach to raising her two sons, Janai Banks, 9, and Jibril Smith, 11 months.

“Being a parent is hard work, anyway, but it seems like it’s more challenging with technology. There are more things you have to worry about with children. When I was growing up, there was no Facebook. There was no Internet. There was no Instagram,” said Tolbert, 30.

Tolbert, who has started a TV and film production company, said she had good parents, but their parenting style was different from hers during what she says she believes was a less dangerous time.

“I believe that in order for your child to love and respect you and not be bitter and angry, you have to be able to communicate, and you have to allow them to have questions and an opinion,” Tolbert said. “I always ask him (Janai), ‘Is there something I can be doing different? Am I showing you enough attention? What do you need from me?’ I just think it’s having that open line of communication where it’s not just a monologue. It’s a dialogue.”

Even though Tolbert is a single mom with two children, she said if she sees a homeless man in the street, or if she sees someone who is in need, she always sets an example by giving.

“‘To whom much is given, much is required,’ so I think it’s our duty. If you are in a position where you can help, then you should help, and it’s very important because you never know how you can impact someone’s life. You never know who is watching you,” said Tolbert, who added she once saw Janai give his last dollar to a homeless man in front of a Wawa. “I just told him how important it is to give to the less fortunate because you never know that could be me. That could be you.”

Apron strings tighten

When Trish Arsenis grew up in Ventnor, she jumped on her bicycle and rode into Margate without giving it a second’s thought.

Now, Arsenis, a mother of five living in Egg Harbor Township, would not let her twin 13-year-old boys, Andrew and Kyle, head off on their bicycles to another part of the township without being present.

The responsibilities of being a mother are much greater now than when her mother raised her, said Arsenis, 44.

“There are more activities, more technology. There is more things you have to worry about for your kids to get involved with in a bad way. You kind of have to always be with your kids,” said Arsenis, who is married to Alan Arsenis.

Besides the teen boys, Arsenis is the stay-at-home mom of Aniya, 8, and Madelyn, 6. Arsenis’ oldest child, Shaina Gibbs, 23, is married and out of the house.

From 2005 to last year, Arsenis provided foster care to 22 children. Arsenis adopted Aniya and Madelyn, which brought her total number of children to five and led her to stop foster-parenting. Arsenis discussed being a foster parent with her oldest daughter, and it is something she wants to do, she said.

Arsenis says she believes she was able to instill in Shaina most of what she wanted her to learn.

“Through high school, all four years, she was just one of those kids who wasn’t into partying, wasn’t into drinking and didn’t want to be involved in that, although she was friends with all those kids, and they liked her,” Arsenis said. “She made really good choices. It’s been a blessing, really.”

Mom: No. 1 fan

Crystal Shelton cheered and ran track when she attended high school. She did not wait that long to get her children involved with sports.

Both of Shelton’s sons, Michael Bailey, 19, and Levern Fitzpatrick, 15, started playing sports at age 8. Bailey started with football, basketball and track and focused solely on track by his sophomore year of high school. Fitzpatrick stuck with football.

“I never missed a game the whole time my kids participated,” said Shelton, a medical assistant. “I even left work early to be there for my children.”

Shelton, 41, of the Whitesboro section of Middle Township, would pick up her children from the practices of the various sports and take them home. Shelton used to sit through her children’s practices, but she stopped doing that when they reached high school age. When it was game time, Shelton wasn’t bashful in letting her children know she was there.

“Everyone knows Crystal Joy Shelton. I’m a great spectator,” Shelton said. “I was loud, cheering not only for my kids but for the team.”

Shelton’s mother became ill when she was a teenager and died seven years ago. Shelton has lived in Cape May County for most of her life. Whitesboro resident and historian Shirley Green has been like a mother figure to Shelton, and the father of her youngest child has helped raise both of her sons, but Shelton’s two children see her as mother and father, she said.

“My kids always say to me that one day, whenever they get married, they want a wife just like their mother because I’ve done everything. … My younger son’s father is involved, but they still come to me for everything,” Shelton said.

Contact Vincent Jackson:


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