During her formative years, Rowland was raised primarily by her mother Doris Garrison in Houston. However, the work commitments of her mother's job as a live-in nanny led to a mutual decision between Rowland, her mother, and the family of fellow group member Beyoncé Knowles that Rowland should live with the Knowles family because it was difficult for Rowland's mother to travel with Rowland back and forth for rehearsals after she joined Destiny's Child. Rowland's mother often visited her and the Knowles'. In the May 2006 issue of Essence magazine, Rowland is pictured with her biological mother Doris Garrison and her foster mother Tina Knowles accompanying the article entitled "Mothers Love." Rowland wrote an open letter to both Doris Garrison and Tina Knowles, which is published in the article, expressing her love towards both of her "two mothers" for raising her and supporting her career.
Rowland lived with the family of fellow group member Beyoncé Knowles starting at age 11 and was mistakenly (and helped by the media) referred to as her cousin. Rowland first met LaTavia Roberson in elementary school who eventually introduced her to Beyoncé. The girls met Letoya Luckett and formed a quartet that would perform in their backyards and in Tina Knowles' beauty shop. After performing at local events, they got their break when they entered Star Search. The group, then named Girls Tyme, was heartbroken when they lost the competition. Mathew Knowles, Beyoncé's father and Rowland's legal guardian, decided to help the girls reach their dreams of becoming singers. He quit his six-figure salary at Xerox to manage the group. In the summer 2006 issue of VIBE Vixen magazine, Rowland denounced rumours that Beyoncé's father was also her biological father, stating the rumor as being "a lie from the pit of hell." Rowland confesses that her "parents' situation was so terrible, I don't know where I would be if my real father was still in my life," and she explains that her real father "hasn't tried to find me and I have not tried to find him." She attended Lamar High School, in Houston, Texas.