Backstage Mothers

The concept of a backstage mother came from my maternal grandmother. My grandma was actually raised by her own grandparents. Growing up she often told me stories of “Mama Mary”. When I was little, I always thought that “Mama Mary” was a strange way of referring to a grandmother. Many black families use “Big Ma”, “Maw Maw”, or just simply “Grandma”. At some point I was told that “Mama Mary” was not the biological grandmother of my own grandma, and after that the phrase made sense. “Mama Mary” was my grandmother’s step-grandmother, the wife of her grandfather. Together with my great-great grandfather, “Mama Mary” raised not only my grandma, but nearly all of her seven siblings as well. She helped enforce a good value system, taught them how to cook, and supported my great-great grandfather until he died. An elder cousin in our family told me that before my great-great grandfather passed away in his rocking chair, he had just eaten a meal cooked by “Mama Mary”. She was there until the very end, backstage.


I want to say Happy Mother’s Day to a distinguished group of women. They come in after women before them, sometimes completely taking their place, and others times co-existing with the biological mother. In one breath they can be ordinary mothers to their own children, and at the same time distinguished as the the wives of the children’s father. They are the highest ranking women in their homes, yet still a “step” away from what would make it completely normal. We call these women step-mothers, the backstage figures of any blended or widowed family. For many women, the experience may feel like they’re occupying an invisible space. Forgive me if this all sounds repetitive. I’m really just trying to get the reader to think about how complicated this almost invisible position is. As a step-mom, you function as a mother, but yet you’re not the mother. As a step-mom, you do all the same functions the biological one would do (maybe even more), but yet your role is permanently fixed as a secondary image of the former. Step-mothers have a symbolic backstage image. But as complicated as the position may be, it is an extremely significant one.
I’m writing about this is because I’m immensely appreciative for my wife, a step-mom. She and I married nearly four years ago when my son was six years old. Today our son is ten and preparing to enter the 5th grade. Before our marriage, my son had somewhat of a lonely experience with me. At the time he was just growing out of one my favorite age ranges (ages 1-5). He needed a different type of love from me, a love I found challenging to provide when he spent time with me alone. I discovered quickly that I belonged to a group of fathers that do poorly with children between the ages of 6-11, and I have tended to believe that many women handle these years much better than men do. When my wife joined our family, she immediately began to complement my short-comings. I was no longer a boring father, struggling to be the cool “after school” and “weekend” dad. She filled in the void position of the mother figure in our home. Loving assurance, emotional support, and gentle touches; my wife was so much better than me at these. She complemented me so well that our son’s expectations begin to level out between us.
Backstage mothers are invaluable because of the sacrifice they make filling in as the mother figure, even if the biological mother is still present. Many us of (maybe subconsciously) are getting away from the basic principle that our children deserve (and need) two parents. Fatal tragedies or willful separations can make this principle challenging to apply, but it’s healthy to at least be aware that single parent homes are inadequate for the needs of our children. Comedian Chris Rock touched on this thought concerning the belief some women have about the ability to raise children without the father. His response:

“You can do it without a man but that don’t mean it’s to be done!”

I feel the exact same way about our son. His biological mother is still alive and active. He loves his birth mother and wouldn’t disown her for any other woman. Together his mama and I have a legal shared parenting agreement and we manage it with very few issues. His mother allows me to be an acting father and I financially assist our son with child support payments every month. It’s a working partnership (that took time to develop) but yet it’s still inadequate to our son’s needs. Our son deserves two parents in the same home, not one here and another there. His biological mother and I failed him in that way. My wife sacrificially fills in spaces that I believe only she can, she makes our home better, and she does it all from the backstage. Baby if you are reading this…I want you know that I appreciate you so much. Love you honey- Marq


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