For the fictional character "Other Mother", see Coraline
An othermother is a woman caring for children who are not biologically her own.
Othermothers are women, including mothers, who provide care for children who are not biologically their own. The institution of othermothers was a common practice in African-American communities in America since early as slavery and has roots in the traditional African world-view. “Care” could be in the form of providing a meal, essentially adopting the child, or simply supplying guidance. Othermothers believed that “good mothering” comprises all actions, including social activism, which addressed the needs of their biological children as well as the greater community.
Stanlie M. James defines the concept of the community othermother as the women in African-American communities who assist blood mothers in the responsibilities in child care for short to long-term periods, in informal or formal arrangements. James finds that othermothers are usually over the age of 40 because they must have a sense of the community’s culture and tradition before they can exercise their care and wisdom on the community. Othermothers are politically active in their community, as they critique members and provide strategies to improve their environment.
A study by sociologist Cheryl Gilkes examines women leaders in a Northern, urban community. Gilkes suggests that community othermother relationships can be essential in stimulating black women’s decisions to become social activists. Many of the black women community activists in her study became involved in community organizing in response to the needs of their own children and of those in the neighborhood.
Patricia Hill Collins discusses the othermother relationship and references Gilkes study. Patricia Hill Collins explains othermothers as women who held the family infrastructure together by their virtues of caring, ethics, teaching, and community service. They can be sisters, aunts, neighbors, grandmothers, cousins, or any other woman who steps in to relieve some stress of intimate mother-daughter relationships. They are considered to be the backbone of the black race and give anything that they can to communities, and often what they cannot. Collins also discusses the “mothering the mind” relationships that can develop between black othermothers and other females who effectively become their students. These relationships move toward the mutuality of a shared sisterhood that binds black women as community othermothers. Community othermothers have made dramatic contributions by creating a new type of community in often hostile political and economic situations. Collins concludes by stating that othermothers’ participation in activist mothering demonstrates a rejection of individualism and adapts a different value system where ethics of caring and personal accountability move communities forward.
Today, the concept of the othermother is present within the urban elementary schools, and African-American female educators play an integral role in fulfilling the psychological and educational needs of the urban child.
A parallel form of 'othermothering' is the concept of the lesbian co-mother. According to journalist Kathy Paige
When lesbians have children, they create not only a child, but two moms. One is the birth mom and the other, the non-biological mom. What these non-bio moms go through is quite unique. Some feel invisible as the "Other Mother."
In the United States, Second-parent adoption is a process by which a same-sex partner can adopt her or his partner's biological or adoptive child without terminating the first legal parent's rights. Second-parent adoption was started by the National Center for Lesbian Rights (formerly the Lesbian Rights Project) in the mid-1980s. California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Massachusetts, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington State and Washington, D.C. explicitly allow second-parent adoption by same-sex couples statewide, either by statute or court ruling. As of May 2007, Colorado allows second-parent adoption by same-sex couples. Courts in many other states have also granted second-parent adoptions to same-sex couples, though there is no statewide law or court decision that guarantees this. In fact, courts within the same state but in different jurisdictions often contradict each other in practice. See LGBT rights in Australia for a discussion of the legal rights of lesbian othermothers in Australia.
Historical and fictional othermothers
As a member of not only the black population but also of the Northern, urban community, one might assume that Mamie Till Bradley partook in these othermother relations, which would explain her rise to social activism. Bradley publicly exposed her personal tragedy in order to mobilize outrage and a movement towards civil rights. As an othermother, Bradley saw the brutality and injustice enacted on her son, Emmett Till, not only as affecting her son, but all of the black children living during the time of the Jim Crow south. In a demonstration of her outrage, which sparked the beginning of the Civil Rights Movement, Bradley acts as an othermother for the entire black activist community at this time.
Mrs. Rice acts as an othermother to Anne Moody in her memoir Coming of Age in Mississippi. Mrs. Rice, Moody’s homeroom teacher, patiently answers Moody’s questions concerning Emmett Till and the NAACP after slight apprehension. Despite the fact that informing a student about such controversial issues could cost her her job, Mrs. Rice invites Moody over for Sunday dinner where Moody spends hours with Mrs. Rice. By inviting Moody into a world of insight, Mrs. Rice provides Moody with a sense of community, which she has not truly experienced before. Not only does Mrs. Rice facilitate her student through knowledge, but she also indirectly helps all of the children of the neighborhood, or race, by recruiting a social activist who in later years risks her life for the advancement of the lives of her community.