Her kid lights up every room they’re in, whether they like it or not, because she’s constantly making sure the spotlight is on them; the Stage Mom only has one goal in life: making her child a star – and she won’t let anyone or anything get in the way of her plans. Also known as the ‘momager’, this trope has popped up in media for decades, and has been a huge problem for many young stars in real life as well. So what drives the stage mom to push her kid towards fame, even at their own expense? And why does she seem to keep evolving with the times, but never in a way that’s better for kids? (And why does no one ever seem to talk about the stage dads?) Here’s our take on the Stage Mom trope, what she really represents, and why it’s time for her to let go.
CH 1: Setting The Stage
Whether she’s only seen in flashbacks of a haunted youth, a recurring character popping up to bother a star, or a main antagonist in a show or film, Stage Moms have been pushing children towards stardom (both on screen and behind the scenes) since the beginning of cinema. In contrast with the mom who sees her child as competition that she needs to put down to lift herself up the Stage Mom forms her entire life around rocketing her child toward stardom. Though she is seemingly working for her child’s future instead of against it, she’s actually just as bad of an influence. She almost never takes into account what the child themselves wants, and never even stops to think about how what she’s pushing her child toward might be bad for them.
There are several overarching reasons for their single-minded drive (which often overlap):
The most often reason the Stage Mom seeks fame for her child is because she feels that she missed out on getting it herself. For whatever reason, whether it be circumstances or lack of talent, she wasn’t able to achieve the kind of glory and renown she felt she was meant for in her younger years, and so now in adulthood has decided to attempt to live out her dreams vicariously through her child. She thinks that her industry “experience” from her own failed career gives her a special insight into what it really takes to “make it.” And her own feelings of failure lead her to push her child even harder to be perfect so that they don’t suffer the same fate.
Money can also, unsurprisingly, be a huge driver behind the Stage Mom’s antics. She often sees her kid as an avenue to wealth and prestige for herself. She’ll put her kid in any situation, no matter how dangerous or dire, if it’ll pay. Some versions of this type are less villainous and more naive – the Stage Mom that’s been poor all of her life sometimes sees stardom as possibly the only way for her child to have a better life that she did, and she might not have a full understanding of just how seedy the industry is until it’s too late. But, unfortunately, on screen and in real life, Stage Moms are usually well aware of what they’re putting their kids through for money, even being willing to make their child live under the stress of being the sole provider for their entire family.
The third type appears less often – her child actually does have the steadfast desire to be famous, and she essentially just functions as their lackey on their climb to the top. She thinks her child is the best thing since sliced bread, and certainly the most talented person who has ever lived, and so of course deserves all of the fame and fortune they desire. She’ll do whatever it takes to help them achieve their dreams, and never stops to think about if it’s actually good for them. As their parent, it’s her responsibility to think fully about what going down this road will mean, since kids don’t have the context or life experience to understand huge life choices like that themselves – but she’s so blinded by the idea of getting their child what they want right now that she completely fails this duty.
Whether she’s meddling on screen or behind the scenes in real life, Stage Moms are notorious for causing problems in Hollywood.
CH 2: Stage Moms, Next To The Spotlight
Black Swan dramatically showcases the negative effect a Stage Mom can have. The film is an exploration of toxic perfectionism brought on by being pressured to achieve absolute flawlessness as a ballerina. Nina’s mother Erica was herself once a ballerina, and after ending her own career put all of her focus into making Nina follow in her footsteps. Nina grew up in an incredibly repressive environment, forced to focus her entire life, her entire being, around this singular goal. Erica believes that as long as Nina is obedient and docile, doing everything that she demands with zero deviation, Nina is assured success. And Erica is obsessive about keeping Nina on this path at all costs – she keeps Nina infantilized by not allowing her to update the child-like decor in her room or even cut her own nails. Erica wants to keep Nina living like a perfect doll through which she can relive her own great success and even reach new heights. But in the end, Nina achieves “perfection” not by following her mother’s desires but by breaking free from her control and finding confidence in herself.
Natalie Wood unfortunately lived out this trope on screen and in real life. Her mother was notoriously terrible, pushing Natalie into stardom at a very early age and even “once pulled the wings off a butterfly in front of her terrified child to ensure that she cried on cue for a scene.” Her mother was insistent that Natalie must become a star, and micromanaged her career to make sure it happened. Like Nina, Natalie eventually began to rebel against the control of her overbearing mother and build her own career her own way. In 1962, she starred in the film Gypsy, based off of the autobiography by Gypsy Rose Lee who had herself had to suffer years of torment under a terrible Stage Mom. The story follows Louise Hovick as she evolves into performer Gypsy Rose Lee at the behest of her mother Rose, and then eventually comes to the realization that she doesn’t want to live under her mother’s thumb anymore. When Rose is confronted with reality that she’s been ruining her own life (and both of her daughters’ as well) just to fulfill her desperate desire for attention, she has a breakdown. In the end, she comes to terms with the fact that what she’s done is wrong and is able to reconcile with Gypsy.
In 2014’s Beyond The Lights, Noni is taught by her mother from an early age that nothing but the best is acceptable. When young Noni is happy to win second place in a singing competition, her mother Macy makes her smash the trophy because only first place will do. Macy’s controlling attitude only worsens when Noni becomes a real pop star on the brink of world stardom – Macy micromanages what songs Noni puts on her albums, what she wears, who she dates. Macy isn’t concerned with Noni’s well being or happiness – not even after Noni attempts to end her own life – and is only focused on forcing her to chase greater and greater fame. Noni eventually has enough and breaks away from her mother – and the Stage Mom is yet again left behind, isolated from everyone and everything because she refused to take into account anyone but herself.
And the Stage Mom unfortunately isn’t just an on screen trope, they very much exist in real life as well. Former Nickelodeon star Jennette McCurdy recently opened up about her own abusive Stage Mother in her memoir I’m Glad My Mom Died. Jeannette recounts how her mother pushed her into child stardom and then became jealous of Jeannette’s success. She was also intensely obsessive about all aspects of Jeannettes life, especially her weight and what she ate, leading to Jennette developing an eating disorder. Jennette felt compelled to please her mother at all costs, continuing to pursue acting even though she didn’t enjoy it. Jennette said, “The relationship now, looking back on it, actually was pretty creepy in terms of just our dynamic and the obsessiveness that I had toward her and pleasing her and making her happy.” Jennette’s book became an instant bestseller and opened many people’s eyes to the way that Stage Moms (and the dangerous situations they put their children in) continue to endanger children.
But even with the decades of media about how destructive Stage Moms can be, they haven’t been left behind, but instead seem to have evolved for our modern era.
CH 3: Momamgers, Almond Moms, Momfluencers, Oh My!
The modern Stage Mom has taken on a #Girlboss edge as she’s morphed into the Momager. In her mind, she’s not a destructive force sending her child to wallow in misery for her own gain, she’s a boss babe that’s building a business through her child’s talents. The most well known momager of today is of course the matriarch of the Kardashian-Jenner empire, Kris Jenner. From the jump, Kris has been pushing her daughters (especially Kim) towards fame – any kind of fame they could manage. When Kim’s “leaked” sex tape elevated her status from ‘friend of Paris Hilton’ to someone who was getting her own gossip blog headlines, Kris grabbed the opportunity by the horns and hasn’t let go for fifteen years. And it wasn’t enough that just Kim became a “superstar,” all of her daughters (and sometimes Rob) were pulled into the limelight. Kourtney, Kim, and Khloe were all adults when fame hit, and so had at least had an opportunity to live lives and exist in the world free from the glare of the spotlight, but Kendall and Kylie were still incredibly young and had no way of understanding what they were being signed up for. While they all seem to be happy with the lifestyle that their mega-fame affords, they have shared some reservations about being thrust into the public eye so young.
Ex-model and former Real Housewife Yolanda Hadid made waves when a clip of her suggesting her daughter Gigi Hadid just slowly chew a few almonds if she gets hungry went viral and people started to really unpack her more sinister momager ways as depicted over her years on the Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. This led to a wider discussion of so-called “Almond Moms,” aka moms who are incredibly focused on their child’s (usually their daughter’s) food intake and restricting their diet so that they aren’t eating “too much.” As we’ve seen in previous examples, micromanaging food is a thread that has run through Momagers and Stage Moms since the very beginning. The Stage Moms are driven by a need to control their child to make them “perfect” (in their mind.) Given that societal beauty standards focus so much on looks, especially in regards to weight, this often motivates the Stage Mom’s pushing of disordered eating habits. The Almond Mom discussion across social media led many people to notice this trend in their own mothers – even if she wasn’t necessarily pushing them to be famous she had still had unrealistic and destructive expectations for how their child should look and behave.
The most pervasive type of modern Stage Mom is likely the Vlog Mom or Momfluencer. Not content with having to wait for her child to gain notoriety on the big screen, she’s turned to the internet to make their entire lives into content for the masses. Initially, many of these Momfluencers became internet famous on sharing their own lives online first, and then when they eventually had children they were included in the blog posts or vlogs. And it was enjoyable to many people because it was the first time they felt that they were seeing the full realities of motherhood reflected in any kind of media. But as people (and brands) began to notice just how many eyes kids seemed to pull it, a cottage industry of content focused solely on the kids started popping up. Many of these children have had every single moment of their young lives broadcast to the world without their consent. Because the children in this situation are the ones bringing in the dough, they, like all child stars, are forced to fit themselves into the most profitable mold. This also means being unable to change, or even grow up. Thankfully, though, there are Momfluencers who do realize the negative impact all of this can have on their children and have chosen to share their unfiltered experiences of motherhood without forcing their kids to take a starring role by blurring their faces when they appear on screen or not even putting them on screen at all.
Okay so this trope, on screen and in real life, always seems to be focused specifically on moms – where are the dads in all of this?
CH 4: What about the Stage Dads?!
Stage Dads are very much a real issue in the world, just as much as Stage Moms – take 90s teen indie queen Thora Birch having her career ruined by her overbearing Stage Dad causing problems on sets. There are also a number of Vlog Dads running family channels and using their children to acquire money and attention for themselves. But when it comes to the trope – either appearing on screen or being discussed in real life – it’s pretty much always Stage Moms that we see.
Mothers are historically the parent that is seen as the one that’s “supposed to” actually be responsible for and take care of the children, so when she does something that isn’t in their best interest it’s seen as much worse. The main attributes that are seen as signs of evil in a Stage Mom – being controlling, putting her wants first, being blind to or deliberately ignoring harm her children are facing, having an intense focus on getting rich – are all pretty accepted characteristics in dads on screen. The type of fame Stage Moms are chasing is also often in mediums that have long been coded as feminine – dancing, singing, acting, etc. The occasion we do often see a version of the Stage Dad on screen is through the Sports Dad trope – when a guy is desperately pushing his son to achieve success in a sport (usually the sport he wanted to be great at), and the son must break away and follow his own passions.This trope has a lot to unpack on its own, so if you’d like to see us do a full video on it definitely let us know in the comments!
CH 5: Staging a Safer Future
As more and more child stars open up about the harsh realities of being forced into the spotlight to follow someone else’s dreams, and as children of Vloggers and Influencers are now reaching the age where they’re old enough to speak out against the way they were raised, society as a whole is starting to take more notice of how terrible it is that children are even allowed to be put into these positions in the first place. There’s a long history of Hollywood having to play catch up in keeping kids safe, going all the way back to the Coogan Act of 1939 which safeguards child actors against their parents being able to spend all the money the child makes. This act was put forward in response to the story of Jackie Coogan, who made millions as a very successful child actor only to grow up and, upon turning 18, find that his parents had already used up all of the money he had worked so hard for. Now people are calling for newer safeguards to be put in place to keep pace with the changing world of entertainment.
Singing, dancing, and all forms of art are integral parts of the human experience, so no one is calling for children to be barred from enjoying them or sharing their talents. The call is only to make sure that they are able to do so in a safe environment where their needs are put first, and from which they can walk away at any time if they decide that isn’t what they’re interested in doing with their lives after all. And while there are countless examples of terrible stage parents, there are also examples of parents who have helped their children follow their dreams while also watching over them and never pushing them to do anything they don’t want to do. It’s on the parents, the industry, and audiences to make sure we’re creating a secure and trustworthy environment for young performers so that they can follow their dreams their own way.
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