The question as to what kids should call their stepparent is as old as step-parenting itself. Each family’s situation is as unique as the people in the family, keeping in mind that even the term “family” can often be stretched well beyond those to whom we are legally bound since many people include close friends, neighbors and even church members in their definition of family.
I am a stepmother and my stepson calls me mom…except when he’s at his biological mother’s house – then I become Teresa. My husband is technically stepfather to my two sons – one, the oldest who currently lives with his own biological father, calls my husband by his first name (Mike). My other son who has no relationship with his bio father and has only ever known my husband as his dad (we’ve been together since he was 2 1/2) calls my husband dad…except when he’s angry with his dad for imposing a consequence or not giving in to some demand like wearing his roller skates to bed (on the top bunk).
Growing up, I called my stepmother “mom” – except when talking to or visiting with my biological mother. She would absolutely hit the roof if she heard me or my sister call our stepmother anything other than her first name. That was extraordinarily hard for me because my stepmother was parenting me 11 months out of the year, full-time, no breaks. To this day, I can honestly say that I have two mothers. One gave me life, the other taught me about life. As for my stepfather, he has always been called by his first name. He and my mom had a deal that they were not to raise or parent each other’s children, so the first name usage kept a barrier between us of sorts. Today, I’d probably like to call him dad, but after 31 years, it’s kind of hard to change old habits. While very, very few people (I’m guessing none) would ever say that their goal in life was to become a stepparent or that their children would have a stepparent, it is an increasing reality in today’s society. I believe the most important thing is to not only allow the children to choose what to call their stepparent, but to respect that decision and be open to them changing their minds over time.
Today’s “Steve” can be tomorrow’s “Dad” when the time is right for the child. The goal is to keep your child’s emotional well-being at the forefront of this difficult situation and assure them that they are equally loved no matter what they call you or your spouse. Forcing a child to call their stepparent something outside their comfort zone only serves the needs of the adults and can do a lot more harm to the relationship than good. Talk to your kids, ask for their input and follow their lead – you may be amazed at both their creativity and capacity for love!
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