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do I call you?
separated parents face a difficult decision when one or other parent establishes
a new and committed relationship: What to call the stepparent?
a child calls a stepparent can set the stage for battles or deeply loving
relationships. The direction this takes is greatly determined by the
relationship between the natural parents and the respective security of each
parent’s relationship with their children. Age of child will also factor in
with regard to the child’s comfort in addressing the stepparent with special
age children tend to take more naturally to calling a stepparent mom or dad. For
them, a mom or dad is a loving person in authority who has serious
responsibility for their care. Some school age children may be less inclined to
call a stepparent mom or dad owing to concerns of loyalty to the natural parent,
while others may feel embarrassed calling a step parent by their proper name
when out in public. Hence school age children are at times seen to call a
stepparent by their proper name in private and by mom or dad, in public.
Teenagers are far more apt to just call a stepparent by their proper name and
tend not to feel the discomfort sometimes experienced by the younger school age
themselves may take issue with their child calling another adult mom or dad.
There may be concern of their relationship being diminished if the child uses
their name towards the stepparent. If there is conflict between the natural
parents, the perceived threat to a parent’s relationship with their child may
intensify if a child then calls the stepparent mom or dad. In such cases, the
child may then be subject to a tug of war where one parents expects the child to
address the stepparent as mom or dad while the other parent admonishes the
child, “you only have one mother or father”. In these situations, the child
is caught in the middle and either annoys one, other or both parents, or
alternately, learns to lie about the situation to avoid harassment.
have a number of strategies to find the right name for a stepparent. In some
cases they simply let the child-stepparent relationship speak for itself and
thus take their lead from the child. In other cases, natural parents meet and
discuss the matter and come to a mutual solution. Some parents find a compromise
solution by finding similar, but different terms such as mom/mommy and
dad/daddy. Where there are cultural differences, the term used by one culture
may be different that that used by another culture and hence there may be no
conflict by using the respective cultural term. Other persons use special names
or pet names.
must remember that whatever one chooses to do, sets the stage for what the other
may do. Thus care is advised if one parent makes a decision that they wouldn’t
like the other parent to take.
child’s perspective is to have loving and caring relationship with all parents
– natural and step. The child seeks to avoid conflict and get on with the job
of being a kid. If the child is caught up in the struggle of what to call a
stepparent, the child can be distracted from school and behavioural or emotional
problems may arise.
is really being discussed is the process of adjustment. Natural parents and
stepparents must understand that the process does take time and with time, they
all can learn that kids may have loving and caring relationship with multiple
persons where loving one takes nothing away from loving another regardless of
what they are called.
Best advise? Concentrate on loving your child and what the child calls you will be secondary to a great relationship because that’s what it’s really about.
Direnfeld, MSW, RSW
Call Gary for your next conference and for expert opinion on family matters. Services include counselling, mediation, assessment, assessment critiques and workshops.
For information on Direnfeld's book, Raising Kids Without Raising Cane, click here.
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