Q: I am a mom of two and a bonusmom of three. Their mother is obsessed with her kids not calling me “Mom,” something I don’t force them to do. Most families I know that have stepparents the kids just call them “Mom” or “Dad” — not their first name. Do you have a suggestion? A different version of “Mom” maybe? The kids are 8 and older and understand who all their parents are.
A: Your problem is one of the most common complaints we hear from both parents and bonusparents. In most cases they’re parents who share custody but don’t see their children as often as they’d like. And they feel that when their child is allowed to call their bonusparent, “Mom” or “Dad,” it’s stepping way over the line. Meanwhile, bonusparents in these cases, often thrilled that the child feels close enough to use such a term of endearment, don’t see what all the fuss is about. They feel, as you have stated, “The kids know who their parents are.” So, what’s the big deal?
The big deal is that part of this co-parenting dance we all do involves teaching the kids to respect the adults in their life. And, as Rule No. 4 of our good ex-etiquette for parents guide states, the parents make the rules and the bonusparents support them. For all you bonusparents who just read that and say, “Hey, wait a minute!” — please hear us out. The gist of rule is the point that Mom is Mom, Dad is Dad, and bonusparents — while a huge part of the equation — work with Mom and Dad to raise the kids. And this is one of those cases where if an active mom finds it offensive that her children are also calling you “Mom,” then sit down with the children and find a new name that is special to you.
There are lots of alternatives. The first name, as you have mentioned, is quite popular. Another possibility is mom or dad translated from another language. Many like the idea of finding a special nickname just for the bonusparent. Some kids like to use their bonusparent’s initials in lieu of a name. For example, TJ for Thomas Jamison. Our Bonus Families support group coordinator’s name is Jennifer. Her bonusdaughter calls her MJ, for “Mother Jennifer.”
Some parents don’t see the name issue as a problem, so that’s not a hurdle those families have to jump. But, if it’s a problem at your house, be sensitive to the offended parent. There will be another battle, and your sensitivity here will lay the groundwork for her to try to see your side the next time. Remember, your children are watching — and that’s how they learn the importance of compromise when people disagree.
Dr. Jann Blackstone-Ford and her husband’s ex-wife, Sharyl Jupe, authors of “Exeiquette for Parents,” are the founders of Bonus Families (www.bonusfamilies.com). Reach them at: eebonusfamilies.com