Wednesday, December 11, 2013
By Jann Blackstone-Ford
Q: I have been divorced from my husband of 22 years for four years now. At the time of our divorce our kids were 19 and 21. He remarried and now his wife just expects our grown kids to fall head over heels in love with her. She refers to them as her children when introducing them to others. My children are polite individuals who feel awkward telling their dad that this makes them uncomfortable. She now has on her Facebook that she is a "bonus mom." Why does this term irritate me?
A: There's lots going on here, so let me take your last question first -- Why does this term irritate you? I can only assume, but it sure sounds like this woman is taking a lot for granted -- and when someone does that, it's irritating. And, to some the term "bonus" is just too warm/fuzzy, so you have a presumptuous new wife using a warm/fuzzy term about your kids without asking and it irritates you. Understandable.
In defense of "bonus," since I made up the term, it's not just a cutesy alternative for "step." It is supposed to be a compliment initiated as a tribute to a step-someone whom you have learned to love and respect. It is a sign of affection -- and is earned. You don't marry someone and automatically become bonus, and you certainly don't use the term if it makes your stepchildren uncomfortable.
I started to use the term "bonus" because I was very close to my stepchildren and referring to them as "stepchildren" felt out of place. But, they had a mother and calling me "mom" felt out of place as well. That's when we came up with "bonus mom." It serves a purpose for those who do not feel comfortable using the term "step" to describe their family member. More importantly, in this day and age of breaking up and starting over, you don't necessarily lose the term once the parents are no longer together. My stepkids will always be my bonus kids whether I am married to their father or not.
Finally, take a look at the fact that this may not be making the kids as uncomfortable as you think. It's not uncommon for kids of divorce -- no matter their age -- to tweak things when they pass information back and forth between parents in an attempt to eliminate fights or hurt feelings. Granted, you say they are "too polite," but they are also well into their 20s and completely capable of forming relationships all by themselves. It's time you let them.
If the term bothers them, they will say something. If the term bothers you, but they have agreed as a family to use it, then you may have to just get used to it. Bonus-family life, and by that I mean life after a break-up when exes and new partners and kids all continue to interact, is full of these sort of irritations. It's best to pick and choose your fights -- this one is small in the big picture.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Reach her at: drjannblackstonegmail.com