Figuring out how a stepparent fits into kids' lives is hard. Circle of Moms members wonder about everything from whether step-parents should come to school meetings to how involved in everyday decision-making they should be. More frequently, though, the discussion turns to whether or not kids should call stepparents “Mom” or “Dad.” If you, your kids, or your spouse are dealing with this question, here are four approaches to consider.
1. Give Kids a Say
My husband, Jon, is a stepparent to our two oldest children. From the moment he stepped into their lives seven years ago, they chose to call him by his first name. Making it their choice just seemed like the best way to handle it. Even as their half-brother toddles around our house yelling “Daddy” at the top of his lungs, the other two have remained resolute in their decision.
Letting her three children decide what they wanted to call her husband seemed logical to Circle of Moms member Laurie M, too. She is one of many members who feel that children should make their own choice based on their comfort level instead of insisting that they use "Mom" and "Dad."
2. Relationships Matter
JoAnn M.’s opinion is that what her three stepsons call her doesn’t matter. “The term they use to describe me is just that, a word,” she says. “The fact that they call me by my first name is unimportant, as long as we enjoy a good relationship.”
Sometimes it’s the other relationships in kids’ lives that cinch what they call their stepparents. My children still have their biological father as a part of their lives, so the term “Dad” was already taken.
For member Alicia Y. the word wasn’t connected to anyone else. She never met her biological father, so her stepfather has “always been 'Dad.'” Many Circle of Moms members say that when the biological parent isn't in the picture, the decision to use "Mom" and "Dad" isn't as difficult as it is when there a multiple parents who need a name.
3. Be Respectful
When multiple parents are involved, there are multiple opinions and points of view. Mom Annie N. isn't just worried about what her kids call their stepmother, she’s troubled by what they call her. Her kids have started calling their stepmother “Mom” and Annie by her first name.
There may be debate about what to call stepparents, but Circle of Moms members were very clear about this one. “They should not call you by your first name, it is disrespectful,” says mother of three, Carla B.
Respect is a recurrent theme when it comes to deciding on monikers, but members don’t always agree as to whom kids should be showing that respect.
Some feel that allowing a child to call a stepparent “Mom” or “Dad” is disrespectful to their biological parent. Julie L. argues that “showing a child that we respect the other parent's feelings is an important lesson” even if that parent is unlikable.
Others argue that stepparents who step up to fill the parenting void left by a biological parent have earned the respect bestowed by the terms “Mom” and “Dad.” As JoAnn puts it, “the words ‘mom’ and ‘dad’ carry a unique and special meaning.”
4. Flexibility is the Name of the Game
Step family expert Ron Deal says all of these things — kids' feelings, relationships, and respect — play a role in what he calls “the Name Game.” He explains that kids typically choose a name that is indicative of the emotional connection they have with a stepparent. That name may change as the children get older or as the relationship with their stepparent or biological parent changes.
Case in point: over the years, my middle son has changed what he calls my husband. When I was “Mommy,” he was “Jon-ny.” When I was “Mom-o,” he was “Jon-o.” Now he simply lumps us together as “my parents.” To me, that means we’ve won the Name Game.
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, POPSUGAR.