Does it matter what your stepchildren call you? Does it make a difference if they call you “mom” or “dad”, by your first name or if they have their very own special nickname for you?
In their ground-breaking book “Living in Step”, Ruth Roosevelt and Jeannette Lofas say, “The choosing of titles is a psychological as well as a practical problem in step. ‘I’m your new mother’ is almost certain to evoke an instant recoil. One thirteen-year-old put the response succinctly: ‘The hell you are.’”
There is an endless variety of nicknames for stepparents – they can be practical, cute, endearing, an inside joke or when the stepparent isn’t around, maybe even downright rude. TV shows and movies often leverage this challenging topic to evoke “awwwws” or “lol’s” from their audience.
In a scene in Julie Delpy’s film “2 Days in New York”, her 2-year-old son says to her boyfriend, played by Chris Rock, “Goodnight, Fake Daddy.” He said it in a loving way, not in a “you’re not my real Daddy” way and it was adorable for the viewer, though it received a snarled expression by Rock’s character.
In a recent episode of “1600 Penn”, the President’s (Bill Pullman) youngest child Xander (Benjamin Stockham) calls his stepmom, the First Lady (Jenna Elfman), “mom” for the first time and it melted her heart. And probably the hearts of every other stepmother watching.
On the other end of the spectrum, on the pilot episode of ABC’s new drama “Red Widow”, the adult characters refer to their elderly dad’s much younger and, uh, let’s say “perky”, girlfriend as “The Poodle”. Behind her back, of course. This undoubtedly hit home with adult children of divorce whose parents have recently re-coupled and they don’t approve of the match.
According to an article adapted by Millie Ferer, Ph.D for the University of Florida, “Research shows the name used for the stepparent is no indicator of the quality of the relationship.
If the child seems a bit uncertain, it might be helpful to talk together to help the child decide. Communicating with the child and agreeing on a name comfortable for the stepchild and the stepparent is a positive step in building a new relationship.”
But should parents “help the children decide” or should it come naturally and with time s the relationship develops? Roosevelt and Lofas say, “it seems particularly important that they [nicknames] not be forced on the stepchild before he or she is ready.”
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