Whats in a Name

Updated on June 24, 2011
J.G. asks from Saint Louis, MO
19 answers

There was a thread yesterday asking about calling a step mom, mom. It made me wonder if those who said absolutely not have actually divorced, have actually dated or had their ex spouse date. I guess this is in part because I find it hard to believe that many women are that insecure.

I am pretty sure most if not all moms here want what is best for their kids. The thing is the best thing for the children of divorce is to let them decide what they want to call you. I remember being in the grocery store and Andy asking Troy, are you my dad? I mean can I call you dad, or step dad? We told him so long as you are not rude you can call him whatever you want. He usually calls him Troy.

What I find interesting about kids and what they call you is when they call you what. The kids tend to call Troy dad when they have come to me asking for something and I say no, then they go to dad. :p To me this is like when one child commits a crime or behavior that is consistently done by another child and you blurt out the wrong child's name. Don't believe me, next time you do it think about what the kid is doing and who usually does that. :)

Kids know you have a name (Cindy, Judy, whatever), why they call you mom or dad has nothing to do with love. They love you, not the name. I hate to be the one to say this but mom is a nickname you get because of your position. I will admit after reading a couple posts that nickname is not the best term to use. Still mom is not a given name which is why I chose the term nickname just as Chris is a nickname for Christine. Still being called mom comes from that feeling of support and nurturing that moms provide, not from giving birth. I think it is sad that some moms are so consumed with the word that they do not allow for step parents to aspire to that badge of honor as well.

One of the comments was that they don't let their step kids call them mom in front of their bio mom because that would be awkward. I would think that would be confusing, like when a kid calls out mom in the store and half the women turn their head. Perhaps like when my kids would have friends over when my ex mother in law was there. They would say Mrs. X? and we would both respond. No no Dianne, they meant me. :p

I just realized my new mother in law is a Diane as well.....ironic. New mother in law is much nicer that old one though, must be the lack of the extra n. Who knew, n s are evil.

So what do you all think? Shouldn't it be what makes the poor child more comfortable? Shouldn't the innocent in that which is divorce be the one you worry about the feelings of?

Sorry if this is a bit rambling. I can't sleep, wedding stuff keeps going through my mind. We got the license today! :D

What can I do next?

  • Add yourAnswer own comment
  • Ask your own question Add Question
  • Join the Mamapedia community Mamapedia
  • as inappropriate
  • this with your friends

So What Happened?

Yeah we had the grandma debate in our family as well. My kids have never called her anything but grandma. She claimed she shoud be Aunt Dianne because she was so young. Well my son is 23 and I am pretty darn young as well, younger than she was when he was born. If he had a child in the near future I wouldn't really care what the child called me either.

I just wanted to add that there is a huge difference when age is taken into consideration. Although Troy will be my older two's step dad I doubt they will ever use that term for him other than describing his relationship to them. They call him Troy, they are also 21 and 23. My dad is getting remarried I will never call her mom but she makes it clear she wants me to. She is already calling my kids her kids, which really bugs me. Still if they choose to call her grandma or any variation on that theme I will not stop them. I want them to be comfortable with his new relationship.

Kristina I would have to disagree, giving birth does not make you a mom. Your comment actually degrades the rest of us who work hard to be the best parents by making good choices for our kids. Would you really consider a neglectful or abusive woman a mom just because she gave birth to the child?

Featured Answers


answers from Redding on

I agree that the kids should do what is comfortable to them and the grown ups should be, well, grown up about it. You "mother" and you "father".
I don't get why people argue about Grandma names either, let the kid go the way the want to go with it being "nana" or "lola" or "grammy" or whatever--.
It's one of the dumbest arguments out there that causes family drama and strife.

3 moms found this helpful


answers from Kansas City on

Children should be comfortable with whatever they choose to call their stepparent. And the bio parent should be pleased that the children are relatively comfortable with the change in their life. Divorce is hard enough & we adults shouldn't make it even harder by protesting that the "new mommy isn't a REAL mommy to my children." My hope was that the new stepmother would treat my small children with love that every child needs & deserves. When things were not up to par, I protested about the treatment, not about the name they called her & wrongs were rectified without causing great upheavel in my children's part-time home. If we could all ACT like adults, the whole world would be better. That's my philosophy!

2 moms found this helpful

More Answers



answers from Portland on

I agree with you. I think the child should be allowed to call the step-parent whatever is comfortable for him. But then I'm more of a child centered parent/grandparent than not. My grandson's father actually put into the divorce decree that he was not to call any future step father any term related to father. He now has a step father that he calls by his first name. His sister, who has a different birth father, calls her step-father Papa so that the name is different than Daddy, her birth father's name. My grandson calls his birth father Daddy and so I thought Papa was a good compromise but no his birth father said he absolutely must call his step father by his first name. Sigh!

This does cause tension for a little boy who already has difficulty because of developmental and speech delays. He is careful. I've never heard him slip and call his step-father anything but his first name. He dearly loves his stepfather. They even look alike and everyone in the apartment complex tells him he looks just like his Dad. i.e. stepfather. My grandson takes it in stride and ignores the comments. I can't help thinking that this is somewhat painful for him.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from New York on

I haven't been in the situation, but my father's parents were divorced. He called his stepfather "Dad" b/c he spent more time with him than his father did due to distance. He called them both "dad" b/c they BOTH served that function in his life. He never called his stepmother "mom" b/c she never served that function for him. They get along well, but she has always been "Connie". To us, she's "Connie Grandma" b/c when we were little my father started every reference to her with "Connnie, uh, Grandma Connie" and my sister heard it as "Connie Grandma". She loves it and it stuck.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Baton Rouge on

My stepkids were all older when my ex and I got married, and had been calling me by my first name for years, so that wasn't an issue.
But my daughter's friends all used to call me mom when they were over at my house.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

This can be tricky for a lot of families. Whether it is insecurity or immaturity in us, it seems to be a matter of identity and self esteem at play if the parent's reasoning is based on protecting the adults' feelings in this situation.

I think the important thing for all adults to consider in these situations is that certain titles do have meanings for children. The words Mom and Dad carry weight, imply trustworthiness, require loyalty, love, nurturing and protection.

I have adopted moms and grandmothers throughout my life. But, I never assigned these titles because of the persons marital status. My step mother was always my step mother to me because she would never have put my father's children's needs before her own desires. She never 'mothered' me. But, she was pleasant enough and hospitable enough to call step mother. The man my mother married was someone I would not even call step father. He was just the abuser my mother married after she ran off the one good man she ever had.

It was easy to call my mother-in-law Mom. She was everything a mother should be to me. She also referred to me as her daughter. My grandmother was called Grandma by every kid in the neighborhood, because she acted like everyone's grandmother. But, some children want to call a man Dad just because they want to be able to use that word when talking to friends or because they have felt a lack of a father in their lives. If the man is not committed to that child for life, or even married to the child's mother, this can set the child up to feel abandoned and disillusioned when that man leaves the home and leaves the child's life forever.

So, although I agree that the child needs to be comfortable giving the paternal title to a step parent, I also feel the adults need to take some responsibility in assessing the trustworthiness of the adult being honored with that title. If a child gives that title to someone who is not devoted to that child, it may encourage the child to develop unrealistic expectations of loyalty and later feel abandoned if there is a divorce. I know one step father who prefers the title 'bonus dad' and refers to the child as 'bonus son'.

So, all that said, I just don't think there is a one-size-fits-all answer to these situations. I've known step parents who were more devoted to their step children than the biological parents were.

One thing I do recommend for responsible parents who struggle with this issue is to have an open discussion with all the parents, step parents, and even grandparents involved and see if everyone can come to respectful agreements on the subject of creating a sense of safety in family, tribe, and community for the children. Even if you, your spouse, and your child are in synch with this issue, the child might be chastised by others. You may need to ask the child to use some courtesy when both 'dads' are present or in the presence of a grandparent who might be confused. For example, the child might call a step-father 'Dad' at home, but 'Daddy-Bob" when speaking to a father or grandparent, etc, in order to avoid confusion and frustrations. But, it is important to ask the child to do this as a courtesy and not out of fear of being responsible for the emotional fragility of the adults.

2 moms found this helpful


answers from Killeen on

I think that it should definitely be up to the child. My kids were fairly young when I re -married and they have pretty much always called my husband Dad but their bio dad hasnt been in the picture for awhile now. They also call his parents grandma and grandpa( however this does upset my mother).My husbands son,my stepson,calls me mom as well his bio mom is in the picture but barely. She doesnt allow him to refer to me as mom to her or my parents as grandma and grandpa which puts alot of pressure on him remember not to when she is around. In every sense of the word I am his mom and have been most of his life. I feed him,buy his clothes, do his laundry, take him to the dr.,help with homework,attend his sporting events etc. So it doesnt matter what he calls me he knows the difference.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from San Francisco on

I agree.

Congrats on the wedding.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Honolulu on

I completely agree.

I have not been in the situation in any way personally but really it can just get crazy. I know because I had a friend that had divorced parents.

She never called her step-mom "mom" EXCEPT to get when she wanted something and mom, dad and step-mom said no to. Then she would go to her mom and get into a fight with her while mentioning said item/trip/whatever and let "mom" slip out when referring to step-mom. She always got what she wanted at this point... she even explained to me how it worked.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

What's in a name - not much, but I can see where some people would think mom is reserved for the person who carried 40 +/- weeks & stayed up all those nights with colic...it's a minutely earned "honor". There's alot of variables to this question...the age of the child at the time of the split...how involved the biological parents are in the child's life...how involved the step parent is in the child's life....how long the "step parent" has been in the child's life & the predictability of how long they will be around. If the child is old enough I don't see what's wrong with the child using whatever they are comfortable with. My youngest called me J. FOREVER & I was the only mom he had & knew, sooooo that wasn't the problem...it was what he chose. It didn't bother me (okay a tiny bit because I didn't understand it), but people would flip. I've seen people almost backhand their kids for not calling them mom/dad & calling them by their name. He didn't do it to be disrespectful, he was too little, but it was funny when he was four & he would holler J. from the soccer field instead of mom. On the note of grandma's not wanting to be called grandma because it makes them sound old...I knew a lady that would not acknowledge her grandson because she was too young to be a grandma....REALLY

1 mom found this helpful


answers from St. Louis on

I don't think you are rambling, I think you make a valid point. Kids are smart and they use thier instincts better than adults. If they think enough of you to call you Mom or Dad and you are not thier biological parent than I say it's a compliment to you.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Chicago on

Ok, I choose not to call my father's second wife by anything but her first name.
My nephews were given a choice when my sister remarried and the boys chose to call him "Daddy Rick"
Mom is not just a nick name; it's a TITLE that you EARN by pushing or being cut open, nursing/feeding at all hours of the night etc
Dad is a TITLE that is earned by providing the love effection and guidance.
Please do not short change our rights

I have better things to do than give a rebuttle (nice that my little one chose to sleep in) J. G. However, you obviously chose to not read "nursing/feeding all all hours of the night etc" a bad mom would not even contemplate nursing or constantly feeding properly or any of the etc. I did not feel the need to go into details but apparently I was wrong, thank you for the correction.
A good mommy who has earned the title:
Wipes a kids runny but when they are sick, takes them to the park to make friends, uses the asperator on the nose when they are sick, uses a proper swaddle, wears their baby, gives lots of love, feeds appropriately, takes them to the dr. even when it's questionable, never hits, never uses a negative or bad tone, always tells them they are a winner even though they LOST hard core, helps them with their homework and stands up to their teachers for them. At least that is what I am told by many on here that a good mommy is ... I have a very different opinion of the "etc" that is why I chose not to elaborate.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Columbia on

This is very interesting -- steps are the commen cause of some of this... My step-dad, I sometimes call Dad, even though my mom didn't marry him until I was 28. My step-mom (the first one) I only ever called by her name, except when I called her the step-monster. :-p However, part of what makes this so interesting to me is not only my family history, but that as a foster mom, I have gone through some form of this with every placement.
My first placement the kids were 3,5 and 7. They were all super comfortable with calling my husband and I Mom and Dad, and part of that was respect and nurturing at that point. Our next set the baby hadn't really started talking much until she was living with us and so we were Dada and Mama to her, her three year old sister called my husband Daddy and me Melmel (she had no other father figure). Now I have a little girl in my home who is almost 18 months old. right now she sees her biological mom for an hour, once a week. She started calling me mama shortly after she was placed with us (about 4 months ago). At this point, we try to differenciate between myself and her bio mom by variations. I'm Mama and her mom is Mommy. I know that this is a sticky/yucky question, but it was your comment about the childs comfort that really struck me.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Eugene on

My children called me by my first name since that is how their father referred to me in conversation with them. They called him Dad. Once they were parents they decided to call me Mom.

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Spokane on

I have come back to this 5 or 6 times trying to figure out exactly what/how I want to say.

My first thought is ~ isn't it more important HOW a step-parent treats your child versus what your child calls that person? And isn't more important that you child has a great relationship with their step-parent and are encouraged to bond with them and love them versus being told "no, you can't call them that b/c....." WTH??? Aren't our children the priority here?!
Like I said it a previous post, I am pretty sure I wouldn't *like* it if my kids called someone else Mom, but I wouldn't discourage it or tell them they couldn't. In fact, my little one called his first daycare provider mom for quite some time. He loved her, she took care of him. So he called her mom. I actually thought it was quite adorable! I know that's different than a woman stepping into my kids life with their dad and it would be tough to hear but I would never put my kids in the middle of my insecurities and make them feel bad for loving her or whatever. From my experience with both my parents divorcing 2x I would say the children are suffering enough! I would not want to add to their troubles by guilting them into not liking or loving another adult in their life.

I would not be where I am today without my step-dad. He is awesome. I love him dearly and he was more of a dad to me than my dad ever thought of being. Did he "earn" his right to be called dad - hell ya! Do I call him dad? Sometimes. When I am talking to friends and I say "dad" they assume my step-dad and when I refer to my bio-dad I usually call him by his first name. Weird, I know.

My step-daughter calls her step-father dad all the time. She has done this since her mom had children with him. I think she felt "different" b/c her siblings would call him dad and so she started to also. It was difficult for my hubby, but he never asked her to stop or made her feel bad for doing so. He was happy that her step-dad was so good to her and loved her and took great care of her. Even to this day when she refers to her step-dad as dad I can see him slightly wince, but his daughter has no clue. You suck it up. You deal. That's part of split families. I think when you divorce (or never marry) it's a whole new ball game and the rules are not set in stone. You gotta learn to roll with the punches and do what's best for your children!! After all, aren't they the most important aspect here?!

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Dallas on

I have to disagree with you, J.. 'Mom' is not a nickname, it is a badge of honor.

My husband (I am married to my children's bio father) would have a serious problem if his children called him by his first name. 'Dad' is a sign of respect.

As parents (agreeing with Kristina here) we earn the right to be called Mom or Dad.

If you did not raise a child, you did not earn the right for that child to call you 'Mom' or 'Dad', especially if they already have a 'Mom' or 'Dad' in their life.

It has nothing to do with security or the lack thereof, as you say. It has everything to do with respect, a notion which appears to be lost these days.

And as I agree that children are innocent parties of divorce, I'm not sure how requiring that they call their steps by a particular name infringes on or compromises that innocence. I'm not seeing a connection there. If anything, it reinforces their respect and honor for their parents.

Of course, as I said in my reply to the other posts about this, this is situational. It is subjective as to the age of the child, what parents are involved, etc.

As for me, I would *NEVER* be OK with my daughters calling another woman Mom. I am their Mom. I earned that honor.



answers from Kansas City on

So, while I can see the point of the giving birth and all that goes with it 'earning' the right to be called Mom, I think declaring absolutes, especially when it comes to divorce and remarrying is a bad idea.
I have three kids, two by marriage and one by birth. I do not differentiate between the three. I call them all my kids. I am the one they called at age 10-12 telling me they needed socks and underwear. Not that their mom didn't love them and make sure they had a place to live and all, just that if they asked her, it would take a month, if they asked me, it would take a few days, even though I had to mail it to them since we were 1500 miles away.
When my older son was half-way thru 7th grade, he moved halfway across the country to come live with us. The little guy was 3 months old at the time. Now the older one is going into soph year and everyone assumes I am his mom because (a) he treats me like a mom and I treat him like a son and (b) mom lives 1500 miles away. Depending on the situation, he often doesn't correct someone who refers to me as his mom. Does he call me mom? No, and regardless of how much I have done and will do for him, I don't expect it. It doesn't matter what he calls me because a label doesn't make me any more or less his parent. Never have either of the older kids said "You're not the boss of me!" or "You can't tell me what to do because you aren't my mom." I'm the mom here and she's the mom where she lives. It doesn't diminish what they feel for their mom or displace her, it is just the way it is. They have three parents. I think the best thing we can hope for in divorce and remarriage that whoever our ex marries will treat our kids as if they were their own because then you know that the kids are put first and that's the way it should be.


answers from Dayton on

Haven't read the responses, being lazy...but I completely agree.
Whatever makes the child most comfortable. :)



answers from Kansas City on

I have a friend who went through a nasty divorce and both she and her ex are now engaged to significant others. Her ex is insisting that their kids call his fiance "Mom." Their daughter is 6 and she doesn't understand why she should call this woman "Mom" when she already has a mom. It's completely breaking my friend's heart. Which is exactly why her ex is doing it. It's definitely not in the interest of the children. That said, even if there was no animosity, I think it would still hurt my friend for her daughter to decide on her own to call someone else mom. Mom is more than a nickname. It defines you. I'm the only one with the C-section scars showing I birthed my children. Have you ever heard your kids accidentally call another caregiver Mom? It can be amusing, but it can also make me cringe. I work full time and already feel guilty for not spending enough time with them. Sometimes it makes me feel like I'm not really worthy of the title of mom. I think it should definitely be up to the child to decide, but I also think it's perfectly understandable for the mother to be bothered when her child addresses someone else as mom.

For Updates and Special Promotions
Follow Us

Related Questions