Stepfamily Reality #41 - Stepfamily Titles
Demanding that minor kids call stepparents "Mom" or "Dad" or take a stepfather's last name risks major inter and intra-home conflict. Unless this is a free choice and all affected members' reactions have been polled and equally respected, such demands can cause major confusions, values and loyalty conflicts, and divisive relationship triangles. Hearing their child call a stepparent "Mother" or "Daddy" can spear a guilty non-custodial bioparent's heart. A biochild can be constantly anxious, having to remember that "In our house, I can call my stepdad 'Pop,' but when I visit my 'real' father, I must call my stepdad "Philip" - or never mention him."
Options: "Mommy Alice and Mommy Trudy," "Dad and (stepfather) Jason," "Mom and Stepmom," etc. The same applies to titles for bio-grandparents and step-grandparents. Note that "My real (or 'natural') Mom" implies that the stepmom is unreal or unnatural. "Biomom" and "Stepmom," or "co-Mom" can minimize such discounts. Also, a well-meaning stepparent calling a stepchild "my son" or "our daughter" without seeking feedback may cause significant resentments. If an adult insists family members avoid the prefix "step," it's likely s/he is psychologically wounded, and hasn't grieved major losses, and/or accepted their stepfamily identity and what it means.
Friends, counselors, clergy, doctors, attorneys, and teachers can cause unintended confusion by using inappropriate stepfamily role-titles.
Successful stepfamilies experiment with names and titles over time, and avoid adults imposing them. The "right" way to title the roles of stepparents, stepgrandparents, stepkids, and relatives promotes harmony among all family members - including ex mates and their kin.