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Special Alternatives to “Mom” and “Dad”

A common co-parenting dilemma: what should your kids call their stepmom or stepdad? Dr. Jann Blackstone gives some insight.
(2 min 46 sec read)

Dr. Jann Blackstone
Dr. Jann Blackstone specializes in divorce, child custody, co-parenting, and stepfamily mediation

Dear Dr. Jann,

My bonus daughter calls me, “Mom” and this drives her mom crazy. I really don’t know what to do. I love that she has chosen to call me this and don’t want to offend her by telling her not to. What do you suggest?


Bonus coParent

Dear Bonus coParent,

Bonus parents often ask me for alternative names for “Mom” or “Dad” and my suggestion is that bonus families put their heads together and come up with a special name that means something to them as a family. A reader sent me a great story about how they did just that, and it seems appropriate to pass it on.

“My fiance and I went on a beach trip 10 months into dating. He has one child who was 5 at the time. During the trip, she started calling me “Mom.” I assumed it was because we were filling mom/daughter roles while on vacation. In the mornings I cooked breakfast and woke her up to eat. Afterward, I helped her dress and made her brush her teeth. I was with her all through the day, and then at night I tucked her in and we stayed in the same room. I think this routine for the week we were vacationing became comfortable and she felt comfortable calling me mom. My fiance’ and I didn’t correct her, but it continued. Three months later at Halloween, the child’s bio-mom dropped her by so we could see her all dressed up for Halloween. While taking a picture with her bio-mom, she called out, “Now I want to take a picture with my other mom.” It didn’t go over well, however, I definitely understood her feelings and was content choosing an alternate name, but what name?

We struggled to find a suitable name. I didn’t want to be “mommy Joyce” because that’s still calling me mom…and bio mom didn’t like that. I’m not her Aunt or Grandma, so the suggestions of Auntie or Nana seemed odd to me. We were getting increasingly irritated that we even had to deal with this issue, but I knew it was important. About a month later my fiance looked over at me and said “What about Mare? Mare (pronounced Ma-Ray) means Ocean in Italian. She first called you Mom when we were at the beach, it only seems appropriate.” The name and the meaning behind it touched me, and I told him it was even better than being called mom! The name has gone over very well, and although I hear the occasional “mom” that makes my heart flutter, we continue to gently encourage the use of my special name.”

This is exactly what I mean when I say find a special name that means something to your family–it doesn’t have to be a variation of Mom or Dad–just something special to you. The reader reports that Mom was very grateful for their attempt to find another name and has just invited her to a “get to know one another” lunch. What better situation for a child than to be brought up witnessing her caregivers openly respect for one another. Paix. Pace. Paz. Peace.

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