Q. My daughter and son really like their dad’s girlfriend. She lives with him and has her own children. I am so grateful that she is so kind to me and my children. But, here’s the problem. It doesn’t happen all the time, but lately they have been calling her “Mommy” when I pick them up. Like, “Bye, Mommy! See you soon!” It really upsets me. I’m grateful she loves my kids, and I am doing my best to share them with her, but she’s not their mother and I don’t want to share the name. What’s good ex-etiquette?
A. A. You have admitted it makes you feel uncomfortable, and you prefer it doesn’t continue, and you are looking for solutions.
Many people in your situation take the blame and believe that the other person is trying to destroy their mother/child relationship. Sometimes, unfortunately, this is true. But more often it’s that the children feel comfortable in the living space and other children are calling her “Mommy,” so they adopt the name as a novelty.
When my own daughter was learning to talk, she started calling me “Jann” because all the other kids called me “Jann.” It was amusing for a while, but soon required some calm correction. She quickly mastered the concept.
Parents who require the children to address the new partner as “Mom” or “Dad” are doing everyone a disservice. It’s confusing for the children and promotes a competitive spirit between homes.
There are several things you need to discuss before moving in with someone with children. The children will refer to you as one. Professionals suggest that the children and their partner brainstorm a unique name for them. This name becomes the child’s. That way there is no competition between parents and their ex’s new partner. I’ve interviewed children from all over the world and some of the choices have been quite amusing and even beautiful.
One bonusdad and bonusson I interviewed picked the name “Mr. Big.” Bonusdad was 6-foot-6 and towered over the little boy. That’s what came out when they joked around and that’s what they stuck with. It evolved into “Biggy,” then “Big.” And to this day, the 30-year-old adult child calls his bonusdad “Big.”
The story of a bonusmom from Italy, who visited the Bonus Families website many years ago, is perhaps one of the most heartwarming. The child and bonusmom bonded during a trip to the beach, and the child began calling her bonusmom “Mama” at that point. They both knew it might not be appropriate and searched for a name that would capture their wonderful relationship. They had difficulty finding one, but then one night, out of the blue, the child’s father suggested “Mare” (pronounced “ma-ray”). It means “ocean” in Italian. “You bonded at the beach, and it only seems fitting.” That’s good ex-etiquette.
Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of “Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation,” and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com.
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