I was saying my goodbyes to my sweet almost-stepdaughter as she prepared to catch her flight to the wedding destination, where we’d be reunited in just a couple of days. She hugged me extra tight, told me how excited she was, and assured me she would miss me until I saw her again.
I told her I loved her and couldn’t wait to officially be her stepmom—before we knew it, we’d officially be a family! She pulled back from our embrace, looked up to me with those big beautiful blue eyes and heartwarming grin and said, “After the wedding, can I call you ‘Mom?'”
Be still, my heart.
My stepdaughter wants to call me “Mom.” I must be doing something right, right?
She and I are as close as stepmom and daughter can possibly be. But it’s still completely out of the question. Out of respect for her mom, I’d never allow such an extraordinary breach of Amanda’s trust in me with her daughter.
I am not my stepdaughter’s mom. I will never be her mom.
Meet: Mama K
That’s why we decided on a special name just between us.
My stepdaughter calls me “Mama K,” and it is exponentially more special to me than if she called me “Mom.” I know I’m not her mom, and I would feel like a fraud if that’s what she chose to call me.
I used to worry about what others would think if they heard her call me by name. Would they question my worth? Would they think she was being disrespectful? I loved when strangers would mistake me for my stepdaughter’s mom in public.
It was validating. And having her call me “Mom” would be just as validating.
But eventually I grew in my role, and I began to realize I don’t need that validation. My relationship with my stepdaughter and the special role I get to play as her Mama K is beyond anything I could experience trying to be her second mom.
The Stepmother Role
A stepmother’s role is to supplement, never to replace.
It’s easy for a stepmother to nurture her children. It’s in our DNA; women are comforters and fixers by nature. It’s perfectly okay to fall into a maternal role when your stepchildren are in your home. Snuggle up, give bedtime kisses, and share advice as only a parent can do.
But try not to fall into hoping to become be a replacement. You are an extra parent, a bonus mom. You get to help with all of the fun stuff, experience all of the not-so-fun stuff, and everything in between.
Unless the child’s mom is completely out of the picture, you are not and never will be the child’s mom.
Would it work for you?
If there isn’t pushback from the other home and the child initiates the request, it likely won’t be harmful to allow a stepchild to call you, “Mom.” If the child or the ex are uncomfortable with the request, it could make things even harder for a child of divorce.
Divorce is confusing enough for children. They’re trying to welcome a stepparent while accepting that their parents are not together anymore, navigating life with shared custody, and adapting to a new normal.
A couple of things could work against you in this situation. Your stepchild might feel discomfort on their own or loyalty binds to their other parent could be the impetus for the discomfort.
If the ex is upset by the decision, she could make things very uncomfortable for your stepchild. She could be talking poorly about you or your partner and making the child feel like they have to choose sides, or she could refuse to let the child talk about Dad’s home, which feels isolating and confusing.
Regardless of the reason, unless everyone in the dynamic is on-board and comfortable, it could cause trouble if you allow your stepchild to call you “Mom.”
Validation for your Unique Role
I understand that you think you deserve the title.
You are an incredible stepmom. You play an irreplaceable role in your family. Trust that your contribution is seen and appreciated.
You are a valuable parent, and you have the capacity to be incredibly influential in your stepchild’s life, whether or not they call you “Mom.”
P.S. Want to read about more of the harsh realities of stepparenting? I think you could probably relate.
17 thoughts on “Why I Won’t Allow My Stepdaughter to Call Me “Mom””
The post that comes immediately before this one is about how your stepdad was a “real” parent to you and one of your previous ones was about how your mother in law said you weren’t a real mother. I think I totally agree with the sentiment behind what you’re saying here, but I really hate the way you said it!!
In my mind, the reasons stepparent shouldn’t have the kid call them “Mom” or “dad” is for the following reasons: (1) it will hurt the coparenting relationship. (2) the child will suffer negatively when their biological parent finds out. (3) the child might feel like they HAVE to call you Mom or else risk hurting your feelings.
After a certain age, I don’t think Children don’t get “confused” about who their biological parents are…!
Thanks so much for your comment, Sarah!
I absolutely 100% believe I’m a real parent, but I’d never say that I’m K’s only mom, which is what I believe the title “Mom” represents. I am one of her moms, but not the only. I do believe the titles “Mom” and “Dad” are reserved for biological parents unless the biological parents aren’t in the picture at all.
My main concern is that I would greatly disrespect the role that her mother does play in her life, if I allowed my stepdaughter to call me “Mom” as well.
Thanks for replying to my comment! It’s so rare hat you actually get to have a dialogue with people like this :).
I think that we mostly agree, but I guess I still react to your post for a couple of reasons but really all stemming from the same thought: each step family has such a different and unique dynamic and I felt like your post tries to handle a really complicated issue too simply. For example, I don’t come from a situation where I have respect for my step sons mom. And, my stepsons mom would react extremely negatively if he called something as similar to mom as “mama k”. I still come to the same conclusion as you do, but I have to take a very different way to get there because I need that decision to be 100% about my stepchild and not about his mom.
But I think the biggest reason why I reacted to your post is because I’ve seen so many people who are ready to discredit the role of stepmom use posts like this as examples to bolster their disrespect for stepparents. I know they are idiots anyway, but I can just imagine them saying “See? This stepmom knows her place. Why can’t the rest of you learn?”
I really, really respect you making yourself vulnerable like this and opening up this conversation. It’s such a tough topic to discuss and (like all the posts I’ve read on this blog!!) it makes me have a ton of respect for both you and Amanda.
Thanks so much, Sarah! I really appreciate your candid feedback 🙂
I completely agree with not letting your stepkids call you mom! For one thing, you are just setting yourself up one day to hear “You’re not my mom!”, a normal rite of passage for most kids. It’s different where a child has lost their mom, or she is really never in the picture and they are craving someone to fill that role permanently. It can be a grey area where there are step-siblings and the child feels profoundly exlcuded to have to call you something different.
I have see the loyalty bind at work in my own family. My stepson, who considers me more of a mother to him than his own mother, got extremely upset one time when someone else assumed I was his mother. He actually became surly and miserable, even went back to live with her (lasted 3 days), all because he hated himself for wishing that it could be true.
There’s no end to the mystery of a child’s heart. As long as their mother is alive, her existence needs to be acknowledged and respected, at least energetically. Calling another lady ‘mom’ is just looking for trouble.
Thanks for an awesome article!
I wrote a little post about how to wrap your head around not being a mom, where that feels like an issue for a stepmom. Link below.
I agree with your reasons for your decision for your family. To add a different experience/perspective, my stepson calls me mom, by his request when he was 4- I’ve been one of his primary caretakers since he was 1. There is no one-size-fits all recommendation for this issue. Our reasoning is that “mom” is a job description, not a sacred name, that everyone is of equal value and he has enough love for two moms and that he’s better off for having a diverse inner circle to learn from. I myself come from a non-nuclear upbringing, I call non-blood relatives mom, aunty, and grandma, which adds to our bond and my sense of self and family. That does not take anything away from my special connection with my blood relatives. It is an abundance-mentality thing, I don’t see a problem with more love, more family, more terms of affection.
Given that though, I can’t control what the mother thinks and says, as you said. My stepson is 8 now and I’ve given him ample opportunities to choose something different, to alleviate any pressure on him. We talk all the time about why he lives the way he lives. This is one thing he can choose and we make it about what HE WANTS and we stand behind his decisions and empower his voice. No one else is living his moms-house-dads-house reality but him, and I trust him to know his own mind.
He continues to stick with calling me mom for now. If you can expect yourself to put the child first, you can expect that of the mother, too.
Hi! I completely agree with ur comment above. I’ve been in my stepson’s life since he was 2, & he calls me mom. His mom is not in the picture, my husband & I have him full time. He has been told & can tell u I’m his stepmommy & “X” is his real mommy. But he says no, ur my mommy. I would agree with this post if his mother was in the picture & raised her son & also deserved that respect. Therefore, my son can call me whatever his heart desires & he knows he can call me by name & still chooses to call me mom
I just have to say that there are some instances where it is perfectly alright. My soon-to-be step-daughter lost her mother to a horrific car accident 12 years ago. There has not been a mother figure in her life since she was 4 years old. She wants to call me “mum” and I will definitely let her do that.
I completely agree with you, Holly! I can’t believe I didn’t put that in the article – I’ll go back and add it now! That is definitely a time where you’re physically stepping into the role and it’s not a supplemental role you play.
Thanks for bringing that edit to my attention!!❤️
Right on. I’m a ‘bonus mom’ to Two beautiful girls, 7 and 11, and have been in their lives for 6 years, married to their dad for four. Our youngest once asked me the exact question and I simply said, baby you already have a mama, I’m just an extra person to love and care for you. You nailed it. And made me feel like I did the right thing too. Our babies are our number one priority and you’re right, it’s already hard and confusing enough
Without the convoluted titles. It’s very seldom that anyone will ever know exactly how you feel, where you’re coming from, or just how much you really do. Thank you for all you do and you’re reassuring words. I can’t tell you enough how amazing this post is. We got it right and keep on keeping on! Kudos to you bonus Mom. 😉
Thanks so much for your support, Sara! ❤️
A parent is a parent. Dad is not better than mom. Mom is not better than dad. So why the need to try to be one or the other when you can uniquely be the parent only you can be? My (step)kids decided that they didn’t want to just keep calling me “Sarah”. I had always given them the option to call me what they were most comfortable with (when their dad and I first dated and I was introduced to them I was Miss Sarah but quickly became Sarah). When I pick them up from school they just tell their friends “gotta go, my mom is here” because it saved them having to explain. We never correct a server at a restaurant when they say “Oh, you smile just like your mom!” or “your hair, you must get that from your mom!” – we just say thank you and smile knowing looks at one another because they sort of thinks it is a hilarious secret and we’re pulling a joke on people, even as highschoolers. A few months ago, unbeknownst to me, they talked about what to call me because they thought calling me Sarah wasn’t quite right. They approached me to tell me what they had decided on calling me and why. They couldn’t call me mom because they already have a mom, which I totally agreed with. They didn’t want to call me aunt, because I’m married to their dad and that would be weird, which I also agreed with. They didn’t like calling me stepmom because it sounded ‘too serious’ to them – I told them I understood that. They let me know I am now “Smom”. Short for stepmom and super easy. They had a good laugh when I asked if that meant they were my “skids”? I am now Smom. Goodnights always included “I love you, sleep well” and “Love you, too Sarah” but now it’s “Love you too, Smom.” I am not the dad. I am not the mom. I am the Smom. Every family is different. This is what has naturally happened in ours. I will never replace mom or dad, but then again I have never wanted to and don’t want to, and neither of them will ever be able to replace me either. Just as I love my kids for who they are as individual people and not just because they happen to be my stepkids. They love me because of who I am as an individual, not because I just happen to be one more parent in their life. Being Smom and Skids works perfectly for us.
I love that! You’re so right – the only “correct way” is what works best for your family! 🙂
I have nothing of value to add to the conversation, but as a biological mom to two children and a stepmom to one, I completely agree with your post. My daughters met their now stepmom six months ago. At their dad’s wedding they were instructed to begin calling their stepmom “Mom.” They are 3 and 5 years old. It breaks my heart. I’ve of course kept that heartbreak to myself for their sake, but because of it I do not believe their stepmom and I will ever have a good relationship (there are other factors that play into it as well.) I homeschool the girls. They are with me 75% of the time. So hearing them call another woman “Mom” has been harder than I ever imagined, and has created confusion because they are so young. I cannot Imagine ever encouraging my stepmom to call me “Mom,” given our specific circumstances. Anyway, thank you for your post.
I have a broken heart reading this. I have been a step parent twice. Two marriages brought me to men with children. My first marriage, my step daughter accidentally called me mom and I didn’t correct her. I simply went on about my day and life. She went home, she told her mother of the accident. Then her mother had to interrogate her. She came back to our house and was so upset the next visit. She told us that she is never allowed to call me mom again and that if she did her mom would be very angry. She was in counseling at this time and when her father and her went to the counselor(along with the mother) the counselor informed her that she is never to punish her child for calling me mom. By accident or on purpose. He explained that if she was that comfortable with me, she should take that as a good sign. As long as we weren’t enforcing her to call me mom or asking her to. Which we never had and never would. The COUNSELOR. The person who specialized in children’s behavior and blended families said “don’t tell her she can’t cal her step mom “mom”! So that being said, I could say that this article, although well meaning, is not a “one size fits all” rule. I am now a step mother again of children who are now 14,16,17 and I have been their step mom for 9 years. Over half their lives. They do not call me “mom”. I’ve never asked them to and never told them to. They do tell people “my mom is here” or “I need to ask my mom” or “my mom is waiting for me”. Affectionately, they sometimes call me “mama bear”. We are ok with whatever they are comfortable with.
My husband is also a step dad to my two (14,11). My 14 year old calls him by his name. My 11 year old started calling him dad about 2 years ago. On his own accord. He never asked. He never spoke about it. One morning he woke up and my husband was “dad”. He has always known he doesn’t have to call him “dad”. I’ve never asked why he does or what made him do it. I don’t worry about it. If he didn’t want to, he wouldn’t. It’s now natural to him. Does my son have a “dad” already. Yes. Is he dad ok with him calling another man dad? YES! He is happy that our son loves the man the raises him so much, he calls him dad. My ex is with a woman. I think she’s great! The first thing we told our boys after a few visits “you are allowed to call her whatever you want!” Why? Because it’s not about US (mom or dad). That’s selfish. What it’s about and what it boils down to, is THE KIDS. HOW THEY FEEL, HOW THEY WANT TO ADRESS SOMEONE…
Do your kids call their step grandma “Karen” or “grandma”? Do they call step uncles by their first name and not “Uncle Dan”? Probably not. They probably use all the terms for other step family as every one else. So why is they can only have ONE MOM called mom? Or one dad, called dad? How confusing must that be that every grandma has the same name. But you’re not allowed to have two moms?
I’m sorry my post upset you. I was writing about my experience as a child of divorce and a stepmom who’s co-parent is very involved and wouldn’t feel comfortable with me being called “Mom” as well. I’m glad you found what works for your family!