The first time someone called me mom was a weird one for me, it caught me off guard, and it came from an intoxicated woman in a hotel bar. I was uncomfortable, but luckily the boys were distracted with their chicken strips and iPads. I kindly ask that you tuck any judgment about screens at the table away. We had been swimming for about 8 hours at the pool and beach and needed some quiet time.
Back to the hotel bar—she was complimentary and told me that I reminded her of when she was young and her two sons were kids. She threw in ‘Mom’ at every opportunity to refer to me.
Our older son took his headphones off and caught on to the situation. I desperately wanted her to go away. Not that she was rude, but she was inappropriate, and I was uncomfortable.
The drunk lady returned to the bar and let us eat our dinner in peace.
Reflecting and Connecting
We finished and returned to our hotel room for showers, PJs, movies, and called it an early night. Before starting the movie, I asked the boys if they had heard the stranger at dinner. The 10-year-old confirmed and asked ‘What was she talking about?’
I repeated what the woman told me, that I reminded her of herself when she was young and complimented the two of them. I went on to ask, “I didn’t correct her when she called me ‘Mom.’ Is that okay?”
Our 10-year-old replied, “I don’t care.” I felt I had to justify myself. Probably because I have said I don’t care 100 times when I actually care. And I see so much of myself in our 10-year-old.
So, I told him, “I don’t think of myself as your mom. I feel so lucky to be a part of your lives and help take care of you, but you have one mom at the end of the day, and it’s not me. I didn’t correct her because she’s a stranger, and truthfully, I didn’t feel like engaging with her longer than necessary.”
Our 6-year-old was beyond bored. By this time, he was bouncing his back on the bed, from the head to the foot of the bed. Our 10-year-old agreed, “Definitely. Some people can be so nosy.”
I went on to ask, “Do you want me to correct someone if that happens again?” And he replied, “No. It’s not a big deal.”
If and when this happens again, I’ll check in with them. Because they are human and get to change their minds, I want to respect their wishes at the end of the day. Thankfully, if their answer changes and they want me to correct someone, I can proudly clarify, “I’m his/their stepmom.”
There is power in words and navigating these new situations can be challenging, both for yourself and for your stepkids. Kids are sponges and can be sensitive. They might feel that you are encroaching on the precious territory by proclaiming (or not correcting) the title of ‘Mom’. Alternatively, they might not think twice about it! But it’s worth having a conversation with them when it first happens.
Putting it into Practice
Here’s my quick guide:
1. Check in with your kids after the incident. Don’t be afraid to address it.
2. Quite simply, ask them what they are comfortable with. Words are essential, and the words we use matter.
3. Check in with yourself – What are you comfortable with? Is there a phrase or title you prefer? Are you ready to fully embrace ‘Mom’?
4. My rule of thumb is, unless it is someone close to me: Don’t assign parenting labels. In my opinion you’re making assumptions and adding pressure to a situation you have limited insight about.
P.S. Here’s what I wish my stepchild’s Mom knew.