I received a letter from a reader a few days ago. She’s a recently divorced mother of four children between the ages of 8 and 2. Her husband remarried within a year of the divorce. She says, ” My kids have refer to their new stepmother as ‘Mama HER NAME HERE’ which I feel is hurtful and disrespectful to me. Am I out of line suggesting they call her by her first name?”I have written about this very scenario in my book. I also wrote an article for Remarriage Magazine about how stepfamilies choose the names we call each other, which I also reprinted here. This is an excerpt from my letter back to this reader:
If you plan to bring it up with anyone, your ex-husband is the one to talk to about how it makes you feel. You could suggest to him that you’d feel more comfortable if they tell the kids to call their new stepmother by her name. I know this can be challenging because there is so much emotion here, but the most important thing is that the children do not feel caught in a loyalty bind. You are their mother and will always be first in their hearts no matter what. That’s just the way it is. What they call their stepmother, really has nothing to do with their feelings for you. As hurtful as your situation may be, if you can give your kids the message that it’s okay for them to like this new adult in their lives, then you will be doing them a huge service. The research is very clear on this. Kids who feel that liking their stepmothers hurts their mom are stuck in the middle. And they act it out in all sorts of negative and harmful ways as they get older. Of course, this is so much easier said than done.
On the flip side, we stepmothers have to be sensitive to the fact that if we suggest the children call us anything with Mom or Mama in the title, we might make the ex-wife angry and the kids defensive. My stepkids call me by my first name. They only use stepmom when they are introducing me to other people. What do your stepchildren call you?