The following was syndicated from Quora for The Fatherly Forum, a community of parents and influencers with insights about work, family, and life. If you’d like to join the Forum, drop us a line at [email protected].
Q: My son referred to his stepfather as “dad” last night and I wanted to cry. I told him that I’m his daddy and his stepfather is Matthew. Is this proper?
I’m a stepdaughter (since I was 4), and also a stepmother (for just shy of 2 years now). I didn’t meet my biological father until I was 18.
By the time I met my biological father, I had long since equated the word “dad” with my stepfather — like it was his name, not a title — and it felt like a betrayal to refer to this stranger by the name “dad.” My biological father is many things, good and bad, but I’ll never forget when he shrugged his shoulders and said: “Please call me whatever feels comfortable to you. If it ever changes, that’s ok, but it’s not up to me — it’s got to be comfortable for you.”
So I apologized to my stepfather for even thinking about calling this stranger “dad,” and he was very moved but explained he wouldn’t think I didn’t love him if I did eventually call my biological father “dad.” My stepfather had been there for years, and I felt he deserved the title so I didn’t change things
Until 15 years later, when my biological father had made sure to bring me to his place for Thanksgiving when I was down and out and many states away from anyone else. As I looked down at the meal, the words “Thanks, dad” came out and I hadn’t even meant to.
Fast forward this year, when my stepson came to live with my husband and I after we’d been married a bit over a year. He calls me by my first name, and at one point his dad said “Dude, you know you can call her mom, right?” The kid visibly stiffened until I smiled and repeated:
“Please call me whatever feels comfortable to you. If it ever changes, that’s ok, but it’s not up to me — it’s got to be comfortable for you.”
By chiding your son for calling his stepfather what he wants to, you’re telling him that you feel he’s being disloyal to you.
He typically calls me by name, and as “my stepmom” to his friends … but every once and a while when he is particularly excited when I do something in order to make him happy, I’ve overheard him exclaim to his friends “my mom did the coolest thing today!” He doesn’t even realize he does it — he just says it because it feels comfortable at the time.
And that’s when it’s genuine — I would never force him to call me “mom,” or insist he call me by my name, just as I would never insist he not refer to his biological mother as “mom” or by her name. His relationship with her has nothing to do with his relationship with me.
Insisting that your kids call their stepfather by his name and not “dad” is as wrong as insisting your kids call any wife you may eventually have by her name instead of “mom.” Don’t insist one way or the other. It’s not about you, it’s about them, and whatever makes them feel comfortable.
By chiding your son for calling his stepfather what he wants to, you’re telling him that you feel he’s being disloyal to you. That’s a horrible feeling to place in a child.
Aimée Jo Weaver is a writer. Read more from Quora below: