What Do I Call Him?
Entering into a marriage with children poses all kinds of unique situations. One is determining how the new stepparent should be addressed. Should we insist they call us Mom or Dad? Is it proper for a child to address an adult by his or her first name? This is one of the first questions to surface after individuals with children marry.
I noticed in Rosanne Cash's article that she addressed her stepmother as "June" in their conversation about the lady who called the wrong number. She said, "Well, June, who was it?" You could tell by the article that Rosanne had a deep admiration and love for June, so she wasn't being disrespectful in addressing her stepmother by her given name. Neither did June's response hold any animosity toward Rosanne for using her first name because she affectionately addressed her as "honey." If June banned the prefix "step" from their family's vocabulary, why wouldn't she expect Rosanne to address her as Mom?
My stepdaughters call me Terri, and my children call Harvey by his given name as well. We've never insisted any of our stepchildren call us Mom or Dad. You might ask the same question. If we've removed our "step" blinders and all the barriers separating stepparent and child, why wouldn't we insist on being called Mom or Dad?
I'm glad you asked. June, Harvey, and I all entered our marriages embracing our stepchildren as our own. That doesn't mean, however, our children embraced us as their parents. Acceptance took time. That is what blending is all about. In the beginning, acceptance is very one-sided. My stepdaughters already had a mother. She was Mom. I was their dad's new wife, Terri. The same is true for my children and Harvey.
Over time, as the family begins to blends together, the children grow to accept their stepparent as a permanent part of their lives. We can't force acceptance or love. This comes through interaction and consistently loving our children. To insist that our new children call us Mom or Dad would be to insist that they betray their natural mom or dad. This isn't a good way to start blending a family. But if you, as a parent, have removed the mental barriers of "yours," "mine," and "ours," your stepchildren will eventually remove them as well. Even though they may still call you by your first name, they will think of you as mom or dad.
My kids love Harvey. He has become their dad over the years because he was there for them when they needed help, he corrected them in love, and he supported them in their life endeavors. Harvey has laughed and had fun with my kids the same as with his own. Jeremy, Jennifer, and Aaron all introduce Harvey to other people by saying, "This is my dad." They aren't betraying their natural father in doing this, but they're acknowledging Harvey as another parent, bound by love. For all practical purposes, Harvey is their dad, but they still address him as Harvey -- and that's just fine with him.
In instances where the child is very young and has no relationship with their natural parent, the stepparent will become mom or dad to that child much sooner and will subsequently wear the title Mom or Dad much sooner. This was the case with my friend who was widowed with five children. The two youngest children were three and eighteen months at the time of their father's death. Both call their new stepfather Daddy, while the three older children, who remember their father very well, call their stepfather by his first name. Too young to remember their natural father, the youngest children will probably always think of their stepdad as Daddy. In time, the older children will probably grow to think of their stepfather as dad, too, but they'll probably never address him as Daddy, as do their younger siblings.
If your children do not live with you because of custody arrangements, blending into your new family will naturally prove more difficult and take longer. The child living elsewhere may never think of your spouse as mom or dad. This is only natural. You should keep in mind that it is not the child's responsibility to remove those "step" barriers; it is for the parent to remove them. When your son or daughter comes to visit, they should be included as part of your family, regardless of whether they live in your house full- or part-time. Feelings of rejection come easily to a child who is treated differently.
Sometimes the child makes it difficult for the parents to embrace him or her, especially in adolescence. Several things can color their view of your family. One reason for their rejection or resentment can come from bad feelings injected by the natural parent. Their view can also be tainted by pent-up anger over the divorce, jealousies of other children in the home, or mistrust of the remarriage. Yet parents must be careful in their evaluations of a child's behavior. An adolescent's busy life with his or her friends may be misinterpreted as a rejection when it is not.
Regardless of the reason behind your child's rejection of you and your spouse you both should make every effort to embrace him as a part of your family. Love is a choice. Don't stop reaching out to your teen who doesn't live with you just because he doesn't take the initiative to call or visit. If nothing else, your attempt to talk to him on the phone lets him know that you love him and that he is still important to you. In later years he will remember your love and know the door is always open for him to have a relationship with you. If you give up and quit calling because he never seems to have time for you, the door may never open.
The funny and reassuring thing about adolescence is that it passes. An adolescent eventually does grow up and move past his self-centered ways. My kids, in particular my stepdaughters, have come back to me in their young adulthood and apologized for being so difficult as teens. The oldest even asked me, while observing her younger sibling's obnoxious behavior, "Was I like that?" When I answered, "Worse," she replied, "I'm really sorry, Terri." The Bible says in Romans 12:18: "So far as it depends on you, be at peace with all men." This includes difficult children. If we, as parents, hold fast to our choice to love difficult children, eventually, they will accept us, even if it is just a cordial acceptance.
Excerpted from Tying the Family Knot © 2004 by Terri Clark. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman Publishers. All rights reserved. For copies of the book visit www.broadmanholman.com.
Terri Clark is an engaging and inspiring speaker and writer. Terri and her husband, Harvey are successfully rearing and blending a family of six children. She frequently speaks to women's groups around the country and has lead a city-wide, nondenominational women's group. She resided with her blended family in Pearcy, Arkansas. www.terriclarkministries.org.