Dear Dr. Jann: I hate when my child calls her dad’s girlfriend, “mommy.” Yes, they have been together for years and I know my daughter loves her, but I can’t stand that she calls anyone else, “mom.” How do I handle this without upsetting our comfortable coParenting relationship?
Dr. Jann: This is a really common question — very few dads and moms like it when their child calls someone else, “dad” or “mom.” Most parents feel it is a name reserved just for them. Add a break-up into the mix and parents feel particularly vulnerable when their child is cared for — and cares for — someone else. It takes a while to accept that it’s actually in your child’s best interest if he or she feels comfortable and protected by a step parent. (That’s when I call step parents, “bonus parents.”)
The best way to handle this situation is to brainstorm with the child for a unique name that means something special to the child and bonus parent. It doesn’t have to be a variation of mom or dad, it can be anything. One reader confided that her bonus child calls her “mare” (pronounced ma-ray), which means “ocean” in Italian. They first met at a family outing to the beach and got very close that vacation. The name and the meaning means something special to both of them and “mom” remains with “mom.”
Another reader confided that she met her bonusdad when she was 4. She called him “Biggy” because he was 6’4” and she had never seen anyone that tall. She’s now in her 40’s and still calls him, “Biggy.”
These are perfect examples of how to pick a unique name that’s special to the bonus parent but doesn’t disrespect or intimidate the bio-parent. When children watch the parent figures in their lives looking for solutions and openly respecting one another, it ensures the child grows up safe and secure. And, isn’t that what all parents want for their children, moms and ma-rays, alike?