Help! My child calls stepmom ‘mom’ now!

Posted on Aug 1, 2023 by Katie Carter

Mom is a special word.  For months, I couldn’t wait until my babies said it back to me – though, to be honest, at this point, I wish they’d use it a little less often over the course of the day.  Still, there’s no question that it’s a special thing to be called.  It’s a privilege to be a mom to these incredible children.

It’s difficult to separate – whether through a divorce or a breakup – from their dad, too.  I’m sure that’s not something that you envisioned but it’s still, somehow, your reality.  And now, whether you’re working custody out yourself or whether you’ve been to court to have custody, visitation, and/or child support resolved (or worked out a parenting plan with an attorney rather than litigate), you have to share your time with your children with their father.

No matter what, it’s hard not to call the shots.  It’s hard to miss out on Christmases, and time during the summer, and to try to reach an agreement about which summer camps and sports to enroll it, and navigate the trickiness of visitation exchanges.  It’s difficult, too, when one (or both) parents start dating and then, eventually, remarry.

It’s especially difficult when remarriage involves an entire second family, or where there’s a stepmom involved that you don’t like or trust.

There may be a lot of things driving those feelings.  In many (though not necessarily all) divorces, there’s a fair amount of residual trauma.  Your feelings may (or may not) have anything at all to do with her personally.  But, then again, they might.  Especially in a formerly abusive relationship, the new girlfriend (or wife) can often be a really challenging figure to reckon with.

It can be hard to lead with grace where your children are involved, but it’s almost always better if you do.  Even in a former abusive relationship, it’s better to lead with kindness and understanding in as many ways as possible – because, after all, she’s just the new stand in for you.  She’s likely experiencing all of the things that you did that altered your perception of reality and made you hate the women who came before you, too.

At the end of the day, once you and your child(ren)’s father separate, you lose control.  You can’t change who he dates, how he treats them (or you), or what is encouraged in his home.  Yes – even if the kids start to call their new stepmom ‘mom’.  Yes – even if you hate her.

Hey, I get it.  It’s not easy.  Hearing your child call someone else mom – someone who didn’t birth them, didn’t nurse them, didn’t encourage them as they learned to walk, didn’t kiss all the booboos, didn’t hold them when they were sick, on and on and on – would sting.  It would rankle.  It would drive me crazy, too.

But, legally at least, it’s not really an issue.  The court almost certainly won’t intervene on what is likely to be considered – to the court – a relatively inconsequential point.  I mean, sure, if there’s something super weird and abusive going on, the court might intervene, but it would take awhile to get to that point.  There’d be a full litigated case, a Guardian ad litem involved, and a thorough investigation.  (And, frankly, let’s hope not, because these cases are some of the most time consuming, expensive, difficult to prove, and overall miserable to live through.)

Mostly though, I find that the court is open – unless there’s been a pretty concrete finding of abuse – to letting each parent do it his or her way.  Maybe, after all, calling another woman ‘mom’ is a sign that these children love her, feel comforted by her, and feel safe in their new home.  Maybe it was a choice the kids made themselves, even.

Is it disrespectful?  Maybe.  Is it hurtful?  Certainly.  Is it intentional?  Also maybe.  But, ultimately, will there be any recourse?  Probably not, even if it does raise a few eyebrows – which it might.  But it’s also not entirely unprecedented, not completely inappropriate, and it doesn’t inherently mean that there’s some wrongdoing on dad’s side that can be easily and conclusively pointed to.

Have you considered counseling?  No – you’re not crazy.  What you’re feeling is completely legitimate.  It just might not also be serving you.  I’m not going to give you some BS sunshine and rainbows message about coparenting and kids having enough love to give all of their grown ups in their lives; what you’re living through is challenging, and hurtful, and really, really difficult to navigate.

The legal reality is, though, that the court often won’t intervene in these matters, and will let each parent parent the children in whatever way they see fit inside their own homes.  It would take something pretty egregious for the court to step in – and, again, I hope that you don’t fall into that category, because those cases are brutal.

If this doesn’t sit right with you, talk to an attorney.  Talk to a therapist.  Talk to anyone who can help you cope with what you’re going through.  Your feelings aren’t wrong, they’re just probably not serving you.  You can live with them – and you can be prickly, resentful, hurt, sad, volatile, depressed, or whatever – or you can work through them so that you can be the best mom (hey, you’re still mom, no matter what they call that other person – who, it must be said, may not last) and coparent you can possibly be.  Not for his sake, and certainly not for hers, but for the sake of those sweet little lives you created.

There’s no question that putting your kids first is hard to do, especially with something like this.  And you’re only human for struggling with it.  But I’d suggest that you focus your energy where it will do the most good and that, unfortunately, is probably not here.

You won’t be able to control what he does in his own home, just like he won’t be able to control what you do in yours.  You’ll both likely to be free to parent in the way that you think is best.  And, if you can’t coparent together, parallel parenting often works just fine.

For more information, to schedule a consultation, or to register to attend one of our upcoming custody seminars for Virginia moms, give us a call at 757-425-5200.