If being a mother is a tough gig, being a stepmother is a tough gig with a giant stigma attached to it. We understand a woman wanting to hold a different, more fondly regarded title. That’s the thought that popped into our mind when we read the story of a father whose wife has suddenly asked him to pressure his 7-year-old son to call her mom. What should he do?
Reddit user justconfusedfather wrote in to the AITA subreddit with this tale about his son, his wife, and a meddling mother-in-law:
“My fiancé, his mom, passed away when he was born due to complications,” the dad wrote. “I wanted to keep her memory alive so since he was an infant, I told him all about his mom and constantly showed him pictures of her.”
When the boy was 4, his father introduced him to the woman (whom he’d been dating for a year), and they bonded instantly. Two years later, they were married, and the boy asked his dad if he had to call his new stepmother mom.
“I said only if he wants to and that I know mommy would be okay with him also calling my wife his mom. Just so he wouldn’t worry about that,” justconfusedfather wrote.
His wife was OK with the boy calling her by her nickname, Mimi, until recently, when her own mother witnessed him doing this.
“Her mother immediately expressed how bothered she was that he still doesn’t called her mom even though we’ve been married over a year,” he said. “A few days later, my wife said her mom keeps calling her over this, and now she sort of agrees too. She said it’s hurtful that he still doesn’t see her as his mom after everything she’s done for him and doesn’t feel appreciated because I haven’t encouraged him to do so.”
Is he wrong for not encouraging his son to do so, even though “Mimi” is the only mom he’s actually ever known?
Most of Reddit believes this dad was right not to push his son to call her mom.
“I’m sorry this hurts your current wife, but she’s the adult and should understand,” Kay_Elle wrote. “Just because she’s not his ‘mom’ doesn’t mean he can’t love her. It’s not a competition.”
Adult children who grew up in blended families chimed in to share about the stepparents they called “Mom” and “Dad,” and the ones they didn’t. From this unscientific sampling, there doesn’t seem to be an advantage to one or the other.
User birfday_party said that calling their stepparents by their first names “made me realize that these people (stepparents) really didn’t have to be as kind or as helpful as they were and are. I was never really their responsibility, but they did what they did because of either love for me or more so love for my parents, and seeing that, I think, is huge.”
That’s the other side of the coin of what stepmother Beth McDonough wrote for SheKnows last year.
“Whether it’s Bonus Mom, Stepmom, or Bethy, I’m over the moon about all of the different names I get to have to represent that relationship I’ve carefully and thoughtfully formed with my stepdaughter — relationships that no one else gets,” she wrote. “I’m not Mom, so sometimes I get to hear special stepmom secrets, share ‘stepmom only’ snuggles, and have spa nights that are reserved only for me. As a stepmom, I’m not here to be Mom — I’m here to be me.”
On the other hand, Redditors are worried about other potential problems for justconfusedfather and his family. For one thing, what’s up with Mimi and her mom?
“I think your wife needs to understand why she jumped immediately to actions to assuage her mother’s anger rather than supporting a boy she considers her son, in the way he feels most comfortable,” ziburinis wrote. “Is your MIL going to treat your son as second best when you do have children with her and favor her ‘real’ grandkids because they call her mommy?”
A few wondered if there’s something the dad has been doing to make Mimi still feel like an outsider to his bond with his son.
“Is she also a part-time babysitter, apart from being your wife?” forgottencalipers asked. “If she owes it to you and your son to take care of him, you owe it to her to at least discuss things with your son — which is actually all she wants.”
“I think it’s time for family therapy,” EX_Tenn suggested. “And couples therapy. Family therapy so your wife can communicate what she wants in a safe and age-appropriate way to your son. But also so she can learn about how her demands are ‘wrong’ or overstepping. And how her demands could ultimately harm the relationship between her and the son.”
If you are facing a similar dilemma, Stepping Through, a website run by Australian psychologists, has a helpful post for stepparents of children with a deceased parent. It’s a complex issue with no one-size-fits-all answer, and certainly not something Reddit can solve in one post.
For a celebrity take on blended families, read about these famous co-parents.