Chris and I got married a little over a year after his divorce was finalized; we probably should have waited a little longer, because I’m not sure he was entirely over it yet. The first year or so of our marriage I constantly had to remind him that I wasn’t Samantha (he even called me her name by mistake a couple of times, which was extremely disconcerting). After we settled in to the marriage and started getting into a groove with each other, that problem mostly disappeared. Every once in a while I still have to remind him, but at this point it’s more of a “hey, I know you just had a nasty experience with her please don’t take it out on me” sort of situation.
So imagine my consternation when I learned about the child services trend of calling adults by the role they appear to be playing. Doctors or school staff who don’t know anything about myself or Max refer to me as “Mom.”
I’ve written before about how I’ve made a point of separating myself from that identity when it comes to Max. First of all, I don’t like being compared to her; I’m my own person, I have my own thoughts and issues and ways of doing things. Second, it’s not very respectful to his mother that I assume that title. I can wear the hat just fine, but only because the “Mom” hat and the “Stepmom” hat look so very much alike. (I haven’t written about stepparents calling themselves “Mom” and “Dad” yet, but I assure you it’s coming.)
Third, it’s pretty uncomfortable. Max and I end up both pretending that I’m his mom just because that’s easier than having to correct people all the time. There are too many people to correct; it’s exhausting. So I would like to present my…
TIPS FOR DEALING WITH MISTAKEN MOM IDENTITY
- Have a conversation with your stepkid. This can be part of the conversation about what they should call you or it can be separate, but it should happen at some point. Max and I always ended up avoiding eye contact and shuffling our feet when we had to pretend I was “Mom”. There’s no need for awkwardness with your stepchild (not in this instance, anyway) because the two of you can agree beforehand on how to handle those situations as well as how you’re feeling about it. I know part of the reason I didn’t blurt out, “I’m not his mom!” to everyone was that I didn’t know how that would make him feel. Would he feel hurt? Rejected? Relieved? Only way to know was to ask him.
- Be selective about with whom you clarify your role in your stepchild’s life. When I became a stepmom, I corrected every single person who ever talked to me. There’s really no need. Most people you’ll never see again, or they’ll never remember even if you do correct them, so it’s a waste of air. I’ve narrowed my criteria to a) people I’m trying to develop lasting relationships with and b) anybody who handles his paperwork.
- Don’t refer to yourself as “Mom”. I firmly believe that stepmothers should not call themselves “Mom.” (Unless, of course, that’s what your stepchild has chosen to call you. In that case, go right ahead. You probably didn’t even need to read this post.) If you’re at some event with your stepchild and you have a reason to introduce yourself, it goes like this: “Hi, I’m (stepchild’s name)’s stepmom. It’s so nice to meet you!” Then, if they still get it wrong, no one can say you didn’t try, right? You can officially categorize it as “somebody else’s problem” now.
- Don’t sweat it. It’s going to happen. People will assume that you’re the mother of the child you’re with. Just let it go. I always like to pretend that they’re calling me, “Ma’am” with a British accent – it sounds a lot like “Mom”, and makes me feel all classy. Everybody wins!
By the way, all these tips work for stepdads, too.