What “Title” Do You Deserve?


Daaaaaaang. People are touchy about titles. I was at the YMCA with my daughter and stepdaughter recently, and I dropped them off at kiddie care so I could work out. I love the ladies in kiddie care. They are sweet as pie, and we usually chat a bit at drop-off and pick-up. A new staffer asked me if both girls were my daughters, and I explained that one is my daughter, the other my stepdaughter.

Her eyes got big and she whispered, “Don’t you think that calling one your daughter and the other step will hurt your stepdaughter’s feelings? The term people use now is blended.” Right.

I’ve never called Cali my daughter, because she has a deep attachment to her mom, and I don’t desire to infringe upon that. With loyalty on the line, I think that even if Cali liked the inclusive term of daughter* in the moment, she’d ultimately feel guilty and torn about accepting it. Why cross that line when she already knows I love her without that label?

Robert Winkler blogged for the New York Times last week about this very topic: as an invested parent and stepparent, it’s hard to juggle titles. His post is not so much of a whining session as it is a conversation about reality.

Earlier in my relationship with Todd, his older daughter said she needed to call me mom when she was here with us, because she “needed” a mom at both houses. It was hard to redirect her on that, because she said “I need” not “I want”–and I hated to deny her something she believed she needed. “Please,” she cried. So I reaffirmed my commitment to her and explained why it was better to call me Sarah. I reminded her that her mom is with her in her heart, even when she’s not in the same room. It never came up again, and looking back I am sure it was the right thing.

I read recently that Steve Harvey objects to the term step, and in his blended family he refers to all the children–his and his wife’s–as his kids. I guess it all depends on the situation and what everyone wants. But I would venture to say that somewhere along the line, if the bio-parent is still in the picture, labels really do matter and should be used with care.

To some folks, I don’t have the right to be called stepmom, either. The term was first applied to me by my neighbor, when she introduced me to her mother last year. She has watched as my son plays with her’s, and Ella plays with her daughter, and she has seen the bonds grow from a few houses down. In light of this, she said, “You’re basically their stepmom, right? I mean, that’s your relationship with them.”

Stepmom. I’m okay with that. But not everyone is. I’ve found blog and forum posts HERE and HERE and HERE that wrestle with the term when it’s applied to live-in partners who aren’t married. Who’s the least comfortable with it? Bio-moms, bio-dads and their families and friends, naturally.

Do you think it’s overstepping boundaries to go by “step” if you’re a long-term partner without a ring on your finger?

*In all honesty, if I were a childless stepmother, I would struggle with this. Ella and Cali are so lovable and wonderful and I would do anything for them. I can see how tough it would be to get sidelined as a step if I didn’t have my own children. But that’s another subject for another day.