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Q: I recently picked my daughter up from her father’s home only to hear her call out the car window as we left, “Bye Mom!” I did my best to cover up my shock, but oh my gosh, I never thought I would have to face this. I do not want my child calling anyone else, “Mom.” What’s good ex-etiquette?

A: It is rare that a mom easily accepts her child calling someone else, “Mom.” It’s particularly difficult after a break-up when you have to share your child with another parent and possibly his or her partner. My usual response is that the bonus parent and child put their heads together and come up with a unique name that means something special to them. A reader sent me a great story a few years ago that beautifully demonstrates how to do just that.

“My fiancé and I went on a beach trip 10 months into dating. He has one child who was 5 at the time. During the trip she started calling me ‘Mom.’ I assumed it was because we were filling mom/daughter roles while on vacation. In the mornings I cooked breakfast and woke her up to eat. Afterwards I helped her dress and made her brush her teeth. I was with her all through the day, and then at night I tucked her in and we stayed in the same room. I think this routine for the week we were vacationing became comfortable and she felt comfortable calling me mom. My fiancé and I didn’t correct her, but three months later at Halloween the child’s bio-mom dropped her by so we could see her all dressed up for Halloween. While taking a picture with her bio-mom, she called out, ‘Now I want to take a picture with my other mom.’ It didn’t go over well, however, I definitely understood her feelings and was content choosing an alternate name, but what name?

“We struggled to find a suitable name. I didn’t want to be ‘mommy Joyce’ because that’s still calling me mom … and bio mom didn’t like that. I’m not her Aunt or Grandma, so the suggestions of Auntie or Nana seemed odd to me. We were getting increasingly irritated that we even had to deal with this issue, but I knew it was important. About a month later my fiancé looked over at me and said, ‘What about Mare? Mare (pronounced Ma-Ray) means Ocean in Italian. She first called you Mom when we were at the beach, it only seems appropriate.’ The name and the meaning behind it touched me, and I told him it was even better than being called, Mom! The name has gone over very well, and although I hear the occasional ‘mom’ that makes my heart flutter, we continue to gently encourage the use of my special name.”

This is a perfect example of how to handle this situation. It doesn’t have to be a variation of Mom or Dad — just a special name that means something to the bonus parent and child. The reader reports that Mom was very grateful for their attempt and has just invited her to a “get to know one another” lunch. What better situation for a child than to be brought up witnessing the adults in her life openly respecting one another. That’s good ex-etiquette.

Dr. Jann Blackstone is the founder of Bonus Families, bonusfamilies.

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