What’s in a name?

Helen, Hel, Helen Belen, Hells Bells, Mummy, Mama, MamaBear, Stepmummy, Mama Helen…, the list of names the little monster calls me is a very long one.

I remember, around a year or so ago, the first stage of the monster calling me ‘Mummy’, honestly I was pretty horrified and extremely uncomfortable with just the concept of it. I kept repeating to myself “I’m not his mother and nor would I ever try to be” I corrected him each time he said it with “No you call me Helen” or something similar about 15+ times a weekend.

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Regardless of anything else, I have respect for monsters mum’s role and position in the little monsters life – she is and always will be his mum. I tried to put myself in her shoes and didn’t want her to hear her son calling another woman “Mummy” so I persisted in my refusal. In addition to this, I also have respect for my role in monsters life… as his… “potential-future-step-mother”. This is actually how I referred to myself and to him for a long time.

Trying to explain this to a 3 year old… didn’t exactly sink in! It got me thinking, what will change if/when my OH and I get married? Really, I don’t think much will, potentially my name, an extra piece of jewelry and an extra bit of paperwork in the drawer. Fundamentally though we will be the same couple with the same dynamic, so it follows that my relationship with the little monster will be the same too. There won’t be an overnight shift in our home so why wait to use the only label which describes my role?

So, after lots of umming and ahhing and discussion with my partner, (and my mum, friends, colleagues and anyone else who would listen) the next time monster called me Mummy, we explained I am his step-mummy and isn’t that special and wonderful. I offered him then the option to call me ‘step-mum’ or ‘step-mummy’ whenever he wanted a special name for me. I hoped that this would give him the endearment he was obviously trying to show me, while differentiating me from his mum and hopefully avoiding any stepped-on toes along the way. We had previously tried an array of ridiculous nicknames (Belle-Mere, Helly, Hels..) which were not successful but maybe this one would be…

No – I can confirm it was not. What I got instead was:

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“Mummy”

“Step-Mummy, remember”

“No, we’re being bears now, your the mummy and I’m the little boy bear..”

I spent too much time thinking about a solution to what I saw as being a big issue – my OH of course was totally relaxed about the whole situation, his advice was to let the little monster call me whatever he wanted and to stop correcting him. I went through a couple of short spells of this but always felt too uncomfortable and too worried about the impact on other people.

Fast forward a few months and I was flicking through instagram one night in bed, I saw a question posed on one of the step-parenting pages I follow about this very topic.. what to do when your step-kid calls you mummy? There was a huge variety of responses from ” its lovely, let them” to “absolutely not you are not their mother!” which didn’t really clear anything up, and then I came to a response from a woman who had a step-mother as a child. Her comment explained that when she called her step-mum ‘Mummy’ it was a really big deal to her and her way of showing how much she loved and cared for her step-mum. Just like me, her step-mum immediately replied with “No I’m your step-mummy”.  The next part really jarred me – the post went on to explain how hurtful this was to her, she was embracing her step-mum and to her had been rejected. She felt undervalued and hurt that her step-mum who she saw as equal to her own mother did not see her as a daughter. Children really are complex little creatures after all.

This moment, in the middle of the night, was like the spotlight suddenly being turned on, all the time I had sat and tormented myself over this, how I felt, how my OH felt, how his mum might feel, what my OHs family would think – I never actually considered how the little monster was feeling. I was horrified with myself, genuinely. I have developed a massive bond with the little guy and care for him very much – I want him to always know and feel that he is loved and wanted in our home. The more I thought, I realised that regardless of biology I do play a mothering role to him – in effect I am his ‘Mummy’ at Daddy’s house and I should allow him to recognise and express that in whatever way he chooses.

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Why was I wasting so much time worried about what anyone else would think? Every weekend, and several weeknights I am providing monster with love, care and affection; I cuddle in front of the tv with him; I spend hours in make-believe games; I bathe him, read him stories and put him to sleep; I discipline him and provide him with boundaries that make him feel safe. And you know what? He adores me for it, and whats wrong with that? I think all of us are pretty damn lucky and should be celebrating just how good our situation has turned out to be.

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