I am soon to become the stepfather of a six-year-old boy: His mother and I are getting married in September. His parents divorced two years ago. He meets his father once a week. While I do get along with the child, and he is fond of me too, I am not comfortable with his mother insisting that he call me Papa (he calls his father Daddy). He began by calling me “uncle”, and I feel it’s fine to stick to that, and not confuse him. What would you advise a child calls his new parent in such a situation?
First, “making” a child call the new “parent” anything is a bad idea. It is understandable that perhaps your wife (to-be) is anxious that the three of you become a family as quickly as possible. But do tell her that this cannot be done by force-fitting relationships in place. So much better to let mutual trust, love and acceptance slowly fall into place, by your actions rather than the enforced label of “Papa”. All that her insistence will do is cause the child to be uncomfortable and confused, which can quickly spiral into being resentful and angry over your presence. That would be a terrible way to start out.
You must know that this is a difficult time for the child, especially since he is in regular touch with his biological father. Accepting his exit, and the presence of a new man in his mother’s life, cannot be easy, not for a six-year-old — and, usually, not for anyone. Seeing one parent as a “couple” with someone new is quite an emotionally demanding experience for a child. Which is not to say that it is wrong, or shouldn’t happen, of course. It’s just that the situation has to be handled sensitively and with the faith that things will fall into place in their own time.
You’ve obviously started out on the right foot, if you and the child like each other. Make it very clear to him that he is free to call you whatever he likes. What you need to do quickly is allay his mother’s fears and assertively tell her that you do not think it is a good idea for her to insist on you being called “Papa”.
There are many families in your situation. In one of them, the boy grew up calling the stepfather Prakash-Kaka; he never switched over to Daddy or Papa — and this, even though the biological father had passed away. However, the relationship is nothing less than that of a well-bonded father and son. No one felt the need to pressure him into changing over to “Daddy” — though for all intents and purposes, the man has been his father over the last 14 years, since the boy was five.
Also, make sure that your “son-to-be” feels free to talk about the father when he visits. While you don’t need to deliberately find out about how they spend their day together, it’s important that the child should not feel he must avoid talking about it with you.
Go by your instincts, take it nice and slow, and all the best.
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