So, like many other common issues for step-moms, this is probably going to sound really petty and dumb. But I think it must be something other people have come across...
I will be marrying a father of 2 girls (6 and 9) in September 2014. Their mom has main custody, he has them every other weekend and two evenings a week.
Last week I noticed he does something that bugs the heck out of me. When referring to his ex in context of the girls, he calls her mom. Eg - (to his daughters) "it's time to go to mom's!" or even to me "They will be at mom's this weekend". Sometimes he says "your mom" or "their mom" instead of just "mom" and then it doesn't bother me at all.
I tried it out myself. When we were out with the girls I said "Where's dad?" (I always, always have said "your dad" until now). What I discovered is that eliminating the "your" makes it feel like a nuclear unit. Mom, dad, and kids. If people in public hear me say "Where's your dad" it does not indicate that I am "mom" or that I have any intimate connection to him. If they hear "Where's daddy" it does indicate that I am mom, and that he and I are part of a nuclear unit. So his referring to his ex as mom makes it feel like they still have this emotional and physical connection as mom and dad, and that they are a unit, and it makes me feel very consciously outside of that "mom and dad" relationship. If he says "their mom", he is acknowledging the girl's connection to her without there feeling like he is still a part of that family unit in the same way.
Does any of that make sense? It seems silly that one little word is so loaded, but in step families words like mom and dad ARE loaded! I would be interested to hear if anyone else has thought about this and how they dealt with it.
My parents have been divorced since before I can remember, and it was always "your mom/dad". I don't know if it's due to the divorce or culture, but honestly it just sounds jarring to hear someone call a person "mom" that isn't their mom (or a mother figure who's earned the title). In the UK, siblings use "my mum/dad" among each other where people in my part of the US would just say "mom/dad", not to imply "my not yours"- it's just how they talk.
I'd only say "Where's mommy" to a very small child, and I would to pretty much anyone at that age not because it suggests I'm the other parent, but because that's how I've learned how to talk to small children.
The fact he calls her "mom" even when talking to you really makes me raise an eyebrow. It might be because he has two daughters- when my dad talks to other people, it's easy for him to say "[name]'s mom" than for your fiance to say "the girls'/my girls' mom". I guess. He could just say "the ex" when talking to you, or her name. I can definitely understand your concerns that that's how he thinks of her to the point of calling her that with you. Does he use it when talking to other adults as well?
I would be cautious at asking him to change how he refers to her when talking to his daughters. It's possible that he uses that because it lets his daughters feel more secure that, for all the changes, their parents are still a parenting unit that work together. That's something to remember- they actually are still a nuclear family in the sense of "a pair of adults and their children". You'll be building a nuclear family with him as well, but if you're marrying him, you need to be able to accept that he still has the family he built with his ex.
However, I think you're well within your rights to address your concerns when he refers to her that way when talking to you.
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I agree with PP-I think it's pretty normal for him to refer to her as just "mom" when talking to the kids, but maybe a little odd for him to do it when talking to *you*. However, when ex and I were together, he often referred to his ex by her first name, even when talking to his daughter, which was too far in the other direction, if you know what I mean.
I'm trying to think what I say, and I am pretty sure I just say that the kids are at their dad's or his first name when talking others-maybe sometimes that it's a "dad weekend." I definitely tell the kids that they are going to just dad's not their dads.
I'd just maybe mention it to him, about when he is talking to you. It is a small thing, but I remember how those can grate on your nerves!
I will mention to him next time he uses just "mom" with me that it bothers me. I would never ask him to change it with the girls because not only is that super controlling, but my comfort is not a concern when it comes to the kids. I might mention that it bugs me and try to explain how it makes me feel like they are still a couple unit, so that he is aware, but it's my problem to get over - not his problem to fix.
I don't know if I will ever understand how this dynamic works! It sucks feeling like he still is kind of a couple with his ex because they parent together. It's such a weird mix of not being in love with her, or even being friends, but still a couple - sort of. And then it's like I am the one with a relationship with him but everything to do with the kids of course is between him and their mom. Gah! I know I am not saying anything new, but I am really new to this situation and still trying to wrap my head around it!
My husband and I call each other "Mom" and "Dad" in front of our kid. Probably, your partner and his ex did this, and it just became habit. It has likely not occurred to him to change his terminology. Nor does he necessarily need to.
He and his former wife are still primary co-parents together, and will always have that bond.
In our state, I think every divorced couple that goes through custody mediation is encouraged - or even ordered - to complete this online thing called Up to Parents. I assume other courts recommend this (or programs like it) and that it reflects pretty common advice to divorcing parents, these days. One thing stressed in Up to Parents is that it's important to call your ex-spouse "Mom" or "Dad" in the children's presence, NOT "your mom" or "your dad".
I think this is meant to convey to the child that the parent speaking supports their special closeness with the other parent, while the "your" would emphasize that the other parent is now important only to the child.
Honestly, the whole thing is a bunch of bunk! My husband did Up to Parents with his ex-wife, so I was curious and did it with my ex. My ex and I - who were already inclined to be civil and considerate of each other and put the kids first - are the type of people who will follow the advice of Up to Parents...but we have no need of it! My husband and his ex - who DO need help - could never possibly derive any substantive benefit from something as simplistic as Up to Parents. All it did was give his ex one more addition to her log of my husband's "sins". She thinks he didn't do Up to Parents properly and isn't properly following its suggestions. Of course, the very fact that she throws this in his face (with the thinly-veiled threat that she'll make him answer for it, the next time they're in court or a custody evaluation), flies in the face of the very program she accuses him of ignoring! It's altogether laughable.
My husband refers to his ex as "your (their son's) mom". Perhaps his ex refers to him as "Daddy" and prides herself on how well she follows that rule. Yet, their son is NOT thereby fooled into thinking his mom supports his relationship with his dad; or that her word choice makes up for all the more significant rules that she has refused to follow.
My ex and I have always referred to each other as "your mom" and "your dad". Our kids have never batted an eyelid, over it. Come to think of it, I do that in reference to my husband. After all, he's not MY dad!
But if your fiance calls his ex "Mom" because someone told him it was important for his daughters' mental health, the fact that he cares about them enough to do something so silly is infinitely more important than his failure to realize how silly it is. It sounds like you've got a good guy. If that's the most annoying thing he does, you're pretty lucky!
I know exactly what you are talking about, but I didn't realize it was "a thing" I just thought it was some weird language thing I'd noticed. I grew up with a full compliment of parents and step-parents and am now a step-mom. I've always thought the language we have is inadequate to describe the relationships that exist in families now and we are all just making it up as we go. I also think the language has a LOT less baggage for kids than it does for adults. I think my husband and I both switch between "mom" and "your mom" and I'm not sure there is rationale for when we say which. Interestingly, she doesn't call any of us "mom" or "dad" (she calls her mom "mama" and her dad "papa" and both step-parents have special nicknames) so it stands out more in our family when we switch between "your mom" and "mama," or "your dad" and "papa."
Like VocalMinority said, I think it has a lot more to do with what actually happens, how people actually behave and interact, that matters a LOT more than how we refer to each other. I think language matters, but I can't imagine that "your mom" vs "mom" is going to override how we actually act toward her mom or what we say about her in our children's presence. For what it's worth, my step-daughter's mom refused to call me by anything but my first name (refusing to use my step-daughter's nickname for me) and that didn't have any impact on my step-daughter's opinion of or relationship with me.
And, while you can certainly mention it to your husband if it bothers you, in the long run I would try not to read too much into it. I doubt he is thinking about it very hard and I imagine it is just coming out however it comes out not because of some deeper meaning behind it but just because that'show his brain strung the sentence together that time. To me it isn't really any different than referring to my child's teacher as "your teacher" vs "Mrs. Smith" or my sibling as "my brother" vs "Mike," both of which I do interchangeably without any hidden meaning behind the choice.
I really love hearing all your perspectives though. It helps a lot! What an awesome community.