What’s in a Name?

For people with divorced parents, everything!

There’s a lot of talk about 4-letter words, but in the parental-divorce world, two 3-letter words can be more problematic: “mom” and “dad.”

For example, when my father remarried, I was forbidden to call “that woman” mom. To avoid any confusion in my 14 yr-old brain, Mother, Mamma, Mommy, Mumsy, Madre, Mzazi, or any other word describing a human who could bear a child, was also off-limits.

Have you ever said, “I spent the weekend visiting my father’s mother?” One time someone responded to me with, “You mean your grandmother?” It actually took my teenage mind a moment to connect the dots. “Yeah…my grandmother” Go figure. Who knew.

And these are the easy ones! What do you call your mother’s boyfriend’s mother? I hear times have changed, but in my day, if I said, “Hi Sally” my face would have been ripped off. But back to the 3-letter words.

In a recent article, writer Dara Katz referred to a new perspective where if a parent says “your mom” or “your dad” it could be bad for the children. According to Dr. Lauren Cook, “the addition of the word “your” immediately creates an otherness in the family.” “The child is now hearing a separateness in who they’re connecting with.”1

The doctor’s desire to empower and protect the kids is admirable. She also doesn’t side step the zillion complications this can create. But it feels like we’re adding another can of worms to the pile kids already struggle to deal with.

So what’s the answer? If the kids are old enough, I agree with Dr. Cook that they should decide. But in every case, our first go-to is prayer. Seek the Lord for His wisdom in what to tell the kids, or what to tell your parents.

Jesus said, “let your ‘Yes’ be ‘Yes,’ and your ‘No,’ ‘No’” [Matthew 3:37]. Once you have a feel for what God is saying to you, stick to it. Remember, God’s wisdom is crucial. How do you “honor your father and your mother” [Ephesians 6:2] when dad says to call his new wife’s mother “Grandma” and your mom says, “over my dead body!” Pray for God’s direction.

And if you’re wondering what I called my new stepmother? I didn’t call her anything. Literally. Until my college years, when I started using her first name, I didn’t address her. For example, if she was needed for something and she was on the other side of the house, rather than shout “Mom!” I’d find her and we’d speak directly. Granted, it was inconvenient, and my predicament seems almost silly now … almost.

Sign up to receive updates on new content in your inbox, every month.

We don’t spam! Read our privacy policy for more info.

  1. “It’s Super Subtle, But Psychologists Really Want Divorced Parents to Stop Saying *This* to Their Children”. https://www.purewow.com/family/divorced-parents-one-word-stop-saying