Huffpost Divorce

Featuring fresh takes and real-time analysis from HuffPost's signature lineup of contributors

Jessica Wernz Headshot

So, Can I Call You Mom Now?

Posted: Updated:

When I first started dating my husband, I was well aware that he had three children. I didn't have any of my own at the time, and I had spent the entirety of my first marriage convinced that I didn't want any. I had never considered myself a "kid person." What I mean by that is, I don't find children adorable just because they're children. I don't dislike them, but I like or dislike them on an individual basis. For the record, this is not how I feel about puppies. I really do like all puppies, even the obnoxious ones.

In the beginning of our relationship, I didn't spend time with the kids during my then-boyfriend's parenting time. I was anxious to get to know them, but we didn't want to rush things. It wasn't until we had been dating for months and were certain we intended to get married one day that I was introduced to them. Even then, I would only meet them out in public for a group activity before returning to my own home. I didn't want them to feel as though I was imposing myself on them. I didn't want to overwhelm them with my presence.

The day I was officially introduced to them, we decided to meet at the mall. I was so nervous driving there that I rear-ended someone at a stoplight just minutes away from my destination. I'm pretty sure I blamed ice (there was ice) but I probably could have blamed my frazzled and anxious brain as well. Even that very first time, we all got along. Afterwards, in the parking lot, I showed them my dented bumper and broken front license plate holder. To this day, if you ask any of them, they will confide in you that "Jessica just isn't a very good driver. One time, she smashed her license plate."

As time went on, the kids and I saw each other more frequently. Eventually, they started asking to see me, so I came around more often. I got to know them as individuals and I grew to love them for the people that they are. Ironically, the more time I spent with them, the more I started feeling like I might want to have a child or two (or three) of my own. When my husband proposed to me, we were excited to tell the kids. But once again, I felt nervous. They certainly seemed to like me, but I couldn't be sure how they would react. Much to my relief, when we finally did tell them, they were all ecstatic. My stepdaughter wanted to be a flower girl, and my younger stepson, a ring bearer. Those requests were easy enough to grant. The next one, though, asked by the younger of the two boys, would prove to be a little trickier: "So, can I call you Mom now?"

The thought that any of them would refer to me as "Mom" had never crossed my mind. They had always called me "Jessica," and I thought we all felt comfortable with that. Moreover, I didn't feel like their mom. At the time, I didn't even know what being a mom felt like. I was a parent figure to them sometimes, but I still let my husband do almost all of the disciplining. It never felt natural for me to chastise them. I'd make requests, on occasion, but they never seemed to come out as commands. Things like: "Please, don't tell your sister she is the worst in the entire world at playing video games" or "Let's all make our best effort not to throw the cereal." I simply didn't feel comfortable in that disciplinarian role and I was more than happy to let my husband take control.

They respected me, and I respected them, but none of us tried to pretend like I was a mom to them. I also wouldn't say I was a "friend" to them. I was somewhere between parent and friend, and while this might not be the route every new stepparent takes, it worked for us. I told my future stepson that very day in the car that I thought calling me "Jessica" would probably be best. He asked me why. I told him that he already had a mom, and that it would get awfully confusing if he called both of us "Mom." He dropped it for a while, but leading up to the wedding, it came up again and again.

He kept insisting on calling me "Mom" as our wedding day approached. When he brought it up, I would laugh and say, "Your mom isn't here, silly! I'm Jessica!" I began to notice that he would only do this when his dad wasn't around, and when the other two kids weren't paying attention. (My other two stepchildren, it should be noted, never attempted to call me anything but "Jessica.") He called me "Mom" with a sly smile on his face, as if he was getting away with something. And in a way, he was. Because, unbeknownst to me at the time, he had also had a conversation with his mother about this, and she had also asked him to call me "Jessica." I don't know that her feelings were hurt, but I wouldn't be surprised if they were.

But this wasn't about him trying to replace his mother or even to put me on the same level as her. I think it was just a little boy trying to make sense of his new family. I was marrying his dad, and he wanted this major life event to come with a new label for me. He wanted to think that I was a static member of his family, and that I wasn't going to leave it. He wanted to be able to rely on my presence. Of the three kids, he was the slowest to warm up to me. He was the last of the three to hug me, and the most likely to ignore me when I walked in the room. I think he's a wonderful kid, but he's also a sensitive one. Calling me "Mom" meant something to him, but it didn't mean that he actually thought I was his mom. I think for him it meant that we were family now.

As time wore on, I grew tired of always correcting him. I started to feel cruel reminding him again and again that, "I'm not your mom -- call me Jessica." I had the fear that I imagine many stepparents have, whether they'll admit it or not. The fear that the kids simply won't love me anymore. They'll lose interest. They'll grow to resent me. I don't share with them that biological bond, and that from-the-moment-of-birth until death love that a child and his parent share. It seems to me that, except in rare and exceptional circumstances, you always love your parents even in those moments that you don't like them. I was afraid to keep testing my stepson's love by turning him away when he called me Mom. But I did, because that title wasn't mine.

Now that my husband and I have a child together, and I am a mom to someone, it's easier for me to understand how the title holds so much meaning. I am thankful that I get to be in my stepson's life, and I'm content with my role in it. I intend to show him that the label "stepmom" doesn't have to be a negative one. I hope that one day, he will be able to feel comfortable with the idea that although I'm not his mom, I am his family, and I love him.