We’re sitting around the table at the restaurant where my stepson Michael works, and he’s proudly introducing his family to his co-workers. This is our first visit to Portland, OR since he moved there, and you can tell he’s proud to have his people seated in his favorite booth.
He starts with “This is my sister, Gretchen.” Then he turns to my husband. “This is my father, Fred.” And then I’m holding my breath. What will he say about me? “This is my mom, Sue.” Ah. I know it’s not quite true, but it’s so sweet of him to say so. Back in the days when he was living with us, he’d do the same thing. As his friends trooped by my office, he’d point to me and say, “That’s my mom. She’s a writer.” I loved it. Maybe sometimes, since I entered his life when he was only seven, he even thinks of me as a mom. I would love that.
But it’s an awkward thing. When I go to introduce the three stepchildren, I may call them stepson or daughter, Fred’s son or daughter, or more recently “our son” or “our daughter.” I almost never say “my son” or “my daughter.” A copout? Lack of self-esteem? Or am I just being accurate? I don’t want to take anything away from their biological mother, who is a terrific person.
Most of the childless stepmothers I have interviewed say the kids call them by their first names. To my face, that’s what mine do, too, although Gretchen tried the “Mom” thing for a while after I complained that no one would ever call me Mom. It didn’t stick; it just didn’t feel right. We love each other as Gretchen and Sue. But “Mom” is the former Mrs. Lick, not me.
It’s a tricky thing. The “step” implies something negative, but to leave it out implies that you are claiming a role that isn’t really yours. So what’s a stepparent to do?
Do you have stepchildren? How do you refer to them? What do they call you? Do you secretly wish they’d call you something else? Let’s talk about this.
Portland, by the way, is a fantastic city. Just don’t try to drive there. And do visit the Blue Moon Cafe. Ask for Michael and tip big.