Morning Quickie: “I’m Embarrassed That My Daughter Calls My Boyfriend ‘Stepdad'”

Dad and daughter

I’ve been living with my boyfriend for a year now, and I have a daughter, Carol, from my previous marriage. Lately, she’s been insinuating that he’s her stepdad. I’m very embarrassed because he’s never brought up marriage. I feel that unless you’re engaged or married, your kids should refrain from calling your partner stepdad or stepmom. Should I tell Carol to stop saying that? I don’t want my boyfriend to feel pressured. It makes me uncomfortable. — Too Embarrassed to Pressure Him

If you had never discussed marriage/long-term commitment with your boyfriend, why on earth would you move in with him with your daughter? If the topic of marriage is so awkward for you to bring up and you’re so worried about your boyfriend feeling pressured into something, you had absolutely no business moving in with him and making him a father-like figure in your daughter’s life. Something is seriously messed up in your logic and priorities when you’re more concerned about your own discomfort and your boyfriend’s discomfort than your daughter’s feelings. She’s calling your boyfriend her stepdad because he’s a man who’s romantically involved with her mother and lives with both of them. To a young child, that’s a father-figure.

Rather than confuse her further by telling her to stop calling him that, you and your boyfriend need to be adults and work out your own confusion. What are your plans? What do you want from each other? Where do you see this relationship headed? Instead of waiting for your boyfriend to bring up marriage, bring it up yourself. It’s beyond time. Pull on your big girl pants and say, “Hey, Carol’s been calling you stepdad lately. I know that legally that isn’t your role, but you are a father figure to her, and she loves you and I love you and how about we make it official?” If he feels “pressured” a year after living with a single mother and her daughter, then he isn’t the guy for you and you need to MOA. Even if you don’t feel like you deserve the security of knowing the man you’ve lived with for a year wants to spend his life with you, your daughter certainly does.


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  1. RedRoverRedRover says:

    Poor kid. 🙁 She’s just trying to make sense of the relationships in her life. Unless she’s an older teen, which it doesn’t sound like she is, you can’t ask her to stop calling him that. Wendy’s right, sort it out with him (it’s beyond time). Either he shouldn’t be living there, or you should know his role in your daughter’s life and it should be completely clear to her. And this is the perfect opening, because as in Wendy’s example you can use it as an excuse to bring up the subject.
    And I know you’re afraid that bringing it up will make him run. But, isn’t it better to know sooner rather than later? If he’s not planning on sticking around, wouldn’t you rather be rid of him and have the chance to find someone who is? If not for you, at least for your daughter.

  2. i think wendy’s response was a little harsh on this one. Why do you have to get married? Living together for one year seems like a committed relationship. As long as the boyfriend treats her and her daughter with respect and love that should be all that matters. If the daughter is starting to refer to him as her stepdad maybe that should be what instigates the conversation on what his role in her life should be. Maybe he would want to adopt her to make it official. I think you guys are making this into more of a big deal then it is. Its more important just to have good role models in the kids life.

    1. RedRoverRedRover says:

      Point is the relationship can’t be nebulous, the way it is now. It doesn’t have to be marriage, but it should be agreed to be long-term, and that he’s going to act as a father figure to the daughter. Otherwise there’s no way he should be living there. If he’s going to leave as soon as the LW asks where this is going, that’s not a solid relationship and he shouldn’t have been living with her daughter as a father figure.

      1. This. Agreed.

    2. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

      Things you should discuss before moving in together:

      # 5 is SO important, especially if there are already children. To skip this step before moving in with someone is irresponsible. To skip it when there are already kids involved,because you’re too lazy or afraid of losing your boyfriend or girlfriend, is super selfish downright cruel. My advice is definitely not too harsh.

      1. Right on!

      2. I like my mom’s approach to this. I met her boyfriend of 14 years (he passed of cancer in September 2016) not too long into their relationship, and Mom says I ran up to him, hugged him and called him “My Dana”. Was it a bold move to introduce us at a young age, yes! But I think my reaction to him made her feel confident that he was The One.

    3. dinoceros says:

      I think the issue is that the LW clearly hasn’t actually communicated with her boyfriend about what their future looks like. To move him in and have her daughter get so attached that she is calling him her stepdad without having any idea what he wants or if it’s compatible with what she wants seems kind of careless. They don’t have to get married, but it’s concerning that references to commitment might scare him off.

      1. I saw a study the other day that said couples that move in together before marriage are far less likely to have long term plans. The same study found that long term planning was a good indicator of whether a couple lasted, whether they moved in together before marriage or not. Having discussions about your future is a very important step in relationships. It’s pretty much what determines compatibility. What the LW has really said is that she’s afraid to discuss if relationship goals. That’s something that needs to be changed for her family’s sake

    4. It’s not that he’s not planning on sticking around. Carol has a dad that that is 100% involves in her life financially and emotionally. And no I don’t feel like marriage is for all of us. My boyfriend is planning on sticking around for the long run. I feel like my daughter wants us to be legally married and I’ve explained otherwise.

      1. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

        Also from the LW:

        I’ve raised my daughter alone for 8years now, I am educated and ny daughters dad is 100%involved in her life. Im embarrassed because she had a dad. Yes my boyfriend has plans for all us being together for years to come. Just because I dont want to talk about marriage doesn’t mean I know where our relationship is headed. Great article topic but you really didn’t answer my question. Its a 6th grader who possibly wants a legal commitment. And we live in the same house but have separate rooms that way my daughter would get used to the idea. Im not an irresponsible mom who doesn’t know what she wants.

      2. Avatar photo Dear Wendy says:

        Your question was “Should I tell Carol to stop [calling my boyfriend her stepdad]?” And I actually did answer that question, you just were offended/ didn’t like my answer. I suggested getting clear with your boyfriend what your future plans were and to use Carol calling him her stepdad as an opportunity to discuss whether marriage was something you both want to pursue. You said yourself that you believe unless there’s an engagement or marriage, a child should refrain from using the terms ‘stepdad’ or ‘stepmom.’ You aren’t married and you aren’t engaged, so I guess if what you want is a simple answer to a question I feel warrants a more more complicated reply, the answer is: “Yeah, tell her to stop.” And when she asks why, you can tell her because you believe in it’s inappropriate since she already has a dad and because you and your boyfriend aren’t married. Just don’t be surprised if she asks you whether you ARE going to get married (or why you aren’t) or if your boyfriend is always going to live with you or why you don’t share a room. It would be wise to get some clarity with your boyfriend about your plans so you can answer your daughter honestly when she inevitably asks those questions.

      3. RedRoverRedRover says:

        I don’t understand the issue then. Why not just let her call him her step-dad if she wants to and he doesn’t mind? If he’s going to be a father figure to her, then what’s the difference if you’re married or in a non-married long-term relationship? The relationship between your daughter and your partner is the same either way. My kid calls my best friend “auntie”, even though there’s no blood relation. When we were kids, my sister’s best friend called our father “dad” because she didn’t have a dad and he represented a kind of father figure to her. These words don’t have to be used only for formal relationships.

      4. I don’t really understand the issue either. If you’ve spoken to your daughter once, talk to her again. And I agree with Wendy if you’re going to talk to your daughter be prepared for all of the questions she has outlined below. She 12 and not part of your relationship maybe she doesn’t understand all of the ins and outs of what you and your bf have decided. Or maybe since she’s in middle school she and her friends talk about this a lot and she doesn’t understand why her family is different. It sounds like the real issue is your daughter being comfortable with the parental figures in her life and if that is the case, find a way to provide that comfort.

      5. dinoceros says:

        A few points now that LW updated:
        –I still am skeptical that you two are on the same page because if you were, why would being called “stepdad” pressure him? I assume that he would defer to what had been decided by the two adults in the relationship. And why can’t you just say, “Hey, you know that the “stepdad” thing doesn’t change our relationship, right?”
        –Telling a kid to stop saying “stepdad” seems unnecessarily rude and critical. Your preferences about something insignificant aren’t always worth making her feel dumb. My friends sometimes call their boyfriend or girlfriend’s family their in-laws because it’s easier. No one cares. The kids call them aunt or uncle.
        –The stepdad thing defines THEIR relationship, not yours. For someone who cares so much about the meaning of words, surely you get how ditching “stepdad” for “mom’s boyfriend” takes her out of the equation and makes her the third wheel instead of making her part of a family.
        –Just because her dad is in the picture doesn’t mean this guy isn’t another father figure. Ask anyone who’s had stepparents before.

      6. Yeah that bit about LW’s daughter already having a dad was super strange. I was just like aaand? Obviously she already has a dad. LW didn’t impregnate herself… A stepdad is a non-biological father figure, yeah? Unless I missed the part about a stepparent being a term for someone who replaces a parent entirely? Ok, well don’t tell my mom that. She would probably be less-than-jazzed to learn that having a stepmother means I don’t have a mom anymore.

      7. Annabarnana says:

        Maybe the kid is embarrassed to call him her mom’s boyfriend around her peers. Maybe all of her friends live with dads or stepdads (or just mom) and that’s why she wants to call him her stepdad.

        Regardless, I think it’s being selfish to the kid to not figure this out before moving in. Poor kid. Dear Wendy is spot on with her advice. Someone has to tell this woman the truth.

      8. Letter Writer, you write that she has been “insinuating that he’s her stepdad”. I’m curious what you mean by that. Is she directly referring to him as her stepdad or your husband to other people? Or is this about her trying to get him to play a role in her life that you are uncomfortable with? I’m finding it difficult to address the question because I’m unclear about what you mean.

        I would personally want to know what is motivating your daughter. Why does she want you married? Is she embarrassed that you aren’t married? Why? Does it feel more comfortable for her to insinuate you are married than to explain to casual friends that you’re partner is my mom’s live-in boyfriend? Is she trying to encourage him to pay parental attention for lack of a clearer idea how to incorporate him? How do they interact and how much time are they together?

        It’s difficult to know how to explain boundaries to a twelve year old before understanding what is motivating her to challenge them.

      9. Another thought, what do YOU find specifically embarrassing about the situation? Is it correcting other people’s wrong impressions? Is it that you think your daughter is creating the impression of a child grasping for a father figure? Is it because it makes things uncomfortable for your boyfriend because you think it bothers him? Has he made it clear to you that he is uncomfortable (pressured)? Or are you uncomfortable putting him in that role (independent of how he feels) from a maternal standpoint? Do you think you need to take preemptive measures to keep things relaxed in your relationship?

    5. It’s not that they have to get married. They do have to have a long term plan and defined relationship. If they don’t know why their relationship is, then how would the daughter? =)

  3. What is it about this that makes you that uncomfortable? Is it the fact that you don’t feel comfortable with where the relationship is or is headed? I have to wonder too how old your daughter is. Have you talked at all about what he is to her? Or what his being in your life means? If you’re uncomfortable ask him if he is. And if you want to ask him if your relationship is headed towards marriage or where you see it going you should ask him. Wendy is right that if you’re living together and have been together for a year and you can’t even approach that topic, you do have a problem. Why be embarrassed? Why does he have to be the one to bring it up?

  4. Avatar photo Raccoon eyes says:

    Yeah, LW, Im with (most) everyone else so far. This isnt really the hill you need to be making your stand on. In my opinion, unless your daughter is calling him her uncle or something actually somewhat inappropriate, you dont really have any say in what she calls him. It is telling that your daughter’s age isnt included. Again, not that I think it matters…but has it occurred to you that HE has spoken to HER about it and is ok with it all? Since you are so hesitant to bring up YOUR relationship with YOUR live-in boyfriend, and all. Also, you say she “insinuated” it- I read that as meaning she is at least, say 12, or so- which means that no matter what, you also need to have a heart-to-heart with her about the situation.

  5. I completely agree that moving in without discussing the boyfriend’s role with regard to the daughter was a problematic move. I don’t think marriage is necessarily the answer though, at worst you’ll move too quickly into a marriage after moving in too quickly, and the end result could still be the same (separation after a few years etc.). Why not just to the boyfriend and discuss what role he should play in your daughter’s life, including what would happen if the two of you separated?

  6. Yeah, what your daughter is calling your boyfriend isn’t the real issue here. It’s that you have no idea where your relationship is going and don’t feel secure enough to talk to your live-in boyfriend of over a year about it. That would suck if it were just you, but add your daughter to the mix and it’s really irresponsible, to put it mildly.
    Your daughter is attached to this guy and sees him as a father figure. You owe it to her to talk to him to see if that’s where his head is at with your relationship right now. If it is, great. If it isn’t, then one of you needs to move out before your daughter gets even more attached, and therefore more hurt, than she already is.
    Something tells me that since you’re “embarrassed” and afraid to talk to your boyfriend and wish your daughter would stop inadvertently forcing the issue, that you think your boyfriend will bolt of you talk to him about this. If that’s the case, then he shouldn’t have moved in in the first place. Let him go and show your daughter that a strong woman doesn’t need to cling to a man she’s afraid to even talk about her relationship with just out of fear of being alone. You are this girl’s role model for how relationships should be. Would you want her to be living with a guy who only stays because it’s easy and no pressure? Hopefully, your response to that question would be “no.” So why settle for that yourself?

  7. dinoceros says:

    I infer from this that you haven’t had a conversation about where the relationship is headed, which should have happened way before you moved him in. If a kid that he is living with calling him “stepdad” scares him off, then you shouldn’t even be with him to begin with. Time to actually talk to him about whether you have a future together and make sure that he is willing to be a father figure, because you’ve already made him one.

  8. findingtheearth says:

    I think she also has to be careful when talking to him about it. She should not emotionally manipulate him into staying in the relationship and/or living with them. It does not appear that is a road she has taken, but it is a good thing to keep in mind. Overall, LW: talk to him.

  9. Avatar photo Guy Friday says:

    Wait. Did I miss somewhere in the letter or replies where the boyfriend is uncomfortable or offended by this? Or the biological dad? Because I understand talking it out if it’s causing friction, but without that it sounds like it’s all in the LW’s head and the boyfriend is just taking it for what it is: a child’s sign of affection toward him and the role he has in her life. And if that’s the case, who cares what the kid calls the boyfriend?

    1. I almost feel like the LW wants to deny him the role until he closes the merger. like she wants to use the kid’s affection for him to pressure him. i don’t disagree with Wendy, but definitely think the LW is making whatever this is into a thing.

      1. Avatar photo Guy Friday says:

        Yeah, Diablo, I was getting that vibe too.

    2. Sunshine Brite says:

      This. It doesn’t sound like a point of contention to anyone else. I saw above that the LW seems to think that it discounts Carol’s father’s role in her life but it should be viewed as an addition rather than a subtraction.

      1. Avatar photo Guy Friday says:

        I see it the same way. And that’s why I asked whether there was some animosity from the biological father on this (in which case I could maybe see discussing it with the kid, but more as a “So you know, your dad feels a bit uncomfortable with this.”) But the parents are exes for a reason, and I think if I was 100% involved in my kid’s life like the LW says the bio dad is and this other guy comes in and wants to be there for my daughter when I’m not around, I’d be grateful. It takes a whole village to raise a child.

    3. Yeah. The kid seems so normal, and so do the two men. Actually, it seems like your kid is trying to have your back, LW. I would think of my own child first, so naturally I advise that for you. In this case I do not see any evidence that either the child’s father or the man you are dating are not prioritizing your child. I think that you should quit being the weakest link–right now– and make your child your own priority. Don’t be embarrassed by her her words– just listen.

  10. M’s sister used her kids to “pressure” us about getting married. She explained that she felt the kids would be confused, as I had been around for a couple years at that point, if they didn’t know for sure whether they should call me “Uncle Diablo” or just by my name. It was actually quite funny, because the kids, who were then roughly 11 and 8, couldn’t have cared less. They were fine without the “Uncle,” and totally understood that i was M’s partner who lived with her. It was her sister who was hung up on this. My point is that kids are generally much more fluid about societal roles, because they are still in the process of learning about what they are/should be anyway. It’s adults who are rigid and demand everything be clearly defined. For the record, we got married some time after everyone stopped bugging us about it, and then the kids started calling me “uncle.” And no one is scarred for life. As long as I’m being so smug and all, I should also add that M and I are the only siblings from either side of our families who have never been through a divorce, so nyah! As for the LW, stop manufacturing drama. Everything’s fine.

    1. The uncle thing is funny to me because Indian culture has its own way of dealing with relational ambiguity: everyone your parents’ age who are close to your family are “auntie” or “uncle”. When I first met my boyfriend’s extended family it took me a while to figure out who were just really good friends of his parents and who was actually biologically related to him. Mostly because half the time he’s not really sure himself haha. I call his parents auntie and uncle, too. It’s just a term of respect.

      1. That was common in my world too. I had lots of non-relative uncles and aunties. Probably because my actual family was quite small.

      2. I did this as well with my parent’s friends. But it is slightly different with Indian culture. It’s common to address people as just “Auntie” or “Uncle” as a kind of title, rather than “Auntie Tara” or “Uncle Diablo” if that makes sense. I’ve heard “auntie” and “uncle” used on people who actually are NOT close to the family at all, although that’s not the case with everyone. It’s sort of like saying ma’am or sir, but less formal.

    2. snoopy128 says:

      Ha. My cousin has tried the same trick- her kids call my boyfriend “Uncle M”, which is absolutely at her insistance. I refer to him as “M” in front of the kids. My cousin goes so far as joking that he is my “fiance” and has hinted at kids many times.

      I totally agree that most kids are find with fluid titles and they kind of understand that roles can change.

      What is important here is that the mom and boyfriend are clear on roles. The kid(s) will benefit from the adults being on the same page.

    3. Hah, even my friends who watch my cat when I’m away are “Aunt so-and-so,” and vice-versa for me and their pets, kids, etc. I agree that this is a non-issue that’s detracting from the real issues the LW and her boyfriend may be having.

  11. LW, what would you like your daughter to call him ?
    Stranger who sleeps with my mom? Uncle so and so ?
    Would you feel they are more accurate ways for a young girl to address someone who is always in her house?

    1. RedRoverRedRover says:

      Oh, but didn’t you see? They have separate bedrooms, which is apparently supposed to make it abundantly clear to a 12-year-old that this is not at all a romantic relationship, and that he’s just a roommate.

      1. Oh yes. Forgot about that. Perhaps he should be called ‘my mother’s platonic roommate’

      2. Avatar photo Raccoon eyes says:

        With unnecessary and overemphasized air quotes around “platonic,” as in ‘my mother’s “platonic” roommate.” So that the other 12 year olds she talks to can feel superior to all the adults. (And rightfully so.)

      3. Or just use CAPITAL letters -)

  12. Like everyone else, I don’t think this is *really* about your daughter referring to him as her stepdad. I mean… what else should she say? “Mom’s boyfriend” gets old. Here’s the thing – I don’t think you have to be married to be a “stepparent” – I think you need to be in a committed relationship in which you’ve discussed roles as parents or caregivers. I was my bonus kids’ stepmom long before we were married. We weren’t sure at first that we’d ever get married, but we were clear (before even have me meet the kids) that we were in a committed, long-term relationship. That’s what’s important. I have to wonder how he feels about being referred to that way. If you not only date, but MOVE IN with someone with kids, then the label should be one you happily accept. Otherwise you’re in the wrong relationship.

  13. I can definitely relate to Carol. My step-dad (now married to my mom) lived with us when I was growing up, and my mom and he didn’t get married until I was in college. Even in the first year of us living with him, as a kid it felt really complex and not indicative of our relationship to say, “My mom’s boyfriend, who we’ve lived with for a while now, and who is like a step-father to us but isn’t really our step-father because they’re not married…” and I would resort to just calling him my step-dad to others. When addressing him in person, I would call him by his name (still do).

    1. I should add to that… they knew that they were each other’s long-term partners though. Both had been divorced and so didn’t believe in marriage again (until years and years later they decided they did).

    2. honeybeenicki says:

      I still refer to the guy my mom dated for almost 2 years before we lived with him for 2 years (so 4 years total) from the time I was 12-16 as my stepdad. They never got married but he acted like a father figure (and still does many years later).

  14. Monkeysmommy says:

    No, marriage is not for everyone. But when you have children that you clearly have custody of most of the time, it is no longer just about what you want. I personally cannot imagine moving a man into my house, but telling my kid not to think of him as a stepfather. That would just scream selfish. And in the spirit of full disclosure, I did move a man in with me and my children; they were 5 and 7 at the time. Now they are 13 and 15, and that man still lives with me; as my husband- we married within a year of his moving in. My kids don’t call him stepdad however; they call him Dad. (And yes, they have a bio father who is around.).
    Maybe you should work on setting a better example, OP. Your daughter is in 6th grade, which would make her 11-12. I have one of those myself, and let me tell you, they understand a whole lot more at that age than kids used to. If she is pushing for legal marriage, maybe she is embarrassed over mom shacking up. But really, if your boyfriend is planning long term, who cares if she calls him step dad? Just when does she do this, anyway? If it’s to her teachers, friends, etc., see my previous comment.

  15. So, my mom’s long-term (like 14 years long-term) boyfriend passed back in 2016, just having survived to their anniversary. We had manymanymanymanymany rough patches in my tweens and teens, but I’ve always seen him as my dad because he didn’t just run away at difficulty, and was there to hold my daughter when she was born (he even had his little nickname for her). He’s not just a step-dad to me, he’s my dad.

  16. Bittergaymark says:

    This letter is interesting — add me to the chorus of those curious as to what exactly the LW wants her daughter to call the guy. I mean, clearly he IS playing the role of stepfather here.

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