My Stepson Doesn't Need To Call Me 'Mom' -- And Here's Why

by Michelle Zunter
A woman and her stepson reading a book
Giselleflissak / Getty

So many moments, events, and relationships in this world seem to require labels or categories. Are you happy? Are you sad? Are you having fun? Are you single? Are you married? Are you a mom?

It’s natural for people to want to make sense of the world by labeling the people, places, or things around them. No harm in that.

But in the step-parenting universe, labels can be sticky, complicated, and downright painful at times for everyone involved.

As a stepmom, I’ve learned to keep things simple. I don’t demand from my stepson that I am called anything in particular other than my actual name. If my stepson were reading this right now, he would already know that he doesn’t have to call me mom. Or even stepmom if he doesn’t want to. I’m just me, Michelle.

A name or a label doesn’t affect what I’ve brought to the table throughout the years.

I’m the one who has tried. I’m the one who has listened. I’m the one who has figured out how to be a combination of everything I think my stepson needs at any given moment.

Some days I don’t have to give much at all to my stepson. Other days I have to over-compensate for what’s missing. And then there are times when we can just be companions enjoying each other’s company.

I don’t have to be a “mom” to do these things.

I don’t need to be called mom to caress a forehead sweating with fever. I don’t need to be called mom to pack a lunch for school. I don’t need to be called mom to know instinctively when something is wrong. I don’t need to be called mom to feel my heart fill with pride at every amazing accomplishment my stepson makes.

I don’t need to be called mom for any of those things. A name or a label will never change my dedication, my commitment, or my growth as a human being. I’m always learning, failing, changing, and getting back up again no matter what anyone refers to me as.

People will always label me. They will always judge me. They will need to put me into a category to make sense of the world around them.

So be it.

But there’s one person on this planet who knows that they don’t have to call me by any name, in particular, to make sure that I feel validated or loved — my stepson. He knows I don’t need a special name to feel acknowledged in life. He knows I can feed my own sense of self.

A child’s job is to expand, grow, and fly to the next journey. Whether I’m labeled a stepmom, parent, caregiver, guardian, or bonus mom, my job has been to prepare, support, and educate my stepson.

One day I will be left behind as my stepson embarks on his own path. He will fly off with his newfound wings but he will always know that I will be the wind he needs at his back whenever asked.

He will know that my love has and will always be unconditional. He will also know that he never needed to call me mom for that love to last forever.