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One Year Old Calls My Boyfriend "Daddy"

QUESTION: I'm thinking about getting remarried to a wonderful man, he has been a part of our (I have a one year old son) lives now for 10 1/2 months. He loves my son (he has no children of his own) he is the only "Daddy" my son knows. My ex-husband has visitation every other weekend, but not over night. We got divorced when I was 6 week pregnant. He isn't a large part of my son's life. My question is... My son has started calling my boyfriend "daddy" and why shouldn't he, this is the man that is there when he's sick and takes him to the park. But if my ex remains in my son's life will this cause him to have questions about who his daddy really is ???

ANSWER: Whoa! Slow down, before you end up putting the cart before the horse! "Thinking" about marriage does not yet justify the label of "Daddy". Be cautious about introducing this man as a "permanent fixture" in your child's life precipitously. Your son needs protection from developing long term expectations in relationships that could prove transitory in the end. However, assuming that you do become engaged and set a wedding date, your question is a good one.

Fatherhood (as well as motherhood) is defined by caretaking responsibilities as much as biological reality. In the emotional realm, your boyfriend has filled the role of father more than your son's biological father has been able to do. No wonder you feel that he has earned the name of "Daddy". But whether or not your son would be confused about who his father is depends on the reactions of the adults around him, more than the label.

What is his biological father's reaction to your son calling your boyfriend "Daddy"? Though your ex spouse has not been around during your pregnancy, he has developed a relationship with his son following birth. His bimonthly visitation signals an important commitment that should not be devalued. In addition, it is important to separate out any feelings of abandonment you may have resulting from loss of your marriage (early in the pregnancy) from interpretations of your son's relationship to his biological father.

Naturally, it is in your child's best interest to have more, rather than less, adult caregivers interested in his development, barring toxic conflictual tensions in doing so. And your concern about possible confusion shows great sensitivity to his needs. The solution will arise out of each adult finding and accepting his/her appropriate place in your child's life. Assuming that you share joint custody with the biological father, it would be in order to discuss this with him. If he agrees with you, and is content with a "Pops", "Dad" (instead of Daddy) or other label, then you son will probably adjust well to having two men in noncompeting caretaking positions. However, if your ex-spouse objects to this, and feels his own relationship threatened, you may want to ask him for suggestions that he feels comfortable supporting.

There are many terms of endearment that can be adopted to convey a special relationship in the parent/stepparent-child relationship. Find one that works (conceptually) for everyone involved, and your child will not suffer tension resulting from competing loyalties. How you approach this process of decision-making is critical to the formation of your new stepfamily. For you must integrate the past, if the new family constellation is to be successful!


Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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