The Power of a Name: Just-A-Stepmoms and Bio-Moms

I sometimes like to think of weird things that might have extremely large numbers assigned to them.

…How many breaths each and every creature that’s ever lived has taken, all together.

…How many times the clouds have passed over the sun as someone looked skyward.

…How many times you’ve eaten lunch.

…How many times your name has been called.

When a family dissolves by divorce, we’re typically not expecting to add any extra names to the list of cast members.

When we marry into a new stepfamily, it can feel vaguely insulting to have the name of the ex randomly interjecting itself into our every day.

And yet, there they are: the unwanted. The new woman.

Even the terms we use for each other are loaded:

The bio-mom.

Just the stepmom.

The crazy ex-wife.

The evil stepmother.

Why do we speak this way about each other?

When our aim is to cut the other woman’s legs out from under her before she even gets started, we should be suspicious of our motives.

Do stepmoms ever refer to their husbands as the “bio-father” or is he simply, “the father?” What about their own mothers (unless they were adopted or raised by someone else)?

Are moms aware of the fact that stepmoms are likely performing most of the hands-on tasks to take care of the children? As women, we already know: how can anything be “just…” about that?

ALL of those ex-wives can’t really be crazy. There’s too many of them.

And why are we STILL living in a culture where the cheap and easy trick for creating a villain in a kid’s movie is to give them a stepmom?

So it’s good to ask….

What might we secretly fear about the other woman?

What power are we attributing to her that we want to take away by denigrating her name?

In what ways might we be totally clueless about who she really is?

And isn’t it a shame that we don’t have a name to use for each other that acknowledges our familial ties to each other — and allows for the potential growth of love and affection?


© 2011 Jennifer Newcomb Marine    All Rights Reserved

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  1. Dina McCausley says:

    In my situation, I just want to call Holly “Love”, because that’s how *I* feel about her, even if the kids don’t (yet). I mean that.

  2. Lucky (Renee) says:

    Dina I would love to be called “Love”! That is so sweet. I’d like to say that not everyone (or mostly anyone in our community) uses BM in a derisive way. I think it’s just convenient short hand.

  3. Jennifer says:

    That’s wonderful, Dina! Lucky *both* of you!

    And Renee, good point about the term “bio-mom” not always being used derisively – I think some stepmoms just get used to it because it’s so common – and you’re right, it’s short.

    But it puts this weird *separation* between being simply “the mom” and… something else…. Moms would never describe themselves this way and when they hear the term from someone else, it can sound like an insult!

    Did you happen to see Michelle’s “TM” on Facebook? It’s short for “the mom.” 🙂

  4. Yeah, terms mean a lot. Stepmom = evil. Biomom = not as involved as she should be. Honestly there’s a lot of terms in blended life that bother me, but how do you change terms that a whole society uses LOL. (I like TM, will start using that!) I LOATHE second wife … I live in Utah, and that term in this state at least means polygamy … I am his only wife, she is his ex-wife. (Honestly though I prefer to think of her in relation to my stepson rather than my husband (Stepson’s mom rather than ex-wife), and that one I fully admit is an insecurity rearing it’s head. Oh one more … remarriage … we are married to each other for the first time, a remarriage denotes a couple who were married, divorced, and then married again. Yeah, I think that’s it. 🙂 Loved the article, it makes you think about why you call someone what you do and what is really behind it. Thanks!

  5. Sweetness says:

    I have 3 kids, and my husband has a kid. If I’m referred to as “BM,” whether that stands for “biomom” or “bowel movement,” it doesn’t bother me a bit. I couldn’t care less about labels, so honestly I could be referred to as “hey you” or much worse as a mother, and I wouldn’t think it a big deal. I don’t need a title to make me feel secure as a mother.

    Now as a technical stepmother (and I say “technical” because I’m completely uninvolved with any care/feeding/participation of/with my husband’s child) I don’t like the term “stepmother” because it’s been used in describing me in a negative way and said with a really rude “tone.” Also I’ve been accused of all sorts of wrongdoing by BM–some really crazy stuff, which I’ve learned is typical of the personality-disordered–and then when people who know her (and the kid) meet me, it’s “Oh, so you’re the stepmother.” With the emphasis on “you’re” and “stepmother” made with the “mouth full of feces” face.

    The difference between the two is that as a mother, I get automatic respect (whether I deserve it, or not) in our mother-worshipping culture. As a stepmother, I’m automatically hated because I am the reminder of the “broken family” and am often thought of as the reason for it. Plus, if I’m around, I must have an agenda to de-throne the mother and kick her off the face of the earth. I have a “the more the merrier” approach to new people entering my children’s lives. Unfortunately, my husband’s ex (and her equally narcissistic mother) see anything and everything I do as evil and wrong, so I’ve never been able to have the same level of confidence in my abilities as a stepmother that I have as a mother.

  6. Jennifer says:

    Jackie, some great food for thought there, thanks! “Second wife” almost sounds like there will be an imminent third, or perhaps too close to “second best.” And never really considered that about “remarriage,” but makes perfect sense….

    And Sweetness, you’re definitely onto something with our “mother-worshipping” culture – that’s a thorn in the side of many a stepmom. And interesting distinction about not having the same confidence as a stepmom as you do as a mom. May I ask, when *do* you feel most confident as a SM, since you know what it’s like on both sides? Just curious. Thanks for your comment… 🙂

  7. Sweetness says:

    I actually don’t feel confident at all, which is why I am completely uninvolved. I barely even speak to the child when she’s here, which is only for 8 days per month. Everything I do and say gets reported back to BM, who then goes nuts. I had initially tried to treat my husband’s child as I would any child in my home and to also make sure she felt like an equal member of the family as my own children. Well, BM would have none of it and lashed out many times with crazy accusations against me and would refuse DH any time with the child that was not specifically spelled out in their decree (and even tried to take some of that away, claiming it wasn’t good for the child to “be away from her” for more than a couple of days–the child was 6-7 at the time and would stay with the BM’s mother and friends for sometimes weeks at a time).

    So BM had a huge problem with anything she saw that I did and even complained about things I didn’t have any role in, and then when I disengaged, she complained almost as much. Only now she looks even more insane because she complains and says that I say “mean things” to the child. I had two back surgeries within 4 months and had broken my back in between that time, and she accused me of all sorts of craziness when I was laid up barely able to walk (and during one visit was in the hospital when the child was with DH), taking legal action against DH for not answering her numerous phone calls while he had the child and not taking the child to an activity she signed her up for without even telling DH until the day before (and the child had been going for 4 months).

    So I have seen things from the mother’s side as a mother myself, but nothing prepared me for dealing with this nut. And honestly, she likely has Narcissistic Personality Disorder, and those of us who have the most trouble with BMs are often dealing with women who have that same disorder.

  8. My husband’s ex-wife is my ex-wife-in-law. And to her, I am her kids’ Bonus Mom.

    The double takes we get at family gatherings when we introduce each other is really funny. And we have a good time going for the extra laugh =)

    Neither of us are insecure in who we are as women or as moms (I’m a mom as well). I play an active Bonus Mom role but there are things I’ll always defer to her first.

    But when it comes to the grand kids – we’ve agreed, their “ours.” There is no line denoting grand mother / step grandmother. In fact, she’s Nan and I’m Gi.

  9. I call my skids mother just that, the mother. If I am talking directly to her, I call her by her name. If I’m talking to others about her, I refer to her as the kids’ mother. On online forums, I normally just write “their mother” or “the mother”, I’m not going to get a cramp from typing a few more letters. Like Sweetness said though, in like manner, I am not the “new wife”. I have been around for years, there is nothing new about me or my relationship with my husband. I am simply his wife. We are not to the point where I could call the kid’s mother the ex-wife-in-law like Peggy does, but maybe one day we’ll get there.

  10. Lucky (Renee) says:

    Jennifer- the TM thing happened about 10 minutes after I posted that! And for the record, I have described myself as a “BM” as well, when referring to my biokids, because I don’t consider my stepkids any less “my kids.” In fact I use biokids a lot more than biomom. lol. Which, doesn’t actually mean that I consider myself their mom. They have a mom, she’s my stepwife, they’re my kids, stepkids if we’re being specific or explaining dynamics…

  11. For a while I minded being called just by my name and never mrs so and so by my step kids. I did not want to be called mom bur at least something else. But now I am ok with it. I don’t have any bio kids so when I talk about them I just say they are my kids. Their mom and I are fine. I know this is a spin on what’s in a name but I wanted to share. After all the hands on cooking and cleaning I do at times I thought they should just call me the maid. 😉

  12. I meant… By step kid’s friends.

  13. Ha! I think we should ALL just be called the maid! Cheers, E. Thanks for writing and that’s great that you and the mom are good with thinking of them all as “yours.” 🙂

  14. The temptation to use nasty words has already been taken away from us, thanks to a clause in the court order. We are not allowed to speak ill of the other parent(s), nor are either of the parents allowed to encourage their child to call their partners “mommy” or “daddy”. To him, I am Ashley, plain and simple. Of course, he can’t speak yet, so what he decides to call me is another topic entirely, but we NEVER encourage him to call me mommy, or any other name besides my own. But having to take the effort to avoid speaking ill of his mother has made me realize how easy it is to pass the blame/hate off on the other woman. I’ve made it a point to always remind him to behave for his mommy before he leaves. I feel like I’m trying to instill in him that our problems with her are not his problems. When my husband and I are talking, she is always referred to by her name. When people ask me about “my kids” I have no problem calling him my step-son (I have no biological children). It’s not that I don’t love him any less, it’s that he has a perfectly capable mother (no matter what my opinion is on her parenting style), and I don’t see the need to step on her toes or violate a court order just so I can feel better. That being said, I have no qualms with referring to my husband and step-son as “my boys”. 🙂

  15. Finally, someone else GETS IT!!! For years I’ve been pointing out this name calling and those in my family just didn’t get what I was talking about and how offensive I saw it. It’s like you read my very mind and put it in writing!!! THANK YOU!!!

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