by mssinglemama on December 2, 2010

Shortly after we moved in together, into our new house and onto our new life, Benjamin started asking a lot of questions. Namely, “Does this mean John Bear is my Dad now?”

“Well, yes, he is your step-dad.”

As I’ve told you before, Benjamin was very quick to point out that technically John and I weren’t married yet, so that wasn’t possible. An idea, I believe he got from his step-brother and father. Wherever that seed came from, it was quickly thrown out by Benjamin’s logic. After all, his house now contained a mother and a father. Under the same roof.

If you’ve been reading my blog over the years, you know how much Benjamin has wanted this. So, during those first few weeks of living together Benjamin suddenly started calling John, “Dad” and “Daddy” or even “Father”. We didn’t make a big deal out of it, although, John was admittedly a bit thrown off by the sudden title. Totally understandable. It was even odd for my ears to swallow.

And then, he stopped. Benjamin went back to calling him John Bear. Fast forward to about two weeks ago after he returned from his monthly night at his father’s and Benjamin was back to “Dad” for John Bear.

Whenever he calls for him, it’s “Dad?” And whenever he sees him it’s, “Dad! Dad!”

And each time and every time, no matter where I am in the house, I can hear it and my heart skips a beat as I catch my breath waiting for John Bear to say, “Yes?” or “Hi, Goober!” or whatever his response is. And then I have to swallow the tears back down in my throat. This reaction I’m having will fade, I hope!, as I get used to the new title, but for now–I am still having a small case of disbelief at this new reality.

I want to let you in on this, to share with you a moment from a morning this week. Some mornings are better than others but on this particular morning everything was absolutely perfect. Benjamin was cooperating and marching off to the car, John Bear (as always) was fetching the car seat from his car and putting it in mine for the morning commute and I made a dash for my camera.

(Please try to look past poor Benjamin’s Lloyd Christmas hair cut. Poor kid.)

But just look at his face, looking at his Dad.

The entire time, he has his eyes on him.

John may not even notice it as much as I do, being the Mom and all – it’s much harder to miss.

And then I ask John to hold the camera for a second.

That’s a smile that I can’t seem to shake.

Having known from the start of his life that Benjamin’s father and I would not work out, having the courage to leave when he was just four months old and the bravery to make a decision on my child’s behalf has given me the ability now to see things so clearly and to imagine what it would have been like had I stayed. Something that seems as impossible now as it did then.

I knew what was best and I knew I had to make that leap into the unchartered sea of single motherhood.

But I can’t imagine what it would have been like had Benjamin been older and already calling someone “Dad”. I just can’t. That is unfathomable to me and for that, I know most of you experienced divorces with older children, I tip my hat to you and say that your strength is beyond my comprehension. You are a superhero. And don’t let anyone ever tell you otherwise.

Blast from the past posts:

Remember when Benjamin used to call every man on the street “Daddy?”

{ 41 comments… read them below or add one }

Juli Ruffing December 2, 2010 at 9:45 am

Oh, this makes me worry for you. I belong to a stepmom community (I”m both a bio-mom and a stepmom) on Livejournal and there’s been recent discussion on this very issue. Have you asked Benjamin’s biological father how he feels about this? Speaking for myself, if I heard my boys call someone else “Mom” or “Mommy”, my heart would break. I earned that title by carrying and delivering my sons and nobody, NOBODY else gets that title from them. All of the divorced parenting and step-parenting books I’ve read warn about this and instead suggest creating a separate, special title for a beloved stepparent.


mssinglemama December 2, 2010 at 11:46 am

Juli – yes, as soon as it started happening I told Benjamin’s father. He was upset, definitely, but he completely understands. I am lucky that, in spite of all of his faults, my ex would never bash John or I to Benjamin. I know that because, we all have a good relationship with each other.

Turns out Benjamin is calling John “Dad” and his father “Daddy”. All three of us, and my ex’s wife, agree that this is Benjamin’s call. We can’t filter him or change what titles he gives the people in his life.

I can understand, though, that it’s not that easy for every family! To each his own and thanks so much for sharing your thoughts.


Juli Ruffing December 2, 2010 at 2:48 pm

Whew! This has been bothering me all day. It’s so nice to read a story about the good stepparents, the ones who love kids that come as a package deal with their spouse/partner, and who are loved in return, instead of horrific news stories that do more to spread stereotypes and make things harder on people than to help them. Sometimes I think being a stepparent is harder than being a biological one.


Marisol December 2, 2010 at 9:51 am

Looking at these pictures got me all choked up. WOW!


lisa December 2, 2010 at 9:55 am

Benjamin is adorable–he clearly adores JOhn. I agree with the comment above though. As endearing as this might be to you form your posts it is clear that Benjamin has a relationship and a bond with his biological father and they seem from what you have written that they love each other. Even if you don’t think he is the best dad he is one to him. Does Benjamin talk about having two dads? Does he feel he has to keep the fact that he calls John dad a secret from his bio dad? How does his bio dad feel about this? You may legitimately not be too concerned about this but it could lead to conversations where the bio dad cuts downs JOhn to Benjamin because he is resentful I believe there is room for two male parent figures in a child’s life but it is a confusing topic for a child. My sister went through a lot of this stuff and it was not easy.


Billie December 2, 2010 at 10:16 am

My daughter has never met her dad. I have been with my significant other for almost 3 years (my daughter is 4). She recently started calling him dad (she switches back and forth now), and I completely understand your feelings – it’s overwhelming, beautiful, and amazing to think that what I once thought would never happen (I assumed I’d be a single mom forever) is happening right before my eyes, naturally and perfectly. 🙂


GreenInOC December 2, 2010 at 11:12 am

As a stepchild myself I could not disagree with Julie & Lisa more. My parents (my mother and “step” father) were together from when I was two and got married just before I turned four.

What I called my biological father and my Dad (for those trying to keep up, my technically step father!), was left entirely up to me. It was NOT for the adults to worry about or be offended by. I remember as an adult asking my Dad about it, and he in all his wisdom, explained that adults have the capacity to deal with the messes they make, but kids don’t. So, it was decided early on that I, as the child, would choose what to call everyone and they as adults had to swallow any hurt.

I remember at one point calling each of them Daddy “John” and Daddy “Joe”. I do remember my biological father’s wife pulling me aside when I was about 11 to explain that I should NOT call my Dad “dad” and that I should call my biological father “dad” without adding his name. This was the first time I was confronted with the stickiness of divorce. I remember my heart was racing and my face was flushed. I didn’t say anything.

When I got in the car to go home (my Dad would make the 160+ mile round trip to drop me off and pick me up because my biological father didn’t want to make the drive!), I asked my Dad about it. He said, “don’t worry kid. You call us what YOU want. You can call me “Joe”, “Daddy Joe” or “hey you”, you are my daughter and I’ll love you just the same.” I never called my biological father “Daddy John” anymore, just “John”.

I didn’t see my biological father much anyway – due to the fact that he lived farther away and the aforementioned non-desire to come get me!

My Dad was my Dad. I loved him like no other. I am unspeakably lucky to have had him in my life.

Don’t let adult feelings as a result of adult decisions, dictate how a child feels. If they feel it’s okay to call both guys Dad, so be it. Let them navigate with the parents giving gentle assurance.

When people asked my Dad for parenting advice, regardless of the complexity of the question, he always smiled and said, “Just love them.”


mssinglemama December 2, 2010 at 11:42 am

This is exactly our thoughts – let him call them what he wants. They are his relationships with his two fathers and who are we to tell him what to call them?

Fortunately, my ex is okay with him calling John Bear “Dad” and would never undercut either I or John to Benjamin. I am lucky in a lot of ways.

Like your story, John often drives Benjamin to see his father because his father can’t make it up here. A lot of parallels here. Thanks so much for sharing.


Anna December 2, 2010 at 9:50 pm

This is great. What a fabulous Dad you have. Much wisdom in letting children call these shots, and making the parents act like adults.


Erin December 6, 2010 at 1:53 am

I’m with YOU! I think that there is no “textbook definition” of how to deal with this type of situation. In my circumstances, calling their own father “Dad” is difficult for my children, being that he was NEVER there for them, and he is not there now. I think they have every right to decide what they want to call their step-parents who come into the situation to give them a role model when they would otherwise have none. Just from seeing B’s expression – it seems clear that J.B. has EARNED his “Dad” title. May God continue to bless this precious family.


Sara in Sunny SC December 7, 2010 at 2:29 pm


How fortunate you were to have such a wise dad (whether bio or step)!! My ex and I have been separated for almost a year now. He lives about 8 hours away and doesn’t have much contact with my daughter. With everything positive she says about him, my heart breaks just a little, but none the less he’s her father. She’s been asking me lately when she’s going to “get a new daddy.” As much as I hate it, I explain to her that she won’t get a “new” daddy just an extra one, kind of the whole the more the merrier approach. I know as a mom it would kill me to hear her call someone else “Mom” but as your dad said, adults can deal with the choices we make, kids can’t… and frankly shouldn’t have to. So, I’m so glad you shared your story, it reminds me to keep my emotions out of it and let her lead the show!!!!


Julie McDonald December 11, 2010 at 2:15 pm

Amen to that — it’s up to the kids. They make the choice from their hearts and they don’t have the baggage we do about it. Let them be!


Shelley December 2, 2010 at 11:21 am

I have to disagree with the comments above. I’m not a step-mom or someone that comes from a family with one but I feel that it’s so special that he calls John Bear Dad. He’s the one who’s there for him morning and night, and who is there for all of the “little” things. His bio father has him one night a month, not much time for a great bond to form. This is their life…


mssinglemama December 2, 2010 at 11:47 am

True. This is Benjamin’s life. Not ours, not my ex’s and not John Bear’s. We just want him to be happy.


Amy December 2, 2010 at 10:56 pm

Whatever anyone is calling anyone I think to all of us it is completely evident that you, Benjamin and John Bear have settled into a lovely little family 🙂 So wonderful to read and see. Happiest of Holidays to you and yours in your new home!


mommybella December 2, 2010 at 11:52 am

my son will be four soon and I am single. He sees his father, but not very much. I only hope that one day I will meet someone and my son will come to love him and call him dad.

I am a child of 2 separate parents and though I didn’t do it until I was an adult, I have come to call my step father “dad”. I love my late father with all my heart, but my step father has been in my life since I was an infant and in some ways feel like he is my father too.


Ellie P December 2, 2010 at 11:54 am

I am a mother of a 5 year old who was the product of a horrible marraige. I left when he was 18 months old. I have been married to a wonderful man for the past year. He is a father to two great kids – they are 7 and 11 now. I am their step mom.

This is something that my husband and I have talked about. I have to echo GreenInOC’s post in that we think that it is up to the kids to call us what they want to call us. They did not put themseves in the middle of this adult situation. It is not up to us to dictate who calls whom what and when. It needs to be what they are comfortable with.

The kids all know who their “mama” is. They all know who “dada” is. Sometimes they slip, but it’s OK. It is neither encouraged nor discouraged. We don’t read anything into it and we keep moving forward trying to build the best relationships possible – wether they are step relationships or not. It doesn’t matter.

To bring this a bit farther: My now-husband has three grown step-kids from his first marriage (my step-kids are from this relationship as well). They all call him “dad” even though they have a loving father who is there for them and they all say “I love you” to each other. They say “I love you” to me too, and I was never a part of those relationships as they were growing. They also call their step-mom, “mom”. I think for them, it’s a word, but it weighs differently in their hearts depending on who they are speaking about. The more the merrier. Life is complicated enough without the enforcement of titles.

I’ve got a very tangled and complicated extended family of all kinds of exes and steps and tag-alongs and blood relations and somehow we all make it work regardless of the title. In the end, it needs to be up to the kids to choose how they feel comfortable addressing each of us.

The ego needs to be taken out of it in situations like this.


GreenInOC December 2, 2010 at 1:17 pm

“The ego needs to be taken out of it in situations like this.”

This is all that needs to be said!!


Biscuit December 2, 2010 at 12:50 pm

This hits home for me. I feel like I am going to be a perpetually single Mom, and all I want is someone in my son’s life that not only loves him like his own, but someone he can consider “Dad.” He has not, and will never meet his father and I hope I don’t completely let him down by not finding that person for him (and me!).

thank you for sharing.


lisa December 2, 2010 at 12:52 pm

Didn’t mean to sound like I was donw talking what clarlyis a special relationship between John and Benjamin. SOunds like you all have a good hanlde on things and Benjamin comes first. My sister’s situation was way different–bio dad very resentful of step dad and much more involved in nieces and nephews ever day life. Pictures are heartwarming!


Anne Y December 2, 2010 at 1:01 pm

Now you went and got me all teary eyed!
Way to go!
Glad you are experiencing these moments because they are truly amazing. I remember being in your shoes but it was with 2 kids and they both hit that calling him Daddy stage at different times but now, he is their dad and we are currently in the process of making it legal through adoption.


Glenda December 2, 2010 at 1:04 pm

You can definitely see the LOVE in all of the pictures, and if Benjamin feels LOVE in his heart for John and wants to call him DAD, that’s what it should be. You did have a talk w/ his father and if the adults in the situation are ok with this why not?! Let Benjamin have the 2 men in his life and have the relationships he’s building.


Bobbi Janay December 2, 2010 at 1:35 pm

I am crying, this is so sweet. I am so happy for you and your family.


Katie December 2, 2010 at 1:51 pm

This is making me cry – I am so, so, so happy for you, and to see how much Benjamin loves John Bear…wow…wow…wow.

I had a student last year who referred to his biological father as “daddy” and his step-father as “dad”. He was in fifth grade – nobody flinched at this when he explained it. He was extraordinarily well-adjusted, and loved all four of his parents very much. It was beautiful to see, and it’s beautiful to see the relationship your family has developed. I’m so in awe of your my dear – and really can’t explain how happy this post made me 🙂


mssinglemama December 7, 2010 at 9:27 pm

That seems to be Benjamin’s route. Daddy for his bio dad and “Dad” for John Bear. So interesting. And even if he flips back to John Bear, we won’t care. Whatever he wants to do. Either way that love isn’t going anywhere.


Amanda December 2, 2010 at 3:19 pm

So wonderful to hear that you all get along so well! My daughter calls my husband “steppydaddy”. It was a mouthful at first, but now she abbreviates it every now and again calling him “steppy” or “steppydad” and it’s adorable. He loves it! And it doesn’t completely infringe upon my ex’s “Dad” title (which he would definitely have a problem with).



Stac December 3, 2010 at 9:40 am

I love this. I think I actually love this more than the Dad title. Like he’s so special to her he gets his very own exclusive title 🙂


Nakia December 2, 2010 at 7:20 pm

So awesome!


Jaime December 2, 2010 at 8:01 pm

How wonderful! Kudos to you for allowing your son to call the shots on how to name/label his loved ones. My son, now 8, never knew his father – we separated when I was pregnant and they didn’t get to know each other due to his father’s substance abuse issues (he has since passed away). My son’s only concept of “dad” is what he witnesses at friend’s houses and so forth. While this is sad, and I do worry about the lack of male role models for him, I am thankful to have provided a safe, stable home environment for him. I am both mom and dad – for now.


Anna December 2, 2010 at 9:59 pm

I’m not sure my son will ever call my bf anything but his first name, even though he is much more of a dad to him than his father, and that’s perfectly ok, because they are his relationships.

On a related note about “titles”, my son brought home his information about the Santa Secret Shop at school where they get to shop for their loved ones on their own. The form asks you to list the names of the people he will be buying for, and their relationship to the child (!?). I asked my son if he wanted to shop for the bf there or not, and he said he did. So when I filled out the form, I put everyone’s name down, and left the relationship part blank. He shouldn’t have to justify, qualify, or explain his relationships to anybody. He’s 8.


Lara December 3, 2010 at 11:59 am

It makes me happy seeing you (and Benjamin) happy.


Maria December 3, 2010 at 10:35 pm

this is the exact same look my daughter gets on her face when she sees my husband. All she sees is Daddy. I’d recognize it anywhere. 🙂


rachel December 4, 2010 at 4:43 pm

While I agree with the notion of letting the child determine the label, I think in a case like mine where my ex and I equally split time with our daughter that the bio parents should be the only ones with the label Mom or Dad. My parents split up when I was 5 and I always had the same step parents on each side. However out of respect for the roles of the bio parents, I only referred to my step parents by their first names or I would say. Its my step mom or step dad. And that worked best especially since my parents had joint custody. I was very close to my step mom and had a complicated relationship with my mom but I never ever called my step mom mom. And now with my 3 year old daughter I have had to deal with my ex and his new wife constantly telling my daughter to call the step mom mommy too. My daughter is very impressionable and its confusing for her. Esp since this is not a case of one bio parent being more “absent”. Also my ex’s new wife has only been in my daughters life less than a year. My daughter has told me it makes her feel weird because the wife is not her mommy. So my ex and I made an agreement that we are the only ones our daughter calls mom or dad. I know my ex wouldn’t like it if I encouraged my daughter to call my significant other daddy. And It really bothered me when I learned the wife was asking my little one to call her mommy.

But aside from my personal situation, I do believe in blended families and I’m very glad my daughter is so well loved by her step mom. And I hope to find a step dad who loves my daughter as much as I do. And when that time comes, she can call him whatever name she likes except for daddy. That being said, I feel so encouraged and hopeful when I read about John Bear and hope there’s a John Bear out there for me!!!!


mssinglemama December 7, 2010 at 9:26 pm

Sure… every family is different. And there is definitely a John Bear out there for you! He has plenty of single friends (who are such nice guys)! So, I know there are more of them.


Cibele December 5, 2010 at 4:55 pm

crying… because I happy for you and hopeful for myself… thanks for sahring


LadyLuck December 6, 2010 at 11:27 am

Aww…. so sweet! Made my dopey eyes water.


Danielle December 6, 2010 at 10:15 pm

I just wanted to let you know that I have been following your blog since I was 8 months pregnant. I was frantically trying to find ANY resources about being a single mom. I was 24, in Pennsylvania, with no family and few friends. i stayed here so my son would have his father, unlike I did growing up. So, with my 1 bedroom apartment all ready for the arrival of my son and the unknown, I would read in my chair at night and laugh and cry.

My son, Joshua is 16 months old now. He is my heart, he has my heart…

Today, our lives are different. I am engaged to be married to a man (with a Weimeraner), who has stuck by me since Joshua was 1 month old. My son was colic for the first 8 months of his life and Brad, my fiance, stuck through it with me. Through sleepless nights, sickness, poopy diapers, custody and support hearings, he has been there. He has been there especially for Joshua. Brad ASKS me if he can do things for Joshua.

I struggle with the fact that Joshua’s birth father spends 15 hours a week with him. Yet, I have this man in my life, in Joshua’s life too, who has already stepped up and has said “I’m here for you, always”. So my question is, is it okay to give the title of “Daddy” to Brad, if he’s earned it?

Anyway, enough about me. I was reading your post tonight to my fiance and I stopped suddenly, I felt the tears well up when I saw the line in this paragraph beginning with “having the courage to leave…”

My fiance looked up at me and saw the tears falling from my face. I am crying again now just thinking about it.

“Having known from the start of his life that Benjamin’s father and I would not work out, having the courage to leave when he was just four months old and the bravery to make a decision on my child’s behalf has given me the ability now to see things so clearly and to imagine what it would have been like had I stayed. Something that seems as impossible now as it did then.”

I congratulate you for your courage and I relate completely to this.

Thank you for your blog. I am grateful to you. I feel alone sometimes and misunderstood and you are courageous for putting yourself out there.


Thrifty Vintage Chic December 7, 2010 at 8:27 pm

Danielle, I am so glad you found this blog … there are a lot of us out there who had the courage to make that decision, and there are even more who wish they had had our courage. I am happy for you, your life and the possibility is now has to fully bloom out of your strength … and, congrats on the future of “relationship” and “stability.”


mssinglemama December 7, 2010 at 9:25 pm

I am a bit speechless. Really. I don’t even know what to say other than, thank you for reading and for being here.

As for Brad… your son will come up with a name for him and it very well may be “dad”. Let him pick. Children aren’t like us, they have the capacity to love SO many people equally. I love that about them. They just love. And trust.


Thank you so much for sharing.


Cheska December 7, 2010 at 4:29 am

Hi, My Dad died even before I was born so I also had a stepdad. Twice to be exact. I know the feeling. Sometimes I feel like calling him Dad sometimes just his name. It’s quite confusing really. Just let it happen on its own.


Cynthia December 21, 2010 at 10:40 pm

This story made me cry, and I understand why it would be difficult to swallow. You’re son looks so happy and that must just be the best feeling that anyone could ever experience. I love reading your stories! I’ve just joined the site, and after reading what you’ve posted, I already feel that much inspired as a single mother. Wishing you, John Bear and your beautiful Benjamin a very Merry Christmas!


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