Advice: Kids calling stepfather "dad" and using his last name?

Background: My boyfriend has three boys with his ex-wife, ages 6, 8 and 10. They have been divorced for about 3 years now and separated at least a year before that. She is now remarried and has another child, and one on the way. The boys live with their mom and stepfather. The stepfather is a good guy and has eagerly taken on the role of father/stepfather. Now, my boyfriend has the boys one or two days per week. He tries to be very active in their lives. He would have them more often if he could, but he is in the military and he works a lot… He has them every chance he gets.

Problem 1: The boys call their stepfather “dad.” According to my BF, the stepfather has encouraged, if not insisted, that they call him dad. When the boys come over our house, when they talk about their stepfather, it will often be, “Our dad… um, I mean stepdad.”

I acknowledge that these boys spend most of their time with their stepdad, and he is very much a second father to him. But is it appropriate for them to be encouraged to call him “dad,” when their real dad is very much in their lives?

Problem 2: The boys have my boyfriend’s last name, let’s just say “Smith.” Their mom, stepdad, and half-brother have the stepdad’s last name, let’s say “Jones.” Recently, when signing up for a swimming test, the instructor asked the middle child for his name, and he replied “[firstname] Jones.” My BF said, what’s your last name? and child replied, “Uh…” then they talked and he said that he wanted his last name to be “Jones.”

Now the kid in question is a troubled kid, and often misbehaving, and my BF doles out a lot more discipline* than their mother does. (The kids are spoiled rotten at home, and have almost no structure/discipline). So this middle child often is resentful and pouty towards my BF. So I partly attribute him saying he wants to used stepfather’s last name as a way to hurt or rebel against my BF. He does that sort of thing a lot.

However, I also feel strongly that the idea got into his head to use stepfather’s last name because he has heard it talked about at home. I think that his mother would much rather the kids have her new last name, because she is kind of bitter towards my BF. And I think she has said things in front of the kids to this effect, which I think is wrong - you should never ever say anything negative about the other parent in front of the kids.

I can understand the difficulty/awkwardness of having your kids have different last names and all that. But it just strikes me as so disrespectful/hurtful to the kids’ real father. I think it really hurts him inside.

So what do y’all think? What have your experiences been if you are a kid of divorce with a stepparent, or if you are divorced with kids and remarried?

*No, not physical disclipline, but things like time outs from video games, TV or the computer for hitting his brothers or lying, etc.

Tough one. The boy is obviously resentful to the point where he wants to disassociate. It’s gonna hurt, but this is about way more than a name. The problem lies elsewhere. Hopefully BF and his ex can work together to get to the bottom of the problem. Good luck.

My older brothers are actually half-brothers. My mom married my dad when they were 4 and 1 and my dad raised them from then on. They continued to know their own father and visited him a couple of times a year (we lived in Illinois, he lived in Kansas). They’re now 38 and 35 years old and they still refer to both men as “dad”. In addition to this, when my parents divorced in 1985, my brothers stayed with MY dad (as did my adopted sister and I) instead of going with mom. So my parents haven’t even been married to each other for 20 years and my brothers still refer to this guy that they’re technically not even related to in any way as “dad”. They also both still call him every Sunday to chat.

There’s never been any hard feelings in my family about it at all. Yeah, it’s the same word used for both guys, but it’s accepted that they play separate rolls in my brothers’ lives.

This is a tough one. My husband never insisted the kids call him anything but his first name. “Dad” sort of developed on its own over the years, and he saw that as an honor. I’m sure it caused some hard feelings with my ex, but as he has a stepfather he calls “Dad” himself, he understands these things happen. Are the kids uncomfortable with it? Do they not want to call their stepfather “dad”? It’s obvious they don’t want to hurt their father’s feelings, so I wouldn’t make too big a deal of it around them.

This one’s easier. No. No freakin way. Your BF makes a huge effort to be a part of his children’s lives. He pays child support, he has visitation rights. He does not have to give up those rights. In the state of California, anything having to do with changes in custody, etc., has to go through mediation (please don’t ask how I know, long ugly story). The mediator will talk with all involved parties, and will see that your BF is a good, responsible parent.

Divided families suck all the way around, even if it is the best interests of everyone for the parents to divorce.

Legally, I don’t think the ex-wife can change the boys last name unless the stepdad adopts them, which he cannot do without your bf’s consent.

I know it is painful to your bf to have the child say things like that, but maybe there is an upside to the situation - they aren’t resentful or hateful to their stepfather, which happens in a LOT of situations and can make for a really miserable home life for everyone. Your bf can’t spend the time with them now that he would like to spend. IMO, (which is opinion only - I am not a therapist) he should just continue to spend as much time with them as he can, and write letters to them on a regular basis when he can’t see them. As they get older, they will learn that they are lucky to have 2 dads. As for what the ex says, they will also learn truth from lies when they are older. My mother was meticilous in never saying anything bad about her ex (my father) where I could possibly hear it or hear about it. She let me find out he was a cold-hearted bastard all by myself.

It may be a bit painful for your bf, but such is the price of divorce. He should be glad his ex married a man who is willing to act as a father figure to his kids, and not ignore them in favor of his own children.

If they feel comfortable calling both men dad, then let them. It’s gonna be a tough situation for all involved so why not let the kids call both of them whatever makes them feel most comfortable?

Is there a chance that middle child wants his last name to be Jones, because he wants to be part of a family? To him, Jones may be comprised of Mr Jones, Mrs Jones and their 2 children. Smith is dad, who he sees sometimes. Maybe to him, having the last name of Jones would make him part of the family, where he may feel excluded being [Middle kid] Smith. It sounds like it’s time to find out WHY this son want to change his name. If it’s a valid reason, give it consideration. I know your boyfriend, Mr Smith, is his father, but Mrs Jones is also his mother. Find out what’s best for the boy, and get the egos out of the way.

My hub’s stepdaughter calls him “dad.” He raised her from 18 mos. until she was about 8. She also calls her father ‘dad,’ but she has said Tark feels more like he’s her dad because she actually lived with him. I figure when she learned to talk, Tark WAS dad, so she made that association as well as her “real” dad.

On the flip side, if my stepmother had ever even HINTED that I should call her ‘mom’ (I was 13 when she appeared) there would have been a nasty knock-down drag-out fight, as I would have refused loudly and with vigor.

And on ANOTHER side - edge of the coin, maybe? - Tark never told my stepkids (ages 9 and 10) to call me ‘mom,’ they never showed any interest in calling me ‘mom,’ and it would have squicked me out to no end if they had decided to do so.

Also, this was the 8-year-old who had the last name incident. For one thing, these kids are doubtless STILL confused about the breakup. For another, my 8-year-old daughter has told me at different times that she wants to ride the biggest roller coaster at Busch Gardens (when she can’t even handle a kiddy coaster yet), that she wants to be called “Emmaline,” and that she can move the gerbils with her mind. I know that these are FAR more frivolous than the situation you’re describing; I’m pretty much just saying that kids that age are definitely ruled partially by imagination and whim.

It looks as though you and he (yer hon’) are both making the effort to NOT badmouth their mom around them, and more power to you. I’ve managed to refer to the ex with nothing but neutrality; the kids all decided THEMSELVES that she was useless.

I don’t think that this is true. My mom changed my name in different marriages as a kid, and I was never adopted by my stepfathers. All she did was ask to have my school records changed.
If the stepfather is in theirs just as much as their father, what’s wrong with having two dads? Unless the kids are doing it out of spite with their real father; that would signal other problems that need to be addressed.

It’s absolutely true. Their last names can’t be legally changed if their father contests it. I’m not sure how your mom did what she did.

Must have just never been contested(father not really in picture, must not have cared), so I was unaware that it could be. Ignorance fought.

Things used to be a lot looser in this area that I gather they are now. I signed myself up for school several times, and this was not then uncommon. The last time I did I signed myself up for school with a fictitious name (which was why it was the last time, lol).

Another vote for letting the kids call both dads “dad”, especially since they seem comfortable with it.

As another poster said, the boy using his stepdad’s last name might just be trying to fit in with his new family. I wouldn’t make an issue of it. I think the boy’s feelings count more than dad’s, and making a big deal of it would just cause more confusion and resentment.

Thanks for the input everyone. Yes, as many of you have said, we are all lucky that this stepdad is a decent guy and loves the kids. The kids are young, so I can see that it would be easy for them to call him dad. I can understand all of that.

I guess what irks me is that I really think that their mom encourages all of this - I mean, I feel that she wants them to view their stepdad as their real “DAD,” and wants them to forget their real dad. And I think the one boy got the last name idea from hearing their mom talk about it. I have a feeling the mom and stepdad have discussed their desires for and ways to have the kids last names changed.

The reason it is expecially hurtful to my BF is that his real father was never in his life, so he has taken extra steps to make sure he is in his kids’ lives. He does so much for those kids, more than they or their mother even realize. Shit, take the sheer amount of child support he pays - it’s much more than he is legally obligated to pay, but he wanted to pay it, so his kids will be taken care of. I just don’t think any of them (the kids, the mom or stepdad) appreciate what a good father he is.

Another aspect of it is this: if the situation were reversed, if BF and I were married and we wanted the kids to call me “mom,” she would have a bitch fit so big that her head would probably blow off. So it’s a huge double-standard. She would never allow it in the reverse situation. (By the way, I would never ever in my wildest dreams want or expect any kid not my own to call me mom.)

Another comment: my BF graciously has never commented or complained about any of these issues himself. I have asked him if these things bother him but he just takes the attitude that you can’t change it. But he’s just so grateful that the kids have a normal guy for a stepdad who loves them and treats them right, so he’s willing to overlook these things. I think that is a real stand-up attitude on his part.

I completely understand this. Seen it happen many, many times.

My problem with your 2nd paragraph there is that it’s full of ‘I think, I believe, I feel’. While feelings should never be discounted, it sounds like a lot of your issue with it is based on that.

I hope everything works out for all of you, sounds like at least on your and your BF’s part that you’re doing what you can to maintain harmony. Congrats on that.

The kids will realize things like that as they get older. You and your bf are doing the best thing for the kids by not playing her games. I have never understood a parent who badmouths a child’s other parent in front of the child.

I hate to be a dick, but it sounds like you’re asking for opinions for more than just curiosity. You should have no input into any of this.

Of course not. I just hate seeing my boyfriend hurt. I think it hurts his feelings. So, I just wanted to see how other people have dealt with a situation like this. The opinions I got have made me feel a lot better.

One suggestion, if I may. It’s up to you, and I have no idea how relations are between your BF and his ex, but I cannot recommend enough that you try to keep things with her on as friendly a footing as possible. After all, the kids can sense all the strain, and it’s much easier on them if they see everyone is getting along. If you guys are relaxed, they will be. And it doesn’t have to be big; you don’t have to invite her to dinner or hang out with her or anything like that. When my step daughters came out to stay with us for the summer 10 years ago, they wanted to get their nails done and temporary dye streaks in their hair. I called their mom, introduced myself and said “look, this is what the girls want, is that alright with you?” Tanya (their mom) didn’t have a problem with it, but she would’ve if I’d just gone ahead and done it without asking. It’s all a matter of respect.