A Catholic friend of mine will soon be marrying a Catholic widower with three young children. They are wondering what his children should call her once she is their stepmother. They don’t want to ask the children to call her “Mom” because the children remember their mother and because it could irritate his late wife’s family. But they also don’t feel it’s right for the children to call my friend by her first name. Is there a solution?
In my opinion there is an awful lot of unnecessary scrupling going on in our society these days over whether people “deserve” honorary family titles. It happens to be a relatively recent phenomenon. My own mother, who grew up in the 1940s and '50s, entered a foster home at the age of 6 and called her foster parents “Mom” and “Dad” for the rest of her life (even though her own mother was still alive). She also called her in-laws, my grandparents, “Mom” and “Dad.”
I say this to point out that there is no reason why your friend’s future stepchildren couldn’t call her “Mom” (or some other form of the title “Mother” if they want to distinguish her from their late mother). It should be hoped that the late wife’s family would be mature enough to understand that such a title does not deprive the children’s mother of honor but gives the children a second mother to love and honor.
That said, sensitivities do have to be taken into account and there may be cases in which it would not be prudent for children to call a stepmother “Mom” (e.g., their parents are divorced and share custody of the children). In cases like that, some other honorary title should be used. In the South, there is the tradition of children using “Mr.” or “Miss” in front of an adult’s name (e.g., Mr. Greg, Miss Laura). There are also affectionate titles from foreign languages that might be considered (e.g., Mio or Mia, depending on gender, from the Italian word for “mine”).
I agree with your friends that children should never call their stepparent by his or her first name alone. Personally, I feel that even adult children who have not grown up with a stepparent should refrain from calling the husband or wife of their parent by his or her first name alone.