One year old calls my boyfriend Daddy

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 ???

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Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

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!

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