How Many Moms Can One Child Have?

by: Cynthia MacGregor

The divorced woman who was talking to me was distraught, hurt, and angry. The reason? She had just found out that her daughter was now calling her dad’s Significant Other “Mom.” “I’m her mom!” the woman seethed, her pain evident in her voice. “She’s not her mom. I raised her. I changed her diapers and kissed away her owies and put up with her nonsense when she got older. She can’t have two moms. I’m her mom.”

As Shakespeare famously said, “What’s in a name?” A lot, as Romeo and Juliet found out, and as this mother was also learning the hard way. A name can be more than a label. A name can be an indication of status or position. Does your daughter or son call your ex’s new wife or S.O. “Mom”? Or if not “Mom,” then some variant like “Mama”? It can be hurtful. But does she mean it with all her heart, or is she following orders, or at least a request? Did your ex or his new wife/S.O. tell your child—or at least suggest it would be a mark of respect—to call this interloper “Mom”? And is she really an interloper?

In all fairness, she probably isn’t trying to replace or displace you. She’s probably just trying to undertake what she feels is her responsibility when your child is at his or her father’s house—and she wants some acknowledgment of her position in return. Not all stepmoms are comfortable being called by their first names, and not every one of them can come up with a cute title that isn’t “Mom” or “Mama” but still signifies a position deserving respect—like “M.J.” for “Mama Joanne.” Nor does “M.J.” roll as trippingly off the tongue as “Mom” does. How much time does your child spend under this other roof? If she visits her dad once a week, his new wife/S.O. probably isn’t as big of a presence in your child’s life, and there probably isn’t as much urgency to call her “Mom,” or something similar.

On the other hand, if you and your ex have split custody, or even if your child lives with you but spends Wednesday evenings and every other full weekend at her dad’s, she and the new wife/S.O. have probably bonded to some extent. And that’s what is bothering you as much as the name: The fact that this woman is in your child’s life bears a relative amount of importance.

In another case, a divorced mom (I’ll call her “Sheila”) worked in an art gallery, a job that kept her out of the house while she was working. Her working hours included some evenings and weekends. Sheila’s ex’s new wife, whom I’ll call “Rayna,” was an architect with a home office. When Sheila’s 12-year-old daughter, “Tara,” was at home in the afternoons, Sheila wasn’t there and sometimes she had to leave Tara alone in the evening or on a weekend, as well.

Rayna, on the other hand, because she worked at home, was available to Tara to bake cookies with her, give her lessons in the artful use of makeup, try out different hairstyles on Tara, teach her a little about architecture, and — since Rayna was also handy with shop tools — get into little projects with Tara such as building a bird feeder and a bookcase. Sheila resented the fact that Rayna spent so much time with Tara when Tara was at the ex’s house — time Sheila couldn’t spend because she didn’t have a home-based job. She secretly gloated when Tara would return from a weekend or a Wednesday with her dad and report that Rayna had had too much work to spend much time with Tara that visit.

The bottom line for both the women is that motherhood shouldn’t be a competition. It’s understandable that you don’t want anyone else to usurp your position or even your title, but if you’ll just be the best darned mom you can be, things should work out in your favor — even if they work out well for “the other woman,” too.

While jealousy and competitiveness are understandable, they’re misplaced in this situation. If you and your ex’s new wife/S.O. can meet on common ground and work together to do what’s best for your child, that’s the ideal situation. If not, don’t turn into what some people call “Mall Mom.” That’s a mom who takes her kids to the mall frequently — to buy them things, to visit the arcade, to eat their fave junk food — to buy their love and loyalty. Usually this happens after the divorce, when the mom and dad are competing for their child’s affection, but it can happen after a remarriage, too, when the mom and stepmom are the ones engaged in competition.

Here are some points to remember:

Just because your child spends more time with his/her stepmom, or even has more fun with her, that doesn’t mean the child loves her better or trusts her more—or loves her at all.

Just because your child loves his/her stepmom, that doesn’t mean he/she loves her as much as he/she loves you, or loves her in the same way. Your child can be fond of this other woman, even close to her, but he/she knows who is his/her real mom.

Just because your child calls this other woman “Mom,” doesn’t mean the child loves her as much as you — or loves her at all. The nomenclature may be requested, not spontaneous.

You’re still Mom—the real deal. And, no matter what, you always will be.

 Are your children your whole world? Cynthia tells you why they shouldn't be.

Cynthia MacGregor is a multi-published author with over 100 books to her credit, of which roughly half were published conventionally and the remainder as e-books. They include After Your Divorce, Divorce Helpbook for Kids, Divorce Helpbook for Teens, Solo Parenting, "Step" This Way, and others. Forthcoming books include The One-Parent Family, Why Are Mommy and Daddy Getting Divorced, and Daddy Doesn't Live Here Anymore. She does write on other subjects besides divorce! To see the full range of her books, please For nearly two years she hosted and produced the TV show Solo Parenting, which was broadcast in South Florida over WHDT. Her column "Solo Parenting" appeared on out of business) and

Besides writing books, Cynthia is available for freelance writing assignments of most types as well as freelance editing. She has edited books, magazines, web copy, business materials, and more. She has also ghostwritten books for others. Cynthia has had nearly a dozen one-act plays staged, most notably by the Palm Springs Players, a community theatre group in Palm Springs FL. One of her shows, King Theo, written for a family audience, was produced in New York in the ’90s. Her song "America Again" (she wrote the lyrics) can be heard at You can contact Cynthia with inquiries about her books, about writing or editing assignments, or on other matters at Cynthia is a contributing expert at, and