“Are you Little Miss’s, ummm aunty?” asked my little cousin.
I’ve got to hand it to her, despite only being four she had the street smarts of someone far beyond her years.
My cousin’s parents had been separated for years and her mum happily re-partnered with man that my cousin now happily refers to as her stepdad despite no formal marriage taking place. Along the way my cousin had a few ‘uncles’ and knew playmates who often had their parents’ significant others masquerading as ‘aunties’ and ‘uncles.’
This is the same Stef who brought us What to expect when you weren’t expecting.
But at that point, I was at complete loss to answer my cousin’s question so I went for a factual response, “Umm no, Little Miss already has an aunty. Two in fact if you count my partner’s sister-in-law.”
“Well, are you you her stepmum?”
How the hell do I answer that kind of question within earshot of a child I only met a few months ago? The answer I picked was a Dora the Explorer DVD in the hope that my cousin would be distracted long enough to drop the topic.
The truth was, I wasn’t and still don’t really know how to put into words my relationship with my partner’s child. Because let’s face it, once you put a label on someone you assign a whole bunch of emotions and associations to the person or thing you are labeling.
Like for instance Little Miss’s mother.
When I use the term ‘ex wife,’ it conjures up all the negative and sometimes hateful emotions one might expect. The ex wife label defines her in relation to my partner and their marriage. However, when I call her ‘Little Miss’s mother,’ it humanizes her and softens the imagery a bit. A more delicate label evokes a more positive emotional response.
But what about me? The term stepmother comes with so many negative connotations. It’s true that as I hone in on 30 I do have more facial hair than I’d like to admit but I do not in any way resemble the stereotypical wicked stepmother depicted in those fairy tales.
You will not find a single wart on my nose and, despite the state of the garage, I’m pretty sure that there are no dungeons or spinning wheels to be found around my home. Besides, any term that uses the word ‘mum’ is likely to piss off Little Miss’s mother.
The only person who didn’t seem to care much about the name game was Little Miss. She knew Daddy loved me and I loved him and that we both cared for her, which was really the most important bit.
She had always referred to me as Stef, and truth be told we didn’t really need a label because I had always just been her Stef.
I secretly worried that if we didn’t attempt to label our relationship someone else would do so for us and thus to define my relationship with the child from their own perspective. In the end we decided to let the issue lie until the child raised it.
Sure enough, a few months ago Little Miss was at our kitchen table asking if I was indeed Daddy’s girlfriend. I had wondered if we should try coming up with a label for me before she started school since she’d inevitably have other kids asking her who ‘Stef’ was if my name ever popped up in conversation.
Apparently it did, and for a few weeks all I heard was “Are you daddy’s girlfriend?” over and over again.
The questioning finally stopped when I finally added that Daddy was my boyfriend to my answer. At that point, a little light seemed to go off in Little Miss’s head and she seemed contented; if Daddy could be my boyfriend, then we could be friends too.
Whether or not my partner and I get married, I’m sure at some point the term stepmum is bound to enter our household. In the meantime, I continue to search for an appropriate nickname – one that satisfies Little Miss’s need to solidify my place in her life while not causing confusion or conflict with her biological mother.
So far the only label I’ve come up with is ‘Stef’ because that’s who I am.