Wednesday, April 25, 2012

What to Call the Step Parents

Recently a reader asked me what Indians call step-parents. I honestly had no idea. In the US the family relation of a step-parent is introduced as such. For example, if I was introducing my mother's current husband I would say "this is my step-dad." My mother never encouraged me to call him anything. She never asked me what I wanted to call him and he never pushed for any special name either.

When I address him, I call him by his first name. It's never been an issue. I can't say I liked him much in the beginning of their relationship. He wasn't the father I imagined would come back and I didn't want a replacement. I didn't call him by his first name out of disrespect, I simply didn't know what else to call him and step-dad is quite awkward. Now days my step-father likes to refer to himself as 'the stepped on step-dad.'

Divorce numbers are increasing in India. There seems to be a general idea that men who get divorced can be remarried off to a new arranged marriage. Often that involves leaving the kids with the mother and I've known of two cases where the father didn't see the kids again. I know of one where the father kept the baby because the mother refused to have anything to do with it and now, he's not remarried. I haven't heard of any plans for him to be.

Many Indians, whether it be their first marriage or second marriage, are also marrying women who already have kids. Some of these women are Indian and some are foreign. Unfortunately there are also losses of a spouse that lead a parent to get remarried. But what do the kids call the new parent? What about the grandparents?

I've done some checking and there doesn't seem to be any Hindi words for step-father, step-mother, etc. So to help my reader, I asked the pardesi networks. The ladies, as usual, gave some awesome responses and I want to make sure that anyone not already in our networks can share the ideas and offer more suggestions.

  1. Call the step-parent a name such as "big momma," "big daddy," "little momma," or "little daddy" in the Indian step-parents native language. Here in Punjab that would be "vada mummy ji" for big momma and "choti mummy ji" for little momma. Another fun suggestion along these lines was "shorti momma."
  2. Let the children call the Indian step-parent by the word for mom or dad in the Indian step-parent's native language. This gives them the distinction of there being a difference between their real parent and the step-parent but they can still call the step-parent mom or dad. 
  3. Make a game of it and let the children come up with words to represent the step-parent. This idea gives them a fun and positive experience and helps them feel like they are not left out of the new family situation. You can offer suggestions for the children if they're young and don't have a broad vocabulary. This is also helpful if you want to offer words in the Indian step-parents native language.
  4. If the Indian partner is the parent, then the pardesi step-parent could be called "gori momma" or "gora daddy." 
  5. Call the step-parent by a combination of their first name (or last name) preceded by momma or papa. For example, Papa Vinod or Momma Shruti.
The most popular answers involved letting the child choose the name they referred to the new parent by. This takes any pressure off of the child in what may already be a stressful situation.A child should never be forced to call the new parent a name of either parents choosing. This could cause the child to resent the new step-parent.

All of these ideas also work in reverse. If the children belong to the Indian, they can call the pardesi step-parent words in the pardesi's native language.

Are there any other suggestions you would have for my reader? What did you call your step-parent? If you have children and have remarried, what do they call your new spouse?


  1. There is no specific term for step-parent in French either, instead the term mother in law and father in law applies to both a step parent and the parents of your spouse, that is very confusing.
    Step kids is another touchy issue, because if one parent remaries and have kid again then they are called half brother/sister, but if the parent marries a person that already has kids from a previous marriage they are you brother/sister in law because they have no blood ties.

    Personnaly I much much much prefer the step parent and step sibling term, the French terms do not specify the relationship, and a parent re-marrying is something much different than marrying yourself and having in-laws. I speculate that it has to do with the fact that even though divorce is common in Europe now there is still a stigma associated to it and the French language hasn't come up with a term to address the matter of "recombined" families.
    I used to call my step brothers by the  "half brother" word when telling other, my generation doesn't blink at it, they understand, my mom corrected me saying it was not right, and my grand ma pointed out that no they aren't my half borthers because we share no blood, but dear heaven, they aren't my brothers in law either!

  2. Step parents word differentiate the relationships no matter who is he/she matter how is his reltaion with us so don argue on step parents always try to find a love in all relation.

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  3. American you have a child from a previous relationship?

  4. I always called my step-mom by her first name, Jane. It has sort of evolved into "mama Jane" over the years. She has been a part of my life since I was 3 so I really do feel like she is a mom to me too.

  5. Comment from Tulika

    I always called my step-mom by her first name, Jane. It has sort of
    evolved into "mama Jane" over the years. She has been a part of my life
    since I was 3 so I really do feel like she is a mom to me too.

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