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Family labeling: What should children call their parents’ boyfriends and girlfriends?


I have explained to my 3- and 5-year-old children that their father’s girlfriend, her daughter and her extended family are not related to them. My daughter tells me that her father’s girlfriend insists that my daughter call her family members “uncle,” “aunt,” etc. I feel that my daughters should not do this since they are not related. How do I handle this situation?


Thanks for bringing this family labeling issue to light. Unfortunately, this is becoming more prevalent in our society. As you point out, this is confusing for children, especially younger children. It also gives a false picture of how a family’s structure truly is.  Small children growing up with inaccurate labels of adults become increasingly confused as Dad changes girlfriends and Mom remarries.

Here are a few of our recommendations: First, determine what you are comfortable having your children call the adults with whom they associate when they are with their father. If “aunt” and “uncle” are not labels with which you are comfortable, come up with an appropriate alternative that is not confusing for them. Share these titles with your children and their father.  Explain to their father why you came to this decision.

Second, consider creating a family tree with photos. Draw a tree with branches on paper, and use photographs to show your children who each person is and what their relationship is to your children. Review the tree frequently as a fun way to reinforce these family relationships.

Daddy’s girlfriend and her family are not on the tree because they are not family; they are friends. Should their father marry this woman, she will become “stepmother,” and her daughter, “stepsister.”

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