Wednesday, March 1, 2006

I Label You, You Label Me

More and more I am realizing that the labels assigned to Blended Families have a strong influence on our emotions.
Stepfamily. Blended Family.
Stepmom. Bonus Mom.
Broken Home.
StepBrother. Half Brother.
ExWife. BioMom.
Not unlike Pavlov's Dogs we can't help but react with conditioned responses when we hear and use some of these terms. Our reactions may be positive but it seems that they are all-too-often negative.
I began to wonder.
If we were to take more control over our choice of assigned labels might it also change our emotional reactions for the better.
I started wondering this when The Husband began attending a post-divorce parenting group. The group has one very specific rule: when referring to your Ex you are not allowed to refer to them as your EX. Instead Husband must refer to her as his Daughter's Mother.
I think they may be on to something.
Use the term ExWife and it conjures up all the negative and sometimes hateful emotions one might expect. The ExWife label defines her in relation to HIM and their fucked up marriage.
However call her Cinderella's Mom and it almost humanizes her and softens the imagry a bit.
A more delicate label evokes a more positive emotional response.
Stunned by own insightfulness I began exploring this theory and found that I had unconsciously been applying this practice in my own "step-relations" with a positive outcome.
The first application began with my own StepBrothers. I have two and am much closer with one than the other. The StepBrother I am closer with always refers to me as his Sister and likewise I call him my Brother. The omission of the "step" label has resulted in a much stronger bond between us.
My other Stepbrother was married before our parents got hitched so he was out of the house when I moved in. He and I never developed much of a relationship and we always referred to one another as StepBrother & Sister. Until recently that is when I began calling him my Brother. Now a new bond has developed which I feel is directly related to his new label of Brother.
I want to do what I can to improve my own relationship with Husband's Ex Cinderella's BioMom.
Maybe by giving her a more positive label I can soften my own emotional response to her.
Maybe I can learn not to dread the days when she and I must interact.
Maybe I can learn to like her tolerate her accept her.
Just maybe.


Dolfinnlover said...

Can you maybe possibly add this insight to your store. I Love the products, but I will also want some nice product, just a opinion.

Lauri said...


Just found your online store and now your blog!

Erin said...

I sometimes think we need lables though just to sort out who everyone is and explain blended families to others. If I talk about my brother then people assume I'm talking about my biological brother but if I was talking about my stepbrother that would confuse them. And I think calling my stepmother my stepmother actually brings her closer to me then calling her my dad's wife.

Wicked Stepmom said...

Erin: I actually stopped trying to explain my blended family to anyone b/c it's not important enough to me to point out that fact. Plus, it's so freakishly large that it gets confusing even to me! :) When it comes to my brothers, I do what anyone with more than one sibling does, refer to them by name to avoid any confusion (i.e, my brother "John", my brother "Steve", etc.)

I agree with you on the stepmother point. It is more familial than calling her "your Dad's wife." Some folks like to use the term "Bonus Mom" instead; it's an even softer label which my stepdaughter and I have also tried on for size!

parrotheadmom said...

my half sister is younger than my stepdaughter, my brother in law older than my parents, my stepkids are taller than I am!
so many blended families, it just keeps life interesting.
If you feel softening towards the EX is warranted than go for it. In my case, it is not.
I look forward to reading more of your blog!

:o) said...

my husband's kids call me by my first name. I don't particularly like that because I think it should be something more cozy. They do slip and call me mom sometimes. :oD (Their mom would flip). We have never allowed the kids to refer to each other as 'step'.

Trish said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Trish said...

I've used the label "[finance's daughter's name]'s mother" so many times in a negative context that using that now wouldn't help. I've always referred to her as "ex" or "[finance's daughter's name]'s mother." I think using her actually name is what is starting to work for me, because I've used her actual name the in negative contexts the least. I think I thought that if I called her by her actual name before, it would make her human and I didn't consider her a human then, I thought she was the devil actually, so I didn't give her the honor of being called by her actual name. Now that she has become so much tamer, I've noticed that I don't mind her calling by her actual name now and I think it helps me see her as a person instead of a former devil.