So About Those ‘Daddy’ Issues…
So, one of my favorite writing troupes is adopted families. I love them, especially when it’s a parent/child bond. They make me feel all warm and fuzzy. However, what I absolutely despise is when the child begins calling this new parent figure 'mom/dad’ right off the bat, or even at all.
Please, please, please don’t have your characters start calling new parental figures 'mom/dad’ right away. Whether they’re about to pass out or are in the middle of a mental breakdown or whatever, just don’t do it. It is unrealistic. (And can be a slap in the face to some kids, because we want to call our parental figures mom/dad or we think of them that way, but it feels wrong or weird, and it just makes us feel guilty or even a little annoyed or jealous.)
Now, has it been several years and lots of therapy and healing? Maybe this parental figure has earned that title of mom or dad. Maybe not. This can depend on a lot of things.
- The character’s age. I guarantee you, a preteen to teenager will not be breaking out 'mom/dad’ any time soon, or likely at all. If the character is younger (think 7/8), then mom/dad might be a possibility. Might. But that’s still gonna take some time. Anyone above the age of 9/10 is likely going to be grown up enough that suddenly calling someone mom/dad is going to feel weird/wrong/awkward.
- The character’s relationship with their biological parents or any past parental figure. Even if the bio fam is an abusive mess, if the character grows up calling their parents by mom/dad, they aren’t going to adopt those titles to any new parental figures. Those titles become associated with the bio fam, and even if the character sees their new parental figure as their mom/dad, they likely won’t use those titles. If the character is still fairly young and has never had a parental figure before, mom/dad may be in the realm of possibility, but it will still take time.
I have daddy issues that might top even Luke Skywalker’s. My biological dad led to a lot of hurt, so daddy/abandonment/commitment issues and I go way back.
However, I met my stepdad when I was four years old. I barely remember living without the man. He is an amazing guy. 7/10, because no one’s perfect. I can admit we have issues. But he’s still the only real male role model I’ve ever had in my life. 13 years, a cross country move, and a nasty family court battle later and… I still don’t call him dad.
It’s not that I don’t see him as my dad, because I do. When I talk about him to people, I refer to him as my dad. But I still call him by name the majority of the time. The mere idea of calling him dad just doesn’t compute, because even with the daddy issues galore, I grew up calling my bio dad 'dad’. It just feels wrong to call my stepdad that. So it’s his name and an occasional 'father figure’ when I feel like being obnoxious.
Do I sometimes wish I could call him dad? Of course. That’s what he is to me. Will I ever do it? Probably not.
This does vary from person to person. Some people may jump at the chance to have someone to call mom/dad. But when you’re writing, please take in your character’s background, personality, and situation before having them adopt the titles mom/dad. Please.
Tl;Dr: Characters likely aren’t going to go around calling a parental figure they meet after the age of 8-10 'mom or dad’ because they likely associate those titles with other people and establish a habit with calling their new parent figures by name. Nicknames are much more personal and will tell your reader a lot more about your characters and their relationship.