My daughter won’t call me mom

By Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker

I am the divorced mother of a 16-year-old daughter. My husband and I split up when she was 8. Since she first began to speak, she has always called me and my husband by our first names. She is my only child and I have always wanted so much to be called “mom” or “mommy” or whatever. I’ve never made a big thing about it till my birthday just recently, when I told her the best birthday present she could give me would be to call me “mom,” even if it was just for one day. She refused.

My daughter is a terrific kid. She does very well in school, she is very popular socially and has lots of friends. She’s smart as a whip, pretty, kind, fiercely independent and doesn’t have a shy bone in her body. Her teachers have always praised her to me and think she is quite special and she’s never gotten into any trouble.

She is an only child at home, but she has 3 step-siblings much older than her who are married with children of their own. She gets along well with all of them.

At home, she is a handful. We have always had a close relationship, but once she became a teenager she became very disrespectful of me and her father, with a lot of tantrums, etc. Everyone tells me her behavior is typical of a girl her age, but I think she’s worse than the norm in the way she talks to me. Perhaps I’m wrong, but I don’t think so.

That is our background information. The question I have is this: What does it mean when a child always calls her parents by their first names? Is it indicative of anything? It feels so impersonal to me and makes me wonder if she loves me the way other children love their moms. By the way, when she refers to me to other people she refers to me as her “mom.” And my husband and I have always referred to each other as “Mom” or “Dad” in front of her, ever since she was born.

Thanks so much for your consideration.

A: Little children copy what they hear and please the people they depend on. My guess is that she initially called you by your first name because she heard other people address you that way. For some reason, you didn’t correct her or play with her using lots of phrases like “come to mommy” when you talked to her. Maybe you thought it was cute at first. Maybe you didn’t think it was such a big deal at the time. Or maybe you didn’t understand how other people establish what they are called. Later on, when stepkids entered your life, I’m guessing that they called you by your first name too – which only reinforced that you are called by your name. Whatever the reason, or combination of reasons, your daughter now has 16 years of thinking about you and calling you by your given name instead of by “mom.”

I don’t think she doesn’t love you. I think she’s worried that she loves you too much. Being a teenager, she needs to find some way to declare herself as an individual. She is declaring her independence by pushing at you – hard. One of the ways is by refusing your request. Meanwhile she refers to you as “mom” to others which shows you that she does value the relationship.

You’ve done a great job of parenting her as shown by the fact that she is wonderful in almost every way – except at home. That this is normal doesn’t make it any less painful for us moms when we’re going through it with our teens. Hold on to the fact that she’s so lovely and accomplished. Love her, no matter what but do let her know when she’s crossed the line and been disrespectful. Have faith that the closeness you had is still in there somewhere. It will come back out sometime in her twenties. I wouldn’t be surprised if someday when maybe you’ve given up on it, she starts calling you “Mom.”

I wish you well.
Dr. Marie

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Last reviewed: By John M. Grohol, Psy.D. on 12 May 2009

APA Reference
Hartwell-Walker, D. (2009). My daughter won’t call me mom. Psych Central. Retrieved on December 21, 2014, from http://psychcentral.com/ask-the-therapist/2009/05/12/my-daughter-wont-call-me-mom/

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