It’s natural for parents to be concerned about a child’s relationship with a stepparent. Of course, parents most often worry that a stepparent will have a negative influence on a child’s life. But some parents worry that a stepparent will have too positive a relationship with a child, and as a result, will undermine their own relationship and authority.
This happened recently in New Jersey, where a child named Daniel developed a positive relationship with a woman named Lori after his father moved in with Lori and her three children. Lori, who had experience as a tutor, helped Daniel with his homework and generally looked after him while his father was away. Eventually, Daniel started calling her “Mom,” which is what Lori’s own children called her. The father began consulting with Lori on any important child-rearing issues.
Daniel’s mother responded by going to court, and demanding that the court order Daniel to stop calling Lori “Mom” and prohibit Lori from taking part in any discussions about how Daniel should be raised.
But the court refused to intervene.
According to the court, Daniel has a right to free speech under the First Amendment, and that means he can call Lori “Mom” if he wants to. A judge shouldn’t micromanage the ways a child refers to adults in his or her life, the court said.
The court also ruled that it was unrealistic to expect Lori to play no role whatsoever in decisions about Daniel’s upbringing. Lori has no parental rights over Daniel, but Daniel’s father has every right to consult with Lori if he wants to. The court said it had no power to turn Lori into “the legal equivalent of a potted plant.”