2 out of 3 step kids started calling me dad, now what?
While I guess I'm not technically a step-father, I've been filling the role with my girlfriend's 3 children (13yo boy, 10yo boy, 8yo girl) for over a year. The plan is to get married, though current extenuating circumstances, such as finishing my grad school program, are pushing that back a couple years. I'm grateful to say I have a healthy relationship with all three children. During this time I've read all kinds of step-parenting literature from blogs to scholarly journal articles. When talking to friends I've often described it as being "as prepared as could reasonably be expected" for being a step-parent. That is until they threw me a curve ball this weekend...
On numerous occasions the younger two have asked me if I am/will be their "new dad." Consistently I have replied (in various forms) that they have a father who loves them very much and that we have an opportunity to develop a relationship together that works for us. In keeping with the literature I've read, I have never once requested or hinted that they should call me dad. Additionally, their father has shared custody and they spend every other week with him, so I've never expected anything different and have always been content with them using my first name or any nickname they have developed. So unexpectedly this past holiday weekend, the middle child asked if he could start calling me "Poppa." Not wanting to be rejecting towards him, I told him it was fine and that if he ever changed his mind and wanted to stop calling me Poppa, that would be ok too. Within an hour the youngest child picked up on it and she started calling me "daddy" after an almost identical conversation.
The curve ball came when my girlfriend and I noticed the oldest child getting rather upset about his younger siblings sudden change in what they call me and telling them that I am not their father. He is a fairly mature 13 and we are able to have pretty good conversations, in fact he told me about his first girlfriend before either parent. He and I talked about this change for a while and I restated to him that I am not intending to replace their father and that the younger siblings sudden change might be related to them trying to grasp the complexities of a family blending process (but I used 13yo language). It seemed to me like the conversation went well, but he still seems to get really upset at the siblings when they use these new terms. Now I feel stuck between a rock and a hard spot, while fearing that I may have unintentionally made a pretty stable family environment a lot more chaotic.