We all know about the serious challenges facing parents when developing step parenting rolls. During our RSG interview, I mentioned the story of a stepfather, waking a 10 year old up by screaming at her about what a bad person her biological father is – or a 17 year old boy telling his stepmother that he will hit her back, after she threatened him with a hiding if he does not comply with her demands. These are a few examples highlighting the importance of step parents to constantly adjust and to always take the child(ren’s) feelings and needs into account, until all boundaries have been set.
Challenges aside, I then read through the Children’s Act again. What does it say about a child being forced to call the new step parent father or mother, or the step parents deceiving anyone into believing that they are the biological parent(s) of a child? What about small children who do not understand the difference between step, biological and adoptive parents and become totally confused ? What about the emotional or mental harm being done to a child when he or she has to cope with feelings of shame resulting from perceived disloyalty to the biological parent? (However, important to note that, where the “new” family is blended in the correct way, children choose to call the new parent mom or dad – or develop a special name for that parent out of free will.)
In short, the Children’s Act has the following to say about the role of step parents in respect of the care of step children and is very clear that step parents found guilty of some contraventions can receive a jail sentence of up to 20 years.
Parents24 parents had the following to say:
"Hi, speaking as a step parent to a girl who is now nearly 17 and no longer in my life, I don't think that it is something that should be forced My step daughter called me Mum when talking to me in English (her second language) and Tannie when talking in Afrikaans.
It was never suggested that she should do it, she just did it as a matter of course and very naturally. I have my own little girl and would feel a little heartsore if she called someone else Mum, when I have waited so long to hear that very special name."
"Being a step father, i honestly say, i see the kids as my own. M daughter (Step Daughter) call may daddy, but my son (Step son) call me uncle Gav. i am not going to force them to all me something they are not comfortable with. I let them decide what to call me."
"Hi, my step daughter was quite pleased after our wedding to be able to call me Mom. Her own Mom stopped that though, I understand but it's sad if initiated by the child themselves. My opinion, great if they do and it comes from them naturally, if not you still mean alot to them weither way."
"Hi all, my Boyz call my new hubby by his first name, and their stepmom by her name. However, we all talk about 'spare mom' & 'spare dad'. I don't think kids should be forced to call a step parent mom or dad - let them decide what they want to be called, and/ or let the kids decide what to call them. An Afrikaans friend of mine also has a lovely term - trappie pappie! Get it? Step = trappie! I love it, lol!"
"My step-kids were 3-years-old (girl) and 5-years-old (boy) when I moved in with their father after their mum abandoned them. They are now 7 and 9 and live with us permanently. I have a very strong bond with both of them, so much so that people cannot tell that I'm not related to them. My step-daughter calls both myself and her biological mother 'Mum', but she says I am her real mum. My step-son calls me by my name and we have a great friendship. We've never forced him to call me 'Mum' but he refers to me as his mum. I have my own son who is 6 months old and we are very blessed to have a 'normal' family."
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Chapter 3 : Parental Responsibilities and Rights
Part 2 : Co-exercise of parental responsibilities and rights
32. Care of child by person not holding parental responsibilities and rights
1) A person who has no parental responsibilities and rights in respect of a child but who voluntarily cares for the child either indefinitely, temporarily or partially, including a care-giver who otherwise has no parental responsibilities and rights in respect of a child, must, whilst the child is in that person’s care-
a) safeguard the child‘s health, well-being and development; and
b) protect the child from maltreatment, abuse, neglect, degradation, discrimination, exploitation, and any other physical, emotional or mental harm or hazards.
2) Subject to section 129, a person referred to in subsection (1) may exercise any parental responsibilities and rights reasonably necessary to comply with subsection (1), including the right to consent to any medical examination or treatment of the child if such consent cannot reasonably be obtained from the parent or guardian of the child.
3) A court may limit or restrict the parental responsibilities and rights which a person may exercise in terms of subsection (2).
4) A person referred to in subsection (1) may not-
a) hold himself or herself out as the biological or adoptive parent of the child; or
b) deceive the child or any other person into believing that that person is the biological or adoptive parent of the child.
Chapter 20 : Enforcement of Act
1) A person is guilty of an offence if that person-
a) commits an act in contravention of the prohibition set out in section 12(2), (3), (4), (6), (7), or (8);
b) contravenes a provision of section 32(4),………….
6) Subject to subsection (8), a person convicted of an offence in terms of subsection (1), (2), (3), (4) or (5) is liable to a fine or to imprisonment for a period not exceeding ten years, or to both a fine and such imprisonment.
7) A person convicted of an offence in terms of subsection (1), (2), (3), (4) or (5) more than once is liable to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 20 years or to both a fine and such imprisonment.
8) A person convicted of an offence in terms of subsection (1)(s) is, in addition to a sentence for any other offence of which he or she may be convicted, liable to a fine or imprisonment for a period not exceeding 20 years or to both a fine and such imprisonment.