Q: My bonusdaughter and I were out shopping recently and a woman standing in line with us mistook me for her mother. This happens quite a lot and I'm never sure what to say. Should I correct them? What's good ex-etiquette?
A: You can't take for granted that people are related just by looking at them. People come in all shapes, sizes, and colors and their looks may have everything or nothing to do with their origin. But it's not an insult if people mistake you as being related. When such an observation is made, they may be responding to the ease in which you interact, not that you necessarily look like each other.
I say this from experience. I remember a time when I was mistaken for my best friend's mother. I know, I continue to hear about it to this day. I'm sure no make-up, sweats, and questionable hair contributed to the observation, but when we corrected the person who made the remark, her justification was more about the way we related, not that we looked like each other – and since I'm 13 years older than my best friend, I didn't feel it was that much of an insult.
So, here's the rule of thumb when someone makes a comment about your bonuschild (stepchild) looking like you – it all depends on who is making the remark. If it's just a casual comment by someone in the grocery line, to correct them may not be necessary – and a little rude if it puts them on the spot. On the other hand, if it's someone who sees you together often, say another parent at the kids' soccer games or possibly the school secretary, it would be bad ex-etiquette to allow them to think this is your child if their parent is active in their life. If their parent is not, the child may like that you are being mistaken for their parent. Knowing this, it's best to check with the child to see how he or she would like you to handle it. Brainstorm together for the proper words. When this has happened to my bonusdaughter and me, I've said things like, "I'm privileged to say she is my bonusdaughter. She was a bonus when I married her dad." They understood immediately, and it has always summoned a smile.
Good ex-etiquette is "good behavior after divorce or separation." If you can find a way not to put people on the spot when they are trying to give you a compliment – that's good ex-etiquette.
(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website www.exetiquette.com at email@example.com.)