As the ranks of blended and nontraditional families expand, many parents are groping for a better way to label their relationships with their partner's children. As Jen C. explains, the "step" prefix can feel inadequate, and removing it can offend: “I absolutely adore my stepdaughter who is four and I have been in her life since she was one. But I hate the stigma when I introduce her as my stepdaughter. I am aware I am not her biological mother, and am afraid her mom will think I am trying to claim her as my kid if I call her my daughter. Any advice?”
As it turns out, there's little agreement, even among step-parents, on the ideal term. Many are aware that the way they refer to their step children can shape perceptions of the step-parent-step-child bond, both inside and outside of the family, and many have strong feelings about what they (and other family members) shouldn’t call step kids.
Ruth C., for instance, shuns the “step” prefix because she finds it fraught with negativity. “We have never been fond of the ‘step’ label when referring to ourselves or our children," she says. Referring to the four kids she and her new husband share in their blended family, she emphatically states, "They are not floor mats, they are children." Unfortunately, her mother-in-law does not feel the same:
“I also come from a broken home and know firsthand the pain of not being accepted by the new husband's family. I have made my opinion very clear on the subject, and yet my mother-in-law will still introduce my children as my ‘children from a previous marriage’ or as her son's ‘step-daughters,’ or as his ‘wife's children.’ The other day my daughter told her that her feelings were hurt by these phrases, and my mother-in-law responded with, ‘So what if I tell people he isn't your biological father, it’s not a big deal.”
Meredith W. also is not a big fan of calling the children in her blended family “step” kids.“I grew up in a ‘yours mine and ours' family,” she says. “No matter what other people thought or said, we knew we were a family and never used the word 'step' in our home."
But if you're dispensing with the "step" prefix, what are the alternatives? Here, Circle of Moms members in blended families weigh in on the various options and the controversies that surround them.
Calling Your Step Kids “My Kids”
Christine K. feels more than entitled to call her step son "my son." She has raised him without much help from his biological mom and reports that he calls her 'Mommy.' Her view, that your language should reflect your bond, is echoed by Megan K., who also dispenses with the "step" when referring to her stepchildren:
“I always introduce my twin stepdaughters as ‘my daughters. Once when I did that one looked up and said: ‘Well she didn't born us, but she is still my mom.’ I almost lost it (laughing that is). Kids say the darn-est things. She was seven when she said that.”
But there may be an even more important reason to lose the "step." Laura P. points out that the moniker you use speaks volumes about how you view the child in your heart. “I do not call my stepdaughter my stepdaughter to anyone because to me she is my child,” she says. “I also do not call myself her stepmother. If you are treating that child with love and you see her as your daughter how could that possibly be a bad thing?”
Renee H., mom to "three wonderful boys," one of whom is a stepson, agrees that in blended families all the children should be referred to as sons and daughters. “When I refer to [my stepson] I call him my son, or one of my boys.”
Creating A Special Name for Your Step Kids
Marcella N. is one of several step moms who feel the terminology problem is a call for creativity. She's a stepdaughter herself, and now that she's become a stepmom she's employing the same happy nickname she used with her own stepmom: bonus mom. “I am now a bonus mom myself with three beautiful bonus children. I love those kids as if they were my own and will continue to do so.”
Betty J. has also come up with an affectionate and clever way to refer to her stepdaughter. “When introducing my stepdaughter to people I say, ‘This is my Lucy.' When talking about her I often just call her my daughter and I really don't care what people think of it. It's not my job to point out to the world that she is my stepchild.”
Nicole G. and her husband refer to their blended family of children as “our kids," using pronouns to draw the distinctions between the ones they share biologically and the ones they each brought to the marriage:
“When my husband and I are talking, we both refer to the kids as ‘our kids,'” she says. “Close family members refer to them as my kids or ‘you and Jason's kids."
Sticking With "Stepson" and "Stepdaughter"
In spite of lively conversations about alternatives to using "stepson" and "stepdaughter," quite a few moms in blended families prefer to hold on to these traditional labels. As Petra K. shares, in her family they reinforce important distinctions:
“I refer to mine as my stepson. I figure he already has a mom, and he loves her very much, so there is no need for me to try to fill that role for him.”
Julie G. agrees that "stepchild" is sufficient: “I have a 16-year-old stepson and have been with my husband since he was two,” she says. “I have never played mommy to my stepson and that is not to say I don't have thoughts and opinions regarding him, but as a stepdaughter myself I know there is a delicate balance to maintain between stepchildren and stepparents,” she says.
How do you refer to your kids in a blended family?
Image Source: RashidaSimmons via Flickr/Creative Circle
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