Words matter. I’m sure some of you think they don’t but respectfully I disagree. Just the same, names matter too. When a parent first learns they are expecting, they spend countless hours researching origins, meanings behind, and deciding on the perfect name. I’m curious if you have researched the origin of the word “step” in terms of a child or parent? Sure, mostly being called a stepparent, stepfamily or stepchild is harmless in the grand scheme of identifying family having gone through divorce and remarriage. But would you call the child you gained through marriage, orphan-daughter, orphan-son or call yourself father of an orphan or mother of an orphan? I doubt that you would. Unless you are a blended family, which treats each other like orphans. And, if so, that’s a whole other blog post.
The word “step” originates from the old English word – steopcild which means orphan. Not having parents and that is not the case with stepchildren as they belong to one spouse now remarried.
The word parent means: brings forth, offspring and relates to DNA. The act of parenting means: bringing up, caring for, promoting and supporting. There is a clear difference. One can be a parent in the word’s sense and not be a parent by definition of actions. The ones requiring clarification are the parents, not the children. And, when all are acting in the best interest of the child, why some refuse to acknowledge and celebrate even that another person cares for, loves, and supports their child just blows my mind. I’ve never understood it.
At first, the word “step” never occurred to bother me, the meaning or otherwise. In fact, when I first started writing about being a “step” mom, I playfully used the term in my title, “That’s Mrs. StepMom to you!” and I loved it. Being both a biological mother and now gaining a son through my husband, the way parents treated, spoke of and disregarded stepparents disgusted me. It still does to be honest. The only time I reference being a stepparent is when someone needs clarification or when writing on this topic.
Now when I hear it, I cringe. It is like cusswords for blended families. Step, mine, and your are all words that blended families should limit or not use entirely when speaking of/to a child. It discredits, disregards and makes it known they don’t belong to you or come from you. Why would that be necessary or even a desire? It surely is not a loving or kind desire. Let’s be real here for a moment, there are some families who fondly speak of each other with “step” and this is not for them. This is solely for the ones who can’t figure their own feelings of inadequacy and insecurities out. And who furthermore places those feelings onto their children who innately want to be loyal.
Saying “your child” does more harm than good. Using terms such as “my child” and “your child” are used to separate the child, parent, fault, and involvement. Why not just tell your spouse their kid sucks and yours is better? I mean, that is what your actions are doing and saying. Because when they are pleasing and doing something we are proud of, we wouldn’t say your child is smart, or your child played great in their game – that is how you talk about someone else’s child in another home, not someone in your own family and home.
When I speak of my sons, I speak of them as my sons, both of them. I do not address one as my husband’s son, or as my husband’s ex-wife’s son, or as my stepson – just my son. Our children call us both Mom and Dad, because we are both a Mom and a Dad. Children can have multiple parents without the need to differentiate. That need for differentiating comes from hidden insecurities in other parents and people unfamiliar with how blended families work. With the utmost respect and kindness for those who don’t understand blended families, it is not our job to make them more comfortable because they either don’t understand and cannot see themselves calling someone else aside from a biological parent, Mom or Dad.
The hidden or even visible insecurities that some parents have gives them this need for the world to know that they were the parent first. Let me tell you something – biological or otherwise, if you are a good mother/father, your title will never matter or require clarification. Being a biological parent doesn’t exalt authority over another parent except in cases of the law, and even then only if acting in the best interest of the child – when the parent can’t manage it on their own. The title or biology of a parent doesn’t make someone a parent anymore than standing in a garage makes them a car. And yes, I know that some judges and lawyers put ridiculous clauses in orders such as, – the child cannot call the stepmother, Mom. I’ve read these orders and they are ridiculous and assumptions lead me to two things. First, the mom was insecure and felt entitled to her role, and second, the child will resent one of these parents at some point.
I’m curious how many parents speak to their children and ask their feelings, opinions and desires about the other parents and really listen to their hearts. If a child wants to call someone else, Mom/Dad that is something that requires attention and consideration. A child desiring inclusion in something created by division of something which directly impacted them takes guts. It comes from a personal desire for connection and being part of a family, and that is beautiful.
We will never have a role superior to one-another because of marriage or biology. Countless times people have told us that a decision or action being made by us was the “main” parents’ place in our home. And, we smile and disregard it every time for two very good reasons: first, most often this advice comes from non-blended families and respectfully the will never understand, and second, we are the main parents in our home, as one united family.
I guess for me; I choose my son as my son. I choose him on the days he acts in such as way that screams he has other parents that raised him differently. I choose him on the days it takes the act of love and patience to love him. And I choose him on the days he acts just as I have raised him both good and bad. The moment he asked to call me Mom, I made a conscious decision to treat him as a mom would, as a mom to her own children would. The same goes for my husband and the way he loves, treats, supports and raises the two children he gained through our marriage – as his own; a daughter and a son. Not as orphans or steps – one united family acting in the best interest of raising our children with love and to love whoever they choose.
A version of this post was previously published on TotallyJessifiable and is republished here with permission from the author.
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Photo credit: Jessica Griffiths