In defence of the blended / step family

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step family, blended family
Not just a Duchess, but also a stepmother and part of a blended family. Now deal with it. Pic credit below.

I read a fascinating post the other day on the Modern Dad Pages blog (Editor’s note: The aforementioned blog is no longer online). In the post Rod, the author, was arguing that the term blended family or step family isn’t necessary. We should, Rod stated, refer to such family units as “family”.

The sentiments Rod expressed were entirely positive. He was making a vociferous defence of the family in all the complex ways it exists.

I found it very thought provoking. I suspect what I’m about to say will divide opinion, but I’m going to come out fighting in defence of the terms “blended” and “step”.

First of all, let me get my declaration of interest out of the way. I am a step child. I have been most of my life and I have several half-brothers and a half-sister.

The family unit I have spent the majority of my life in, and continue to be a part of, is the one I refer to as my family. They are my tribe, I am loyal to them and I would never choose to refer to it as my step family (although we are building up to a “but”).

As regards my siblings, we are all half siblings, but we refer to each other as brother / sister. When speaking with each other, the term half is never used. I have always referred to my mother and stepfather as my “parents.” I wouldn’t want it any other way.

All very positive and happy so far, yes? So why do I wish to defend the terms blended and step?

The first point I would say is there’s no shame in being from a step or blended family. By the law of unintended consequences, suggesting the phrase shouldn’t be used implies that it comes with some stigma.

There’s also a very practical issue with being a step child. I have a different surname to everyone else in my family unit. I have been in situations where I have faced the questions; “what are you doing here?” or “what is your family connection to this event?” A discreet explanation that I’m a step / half relative establishes my tribal connection and everything is back to normal, often with an embarrassed look or apology from the inquisitor (usually unnecessary).

These terms can also be used in a very positive way. A step parent may wish to call themselves a stepmum / stepdad to make clear there is a step element to the family and have no wish to usurp the natural parent.

There is also the issue of how family units are formed. Sometimes they come together in controversial circumstances (ie adultery) and the children may not wish to refer to the resulting unit as their family.

There are fundamental differences between natural and step parents. For very good reason, step parents have very few legal rights or responsibilities towards their step child(ren). No matter how cosy the blended family unit is, officialdom doesn’t give much weight to the step parent / child relationship. It simply can’t be hidden from the powers that be, so why hide it from anyone else?

At the heart of the issue is personal identity. This changes by the minute or by the hour depending on what circumstances you are in and who you are talking to. I’m a son, a stepson, I have a loving family and yet it is also a family with blended / step element. I use each of these phrases and terminology as the situation dictates.

It’s a great idea to think we should stop using the phrase blended or step. In truth, I think it would make life more difficult, not easier.

Pic credit; Image sourced from Wikipedia and reproduced under Creative Commons agreement 3.0.

20 thoughts on “In defence of the blended / step family”

  1. I have no issue with step mum or step dad etc, as you rightly put it differentiates the non parent enough to not be stepping (sorry) on someone elses toes, yet conveys the parenting aspect. But I have to say I don’t like the term blended family, it comes across as it being not quite family, in fact the other night while watching the film blended I said to my youngest son we are a blended family and he put me firmly in place saying no dad, we are just a family and he is right, family comes n all manner of forms these days and there really is no need to have to explain how your family is to anyone so no need to use the term blended.

    My kids are brothers and sisters, some are only half related but they see no difference and call them brother and sister. Much like you and I think these days the simple phrase he’s my brother would normally do (I don’t think many people care if the names are different, do they?).

    So in conclusion (lol) no issue with step mum or step dad or even step brother, sister, son or daughter, but step family and blended family for me create a difference that isn’t (or shouldn’t) be there.

    1. Indeed Ashley, every family unit is different and every individual within it will have ideas as to how they wish to be referred. I refer to my “family” but, as a step child, I have (and still do ocassionally) find myself in social situations or run-ins with officialdom where I have no chocie but to explain the step aspect of my family. More often than not its in social situations and that’s where the labelling occours. It’s factual, and so it doesn’t bother me.

      Thanks for commenting!

  2. We are a blended/step family, but maybe with a slight difference.
    I have 3 kids, my hubby has 2. Of my 3, the eldest is from a previous relationship and the younger 2 from another. Hubby and I don’t have kids together. As i would have been 16 & 17 when my husbands children were born and with hubby 14 years older than me I’ve seen some strange looks from people so we always say we have 5 kids between us. Also the eldest child is profoundly disabled so if we just say 5 kids, 1 girl, 4 boys, people then ask ages, what they do etc, etc which then gets difficult when asked about our daughters disability so we just state it all up front straight away.
    However family members refer to the kids as their grandkids, say mum and dad when talking to them about us, they never contradict anyone and call one another brothers and sister. We blended as a family in 2000, they were then aged 1, 5, 9, 10 & 11.

    The only issue we have, which isn’t really too much of an issue as time has past is the constant need for people to ask ‘what about the children’s mother, where is she?’ no one ever asks about the other children’s father and the fact that with different names, hubby and I are often called Mr and Mrs B, rather than Mr and Mrs S

    1. Wow, you really have got a blended family haven’t you? I like your approach; just state everythinng up front. I think that’s the way forward. The line of questioning re where mum is just makes me want to roll my eyes. Such an old fashioned attitude. As you say though, not so much of a problem any longer.

  3. Some interesting points here. I’ve not really considered it before, but I think as you say it’s useful to have those words to explain things like a different surname, but I also agree that family is family, and all families are different so we shouldn’t need to categorise them really. x

  4. Great post John! I totally understand and agree with you about your post! As I watched Charlotte’s video there was one thing that really stood out to me and that is what other people may think or say about a blended family and that was the point I carried on with in my post about it! For myself I judge no one! The point of my post was to basically say that don’t worry about the Jone’s while you have your own issues at home and let them figure out how to blend their family their way! They have enough going on in their lives and do not need that extra stress of what the neighbor or friend might be thinking of them. Thank you by the way for writing that as it gives insight all the way around 🙂

  5. we are a step family, and my “girls” ( 2 of mine by birth and 1 step) all consider each other to be sisters, the oldest and youngest ( step sisters) get on amazingly and even look alike some say.
    They are all treated equally and I would lie my life on the line for any of them, and defend them to the ends of the earth,
    Their nephews and nieces see them all as equal aunts and uncles and we love spending family time together.
    The grandchildren understand the concept of having more grandparents and this is a major advantage to them at holiday time etc.
    I also have to add ( and this is another blog post no doubt) that blood does not always make you a close loving famiy but shared experiences does.

  6. I consider my stepfather to be my father, he helped my mum raise me and my brother, he walked me down the aisle and is even listed on my marriage certificate in the place of father (though it did have to be noted in brackets on there that he is my step father), he is granddad to Boo. He is for all intents and purposes my father, my stepfather, they are both words for the same person for me, even though I do have a somewhat strained relationship with my father. I don’t think there should be stigma attached to the term step or half etc they are all words to describe different relationships.

    1. Every relationship is diffrent. Thats why I think there should be no hard and fast rules and if someone chooses to use the term step / half / blended it is down to them. Step relationships can be incredibly complex.

    1. Yup, which was my point basically. Every relationship is different and so I don’t think there can be hard and fast rulkes as to how you refer to your family, sibling, half siblings, parents, step parents etc. Each to their own and live in peace.

    1. Indeed ALi, it is very much the norm in most families. Even so, the relationship between step parents and children can be very complicated.

  7. Firstly, is it just me or is the term ‘Blended’ un-needed in this scenario? I see nothing wrong with the term ‘Step’. I am technically a step-brother, but never have and never want to have anything to do with them. My parents seperated when I was 9 and my dad remarried. We didn’t want to be associated with them (not very nice people in our opinon) to the point that I refered to my step-mum (hurts to type that lol) as “My dads wife”. To me the term ‘Step’ is not a dirty thing to say. It seems people see that being a step-borther/mother/sister/father is a bad thing. Blended implies harmony when it is not always the case.
    /EndRant! 🙂

  8. Sensible and pragmatic as ever, John. I think this is a great example of something that seems simple in principle but less so in practice. Sometimes the problem is not the word – at its most basic level, a word like ‘stepfather’ is no more than a descriptor of a relationship between one person and another – but the additional meaning that some choose to place on that word. The problem, in other words, is people. Nothing malicious necessarily, but the simplicity of words is skewed by our individual experiences and viewpoints – what is a simple word to some carries a whole load of meaning to others (sometimes unnecessarily so). I’ll stop waffling now.

  9. An interesting read as I am a step-father with a step-son and Ted has a half brother and a step-sister! These family units are increasingly common and in my mind I’ll just use what works for us as a family. I think its a very personal decision and one that is probably different depending on each unique set of circumstances. Very thought provoking gentlemen. Thanks for linking this one up #bigfatlinky

    1. It is an incredibly complex area of family life and one that is very personal to each individual. Best keep all options open I say!

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