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.