Fact: I am a step child. Another fact: More than once in my life I have been told not to refer to myself in this way.
Why is there an aversion to using this phrase? What is the problem with acknowledging I am a step child with step relatives? It is, after all, merely a statement of fact.
Facts may be awkward. They don't, however, cause nearly as many problems as burying the truth.
I've made clear the fact 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, the one I am loyal to and continue to be a part of, is the one I refer to as my family. They are my tribe, I would never choose to refer to it as my step family, although it's shades of grey, not black and white as I shall explain.
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. In addition, I have always referred to my mother and stepfather as my "parents."
All very positive and happy so far, yes? So why have I come out swinging in defence of the term step, or blended (a phrase that is becoming increasingly common)?
First of all, there is no shame in being from a step or blended family. Although clearly an unintended consequence, suggesting the phrase shouldn't be used implies it comes with some stigma.
Far from carrying a stigma, the terms step and blended can also come from a very positive place. A step parent may wish to call themselves stepmum / stepdad to make clear there is a step element to the family and have no wish to usurp the natural parent.
As a step child, I can also tell you there's a very practical reason for me to make clear this is my status. 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 (sometimes unnecessary).
Of course, family units can be formed in controversial circumstances. Sometimes people have adulterous relationships and marry their lover. Sometimes people marry when their is a huge age gap between the partners. When this happens, any children from previous unions may want to make clear they are step relatives and who are you or I to question their motives?
There are fundamental differences between natural and step parents. For very good reason, step parents have 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 for individuals such as myself much more difficult, not easier.
This is an edited version of a blog post that first appeared on my blog, Dadbloguk.com.