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Don’t Use “Step” As an Excuse: Are You Family or Not?

If you want to be a family, just be one. You could change a child’s life by taking the “step” out of parenting. My mother (step-mother) changed mine.

Getting Real with Kira Hazledine

I know this is a bit controversial. I promise I don’t mean to offend, because every family is different. People do what works for them, and they use the terms that make them comfortable. “Blended” is a subtle way to phrase what is more common than ever these days, as families fall apart and fall together again. As much as I love that step-parents are “stepping up,” I really wish we would consider them exactly what they are: parents.

My mom happens to be my step-mom, but few would know the difference. She is my momma, and has been a part of my life since I was six years old. She was front row at my high school and college graduations, seen crying at my wedding, and was present at the birth of my daughter and her first grandchild. You’ll never see us make the distinction about how her step-daughter did this and did that, in comparison to her son and daughter who are making similar achievements. We are family, and honestly, I would be devastated if it were any other way.

Perhaps it’s easier for us to forgo any mention of “step.” My biological mother has not made herself present in years, and it’s easy to forget that she ever was a part of my life. I don’t mourn the mother I never had, because I do have one, and have had an amazing mother for many years. I imagine for those families that have multiple parents going on that the distinction helps. Good for you! Glad it works. I just worry that “step” creates a barrier to children who desperately need caring adults in their lives.

I say this because my mother could have done things very differently. She could have insisted that we not call her “mom” and she could have referred to myself and my brothers as “step-children.” I promise you, she would have alienated me from that very first day and we would never have built a good relationship. I would have called her my “step-mother”, and that would have been that. I would have been a child completely without a mother, convinced that two different people had decided I wasn’t worth the time. That’s heavy for a little girl, let me tell you.

Instead, I was given a choice. As the child, I was given the decision to take control over the relationship that I had with my momma. At the time, my biological mother was still in and out of the picture, so I was very confused. She still held the mom-title, only because she had given birth, so I called the woman I consider to be my mom today by her first name. I did that until I was 18. Clearly, my momma is very patient, because it couldn’t have been easy. Grumpy teenagers use their parent’s first name, yet this is just what I did and had always done.

What’s surprising though, is that by the time I was about 8 years old I was already referring to this new person in my life as “mom.” When I spoke at school, I never mentioned a step-mother. I talked about the person in my life that was in the mom role, so it made sense to refer to her as my mom. I continued to have a personal battle with where these two women fit in my life, but at the very least, I had this one person who was always showing up. Every chorus concert, every soccer game, every cheerleading competition. Guess who was there? That evil step-mother of mine. Crazy, right? I can’t believe she had the balls to care, and treat me as if she had birthed me.

To love a child, you don’t have to be biologically related. It’s not that I have an issue with step-families or that terminology. I have an issue with those terms being given to the children, without so much as a discussion. What if they like having two moms or two dads, and want to pay homage to both? What if they have an absent parent and are desperate for you to be the person they need, but you’ve already drawn a hard line in the sand? I’m not saying kids can’t love their step-parents with the “step” title. Some children may be most comfortable with that phrasing, so that they don’t feel like they must choose sides. That’s great. But please, don’t make the decision by yourself, especially if you consider it an out.

I mostly have an issue with parents who feel like they don’t have to be responsible for their step-children. It’s shameful to marry into a family with no intent to love the children that were there before you. Even if you keep the title of “step-mom”, you still need to love and parent that child as if they were your own. If you want to be a family, just be one. You could change a child’s life by taking the “step” out of parenting. My mother changed mine.

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