The term ‘step’ was originally used in Old English times to refer to children who had been orphaned. The actual spelling was ‘steop’ which meant bereaved. In this case a bereaved child.
According to Old English times the word orphan encapsulated not only children whose parents (both) had died. Orphan could mean that only one parent had died. So when the surviving parent remarried, the new spouse became a parent of a ‘steopchild’. Same for if both parents died and the orphaned child was adopted. The child was still a ‘steopchild’.
Throughout the last century, the spelling, use of the term and its associations have transformed significantly.
‘Step’ (- the o) is no longer used to refer to an orphaned child with new parents. Instead the term foster or adoptive parent and child are now used. While ‘step’ is still the term used for remarriage (with kids) after a parent dies, it is also more commonly used with divorce/separation and extends to include stepmum, stepdad, stepbrother, stepdaughter and stepgrandparents.
‘Step’ (mother) is now associated with the dreaded, horrible and scary images of the wicked/evil stepmothers portrayed in fairy tales (i.e. Snow White and Hansel and Gretel). The true meaning of ‘step’ meaning bereaved is now lost. As a result, there is a lot of stigma attached to the term ‘stepmother.’ This causes many women to avoid using the term, to feel shameful or embarrassed of their role and to isolate themselves for a fear of judgement. For this reason many women and professionals use the word ‘bonus’ instead of ‘step’.
Some might see this as incredibly unfortunate because being a ‘stepmother’ from the view point of caring for a bereaved child, is a beautiful gift to give a child. Stepmothering IS built on grief no matter the situation (biological mother deceased or not). The foundation for your beginning relationship with your partner’s child is grief as they are in grief. This is a fact. It would then seem that the word ‘step’ in its original form, steop, is appropriate to use for women taking on the role of caring for children who aren’t biologically theirs.
I am curious to know about your relationship to the word ‘step’. Here are 3 questions to guide you:
- How do you describe yourself in relationship to your partner’s children?
- What do you think of the term ‘step’ and do you think this needs to be replaced with ‘bonus’?
- Do you think reclaiming the term ‘step’ is the way forward?
I would love to hear from you, so feel free to leave me comment and let me know your thoughts.
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