Just “Family”…but if you must…

21 Mar 2017

By….Lisa, wearefamilies.org Founder,  and mom of three

From Wikipedia, the definition of Family:

“In the context of human society, a family (from Latin: familia) is a group of people affiliated either by consanguinity (by recognized birth), affinity (by marriage or other relationship), or co-residence (as implied by the etymology of the English word “family”[1]) or some combination of these. Members of the immediate family may include spouses, parents, brothers, sisters, sons, and daughters. Members of the extended family may include grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, nephews, nieces, and siblings-in-law. Sometimes these are also considered members of the immediate family, depending on an individual’s specific relationship with them.

The term “nuclear family” is commonly used, especially in the United States of America, to refer to conjugal families. A “conjugal” family includes only the husband, the wife, and unmarried children who are not of age.[15] Sociologists distinguish between conjugal families (relatively independent of the kindred of the parents and of other families in general) and nuclear families (which maintain relatively close ties with their kindred).[citation needed] Other family structures, such as blended parents, single parents, and domestic partnerships have begun to challenge the normality of the nuclear family. [16]    


I believe Wikipedia has it right by acknowledging that times have changed!   Families are defined as being formed through marriage or blood, but DO include those living together and supporting one another financially, emotionally, and physically.  I have never understood why people support adoptive families as just families, foster families as just families, but some people still insist on prefacing our families as “step”families, as though to imply that we could never be quite as bonded and integrated as the aforementioned families, always a step apart, so to speak.  It’s this very need to isolate our families that is perpetuating this perception that we can’t possibly assimilate and succeed as traditional family units do.  Don’t those families work to spend time together, know one another, and support one another?  Of course they do; families don’t just happen-they are made, over time, through love, support, trust, and commitment-even traditional families.  Obviously there are times when there is a need to differentiate, but why do we not default to family as the primary descriptor of our blended families, and even individuals in that family (ie moms, dad)?

When we must differentiate, I strongly believe that we need to bury the step word, and replace it with blended. First, the reality is that the step has an extraordinarily negative connotation.  It JUST DOES.  There are hundreds of fables where the evil stepmother kills the children whom she hates.  That is, unfortunately, what that word represents…a jealous, angry, horrible mother.  And because of this, it must be replaced.  Words can be replaced in society when it is deemed a slur, and this MUST be replaced.  Think back to racial and sexual slurs that have been replaced over time to begin a new direction for sectors of the population that represent a much smaller percentage than us.  Blended families are expected to be THE predominant family structure, if not already!!  30 million children under the age of 13 are living in these families. Words matter. If we hope to change the perceptions and outcome of these families, then we need a new direction, and a new word.  The go in position as we create these new families must be one of the goal of success, and new language is key.

Old school organizations such as the Stepfamily Foundation have really pushed back on the idea of using blended instead of “step”. The assumption, as Jeanette Lofas from the Stepfamily Foundation says, is that:

“Stepfamilies do not ‘blend’.  If one is determined to use a cooking phrase, try ‘combine or gently fold.’”

With respect, why would anyone start with a position of defeat?  This dismissive attitude is what is perpetuating the failure in sentiment, effort, legal and social support our families need. This is nonsense!  If we assume from the beginning that the new family will not ever have a chance of working together in love, respect, and joy as would a traditional family, you will continue to see the epidemic failures as we have to date of these remarriages, as well as that of the bio parent/child relationship. The “go in” position must be one of success! On a secondary note, what is the difference between “”combined or “blended”?  The need to argue FOR an antiquated term, while splitting hairs over blended versus combined tells me that there is still antiquated thinking all around us, and we must be brave enough to speak up and push back. If you want to take the “cooking” analogy, let’s look at it this way.  You take several ingredients, and maybe or maybe you don’t chemically alter the individual components, but you blend them all together and you have a unique dish where all ingredients are needed to make it work!  Tabouleh is a wonderful example!  You must have each individual ingredient, and it makes a very unique dish. Sounds to me like you have taken  “ingredients” from a variety of fare, blended them together and made a unique dish.  Just a dish…that was blended.

I simplify this because it is imperative to stop using the step word. I am not a “step” removed from my kids. When our daughter found out that a friend of hers had been in a fatal automobile accident, she came looking for me to talk with her.  When she saw the crash site, my husband said she needed to talk with me as she was so upset.  I was not a step removed then.  I am not a step removed when our son calls to share that he is upset about an interpersonal relationship he’s having.  I am not a step removed when our daughter calls me to help her fill her tires with air.  I am not a step removed when I take them on college tours over my Christmas break.  I am not a step removed when I drive 3 hours each way to see our son at school for his birthday and bring him a homemade cake for his suitemates.  I am not a step removed when I am the sole parent (often!) sitting in the elements cheering on my daughter at a track meet or my son at a lacrosse game.  I am not a step removed when I willingly provide for my kids.  I am not a step removed when I keep up with other moms to make sure I have a pulse on their worlds.  I am not a step removed when I am on the PTA board since middle school.  I am not a step removed when my daughter seeks help when there is a tough decision to be made on her team.  I am not a step removed.  We have blended, over time, with love, sacrifice and effort-into a family.  Just a family.




  1. Harriet Major, Ph.D. Says: March 22, 2017 at 2:33 am

    I find this excellent paper relevant to many families today as it seems that blended families are more and more becoming the norm. In our blended family, for example, of seven children, all now grown, five are in blended families. We never used the prefix step ever as we were very much aware of its derogatory nature.

    For some time now, I have been trying to come up with names for the relationships in the family. I do think the word blended is quite acceptable, but then what are the parents and children called? Blended mother, for example, doesn’t seem to fit. I have not been able to find an appropriate English prefix for that relationship. I’m wondering if we might find some such word in a language other than English which wouldn’t have the negative connotation. I also think that it might be worthwhile to survey a number of blended families for their suggestions.

    Thank you for this very worth while paper. I’m hopeful that we will find a solution to this important problem.

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