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What is a step parent?

GreenTeaTime's picture

In light of a blog entry that has stirred up quite a commotion, I will risk also throwing myself under the bus on asking this: what really is a step parent? I always thought it was only through marriage that you might consider your self a stepparent, but it appears that many people consider themselves stepparents if they are living with a person who has children, esp if they take care of the children. When I came to this site, I was confused at first by many who called them selves stepparents, but yet they are not at all married to their significant others... I don't want to start an argument with anyone, just get opinions on this, since it's a new one for me. What really defines a stepparent?

KeeKee's picture

but if we use "marriage" as the golden standard then there would be a lot less wonderful people on this site. Just like a nuclear family is not the norm, marriage seems to be becoming less common (especially for those that have been there)You cannot tell me that just because 2 people aren't married that they are unable to provide the sembelences of a "normal Family" for their children.

Like-wise, if you define motherhood by the fact that you have physically given birth, then there are millions of mothers out there who cannot be considered mothers because they "only" adopted their children.

Seems to me that this is black and white thinking that can only serve to exclude people and the rest of us will be much poorer for it.

By the way, I've been married to my husband for 7 years and have been a step mother for 11 years.


Anne 8102's picture

I think a lot of people use the term "stepparent" to signify relationships other than what qualifies as a stepparent by the legal definition. So I guess the definition depends on the situation.

Merriam-Webster defines stepmother as "the wife of one's father when distinct from one's natural or legal mother." Some states may recognize common law marriages, which would give a common law spouse the status of stepparent, even though there is no record of an offical marriage ever taking place. defines stepmother as "the wife of one's father by a later marriage."

The Oxford Pocket Dictionary of Current English defines stepmother as "a woman who is married to one's father after the divorce of one's parents or the death of one's mother."

All three definitions imply marriage. My opinion is that a "stepparent" is a person who is married to someone with children. I tend to go with the legal definition, I guess, because of my paralegal background. On a personal note, though, I also conversely believe that a person who is living in a committed relationship with someone who has children and who is actively involved in parenting those children is as much a stepparent as anyone who is married. I don't consider my father's wife my "stepmother" because I have only met her one time and have no relationship. To me, legally speaking, a stepparent implies marriage. But I think in reality, in everyday life, it takes more than the marriage to create a stepparent and I think you can act in the capacity of stepparent without having to officially be married to the child's parent.

I think the definition varies with the situation. For purposes of this site, for example, I guess anyone romantically linked to a parent is a stepparent. Whether or not that person would be awarded that same status in a court of law is debatable.

♥ ANNE 8102 ♥

"I know why families were created with all their imperfections. They humanize you. They are made to make you forget yourself occasionally, so that the beautiful balance of life is not destroyed." ~ Anais Nin

bellacita's picture

just bc 2 people chose or chose not to get married doesnt make either any more or less of a step, in my eyes. if we went solely by marriage as the defining criteria, then same sex partners wouldnt be steps. if 2 people are committed to each other and to help raise and care for each others children, and consider themselves family, then they are acting in the step capacity. marriage doesnt define it for me, never has...its more in the level of commitment and involvement w the child(ren).

"Given the right reasons and the right two people, marriage is a wonderful way of experiencing your life."
~the late great George Carlin

Angel's picture

analysis of the term Anne.

I really don't feel like a step parent even though my legal spouse has children. I don't feel he is a stepfather to my children either. I feel that if I were "raising" the children then I would be a step. My children have a father. His children have a mother. I don't want to raise any more children. I am like an aunt to them---NOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO RAISING-------------- whoa, so done with that!

sarahbernheart's picture

I am not married YET...but FH has 3 kids, one son full time although he is 18 and 2 others that are EOW 15 & 12
and although I care for them I techincally am not raising them.
like Angel they have a mom and a dad, and I am more like a favorite aunt.
I dont take them to doctors appt, dont help with homework, but I do give advice and run them around to friends when asked. I guess I came to this site cuz I needed advice in how to handle a situation relating to a man who already has children? Married or not raising or not issues seem to be similar.
I love this site and it has helped me so much PLEASE dont make me leave please please please!!

"Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without one."

semi's picture

... could be a semi-step? I'm with Bellacita. I've been with the boy's dad 4 1/2 years, living together for 4. I tuck in, bandage, take to school, help with homework, go to school events, correct bad grammer, remind them to brush their teeth, throw birthday parties, make sure they have clean clothes and try not to throttle them when they're driving me nuts. I do all of this in partnership (although not always in complete agreement!) with their dad but we don't have a thing legal or in writing. All was well until the oldest turned 14 and things have been a bit tough lately. The situation makes me completely crazy sometimes but thanks to the welcoming, helpful people on this site (who have never made me feel that I didn't belong without legal status) I may stay sane after all!

frustratedinMA's picture

I think anyone that has someone else's children staying w/them, no matter how frequent to be a step parent.. Some people are hesitant about putting themselves into a marriage given THESE circumstances. I do not think they are any less.. They are for sure not a glorified babysitter.

I think perhaps people that have no blended family issues should not be on here.. but, with a few exceptions, I have seen PLENTY of women and men (dont want to foget you guys) on here that deal w/problems in their lives due to SOMEONE ELSE'S kids.. and that is what it comes down to.

just my two cents that people like Crayon, Bellatica, sarahbernhart and CHAVA do belong. They are living the life and walking the walk, why does a piece of paper make it more official?

bellacita's picture

will i be official then?! lol!

thanks frustrated...we all do belong...

"Given the right reasons and the right two people, marriage is a wonderful way of experiencing your life."
~the late great George Carlin

GreenTeaTime's picture

anything about making people leave , or about who should be here or not. I think we all have a lot to offer each other, as long as everyone can come to the table with an open mind and accept the advice that is given with a grain of salt... just because we are giving advice does not mean we have to take it right? Anyways, Anne has some very good points. I guess the thing that I was thinking is that maybe we could be more descriptive in our bios, so that we know were a person is coming from. I have seen people post comments that made no sense, and that were kind of inappropriate, but the person who was doing the commenting would have no way of knowing the posters background, just assumed that the person is married. I think if it's not listed in the bio of a poster, then naturally, people will assume.
I'm not saying at all that um-marrieds are not steps, or that they don't belong here, but just that maybe a little more information would help relieve some of the confusion, just as I was (confused) when I joined up.

Seize the moment. Remember all those women on the Titanic who waved off the dessert cart.-Erma Bombeck:

Chel Bell's picture

I don't feel like much of a stepmom these days, cause we don't see the kids. We hope to next year after the holidays,depends on our $$ situation, as we continue to dig out of the hole, but we will have to go to Fl. to visit w/ them, and see them at my MIL's house, as to keep the no contact rule going w/ BM. I hope the plans we have in mind work out. I have not really spoken to the skids much, but we all do ask about each other, and give our love. My DH got to talk to them alot last week when they were visiting my MIL, and now she is up here visiting us, and has lots of "stories" , and pictures. I love my skids, and I do miss them. My SS and I got close last year when he lived with us, and it was hard moving away and not having him around anymore....he wanted to be back with his that what could I do. He misses me , and I think has a new appreciation for the things I did for him, I like to think that a step parent, is loving and caring for your significant others (be it bf, gf, dh, or whatever) children, and being there for them as much as you can according to your personal situation. "~waiting on the world to change~"

glynne's picture


I was a stepmother for about 15 years. That included the time that I lived with my future husband and SD lived with BM in another state plus the time that BM moved back to our area and SD moved between the 2 homes freely PLUS the time that she lived soley with us PLUS the times that she went away to colleges and we supported her. My parenting ended when I FINALLY had enough of her manipulative histrionic behavior and she moved out. SD and DH have a relationship and I stay out of it.


Seriously, it's your committment to the child and your partner.


frustratedinMA's picture

HA.. omg.. Crayon you crack me up.

Actually.. I had read once that fairytales w/the evil stepmoms was originally written to be the actual mom.. somewhere along the lines, that was switched to step moms since no one wanted to believe that a mother would do that to her own child.

I will try and find that online and post the link if I can!!

sarahbernheart's picture

I wasnt trying to start an arguement I was being light hearted about it, I should have put a smiley face on my post.
compared to some of the issues- I know mine are pretty minor but I have gained strength by everyone's comments/posts/advice.

thank you
"Better a diamond with a flaw than a pebble without one."

smurfy1smile's picture

I consider myself a step-parent or bonus mom to my FSS 8 months. I am the mother of his older sister and they share the same father. I take care of the little guy when we have him and make sure he has what he needs like food, diapers, etc. Grandma helps too. The BM generally talks only to me during pick ups and drops offs unless I encourgage my BF to speak up and tell her stuff like the when baby ate last or had a nap. BF and BM generally communicate only via email since neither of them can be civil about anything more than minor stuff. BF and I have been together for 14 months and baby is 8 months so I have been there from the start. I am pretty sure BM trusts me since she has stated in writing that she is fine with me caring for baby while BF is at work and baby is at our house. I had a step-father growing up and he was not my parent. He had 3 kids of his own and my mom had 2. They got married when all of us kids were in out late teens or grown. I think at that point you are too old to get "new" parents so to speak. To me, he was my mother's husband.

PinkPixie's picture

My personal definition doesn't require a marriage certificate, but I think in order to be considered a stepparent you should be living together under one roof.

Btw, my mom got married again when I was well into my adult life, and even though he's her 4th husband, he's the first one I have ever called my stepdad. All the rest I referred to as "my mom's husband."

Anne 8102's picture

Maybe co-parent is better, although I think co-mom and co-dad sound stupid. I'm not sure about the whole "bonus" thing. I'm seven years into this and I am still not 100% sure I'd consider this a "bonus." It's all just trying to fit a square peg into a round hole. Legal definitions haven't kept up with reality, but that's not exactly a newsflash.

♥ ANNE 8102 ♥

"I know why families were created with all their imperfections. They humanize you. They are made to make you forget yourself occasionally, so that the beautiful balance of life is not destroyed." ~ Anais Nin

Sita Tara's picture

Sound somewhat disengaged.

I am SD's parent. That's what I usually say anyway and it's what I sign on medical forms when I take her to the Dr (since I'm the only one doing it and want to avoid the bias some medical professionals unnecessarily bestow on me.) SM is a term she uses for the most part when introducing me, but I say she is DH's daughter, or "our daughter" most of the time I'm introducing her.

Since I do more "parenting" than either of her parents, by sheer availability and proximity, I feel "entitled" to the title mom more than BM flippin' should. SD used to feel that way too, but BM's brainwashing has finally taken over.

I use SM on here to make it less confusing. Same as I don't go around saying I am my sons' BM, or they are my BSs!

I don't think you have to be married to be a step parent either. You don't have to be married to be a bio parent right? I was the parent, when only engaged to DH, who left my job when SD had strep, a fever, and a raging case of impetigo (that BM, an RN had looked at and said it was just mosquito bites and sent her to school. I went, because DH was an hour and a half away, and BM didn't want to pick SD back up after taking her to school that day very ill, because it wasn't "her day" to have her.

Lots of labels for what we do, but none conjure up the evil wicked stereotypes that SM does, eh?

"Om Tare Tutare Ture Mama Ayurpunye Jnana Putin Kuru Svaha"
~Sita Tara Mantra

Sita Tara's picture

Radical Nutcase

in BM's case.

"Om Tare Tutare Ture Mama Ayurpunye Jnana Putin Kuru Svaha"
~Sita Tara Mantra

The Principlist's picture

On this site I use the step label and mainly in dealing with the kids friends parents, teachers. For the most part I state that I am their mom because if I do all of the cooking, cleaning, running around, bandaging up, smoothing over, reassuring, confidence boosting, disciplining, etc. I have EVERY right to be considered mother. I am the one home making homemade chicken noodle soup when they are sick, I am the one sitting at every performance, accomplishment sporting event, etc. cheering them on so I too rarely use the whole step label. As for those who know the situation they will tell you that I've been more of a mother than BM has every considered being.

Step Mother's Motto this week is:

You don't have to LOVE me, you don't even have to LIKE me... But you will RESPECT me.

Sita Tara's picture

BM is bailing on SD. Just dropped off all EO weekend visits. Only a matter of time til Weds are gone as well I'm sure.

"Om Tare Tutare Ture Mama Ayurpunye Jnana Putin Kuru Svaha"
~Sita Tara Mantra

Most Evil's picture

You are so creative crayon!

I will add that I think a step parent is 'one who cares' for the parent of the child, and who is working with or around or taking into consideration, a child that is not their own but their partner's.

"A lie told often enough becomes the truth." - Vladimir Lenin

Sita Tara's picture

I am SO's Third parent!

I thought that was hilarious, and many women I know would feel they were dealing with another kid with their DH, SO, BF, etc.

I must be needed readers since turning 40!

"Om Tare Tutare Ture Mama Ayurpunye Jnana Putin Kuru Svaha"
~Sita Tara Mantra

Karma_'s picture

someone with a heart so big, and a constitution so strong, that they are brave enough to take on some of the responsibilty for the wellbeing of a child that is not related by DNA.

This person will usually be intelligent enough to network with other like minded people, and sneaky enough to vent and drink in private to get thru.

All in all, a very rare and special breed. If you spot one, remove all sharp objects from the area and buy them a shot of Tequila.

Anne 8102's picture

Now, I like that idea!

♥ ANNE 8102 ♥

"Stay thirsty, my friends."
~The Most Interesting Man in the World

semi's picture

This couldn't possibly have been stated any better. Word for word the best summation of the whole thing... including the part about sharp objects, some days more that others!

anabihibik's picture

I don't consider myself a stepmom, yet, but the role is inevitable. I never thought of stepping into that role when I marry FH, but I've always thought of it as starting when I start physically taking any kind of care of the twins. Maybe that's because I was supposed to marry FH before they were conceived and in the picture.

To every thing there is a season.

Karma_'s picture

The fact you are working through it with your partner (married or not I don't care) and are thinking seriously about your role and how the two of you are going to care for the twins means you are there as far as I am concerned. If having physical custody mattered, half the DH's wouldn't qualify either Wink

gertrude's picture

My DH and I married after SD was graduated HS and gone. At best I expected to be a sort of "older friend" type person, maybe a mentorish role to a young adult or possibly crazy aunt.

Now - well, I do consider myself a parental unit. Whether Bio or Step, I am part of the parental team supporting this young lady. Since SD and her daughter live with us, and BM is completely out of the picture, I feel like I am certainly not an aunt. It seems like being one of her parental units is the best description. And PU seems an apt acronym for it.

Sd refers to me by first name, and introduces me as her SM. My DH is reluctant to refer to me as the Grandmother of SD's daughter, but frankly, I take it on myself. Drop the S totally. Don't care. The baby is being raised in my house, I am a contributing member of the parental team, screw it all, I don't accept being "assigned" a role as "step" especially as my DH and SD seem to define it. I am live grandmothering. And as far as protoplasm is concerned - his APs are standard "visiting" GPs. - they live five hours away, and SD has to go visit. They don't provide or really do more than get the six month visit. I was careful to take a "grandmother" name that none of the bio's wanted - so there wouldn't be jealousy or confusion.

So, I guess it is inconsistent, and probably not legally valid, but I see myself as SM and one of the GPs for the little one. - Not excluding anyone, just being there. There is always room for more grandparents...

Goingnuts1970's picture

Why does a piece of paper make such a difference? When your fh/husband/whatever has children and they come into your household whether married or not you take on the responsibility of taking care of those children while. The paper does not change this, does it?
Does this paper change the care you give to the children?