Stepfamily as “Bonus Family”

In our descriptions of families, the language we use has an enormous impact. Make way for a bonus stepparent! That’s what I’m saying.

Stepfamilies have a bad reputation because of the stigma attached to them in the public eye because of the way people see divorce in general. There was early research that linked unfavorable results for children of divorce, which contributed to the negative narrative about coming from a broken home. That kind of thinking implies that stepfamilies aren’t really families at all.

Many people have a preconception that “step-anything” carries a negative connotation. She points out that fairy tales, as she puts it, are full of “wicked stepmothers,” which may have something to do with it.

That’s why the language we use to characterize families like mine is so important. The way we talk about large families can have a positive or negative effect on how we tell our own family’s story. A strong family story is vital to the couple who are combining their families because they encounter numerous unique hurdles.

Some of these difficulties are familiar to me from my own experience. Having to deal with the resentment of my husband’s first wife and her family has had a negative impact on all of our children. Having a large family puts a strain on the family’s finances, too.

In addition, we must keep track of each child’s schedule every day of the week, so we must be extremely organized. Think of soccer practice, swimming lessons, doctor’s appointments, and parent-teacher conferences…

Consequently, I came to the conclusion that “step” needed to make way for something new. Initially, I tried “mixed family,” which was a step in the right direction, but still not quite right. Then Netflix’s “Bonus Family,” a Swedish comedy-drama, struck a chord with me. That’s who we are, and that’s what we do.

The word “bonus” connotes something extra, better, or even more, all of which we normally view as positive attributes. My husband’s children already have a mother, and so do his. You’ll get even more attention and support from the second set of parents. For our family, this means more happiness, laughs, and everyday reminders to be our best selves for the small people we’re attempting to raise.

And when it comes to our newest member, she’s definitely not “half.” An older sister and four large brothers are all that she has. My husband and I didn’t even have to argue this linguistic choice. Using the phrase “half-sibling” can have a negative impact on sibling relationships, as demonstrated by the birth mother of my bonus sons, who informed them they “had” to refer to the newborn as their half-sister. A sibling is a whole person; a DNA match or a gene pool may only contain half of a person, but when you get a sibling, you get all of that person.

Our kids only become a label for us when people inquire, “Are they all yours?” with emotions that alternate between surprise and sympathy. “Are they all yours?” many people ask. They are just brothers and sisters at home. The bond of love that binds us all, no matter how tangled, noisy, or intricate our family tree may be, is stronger than any designation.

The evil stepmother has no place outside of old fairy tales, and calling a child a “half-sibling” is an insult to a child who, in many situations, makes a bonus family feel even more complete than before.

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