A friend of mine stumbled onto an article I wrote about step children being called bonus children while looking for the origins of the term “step”. She had just become a new step mother and was concerned about the connotations “step” might represent. So she asked me if I knew where “step” came from.
Being a step mother myself and having a less than fantastic view of the job than I did when I first became a step mother, I was tempted to say that “step” refers to how you feel when your step children try to break you and your husband up. But alas, I decided to be serious and not ruin her positive outlook on step parenting.
“Step” is not how it sounds
According to the Online Etymology Dictionary, the only reliable source I could find discussing it, the term “step” to indicate blended families actually comes from Old English to indicate a child that had been orphaned. We usually think of orphaned as meaning the death of both parents but not so in Old English. Orphaned could mean that either parent had died. So when the surviving parent remarried, the new spouse became a parent of a “stepchild”. Same for if both parents died and the orphaned child was adopted. The child was still a stepchild.
Over the last thousand years, the term has grown as the times have changed. “Step” is no longer used to reference an orphaned child with new parents. Those have turned into “foster” or “adoptive” parents. While “step” is still the term used for remarriage (with kids) after a parent dies, it is also more commonly used with divorce and has extended to include “stepmom”, “stepdad”, “stepbrother”, and so on.
“Step” is what you make of it
The word “step” is what you make of it. If you prefer another term like the aforementioned “bonus family”, then by all means, there’s nothing that says you have to use the word “step” if it holds any negative meaning. But be aware that others may question what your reference means and you may end up having to explain that it means “step” anyway. Other families prefer to skip the word altogether under the notion that family is family, blood or not. I was raised by my stepmother from a young age, so the only reason I ever referred to her as my stepmother was when I had to answer questions about my birth mother. It seemed to confuse people when I’d refer to her as my mom when she was really my stepmom, as if blood made the difference in how our family dynamic was constructed.
Still others, like my immediate family, prefer to be upfront about it. Since I came into the family when my stepchildren were already half grown, all of us preferred “step” as a means of identifying myself or them to those around us. There was never any question about it and everyone is comfortable with it.
Despite the origin of the word “step” in stepfamilies or blended families, it all depends on your family dynamic and how you choose to portray it.
Source: self, http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?search=steop&searchmode=none