A big, blended family sit down to dinner


Why Aren’t There Names For All Our Family Members?

Feb 22, 2017

The Oxford English Dictionary adds hundreds of new words to its pages every quarter. Last year, for example, those included such trendy terms as YOLO, ’Merica and squee.

But although we now have designated terms for man boobs (moobs) and glamour camping (glamping), we’re still sorely lacking in terminology for the kinds of mixed and modern families that are increasingly common in Canadian society.

Stepfamilies or blended families make up nearly 13 per cent of Canadian families with children, according to the 2011 census. And yet, the language for members of those families is outdated or non-existent.

I don’t love the term “stepmother.” Popular culture has given stepmoms a bad rap, thanks to folk and fairy tales that go back hundreds of years. Stories like Snow White and Cinderella were repopularized by Disney in the mid 1900s, cementing the trope of the wicked stepmother for good.

Stepfamilies or blended families make up nearly 13 per cent of Canadian families with children ... yet, the language for members of those families is outdated or non-existent.

The roots here are sexist — suggesting that women are jealous, competitive creatures, incapable of loving children born to another woman. (Not to mention the fact that these tales never condemn the man for not protecting his kid.)

The evil stepmom archetype hasn’t yet disappeared (especially with all the fairy tale remakes going around), and has evolved over the years into other stereotypes, like the self-obsessed gold digger or the hot, dumb, scantily-clad stepmom.

All that said, at least there’s a name for us. And a literal, logical one at that. Strip away the negative connotations and it makes sense. I’m grateful that there is a word for the relationship I have with my steps and they have with me.

Not so for other important relationships in my life, however.

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You wouldn’t know it from the movies and TV, but biological parents and step-parents actually speak to one another and co-ordinate things like homework and sports and special occasions. Still, I have no other word for the mother of my stepkids than “the mother of my stepkids.” (Personally, I don’t feel it does our relationship justice.)

Similarly, my baby boy, Indiana, has no name for his big brothers’ mom and her partner other than “my brothers’ mother” and “my brothers’ mother’s partner.” This made me especially sad, since that kind of language doesn’t denote the warmth that their unique bond will certainly involve.

They’re not his aunt and uncle, and they’re not his step-parents. They’re something entirely different and deserving of a name.

My husband and I came up with a shortcut, “twoma” and “twopa” — as in second mom and second dad — which I quite like.

It will have to catch on in more families than ours before it makes the Oxford English Dictionary, but that’s okay. In the meantime, we’ll keep working on the many other lacking terms until we have names that accurately reflect the important people in our lives.

After all, families have evolved. So should our language.

Article Author Julia Lipscombe
Julia Lipscombe

Read more from Julia here.

Julia Lipscombe is an Edmonton-based freelance journalist and former staffer at FLARE magazine, NOW magazine and the Edmonton Journal. Julia is an arts and lifestyle specialist, and these days mostly writes about parenting, music and weddings. Alongside her husband, Jesse Lipscombe, she co-founded and runs the anti-discrimination campaign, #MakeItAwkward, which encourages people to speak up and speak out against racism, homophobia and hate of all kinds. Julia and Jesse are parents to three beautiful boys: Chile, Tripp and Indiana. In her ever-diminishing spare time, Julia likes to swim, bike, run, drink wine, and listen to lots of albums as a member of the Polaris Music Prize jury. Find her on Instagram and Twitter.

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