A few weeks ago, I entered into a debate on Twitter about the usage of the term “stepmom”. I questioned the assertion that “girlfriends” shouldn’t call themselves “stepmoms” unless they have the proper paperwork, ie: marriage certificate.
Now, before I go any further, I should note that I always feel somewhat fraudulent when using the S-word to describe myself, given the fact that I’m not married. However, I still have to ask the question: what difference does it make? What does a marriage certificate prove? That someone paid for a piece of paper? What does “marriage” mean anyway?
Last weekend, I took the opportunity to discuss the topic with Josh (age 9) after he mentioned several people he knew were getting married. The conversation unfolded like this:
Me: What does that mean?
Josh: It means you live together.
Me: Does that mean Daddy and I are married?
Josh: No, you need a certificate.
Me: How do you know we don’t have a certificate?
Josh: You need rings too.
Me: Daddy and I have rings.
Josh: But you have to engage first.
Me: What does that mean?
Josh: It means someone asks to get married.
Me: Oh, so you can’t get married if you don’t get engaged?
Josh: I guess. And you have to have a big party too.
Me: A party? I thought all you needed was a certificate?
Josh: Well, that’s what Mommy and Stepdad did…. I don’t know. What does it mean?
Me: I was just wondering what it meant to you.
Josh: What does it mean to you?
Me: I don’t know. I’m still trying to figure it out.
At some point during that discussion, Josh told me that married people can file their taxes together (Why does he know that?). He neglected to mention anything about the quality of the relationship or those famous vows that we all know so well. … Or did he? Actually, he did state that the worst part of his mother’s wedding was when they stood up front and the minister talked. I thought that was an interesting tidbit.
Personally, I don’t believe that a piece of paper can prove anything about a relationship: not the husband/wife relationship and certainly not the parent/stepparent/child relationship. When it comes to my own stepparents, I have an emotional desire to refer to my dad’s girlfriend as my “stepmom” and an alternate urge to refrain from using the S-word when describing my mom’s husband. Again, it’s about relationships; not paperwork.
What are your thoughts? Does marriage matter? Why? Does certification govern the titles in your family? Does anyone use more creative titles to describe blended family members?