What Does That Mean? Married?

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?


10 comments on “What Does That Mean? Married?

  1. debbie0628 says:

    I am also a “stepmum” and obviously my husband is a “stepdad”, it is our 2nd marriage, i had 4 children from my first marriage and James (husband) had 2 children.

    3 of my children called James “dad”, my oldest son lived with his father so hence he did not see James often.

    James 2 children also called me “mum”,i guess we were lucky,(if you call it that) that all siblings got on very well,there was no jealousy,it was just great,happy family times.

    When both sets of siblings had friends come over they introduced themselves to the friends has sisters and brothers, the term “step” was never used.

    Quite frankly i do not like the term “step”nor do i like the term they use here in Australia, “de-facto”,i understand over in the u.k they use the term, “common law wife”, “common law husband” all because both parties are not married to each other.

    In regards to a piece of paper or marriage, im a traditionlist and its marriage for me, i certainly dont want to be known as, “de-facto” or “common law wife”

    stay healthy n god bless


  2. 3GKnight says:

    Don’t really have an opinion on the whole ‘step’ thing yet but I hold a very traditional view of marriage. Call it a religious view if you like, but I go so far as to say that a great marriage is as close to a ‘heavenly’ and loving relationship as we can get. I also believe to help with the ‘absolute’ love part of it, it needs to include a public declaration. Public declaration doesn’t need a certificate, but since it comes with some tax advantages…might as well have ’em print one up.

    • Personally I’m much more “anti-wedding” than I am “anti-marriage”, because I think the public aspect makes it more about the show and less about the sacred commitment that marriage is supposed to represent. At least, that’s been my experience. I’ve heard too many people say, “we can’t get married yet because we can’t afford the wedding.”

  3. Mandy says:

    I don’t care for the terminology – sounds very impersonal – but “step-mom” or “step-dad” does neatly convey the relationship whereas “dad’s girlfriend” somehow implies there’s no relationship between the child and his father’s new partner. It makes no difference to me whether the couple are married or not and frankly, I don’t see that it’s anyone else’s business.

  4. Sonia says:

    To me, not being married means:

    – you have no claim on his estate (you inherit nothing unless he makes a special will, and even that can be challenged by his rightful heirs)

    – you have no right to medical benefits through his employer nor any right to give medical instructions if he is incapacitated in some way

    – if anything happens to him, you have no way to access his finances to pay bills, file his taxes, or run his business

    – you can’t claim his body or plan his funeral

    – no right to survivor’s benefits

    – any life insurance goes to his nearest kin, which would be his wife if he had one; i.e., not you

    – a long-term stepparent might have a legal right to see her husband’s children after death or a divorce, but a live-in girlfriend may or may not get access

    Marriage is a serious step because of all the legal implications and obligations. Living together doesn’t carry that weight of permanence to me.

    • I agree. When I think about marriage, I think about the legal implications To me, it’s kinda like a domestic “corporation”.

    • Anonymous says:

      We contracted around all of these — except the right to insurance and the right to have visitation with the stepkids if their dad dies — through wills, trusts, health care directives and powers of attorney. So even though we aren’t married, these items don’t concern me or pose problems.

  5. […] What Does That Mean? Married? (relativeevolutions.com) […]

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