The Meaning of Being a Parent

The Meaning of Being a Parent

One of the more unfortunate facts of modern life is that somewhere around 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce.  Many of those failed marriages involve children, and many of those divorced parents will move on to marry again.  What we have come to call “blended families”, that is, parents with children from previous relationships who get married, seem today to be more the norm than the exception.  Personally, I have been part of a blended family for nearly 15 years now.  My wife has a daughter (Caitlin) from a previous marriage, and I have a daughter and a son (Brittany and John III) from mine.

From the time that Denise and I were married in 2003, I struggled with how to describe Caitlin.  I quickly realized that I really, REALLY dislike the term “step-daughter”.  To me, it sounds cheap and somewhat insulting.  It’s as if I would be saying “she is part of our family, but not really part of me”.  It qualifies my relationship with Caitlin (and my wife’s relationship with my two children), and not in a good way.  So not that long ago, I decided I would no longer use the phrase.  I now introduce Caitlin as my daughter.  Period.  Denise does the same with Brittany and John.

I am very happy with my decision, and I would encourage other folks in the same situation to consider doing the same thing.  How many times have we heard a person say, “it takes more than biology to make a father” when describing a biological parent who abandons his children.  We all know that statement to be true, yet we don’t consider the converse:  the absence of a biological link certainly does not preclude a person from being a parent.

Caitlin’s mother and I have been married for 15 years, so I stepped into her life when she was a little girl of 9.  Since that time, I have been just as involved in her life as any biological parent would be.  I helped to teach her, to discipline her, to mold her into a confident young woman.  I went to soccer games and strings concerts and graduations galore.  I sat on the couch with her head on my shoulder, and entertained her with her friends at sleep-overs.  As she grew older, I scrutinized her potential boyfriends, and I lay awake with her Mom until she got home safely from whatever high school function she had attended on the weekends.  In short, I parented.

I made the decision to stop referring to Caitlin as my “step-daughter” several years ago, but before I put my decision into action, I reached out to her biological father.  I explained to him what I was thinking, and told him I did not want to disrespect him or his relationship with his daughter in any fashion.  (And just in case any of those reading this jump to the wrong conclusion, I should note that Caitlin’s father has always been deeply involved in every aspect of her life.  He has been a great father to her.  Who says a child can’t have two fathers, both working to raise her the right way?)  To his credit, he told me he had no problem at all with my referring to her as my daughter, without further qualification.

So, it has been, and so it shall be for the rest of my days.  I look at it this way:  I have taught her, worked with her, played soccer with her (if you call rolling the ball at her “playing”), yelled at her, worried about her and tucked her in.  And today, I am as proud of her as I can be, and I love her as I do Brittany and John III.  If that doesn’t qualify me as a parent and her as my child, I just don’t know what does.


One of the more unfortunate facts of modern life is that somewhere around 50 percent of all marriages end in divorce.  Many of those failed marriages involve children, and many of those divorced parents will move on to marry again.