With Mother’s Day right around the corner, all sorts of "bonus mom" articles and merchandise are popping up all over the internet. This prompted me to Google the term — I was interested in what the results might say, since I made up the term over 35 years ago, and this contributed to a whole Bonus Families movement.
At that point, society was changing, and I was living in what is now accepted as a bonus family. It was obvious to me and so many others who felt the term “step” did not describe their family that we needed a new term that positively addressed the way we truly felt about one another.
“Bonus” became our word of choice. Reason being, it is a reward for a job well done, and it was intended to be a compliment to the parents termed bonus parents and the children termed bonus kids, all while respecting the biological parent. "Step" was regarded as evil and vindictive, and since so many families were being created after a breakup, it was important that love and respect be recognized at the base.
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But, doing my research online recently, I see the term has morphed into an incorrect assumption, and I would like to correct this once and for all.
The common definition you find when you Google “bonus mom” is “a mom who didn't birth the children that she is raising. This can be in the form of adoption or as parenting a child of a spouse.”
This is incorrect and misleading. It came about because someone wrote a sweet article about being a bonus mom years ago and included the above definition and the internet ran with it. So when people need a definition, they hit Google and the wrong definition is regurgitated.
Let me define "bonus" once and for all. Being "bonus" has NOTHING to do with adoption. This is an important clarification for all who have adopted and have been adopted. Once adopted, that’s legally Mom and Dad. There can be an open adoption, and everyone can know about everyone else, but an adoptive parent is NOT a bonus parent. A child who has been adopted is NOT a bonus child.
"Bonus," in its true and correct definition, is a word used in lieu of "step." To take this one step further, when I started Bonus Families as a nonprofit organization in 1999, people were looking for help with co-parenting and joint custody. There were no rules, and we needed direction. Most who lived as a stepfamily were married at that time, but as time went on, this changed. Many do not marry prior to having children. (Whether you feel this is right or wrong is a discussion for another day.)
Families needed a positive label, and I often received emails asking if the rules associated with being "bonus" (The 10 Rules of Good Ex-Etiquette, to which I often refer in this column) applied to those who lived together but were not married.
My answer was always, “Of course.” Love and respect are at the root of being bonus, so that would also apply to those living as a family but not officially married. "Bonus" is a positive catch-all word for family, and I thank all who use the term in a loving and respectful way. But it is important to note it has nothing to do with adoption.
The correct definition of bonus mom is a “woman who did not give birth to the children she is helping to raise. This relationship is usually created by helping to parent a child of a spouse.”
With that, I respectfully wish you all, whether you are “Mom” or “Bonus Mom,” a happy Mother’s Day.
Email Dr. Jann Blackstone at email@example.com.