Half, Step and Bio

I saw this on Facebook by the same person who was extolling the virtues of being friendly with your ex.  You know, the one who was all about the whole, “The greatest gift you can give your kid is to remain friends with their other parent.” This time she was tackling the issue of half and step siblings.


She has been married twice and has two children with each of her husbands. Apparently, someone commented recently that her two youngest children were just her oldest child’s half brothers. Of course, that’s “not how they play in their house.” One of her friends even went so far as to say she resented terms such as half, step and bio family.

Really? Are you so offended by the truth that you have to pretend the truth doesn’t actually exist? A full sibling, or bio sibling is a sibling with whom you share both parents. You and your brother Ted share a mom and a dad; Ted is your brother. A step sibling is the child of your step parent. Mommy marries Daryl and Daryl has a kid named Cheryl? Cheryl is your stepsister. A half sibling is a sibling with whom you share you only one parent. Mommy marries Daryl and they have a baby named Carol? Carol is your half sister. Those terms are not casting doubt on your love for them or the strength of your relationship; it’s simply describing how each person is related. Hell, you might think Ted is a total dick and love Cheryl and Carol a bushel and a peck and a hug around the neck! Biology does not make the relationship, but it’s ridiculous to be offended when those differences are mentioned.

Let me be very clear. I firmly believe that everyone in the family should be treated fairly and with love and compassion. If pigs were to fly and Hell froze over and I got remarried and acquired with that marriage youngish stepchildren I would absolutely treat them with love and care; I believe I would treat them no differently than I treat my own children. I also think that the way the people were referring to L’s daughter’s brothers as “only” her half brothers was unnecessary and probably meant to minimize the relationship.  “Those are Susie’s half brothers,” is fine by me. “Those are only Susie’s half brothers,” is not fine by me.

I also realize that steps/halfs/bios all come in different flavors. One of my very best friends is stepmom to three kids that she claims as her own; they call her “Mom”. Their mother died when the oldest was only 7. The youngest child was an infant and has no memories of his mom. I’m certain that if she and her husband had gone on to have more children those kids would be referred to as simply their brother or sister. Other people marry (or remarry) when the kids are teens or adults. I would think that makes it much more difficult to think of everyone as one big happy family, no matter how inclusive everyone is. Obviously if I marry a man who has kids that are out of the house and possibly live some distance away they aren’t going to be thinking of me as mommy and of my kids as their siblings. I dated a guy once who referred to his step siblings as simply brothers and sisters; they had been raised together since they were 3. I have a stepsister. Our parents married when I was 21 and she was 23. We’ve never lived in the same house together; we didn’t grow up together. We are friendly; she was in my wedding. But I don’t refer to her as my sister; in fact, I sometimes forget I even have a stepsister.  Again, combining very young families is a completely different kettle of fish compared to trying to combine much older families.

I am, however, a very accurate person. If I tell someone I left the house at 8:30 and then realize it was more like 8:40, I’m going to amend my statement. I realize the person doesn’t care that there was a ten minute time difference but I do. I am very precise and slightly anal retentive about things like that. If I say something happened in January and then I realize it was in March, again, I’ll be amending my statement. Writing this blog can sometimes be a challenge because I want to disguise details but I just can’t lie! I could say I had two boys or two girls and give their ages as 10 and 5. Hell, I could say I had 4 kids! That would really disguise me. I could say I was married 25 years or 10 years and that my kids loved ice skating and basketball and karate but those would all be lies! The entire time I would writing I would be thinking, “Lie! Lie! Lie! You’re just a big liar!”

It then follows that I’m going to be precise about my relationships. If I marry a man and he has three kids I don’t suddenly have 5 kids. I gave birth to two. I may love those kids (hopefully in my fictitious world where I’m suddenly getting married I would) but they are not MY children. I am NOT their mother. They have a mom. I am not it. They would be my stepchildren. It doesn’t mean I don’t love them or want them around. It doesn’t mean I hate them or resent them. It simply gives a very precise description of our relationship. They are my husband’s children from his first marriage. Should we divorce (and second marriages have a divorce rate of around 65%, I believe) I will no longer have a relationship with those kids more than likely, especially if they are minors when we divorce. Acknowledging that they are stepchildren doesn’t mean anything other than the fact that these are children I love and care for who have two legal parents and I’m not one of them!

The same goes for half sibling.  It is a technical term that describes two siblings who share one parent. I have no doubt there are some half siblings who are super close and couldn’t imagine referring to that sibling as anything other than brother or sister. I’m equally sure there are half siblings who have very little to do with one another- either because of age or distance or a shitty relationship with a parent or step-parent.

My cousin (step cousin, if we’re accurate) is the only child of her mother and father’s marriage. Her mother went on to have two more children with her second husband and her father went on to have two more children with his second wife. I’m sure she loves all of her siblings; however, when she was entering middle school her parents got tired of her ping ponging between them and told her she needed to choose where she was going to live. She chose her dad’s house. Her parents lived quite some distance apart. The end result was she lived her daily life with two of her siblings. The other two she saw sporadically. I think it’s hard to say they are all simply her brothers and sisters when some of them have led completely different lives from her and her other siblings. I also wonder, “If Beth and Ryan and Emma and Payton are all Katie’s siblings then why don’t Beth and Ryan know Emma and Payton? Why doesn’t Katie have a picture of her and all of her siblings- Beth, Ryan, Emma, and Payton?” Oh yes, that’s right.  Because Beth and Ryan are her mother’s children from her second marriage and Emma and Payton are her father’s children from his second marriage! They don’t mix and mingle because they have different parents. Nothing nefarious about it. It’s a simple fact.

Then you start getting into the fact that Beth and Ryan go to horseback riding camp every summer but Katie doesn’t because she’s off with her dad all summer, and Emma and Payton go skiing every Christmas vacation but Katie doesn’t because she’s with her mom every other year. Plus, Katie and Beth both love to dance and go to the same dance company; Katie mentors Beth and they bond over the activity. Emma and Payton love to dance, too, but since Katie isn’t around she doesn’t mentor either of them or bond with them over the activity; instead they bond together in the same way that Katie and Beth have because they are together every day and involved on the same dance team. I know that even kids in intact families have different experiences but most of the main experiences are shared together unless there is a major age difference. I’ve never taken one child on vacation and left the other behind. I’ve never celebrated holidays with one kid but not the other. For better or for worse Picasso and Rock Star have been together on all the vacations and all the holidays and all the family trips.

I would also be willing to bet that if you were raised together you don’t tend to see them as half siblings quite as much as if you lived in separate homes. If I were to have more children I would probably tend to see my younger children as Picasso and Rock Star’s brothers or sisters. I’m sure, being the person I am, that the fact that they were indeed not full blooded siblings would be in the forefront of my mind but I would probably refer to them as simply siblings. If CF and Harley had a child together? I’m definitely going to differentiate. And not just because I hate them. Honestly, it’s a little weird to think of my children having another brother or sister that I have no relationship with, have no knowledge of, never spend any time with, and probably have never even set eyes on. Plus, I think that drives the point home yet again. How is that child my child’s sibling, not half sibling, not step sibling, but full sibling, if I’ve never even seen the kid? It’s impossible.

CF is the only child of his mother and father. He refers to all of his half siblings as simply brother and sisters. He even refers to his step-siblings as brothers. His cousin he refers to as his girlfriend or fiancee. Oh, Sam, you’re so bad! I digress. Regardless of what he calls them if he ever needs a kidney or bone marrow transplant he’s probably shit out of luck. Your best bet for a successful match is a full blooded sibling.

I have a very sweet friend who lost her young child to cancer. She had four children from her first marriage and two from her second. He was the oldest child from her second marriage. His younger brother was an almost perfect match. None of the four older children were a match. They’ve all been raised together. They refer to all of them as brothers and sisters. Emotionally there is no difference. Medically speaking?  Oh hell yeah.

And thus concludes my rant!

4 thoughts on “Half, Step and Bio

  1. I am an only child. I didn’t know what it was like to have a sibling until I was 10.5. And yet, I have 8 brothers and 5 sisters, with varying degrees of enmeshment. I am far closer to some step-brothers than 2 of my half-brothers. We have recognized each other on the street and said nothing but “Hey.” “How are ya?”would be wildly ingenuine… because none of us give a shit, really. They are strangers, related by blood.

    On the flip side, my youngest 7 siblings are close to me. Some of them are our children’s best friends. I call their father, my step-father, Daddy… and have since I was 10. I’ve known him longer than they have… hell, I’ve known him longer than ALL the grandchildren on my step-father’s side of the family.

    They’re my family. But we all know and don’t hide the truth… it’s like that actually makes us closer- because knowing it and making plans together for things is all that much more meaningful. And the conversations that come out of it – not ignoring the past or the truth – are amazing.


  2. Sam, your posts and observations are spot-on! My parents were married for 47 years, so I have zero experience with anything but a bio sister. However, my kids have a stepdad (my DH) and a stepmonster (XH spouse). My DH refers to them as his step kids, because that’s accurate and they have a father, but he has never wanted children of his own and to us they are OUR kids. Interestingly, XH and his spouse never had children either, so my kids have no steps or halves.


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