They are new terms which are foreign and strange sounding, pretty much like Ms. was in the fifties. But look at “Ms” now. It’s on every form that we encounter. So Para-kin terms like p-mom or p-dad sound odd until they break into the lingo. “Para” meaning to support, be next to, on the side of, much like a para-legal or para-medic in the professional world.
Words are powerful tools and often times our culture attaches images to them, positive or negative. The word “stepmother” is just one of those words fraught with a negative image. If I were a betting woman, I’d be confident that some of you are as tired as I am of the negativity surrounding the word “stepmother.” But in reality we can’t avoid those indelible images of Cinderella. We can’t take an eraser and blot out hundreds of years of fairytales. So what to do?
In my practice I come across loving moms and step-moms along with not so caring moms and step-moms. It’s an uphill battle for many step-moms on a daily basis. Would an alternative term such as Para-mom, which, by the way, I like to abbreviate p-mom, eliminate some of the battle? Maybe. It seems to me that there are enough issues surrounding the blending of families, that if we could negate at least the “evil” connotation and have children concentrate on the loving component, then there would be one less struggle to overcome within the family and society at large
In essence, the terms p-mom and p-dad, along with p-son and p-daughter, embrace the image of love and caring within a family. For married parents, Para-kin provides an acceptable alternative to the use of step terms, and for unmarried parents, it’s a necessity for identification.
We started with the image connected to words and I’ll end on this same thought. When a partner marries someone with children, there are no choices. It’s a given that one loves the new spouse, but it’s an expectation that the love should or will extend to the children of that spouse. One becomes a stepparent, for better or worse. When the stepparent runs into a brick wall communicating with the child, or is perceived as “mean” or “unloving”, the negative “step” image is the fallback position.
Using Para-kin terms is a choice. One can choose to call himself or herself a p-mom or p-dad and choose to embrace that child as a p-son or p-daughter. Then, if difficulties arise between the new spouse and the child, the words “mean” and “evil” may not necessarily be the fall back position, because that person is not referred to as a stepparent in the first instance. The child may perceive that his new p-mom “doesn’t get it” or “is all over his or her case,” but the “evil” image may not even enter the child’s mind.
Para-kin is devoid of negativity. It’s devoid of centuries old mythology, legend and baggage. That is its beauty. That is its gift. It sounds strange because it is new but the possibilities of its use are endless.