Goodbye wicked stepmother: ‘bonus’ families adopting more positive terms

The wicked stepmother of fairytales and bad films is no more: welcome, instead, to the “bonus” mum, dad and children of the blended families of the 21st century.

Princess Beatrice, the Queen’s granddaughter, spoke this week of her “bonus son” after her marriage last year to Edoardo Mapelli Mozzi.

Beatrice, 33, whose first baby is due in the autumn, told Hello magazine she felt “very lucky to have had the chance to work with my bonus son over the course of the school closures” during the Covid lockdown.

She was referring to four-year-old Christopher Woolf Mapelli Mozzi, known as “Wolfie”, who was a pageboy at the wedding held under Covid restrictions in July 2020.

Beatrice is the latest high-profile parent to reject traditional terms such as “stepmother”, “stepfather”, “stepson” and “stepdaughter” in favour of more embracing language.

Last year, the Brazilian model Gisele Bündchen said she did not use the term “stepmother” in relation to the son of her husband, Tom Brady.

“I don’t like the word ‘stepmom,’” she told her fans on Instagram. “I like the word ‘bonus mom’ because I feel like it’s a blessing in my life. I feel so lucky that I got to have an extra wonderful little angel in my life.”

Carrie Johnson, the prime minister’s wife, also raised the profile of new language around families and parenting when she spoke last month of the “rainbow baby” the couple is expecting in December.

The term refers to a child born after a previous miscarriage, stillbirth or neonatal death, alluding to a rainbow appearing in the sky after a storm. Johnson revealed she had a miscarriage at the start of this year that “left me heartbroken”.

Rachel Watson, the director of the Institute of Family Therapy, said language was important. “The way we refer to each other can shape our relationships, and the way we think about each other, and people are paying much more attention to that.

“Transitions, such as exits in families, either through death or separation, or new entries of people through birth or new partners or siblings, are stressful times. It can be helpful to find terms that are positive and that people feel comfortable with and will help their relationships to grow going forward.”

An estimated one in three families in the UK are “blended”, meaning they have a combination of parents, new partners and children from different relationships.

But because modern families and households can be fluid and complex, official statistics are unreliable, said Prof Lisa Doodson of Happy Steps, which describes itself as a stepfamily resource centre, and the author of How to Be a Happy Stepmum.

“‘Step’ has never had a very easy connotation. People have long sought new terms that feel more comfortable. We’ve had ‘blended families’ and now we’re seeing ‘bonus’ – which feels very positive,” she said.

Step- or blended families no longer had stigma attached, she added. “Such families are completely normalised. But it can still be hard to manage new relationships – they can be great fun, but there can be difficulties in bonding.”

For those families adopting the new terminology, inevitably there is plenty of merchandising to reinforce the message. Greetings cards addressed to the “Best Bonus Son Ever”, T-shirts bearing the message “I’m a proud bonus mum” or “an awesome bonus daughter”, and bonus-related mugs, jewellery and other gifts are all available online.