This week we’re taking a diversion from the column’s normal Q&A format to address a broader issue.

Every so often we get a comment about our advocating the use of the word “bonus” rather than “step.” The correspondent always begins his or her criticism by thanking us for our contribution and positive spin, then goes on to say something to the effect of “there is really no need for the cutesy word you made up in order to be politically correct. ‘Step’ will do just fine — it has all these years, and it serves its purpose.”

The truth is, the same can be said for many words that people have used to describe a situation or a lifestyle. And those words eventually become offensive to some, so the words are used less and less in our daily lives.

In the case of the word “bonus,” we see it not as a cutesy, politically correct word. To Jann in particular — the bonus-parent in the group — it denotes respect and an accepting state of mind. It is, in fact, a term of endearment.

We will be the first to acknowledge that not all view step-relations as a bonus. Breaking up and recoupling is usually difficult for all concerned, and there are easier ways than others to find yourself in that situation.

However, the reality is that breakups happen, and most will acknowledge that a split often comes about in the hope that the future will be better. (And please don’t write us saying we promote breaking up, because we don’t. On the contrary.)

If you are lucky enough to love and respect those new family members, why not use a word that better describes your life than a prefix derived from the death of a loved one? (See the origin of the word “step” on the Bonus Families website.)

There are some who say a breakup is a death of sorts, and we have to agree. It is important to note that the use of the word “bonus” does not attempt to sugarcoat or cancel out the past.

The “bonus” concept does just the opposite. It is rooted in the Ten Rules of Good Ex-Etiquette, which acknowledges the past, offers respect and lays the groundwork for mutual compromise in the future.

Bottom line, if you don’t like the word “bonus” in lieu of the word “step,” then don’t use it.

But if you do, you have joined the ranks of millions who believe that changing your life for the better begins with a positive change in mindset. You also believe that offering respect to someone you live with is not based on blood, but on acts and deeds.

If you have a bonus-mom, bonus-dad, bonus-kid, bonus-anyone in your life, you know it. A healthy family relationship is not based on a marriage license, but on how you feel about that person or how that person feels about you.


Jann Blackstone-Ford, Ph.D., and her husband’s ex-wife, Sharyl Jupe, authors of “Ex-Etiquette for Parents,” are the founders of Bonus Families (


— McClatchy-Tribune