If your parents get divorced and each marries someone else considering that you don't live with them, should we call them stepfather or mother or simply my mother or father's spouse? What I mean is can stepfather/stepmother apply if you're not living with them and they're not supposed to take care of you? Is it normal to say

I have a stepfather and a stepmother.

For some reason I find it weird, so I wanted to check with a British or an American native speaker to see if something else except for the definition is involved.

  • I like this question - made me curious. I think the father's new spouse would be the person's stepmother, and the mother's new spouse would be the person's stepfather (doesn't matter if the person lives with them or not?). Let's wait for good answers!
    – shin
    Mar 11, 2017 at 22:10
  • 2
    (AmE) step- relations only involves one natural parent remarrying. Who lives where doesn't matter and who supports who doesn't matter. It is more of a legal designation.
    – user3169
    Mar 11, 2017 at 23:13
  • 1
    step- is not the same as foster-. One lives in the household of a foster-parent.
    – TimR
    Mar 15, 2017 at 11:40
  • @TRomano Wow, great point! Thank you. These are the differences among languages that we're talking about.
    – Yuri
    Mar 15, 2017 at 21:10

1 Answer 1


The answer is simple, and entirely unclear, I'm afraid.

There is no generally accepted delineation of when you shouldn't use the term "step-parent" for the new spouse or partner of a biological parent. I think there's general agreement that you should when you live in their home as a child, and perhaps even for the spouse of a parent with whom you do not live, when you live elsewhere but are still a child. Use by adult children, however, is largely left up to individual preference.

There are likely regional trends. Certainly, sometimes choosing to use the term "stepfather" or "stepmother" connotes closeness, and other times it indicates a resentment for that position. It's difficult to navigate, but I don't think most people would ever think someone was absolutely wrong to call someone their stepfather or stepmother unless their relationship was not, in part, defined by someone being the parent of one and the spouse or partner of the other.

The comments raise the question of foster parents as well as step parents. Those should not be confused, but they are describing very, very different things. Foster parents are those you live with as parents while having no close legal or blood relationship. So, for someone to be a foster parent, you must live with them. However, they will not be a foster parent if they are also a parent or step-parent.

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