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We got full custody of my step-daughter 3 years ago this month. She went from spending 4-6 days a months with us to full-time 24/7/365. She came to visit for Thanksgiving and just never left. The timing was hard – we found out we got custody of her the same week I found out that I was pregnant with the twins and 5 months before I defended my PhD.

I was overwhelmed and hormonal. I was miserable. I felt like a terrible person. I knew taking custody of her was the right thing to do, of course. She was in terrible danger with her mom. But I was finally, FINALLY pregnant and I wanted my little family – the family I had imagined in my head. That family picture didn’t include an emotionally damaged, spoiled, full-time step-kid. I know, it makes me sound awful. It was awful – I was awful. (I obviously never let her know that I felt like that.) I spent days locked in my closet crying. It’s a big deal to go from not having a kid to always having a kid. And I love my husband but he’s not a hands on father – all of the parenting and child care fell to me. I was overwhelmed. And the guilt was overwhelming. Here was this 8-year-old kid who had just been through hell and then been taken away from her mom and she was fine. I was 37 and was losing my shit. What kind of parent was I? Did this mean I was a crappy mother and that’s why I was infertile?

Fast forward to today. I just got a text from her  – “Hey mama W, can we watch a scary movie tonight after daddy and the boys go to bed? I’ll make popcorn! I love you”. Last night we spent an hour on the couch together and she learned to french braid using my hair and YouTube. She’s my go to now for good road trip music. We make dinner together almost every night, and when she had an assignment at school about what makes her happy one of the things she said was “cooking dinner with W”. I help her with her math homework and we have long involved discussions about which house we would be sorted into if we went to Hogwarts. I miss her when she goes to see her mom. I can’t imagine life with out her. And I don’t want to.

I bring this up because after getting her text I googled “good relationship with step-mom”. All I got was how-to articles and articles about why step-mothers and daughters have such terrible relationships. Every google search I could think of turned up only negative results. “Why step-daughters and step-monsters can never get along”; “How to make the best of your step relationship.” – all bad news. But you know what? It’s not bad. We have a great relationship now. I love her. She’s my kid. She’s an integral part of my family. It was hard work to get here – there was a lot of intentional parenting, lots of fits and starts and good and bad choices, and we both worked really hard at it. And it was worth it.

I took her to her middle school orientation a few months ago. She introduced me to her science teach and said “This is my parent, W,” and he said “Don’t you mean your mom?” and she said “No. A mom loves you and gives birth to you but a parent is the person who takes care of you.” And there you have it.

**I need to amend this post based on a thoughtful comment from a fellow infertile step-mom. Not every step-family is harmonious, even after a lot of work and effort and love, and there can be lots of different reasons for that. Some things can be fixed and some things can’t. Do the best you can, love as hard as you can and realize that you can only do so much. As step-parents the deck is stacked against us and sometimes there’s no recovering from that. All you can do is your best. Much love to you, fellow step-parents.