Forging a relationship with my new step-daughter

May 26 | Guest post by Kate Proctor
Lego Family Portrait
Photo by Malte Sörensen, used with Creative Commons license.
I am engaged to and living with a man who has a child, and I find myself in this funny state of limbo. We haven't yet set our wedding date, but we are planning to get married in the near future. Since we live together, and his daughter, Sophia, lives with us half the time, I am with her the exact same amount of time as her father is. This ends up being a bit complicated to explain to other people.

She's technically not my step-daughter yet, and if I stick with just the off-hand comment of how my fiance has a child, it sounds like I'm not involved in her life. I don't want to ignore her presence either, because obviously she is a big part of my life. "Soon-to-be step-mom" is awkward and clunky, and referring to her as a room mate is clearly not an option.

I suppose part of my hesitation to label the relationship I have with Sophia is related to my hesitation surrounding our relationship. After all, I am in her life half the time, helping to make sure she gets to bed on time or that her room is clean. I know my actions and moods are going to effect Sophia whether I am super involved or not. I hope that one day she will feel comfortable coming to me with boy troubles, or questions about girl stuff, if said stuff happens when she's at her father's.

I also am a little lost in the many myths and expectations of what step-motherhood is and who step-mothers are or should be. The term step-mom makes me feel like I should be older or more mature or better equipped to do this job. I'm only 24, and sometimes I barely feel able to take care of myself, let alone another person! I am not sure if I deserve the moniker of "step-mom" quite yet. I don't feel very parental (though I don't necessarily know what constitutes feeling parental, either) and sometimes I'm not even sure what to say to Sophia. Nine-year-old conversation can be very confusing to somebody who is not a nine-year-old.

In any situation, one of the most important things I try to remember is that I am the adult, and I need to act like it. Whatever I want our relationship to be, I need to be the one who nurtures it and steers it in the right direction.

Sophia and I seem to be working it out though. We take it one day at a time. I indulge in the opportunity to buy every children's book I loved when I was in elementary school for her, and she indulges in the opportunity to look at me like I am crazy when I give them to her (she is not a big reader). I have started to appreciate that she's a girl who likes a good skull and crossbones design more than she likes hearts or flowers, and am buying her clothing accordingly. I have played Guess Who Extra a few more times than I would like to (though I put the kibosh on that after an argument about whether or not a caterpillar was a house pet). I am basically doing the best I can.

In any situation, one of the most important things I try to remember is that I am the adult, and I need to act like it. Whatever I want our relationship to be, I need to be the one who nurtures it and steers it in the right direction. I'm the one who needs to put myself out there! If I want Sophia to come to me with those boy troubles in a few years, I have to make sure she knows that I am there for her in any kind of situation.

So, while I can never make up for the fact that I missed out on the first seven years of her life, I feel like we can have a wonderful, close relationship regardless. I'm not going to tell you it's easy, or that I never get frustrated with her or with myself, or that we have this picture-perfect little family. That would be a lie. But if you think about it, any kind of relationship in your life requires time, patience, and effort to make them into a worthwhile and productive association. The boss in this case just happens to be a little younger and more prone to eating PB and J for every meal.

At a doctor's appointment the other day, the doctor asked when I was planning on having children. "Never," I replied, "I'm almost a step-mom, though." I went on to explain about how my fiance has a nine-year-old daughter and how she lives with us half the time. "Oh honey," the doctor said, "there is definitely no 'almost' about your situation."

I suppose that's true. Regardless of what I tell other people, or what they assume about me, Sophia and I have the relationship that we have. Though I haven't yet found the words to describe it, it's working for us. Even though some days I am really confused about what to do or say, I'm still here, and trying my best.