Stepparents are often considered less important than biological parents, but one mother showed that the bond between her daughter and her husband was just as strong as any blood-related father.
On the Facebook page Love What Matters, Karisa Smith submitted a photo of her military husband cradling his 3-year-old stepdaughter on the floor, a My Little Pony blanket draped over them both.
Smith took the photo at 2 a.m., when her husband "snuck home" from work to comfort the toddler. The girl had been missing him since he'd left 14 days earlier.
"They aren't related by blood, but they are daddy and daughter," she wrote. "My husband goes above and beyond to take care of her as his own. When she cries, he's there. When she needs him, he's there."
Smith explains that her family doesn't use the term stepfather because "he fell in love with my daughter" at the same time he fell in love with her.
"He took on a 9 month old and she is now soon to be 3 years old," Smith said. "And is the ultimate daddy's girl. They are two peas in a pod and the love of a father runs deep."
According to the post, he is in the process of adopting the girl.
Several people shared their own stepparent experiences with Smith as the post gained popularity, Gladwire reports.
"Our world revolves around these girls," she affirmed, suggesting her other children are similarly connected to her husband. "We love them so much equally ... We have OUR children and he is their DADDY."
Scary Mommy shared the responses of some of the people who reacted to the post. Many highlighted the connection children can feel to their stepparents when they meet them at a young age.
“My dad has been 'my dad' since I was 9 months old also," read one post. "This September my mom has been deceased 15 years and he is STILL here, present, my dad, my best friend next to my husband."
Bloomberg reports that the divorce rate has led to more people having stepfamilies. A survey from the University of Massachusetts found that nearly one third of U.S. households headed by people under age 55 have a stepparent. One third of couples over 55 with adult children also had stepchildren.
"People in stepfamilies are often unsure of what their obligations are to their stepkin," said Karen Benjamin Guzzo, a sociology professor in Bowling Green. "It's not uncommon for individuals to feel like they have to choose how to spread resources across their biological and step-relatives."
Of course, for families like Smith's, the stepfamily relationship is much clearer: It's all just family.