Stepparents, you gotta pick your battles

My stepdaughter used to be a ketchup addict, both in terms of frequency and volume. I thought ketchup had its time and its place, and should be treated as a condiment rather than a side dish. My husband agreed with me, yet only occasionally enforced ketchup limitations. I felt like we should be consistent, so I took on ketchup rule enforcement myself.

Ugh. What a massive, pointless waste.

Every time I mentioned ketchup, my SD's resentment toward me only increased. Simultaneously, my resentment toward my husband deepened, pissed that he put me in this position at all. My self-blame and guilt also intensified; I told myself that it was exactly this kind of thing that made my SD hate coming to our house, yet I couldn't let go of arguing over stupid ketchup.

I had this nightmarish future image of SD as a teen in her prom dress at some fancy restaurant slathering ketchup all over whatever expensive entree she ordered. Or as an adult at a business lunch, pouring a big ol' lake of ketchup on her plate.

How could I stand by, knowing I could maybe possibly prevent these horrors??

I believe our job as parents is to encourage our kids to be the best versions of themselves, which includes at the very least trying new things. Like perhaps NOT putting ketchup on lasagna. And it just plain wouldn't be right for me to not help parent this kid. Because that's what a stepparent is supposed to do, right? Help parent kids?


Your job as a stepparent is to support your partner in whatever way helps them be the best parent they can be. Which means ignoring a whole lot of stuff that you would NOT ignore if your stepkid were your bio kid.

Plus, whatever you're trying to control, all those small battles? They're just symbols.

I mean, why did I give a shit about ketchup when we had real problems like my SD going to court to request less visitation time with her father? Less time, when he already only saw her a handful of times a year. Or the fact that she left a room when I entered it, would not greet me when she arrived or say goodbye when she left, threw away presents I bought her.

Because when faced with scary, overwhelming problems I didn't have the first idea how to handle, it was a lot easier to focus on ketchup.

I believed the ketchup problem was one I could control—unlike the constant court battles and constant rejection— so I built that molehill right up into a mountain to die on. Along with other problems I thought were "controllable," like a general lack of manners (table and otherwise), constant lying between houses, showing cleavage at age 12, a complete lack of structure or accountability at either house…. and on and on and on.

None of which I could have any impact on whatsoever.

As a stepparent, I am a sidekick at best. The idea that I could control even something as trivial as the amount of ketchup landing on my SD's plate was a total illusion. A distraction from the battles we should have fought— like a daughter rejecting her father. Instead, I fought against ketchup: an issue that mattered way less, but that I thought we could win. And I made all our lives harder as a result.

Let the small stuff go. Cover your own proverbial pool of ketchup with a nice hand-knitted coverlet and a couple throw pillows so you don't have to look directly at it.

Because if you're honest, you can live with ketchup. Save your time and energy for the true deal-breakers.