Try the Nacho Kids Method to Build a Stronger and Healthier Blended Family Relationship
Imagine coming home after a long day at work to discover your two step-kids sitting on the couch eating a bag of chips. Crumbs dot the cushions. The room looks like the aftermath of a summer storm, with book bags, coats, shoes, socks, paper, and toys scattered everywhere. It’s dinner time, but no one has started cooking a meal. You check your phone and see a text from your spouse apologizing, but he’s gotten stuck at work and won’t be home in time to make dinner. Can you make sure that the kids are fed before their mother arrives for pick up in an hour?
That scenario may sound very familiar if you’re in a blended family relationship. Unfortunately, for many blended families, it may seem like the norms are disappointment, disillusionment, frustration, and conflict. If your spouse isn’t arguing with the ex-spouse, maybe you’re arguing with your step-kids, or even worse, you and your life partner are constantly battling each other over issues related to differences of opinion about how the kids should be parented. But, believe it or not, you don’t have to live like this. The Nacho Kids philosophy of step-parenting can do a lot to keep the peace in your blended family relationships.
What is Nacho Parenting?
What does a cheesy snack food have to do with step-parenting? Nothing actually. But “nacho” is a memorable pun on the words “not your,” which can serve as a reminder that your step-kids are “not your” kids. The name comes out of Lori and David Simms’ struggles as they blended their family. The central idea of Nacho Parenting is that as a step-parent, you need to step back from acting as a parent to your step-children. Instead, you allow the biological parents to fulfill their responsibilities to their children.
Not following me? Let’s take the scenario at the beginning of the article as an example. In a more traditional step-parenting role, the step-parent might storm into the TV room and yell at the kids to clean up their mess. The kids, in turn, may respond by treating the step-parent in a rude and disrespectful way. The step-parent now feels obligated to punish the step-children for both the mess and their disrespectful behavior. From there, the step-parent might stomp to the kitchen to throw together a meal for the “ungrateful” kids, seething that the biological parent has abdicated their responsibility to make dinner. A tense meal would be followed by the custody exchange, where the ex will probably complain that something to do with the kids doesn’t meet their expectations. By the time the spouse gets home, the step-parent meets them at the door with a barrage of complaints, recriminations, and accusations. Ugh! No one wants to be stuck in this family dynamic. It’s bad for your self-esteem, bad for your relationship with your step-kids, and worst of all, it’s super damaging to your relationship with your spouse.
Now, let’s run through that scenario again, applying the Nacho Kids method. In the Nacho Kids scenario, the step-parent recognizes that the best course of action here is to adopt the mentality of a family friend or aunt. An aunt might remind the children of the rules against eating in front of the TV, and encourage the kiddos to pick up their belongings so they can be ready when their bio parent arrives for pick up, but none of this is done in anger or with the expectation that if the kids don’t follow instructions, it’s the “aunt’s” role to crack the whip or discipline them--that’s up to the bio parents. The aunt’s role is to let the bio parent know what happened and then let them handle it. When it comes to making meals, the step-parent might also text back to the spouse and explain that she’s happy to make sure the kids eat something (because a good aunt would do that). But she’d also make it clear that it’s the spouse’s responsibility to deal with the ex, so he needs to communicate to the ex what’s going on with the pick-up. If the ex shows up wanting to complain or blame the step-parent for something, the step-parent calmly reminds the ex that the issue needs to be brought up with the other parent, not her.
In essence, Nacho Kids step-parenting is a mindset. You step back from the responsibility of raising your spouse’s children. After all, they are NOT your kids. Allowing the bio parents to make rules and enforce consequences frees you up to create a non-threatening, friendly relationship with your step-kids, a drama-free zone when it comes to the ex, and a stronger connection with your spouse since you’re not constantly second-guessing, criticizing, or passive-aggressively disagreeing with their parenting choices.
To be clear, Nacho Kids step-parenting doesn’t mean that when the kids are around or an issue arises, you head for the hills until they clear out or it clears up. Your job is to be present in the kids' lives but without feeling responsible for raising them. Your spouse may ask you to help drive the kids to school, fix a meal, or watch them for a few hours, and as a Nacho Kids step-parent, you can help with those things, but with the clear understanding that the bio parent is responsible for these tasks. You’re willing to help if you can, but figuring out the carpool, handling the kids' picky eating, or being the primary caregiver when the kids are in your home, is definitely not in your purview.
The ultimate goal of the Nacho Kids method is to take the conflict out of your blended home so that you can build positive relationships.
Easier Said than Done
Maybe you’re thinking there’s no way this will work in your family. That’s OK. You don’t have to order the Monster Nacho Plate to start. Instead, you might identify the issues in your blended family that cause the most conflict. Try “nachoing” those issues, sort of like getting a side-order of nachos to see if you like it. Maybe your spouse frequently relies on you to plan fun outings for when the kids are in your home, but you wind up feeling taken advantage of or unappreciated when the kids whine that they’re not having fun. A side order of nachos would mean communicating to your spouse that, while you are excited to join in family activities, he needs to take charge of planning. This simple change means that your spouse gets to step up to his responsibilities as the kids’ parent, helps him come to understand more about what the kids are interested in, and relieves you of the bad feelings that come if the kids say they’d rather stay home and play the Nintendo.
Or maybe it drives you crazy that your spouse refuses to make the kids do homework when they’re with you. Perhaps you feel guilty about sending them back to their other home without their homework done, so you’ve been the one sitting down with them to make sure the projects and assignments get completed, but you're inwardly seething about how you’d don’t want to be the heavy hitter keeping the kid from watching Youtube videos. Wouldn’t it be a relief to just let your spouse handle that? If the kids get a failing grade on an assignment, it’s not your responsibility. Bio parents can and should figure out the homework plan and enforce it.
Stepping Up Means Staying Connected
I recently talked to a 75-year-old woman about her relationship with her stepfather. She told me of a trip to the store she had made with him when she was a teenager. With pain in her voice, she related how she had asked him to buy her a tube of acne cream. Her stepfather, without giving a reason, simply said no. She told me how that made her feel that her stepfather didn’t care about her. Sixty years later, she still remembers that pain-filled exchange vividly.
Nacho Parenting is the opposite of this kind of blending of families. You must step up in your relationships by staying connected to your stepkids even as you don’t take responsibility for raising them. Strive to make every interaction with them polite and kind. Compliment your stepchildren whenever they do something right. Forgive them when they say or do things that hurt your feelings. Stay out of it when the bio parent is dealing with a parenting responsibility issue. Support them in their activities and interests. If they ask you to buy them a tube of acne cream, treat them with respect and love even if you have to say no.
Again, a Nacho Parent understands that staying out of the parenting details allows her to work first on a positive relationship with her stepchildren. As Maya Angelou reminds us, “At the end of the day, people won't remember what you said or did, they will remember how you made them feel.”
Want a Side Dish of Nachos?
If you want to try out Nacho Parenting, here are a few high-conflict situations that you can “nacho” out of:
Let the bio parents decide how the kids will be disciplined.
Let the bio parent hand out consequences for misbehavior.
Stay out of making the kids do chores.
Leave dealing with the ex to your spouse.
Avoid being responsible for drop-offs or pickups.