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'Nacho parenting’ is how some blended families keep the peace

Fans of the philosophy say it has saved marriages.
Lori and David Sims were on the verge of a breakup when a blended family parenting breakthrough occurred.
Lori and David Sims were on the verge of a breakup when a blended family parenting breakthrough occurred.Amy Sapp

Lori Sims was on the verge of leaving her husband, David Sims, when the couple talked with a friend about their blended family's struggles. 

Each of them had come to the marriage with children. And while they knew blending families would be difficult, they were not prepared for just how hard it would be, Sims told TODAY Parents

“I was sick with stress,” Sims said of the issues she was having with her stepchildren and, as a result, her husband. “I was one phone call away (from a divorce).”

But then that friend — who also happened to be a pastor — uttered one sentence that would change the course of her life. 

“He said, ‘Lori, they’re not your kids,'" And a whole new way of thinking — and eventually a business called Nacho Kids — began. 

Nacho parenting, Sims said, is rooted in the idea that your stepchildren already have parents, and don’t need more. Your spouse’s children are simply not your responsibility, according to the philosophy. 

“Correction without connection breeds contempt,” is a saying oft-found in Nacho Kids literature. In other words, a step-parent doesn’t have the history with the child that the biological parents do and therefore cannot parent in the same way, or at all. 

For Sims and many others who have followed, “nachoing,” at first, meant simply removing herself from interactions with her stepchildren. When it was their time to have David’s kids, she would often retreat to the bedroom or otherwise occupy herself in order to avoid a negative interaction. No interaction is preferable to a toxic one, Sims said. This went on for a year before things started to turn for the better. 

Dawn Morgan of Greenfield, Wisconsin, had to avoid interacting with her stepchildren for two years. She began “nachoing” — and attending the academy Lori and David provide online — in secret. Her relationship with her now-husband, Buzz Morgan, was on the brink after they moved in together and blended families prior to being married. 

“His kids have a very involved mom and Buzz is the most involved dad I know,” she said. And while her interactions with Buzz’s kids had been mostly fun and positive prior to cohabitating, that quickly changed under one roof when Dawn’s kids and Buzz’s kids would visit on the same weeks. 

“Everything felt like my fault,” she said of the always-present tension in the home. “I went into a depression because it felt like no one liked me.” 

Bonnie Scott, a therapist and founder of Mindful Kindness Counseling, said she’s seen the approach “work fairly well.” 

Step-parents, she said, are “unlikely to have the same kind of connection to a kid that a bio parent has, and that’s ok. Different isn’t worse. There are lots of positive and fulfilling ways to be an important and key part of a kid’s life without being the bio parent or trying to fill that role.”

Parenting expert Stephanie Rosenfield said the connection piece when it comes to blending families is key. 

“Kids are more likely to listen to parents and caregivers when they feel understood, respected and have positive fun experiences with those adults,” she told TODAY Parents. 

Morgan said she’s learned that at the center of nacho parenting is changing your own behavior and interactions in order to change the dynamic of the relationship. Morgan said while he and the kids can now spend time socially, there’s still not much of a relationship. She hopes that might change as they grow older. In the meantime, however, there’s far more peace in the home, and her relationship with Buzz (they decided to get married) and her mental health have improved. 

For Sims, who was in a “dark place” before her “not your kids” light bulb moment, her relationship with David’s kids is much better. Especially good is the relationship with the stepson who she called the former “leader of the burn Lori at the stake movement.” 

“We asked him on our podcast what he would say our relationship is like now, after I ‘nacho’d.’ He said he considers me a best friend.” 

Tips for Nacho Parenting from the website: 

  •  Treat the stepkid as you would a friend’s kid.
  •  Allow the bio parent to parent their own kid as they deem fit.
  •  Do not engage in negative and unhealthy interactions with the stepkids.
  •  Say nothing about, or to, the stepkids unless it’s sheer praise.
  •  Remove the target off your back and no longer be the “bad guy.”