How to Use Nacho Parenting With Your Stepchild

A happy blended family

lisegagne / Getty Images

When parents remarry, they confront the issue of how to cultivate a happily blended family, which is not always an easy task. One big challenge many couples face is how to become effective, loving stepparents that are accepted and respected by their stepchildren. This can be difficult, particularly when they're unsure how to parent a child that “isn’t theirs,” including how much parenting stepparents should even do.

There’s no question that forging a good relationship with your stepchild while not stepping on the parenting toes of your new partner takes a delicate balance. One option is to embrace nacho parenting. This parenting approach offers a simple way to envision your role as a stepparent that lets the biological or custodial parent take the lead.

What Is the Nacho Parenting Method?

Nacho parenting is a parenting method for blended families that encourages the stepparent to take an auxiliary role while the biological or custodial parent takes the lead in parenting their own children. It was developed by Lori Sims and David Sims, whose own stepparenting difficulties lead to the primary concept of this technique: "Nacho kid, nacho problem" as in "not your kid, not your problem."

The impetus for this stepparenting style came to Lori after a couples therapy session in which their therapist kept repeating, "They're not your kids," over and over again. At first, she was annoyed, she said, but then it hit her: "Wait a minute, I'm creating my own misery. They already have two parents and they do not need nor do they want me to parent them."

The couple found that by having the stepparent disengage from directly parenting their stepkids, their family dynamic improved radically. "Once I had this epiphany, it was like the weight of the world was off my shoulders," explains Lori. "For once we had hope," agrees David. Eventually, the entire family felt much less stressed and could focus on building better relationships and enjoying being together.

"We started figuring out a lot of these things that were very much against the traditional wisdom of how a family should operate. We started to track what is working, and what wasn't," says David. Soon, they started sharing their newfound wisdom online with other newly blended families—and just like that, nacho parenting was born.

"Ironically, the term nacho parenting is kind of an oxymoron considering you are not parenting because they are not your kids," says Lori Sims.

How Does Nacho Parenting Work?

The beauty of nacho parenting is that it gives you a solid framework for relating to your stepkids. "It is a methodology by which we lower the stress in the blend to improve the relationships," says David, who brought four children into his marriage to Lori. She brought one. The idea is to allow the parent to parent and have the stepparent take a more hands-off approach, trusting their partner without judgment. "That's the hard part," says David.

While the stepparent aims to stay out of the heavy-duty parenting jobs like disciplining, rule-setting, and caretaking, they still forge a relationship with the stepchild. "The goal is to reengage with your stepkids in a nonparental role, one of more like a fun aunt, a confidant, or a mentor," explains Lori.

"You have to let go of being a nuclear family, maybe even grieve it. But that doesn't mean you can't be a family. It's just another type of family," recommends Lori Sims.

Pros and Cons of Nacho Parenting

If you are considering using nacho parenting, know that this approach has a variety of pros and cons. Of course, what one person considers a benefit or disadvantage of this parenting style may vary from family to family.

Benefits of Nacho Parenting

One big advantage is that this approach to stepparenting is relatively easy to understand, remember, and implement. Essentially, the stepparent consciously takes the back seat, while the parent does the driving, so to speak.

Additionally, says Lori, the level at which you nacho can change and fluctuate to suit your family's needs. "We want to create the best stepfamily relationship possible and it looks different for everybody," she says. So, you can feel free to adjust the plan to suit your family's needs.

Stepping back from the disciplinarian role allows the stepparent to simply focus on developing a positive—or even neutral—relationship with the stepchild. This approach defuses power struggles and takes the stress off of the stepchild-stepparent relationship.

Nacho parenting also prioritizes the child-parent relationship, which may help the child feel more secure, comfortable, and accepting of the blended family.

It's ideal for the parent to be the primary parent and for the stepparent to follow their lead, agrees David L. Hill, MD, FAAP, a pediatrician in Chapel Hill, North Carolina and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.

"72% of blended families fail and our goal is to decrease that number," says Lori. "A lot of times, stepfamily struggles get dismissed or ignored, but help and resources are out there,"

Drawbacks of Nacho Parenting

Nacho parenting may not work as well in some situations, such as when the stepparent is at home with the stepkids while the other parent works. In this situation, it would be unrealistic for the stepparent to truly disengage from the basics of parenting the stepkids.

How well nacho parenting works in any individual family will also depend on a host of variables. The number of kids each parent brings into the marriage, their ages, and the individual needs of each child will all factor in. Additionally, some families may envision a more traditional arrangement where both parents have equal standing to parent the children.

Most importantly, the bio parent needs to step up and be on board with taking the lead in order for the stepparent to successfully nacho parent. Of course, some people will bristle at the "you take care of your kids, I take care of mine" approach, says David. If that's you, then this may not be the right method for you.

Is Nacho Parenting Right for Your Family?

Like any parenting plan, nacho parenting may work better for some families than others. Even the Sims agree: "We know the nacho kids parenting method is not for everyone, but we do know that it has saved blending family relationships around the world."

To start, consider how much of your family tension comes from stepparent-stepchild conflict. If it's a prominent issue, this approach may help to defuse it. Additionally, you'll want to assess if the parent is ready and willing to take full ownership of parenting their kids so that the stepparent can fill the auxiliary role and disengage from directly parenting their stepchildren.

The stepparent will also need to be comfortable with the idea of relating to the stepchildren differently than to their own kids. "You'll feel societal pressure to love your stepkids as much as your own," says Lori. "You do love them but you love them differently."

According to the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy (AAMFT), it's essential to let go of unrealistic expectations, including that the stepparent-stepchild relationships will be as close or primary as the parent-child relationships within the blended family. Instead, the AAMFT suggests accepting that "stepparents are not parents."

Tips for Using Nacho Parenting

There are many ways to implement nacho parenting. Try these tips if you'd like to put it into practice.

Look for Patterns

Look for areas where conflict tends to show up. That's where you disengage, advises Lori. For example, she says her stepkids would complain about her cooking. "So, we decided that when the kids are here, either he cooks for them or we get takeout, removing the potential issue."

Let the Stepparent Shine

Take any chance you can for the stepparent to be a "good cop." For example, if the Sims are going for ice cream, David has Lori tell the kids. Lori might even pay, all to reinforce the idea that she is fun and to create positive interactions, David explains.

Honor What the Stepchild Feels

It's very normal for kids to have mixed feelings about their blended family. Give them space to express their emotions, whatever they are. "They may want their parents back together or they don't like going back and forth between houses, or they don't like the other parent telling them what to do," explains David.

Kids often direct their unhappiness on the stepparent, says Dr. Hill, especially if they feel that their concerns or feelings are being ignored or not taken seriously. Help them process their issues. Get them any support they need as well, such as therapy, recommends Dr. Hill.

Give It Time

Let the bonds between the stepparent and stepchild form naturally. "Pushing too hard can backfire," Lori says. "They need to get to know you and trust you. They need to know that what you ask them to do is done from love, not to gain control."

Build the Stepparent-Stepchild Relationship

Find ways you can bond with your stepchild. Talk to them, ask them questions, and do activities together. "Show interest in them and take time for healing the relationship," says Lori.

Understand that you can have a negative role in the blend and consider what adjustments you can make to reduce conflict. "A good question to ask is: What part of that am I playing?" says David. Then, ask yourself, "What can I do to make things better?"

Respond Rather Than React

Cultivate curiosity and compassion in your interactions with your stepchild. "Learn the difference between responding and reacting, learn to pause before you speak, learn to let go of things you have no control of, and learn that the ultimate control is how you let these things affect you," says Lori Sims. Additionally, identify what bothers you most and learn how to cope with, avoid, or prevent your triggers.

Direct Them to Their Parent

An important phrase to use is "go ask your mom" or "go as your dad," say the Sims. "This is helpful because you are putting the responsibility back on the bio parent." Whatever the children ask, such as if they can do something or what's for dinner, direct them to check with their bio parent.

Just as the stepparent needs to disengage, the parent needs to take ownership. "It's also important for the other parent not to push the parenting role on the stepparent," says Lori.

Give It Time

Be patient. It can take time to disengage and heal. "It took about a year for us [to adjust] because there was a lot of built-up hurt and resentment that we had to overcome," says Lori. However, say the Sims, if you can implement nacho parenting before stepparent-stepchild problems become entrenched, it doesn't always take that long.

Focus on the Love

The goal of nacho parenting is to cultivate happily blended families. It's not about avoiding or ignoring your stepkids. It's done out of respect and trust in both your partner and their children. "Nachoing is done out of love," says Lori. "Continue to treat the stepkids as you did when you were dating. Just because you got married doesn't mean you become their parent."

Allow for Change

There may come a time, depending on the relationship, when you may step into more of a parenting role in some situations. "However, you need to build up the respect of the stepkids so that you can take on that role," says David. Even then, the stepparent isn't really parenting, just cultivating a strong relationship. "Remember, a coach or teacher can tell kids what to do and expect compliance without parenting the kids," David continues.

Safety Comes First

Nacho parenting is not about standing by while the stepkids engage in dangerous behavior like running in the street or mishandling a knife. "It's important to add that you never nacho safety," says Lori. "Always step in."

A Word From Verywell

Nacho parenting is one approach couples can use to cultivate a healthy, respectful, and happy blended family. This parenting technique isn’t right for every situation, but if it makes sense for your home, it can offer a way to reduce family conflict and uncertainty by having the stepparent step back and let the biological or custodial parent take the lead on parenting their own children.

2 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy. Stepfamilies.

  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. Adjusting to divorce.

By Sarah Vanbuskirk
Sarah Vanbuskirk is a writer and editor with 20 years of experience covering parenting, health, wellness, lifestyle, and family-related topics. Her work has been published in numerous magazines, newspapers, and websites, including Activity Connection, Glamour, PDX Parent, Self, TripSavvy, Marie Claire, and TimeOut NY.