Dos and Don’ts of Step Parenting

Being a step-parent automatically puts you in a difficult role. Learn about the dos and don’ts of step-parenting, how to have healthy boundaries with your step-kids, and how to create a happy, healthy blended family.

Learning the dos and don’ts of step-parenting can help you avoid so much conflict and heartache, and set your new blended family up for success. When you become a step-parent, you’re walking into a tricky situation. You may have the warmest feelings for your step-kids and a heartfelt desire to be a positive figure in their lives, and still find yourself thrust into the role of “wicked step-mother” (or step-father), with the pain of their parents’ broken marriage heaped onto your back… while your partner stands by helplessly.

As a longtime couples counselor, I know blended family problems like these are common, and incredibly challenging to overcome. It’s one of the reasons I advise couples to seek blended family counseling as a preventative measure, before problems arise. I also advise taking a very thoughtful approach to blending your families, and examining your expectations for what the role of step-parent will look and feel like. 

This article is about an approach to step-parenting that helps you release unhelpful expectations so you can create a happy, harmonious blended family. I’ve also created an episode of the Love, Happiness and Success podcast on this topic. My guests are Lori and David Sims, a married couple with five children between them from previous marriages. Lori and David are the founders of the Nacho Kids Academy, and today, they’re sharing the step-parenting method that helped their marriage survive and thrive through the blended family experience. If you’re struggling with step-parenting, it will help you too. 

You can tune in on this page, Apple podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen. 

The Dos and Don’ts of Step-Parenting

If you’re having blended family problems, you’re far from alone. The difficult dynamics between step-parents and step-kids are one factor that contributes to the nearly 60 percent divorce rate for second marriages. Many blended families need the help of a marriage and family therapist, and/or a blended family counselor, to keep their relationships intact. 

Understanding the challenges of your blended family system — plus the dos and don’ts of step parenting can help you start taking steps to improve it. Here are some of the powerful parenting tips for step-parents our experts shared on this episode:

Step-Parent Struggles 

Going through a divorce with kids creates a great deal of stress for both parents, and can change relationships between parents and their children in complicated ways. Mom might hesitate to enforce bedtimes or table manners, not wanting the kids to associate her house with rules and discipline. Dad might feel guilty that he’s only with his kids part-time, and try to “buy their love” by over-indulging them while they’re together.  

For the kids, coming to terms with their parents’ divorce can be a long and painful process. They may act out their feelings of grief and anger by adopting some bratty behaviors that both parents are reluctant to curtail. 

Enter the new step-parent. The kids often feel like he or she is trying to replace one parent and steal away the other. This feeling is reinforced when the step-parent starts behaving like a parent, telling them to do their homework, brush their teeth, or to stop playing baseball in the living room; this interloper starts to feel like a safe target for all of their angst over their parents’ divorce.

The step-parent is left feeling rejected or even vilified, and wondering why their spouse can’t make their kids follow some basic rules and treat them with respect. The biological parent feels torn between their children and their partner, and like there’s no viable path to making everyone happy. If they’re both bringing their own children into the mix, relationships between step-siblings can be yet another source of friction. Not to mention blended family holidays, which are notoriously fraught. 

Luckily, there’s a lever step-parents can pull if they find themselves caught in dynamics like these, and that is adopting the “Nacho Method” approach to step-parenting. 

What Boundaries Should Step-Parents Have?

The Nacho Method is a style of step-parenting developed by Lori and David Sims, who learned what to do (and what not to do) as a blended family through their hard-earned experience. Their philosophy hinges on this mantra: Your step-kids are not yours. In other words, they’re “nacho” kids.  

The act of parenting — telling children what to do, guiding them as they develop into the healthy, well-rounded humans that you hope they’ll become — is only possible when you have a certain kind of relationship with those children. That relationship is formed slowly over years of caring for a child, building love, trust, and a secure attachment bond. It’s simply not present when you first enter a child’s life as a step-parent. 

That’s why it’s so essential to have thoughtful boundaries as a step-parent. They keep your relationship with your step-children in a healthy place and your role in your blended family clear and balanced. Many blended families find it helpful to draw a hard line against the step-parent disciplining step-children, for example, which eliminates many power struggles and reinforces the biological mom or dad’s responsibility as the child’s parent.

And yet, step-parents often carry an expectation into their relationship with their step-kids that they “should” be like another parent figure. They often don’t realize they have that expectation, let alone interrogate whether it’s necessary or even possible. They may take on the job of a third parent because they assume that’s what would be most helpful to their partner, and that’s what the role of step-parent entails. They’ll find plenty of parenting tips online that reinforce the idea that they should treat their step-kids “like their own.” When the step-kids push back, disappointment, hurt feelings, and conflict abound. 

Step-parents can avoid a lot of problems by taking a hands-off approach to their partner’s kids. The Nacho Method advises treating your step-kids like you would a friend’s kids — with kindness, respect, and healthy boundaries that clarify that it is not your job to parent them.

10 Things a Step-Parent Should Never Do

So, what are the dos and don’ts of step-parenting? Here are ten things that step-parents should never do:

  1. Say anything negative to or about the step-child. 
  2. Expect more from the step-child than their own parents do. 
  3. Care more about the step-child than their own parents do. 
  4. Parent them like your own — trying to do this will only create power struggles
  5. Expect the step-kids to treat you like you’re their parent. 
  6. Expect your partner to parent like you think they should. 
  7. Become a control freak about what goes on at the other parent’s house. 
  8. Discipline them like your own. 
  9. Expect the step-kids to treat you with respect if your partner doesn’t make them.
  10. Feel guilty for not loving your step kids like your own. 

This parenting advice can seem a little counterintuitive, but following it may just save your marriage from divorce. If you can internalize some healthy boundaries over what is and isn’t your responsibility as a step-parent, you can let go of expectations that leave you feeling like a failure, and build a better relationship with your step-kids and your partner in the process. 

5 Things a Step-Parent Should Do:

Your relationship with your step-kids will evolve over time, and learning how to release your expectations and allow your relationships to heal will too. Especially if the events leading up to that were really negative, you might barely interact with your step-kids, and that’s ok. Getting the support of a marriage and family therapist or a parenting coach during this period can be very helpful. Over time, you can establish a dynamic that feels comfortable for everybody, whether it’s close and loving, or distant yet respectful. 

There are a few things you can do to get there:

  1. Identify your triggers. Do you get annoyed with your step-kids and your partner at meal times? Or when it’s time to get them ready for school? You may need to excuse yourself from these situations and let your partner handle it. Don’t worry, it doesn’t have to be this way forever. 
  2. Treat them like you would a friend’s kids. Creating healthy boundaries with your step-kids isn’t about ignoring your step-kids or treating them badly. You can talk with them, have fun with them, and even help them with things — you just can’t act like you’re their parent.
  3. Let things go. You are going to get frustrated with your step-kids from time to time, and with the way your partner parents them. What’s important is that you’re able to let go of resentment and move forward, without holding a grudge. 
  4. Focus on the positive. Being a step-parent is tough, but it can also be a gift. You’ll find yourself in fun situations that you wouldn’t have experienced if it wasn’t for your partner’s kids — enjoy them!
  5. Cultivate empathy for your step-kids. If they’re treating you in ways that feel disrespectful, it’s likely because they’re hurting after their parents’ divorce and directing their hurt at the safer party (you). Cultivating empathy in your relationship with them will help you not take it so personally. 

So, What IS the Role of a Step-Parent?

Your role as a step-parent is to be a good life partner to your spouse, and a positive, friendly adult in the lives of your step-children. That means loving your partner and being a source of support for the things that are important to them, including their relationships with their children. The best way to support those important relationships is usually not to take on the duties of a parent yourself, however. 

When step-parents overstep boundaries or get too involved with parenting, conflict is the predictable result. You can have healthy, positive, and loving relationships with your partner, and with your step-kids, without trying to force yourself into a parenting role.  

I hope that this podcast was helpful to you today. If you’d like to get even more great parenting advice and pro tips on how to handle these kinds of sticky situations (and more) I hope you check out our “Happy Families” Collection. Or, if the time is right to get professional support for your situation, you’re invited to have a free consultation session with one of our expert marriage and family therapists.

Wishing you all the best, 

Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby


  1. King V, Boyd LM, Thorsen ML. Adolescents’ Perceptions of Family Belonging in Stepfamilies. J Marriage Fam. 2015 Jun 1;77(3):761-774. doi: 10.1111/jomf.12181. PMID: 26166845; PMCID: PMC4495965.
  2. Borrine, M. L., Handal, P. J., Brown, N. Y., & Searight, H. R. (1991). Family conflict and adolescent adjustment in intact, divorced, and blended families. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology, 59(5), 753–755.

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Lisa Marie Bobby: On today’s episode of the podcast, we are covering a topic that I know so many of you struggle with, and that is step parenting. Yes. If you are in a blended family, you know that being a stepparent is just, it’s really hard. There’s no way around it. There are challenges that come with this experience. It can be a beautiful experience, too, but you have a lot of stuff to figure out. No matter how lovely you are, or how noble your intentions, it’s a tricky dynamic when you become a stepparent. 

Your partners kids are bound to have some complicated feelings about you, about the situation, and your role in their life. It is common for people to get stuck in a negative pattern with their stepkids. Particularly if you’re carrying a certain set of expectations into your role as a stepfather or stepmother. And this doesn’t just impact your relationship with your stepkids and vice versa. It can really impact the kind of relationship that you have with your partner too. So much to discuss here. 

Today, I’m so excited because we’re going to be doing a deep dive into this whole thing. We’re going to be talking about expectations, dynamics, and strategies that will help you take a new approach to step parenting so that you can have a more positive, easier, more fun relationship with your stepkids, with your partner, that feels better for everybody. 

I’m so thrilled because joining me today are some true experts on these tricky dynamics that so often show up in blended families. Lori and David Sims are a couple who, between the two of them, have five children from relationships, and they are living the blended family experienced firsthand. To manage that, they had to themselves embrace a new way of doing things and a new way of being when it came to their role as step parents.

It was so successful that they started talking about this and teaching this to other people. They call their approach, The Nacho Method of Step Parenting, which I love. It has helped so many couples reduce stress, nurture their kids, and even save their relationships. So they run the Nacho Kids Academy. And today they are here sharing their wisdom and expertise with us, and I’m so thrilled. Thank you so much, Lori and David.

Lori Sims: Thanks for having us. 

David Sims: Yeah, absolutely. 

Lisa: Yeah. Before we jump into our topic at hand, first, we have to talk about how cute you guys are. So we’re doing this interview through a video-based recording platform. And you guys have shown up with your matching Nacho Kids T-shirts, and you have the most adorable, colorful background behind you with your little NK logo. You’re just like, so cute. I have to say that. Some of my guests are not nearly as cute as you are. It’s noteworthy. 

Thank you just so much for being here today. I have so many questions for you because this is such an important topic. And even in my own profession. So right. I’m a marriage and family therapist, and I am shocked at the ways that even some people in my own profession — marriage and family therapists who should know better — try to go about resolving these major blended family issues and it backfires. 

It’s just miserable. So I know we have so many different things to talk about with your different approach. But can we just start by, if you are comfortable with this, to the degree that you feel comfortable sharing your own story like, where did this come from? And tell us about the method that you guys generated over the years through your own experiences? Start there. Tell us your story.

David: All right. I’ll leave this to Lori. She does very good with the origin story, as we call it.

Lori: I’ll give you the Reader’s Digest version. Before we got married, we knew blending would not be easy. I read books and told David what they said. We met with family counselors and things like that, because we wanted to know what we were doing, right? Year two, everything went to crap. There’s no nice way to put it. It just went to crap. We were about to get divorced. 

One phone call away. He had actually mentioned us living separately to try to regroup and figure out what we were doing wrong. What would we do differently? I knew if I left I wouldn’t come back. Because I would have to uproot my son and go through all that mess again. So long story short, I called a counselor that we had met with prior to getting married. He was not surprised to hear from me. In fact, he said, I’ve been waiting for your call. 

We met with him. And thank God, he knew how hard-headed I was. Because during that meeting— 

David: Wish I knew.

Lori: Oh, you hush. During that meeting, I said, I don’t want him to grow up with bad hygiene, for example. He said, “Lori, they are not your kids.”

Lisa: Talking about David’s kids. 

Lori: Right? Right. Yeah. I said, “Duh.” I’m thinking, I know how many kids I have. But it kind of hurt my feelings because I did care about them. I said, “but I want them to grow up and make good grades in school.” “Lori, they are not your kids.” I said, “but I want them to grow up and be fine, outstanding young men.” “Lori, they are not your kids.” And I am not lying to you. That’s all he said to me.

David: For the whole hour.

Lori: So we left and again, remember that we were in a very, very bad place. When I say that, it wasn’t just mental. It was physical. I’ll get to that in a minute. 

We were in the parking lot. And I looked at David and I said, “all that man said to me, where they are not your kids.” And we started laughing. It was the first time we had laughed. And I say about a year, which probably is true, because things were just that bad. Then within a few minutes, it hit me. And I said, wait a minute, I’m creating my own misery. These are not my kids. I can’t care more about them than their bio parents do.

I can’t expect them to adjust to what I think they should be doing as kids just because I married their dad. It’s not that David didn’t care if they brush their teeth and things like that. But as women, we are “Johnny on the spot. It’s eight o’clock, brush teeth.” Needless to say, I came home, and I said step back. I no longer said hello to them when they came in the door.

I know some people were saying, what? That’s crazy. You’re the adult. But if I did, and they ignored me, it angered me. So I had to get rid of that trigger. By doing so it lowered my stress and it lowered theirs. Over a year, and yes, I stepped back dramatically for every year or right at a year. And the reason it took a year before I was ready to re-engage with them, in certain ways, was because we had to heal. We were also hurt. 

After that year, I remember, David was there with the kids. Of course, my son was in there, they’re laughing. I was in the bedroom watching House Hunters International. That was my escape. And they were all laughing. And I’m thinking, “Oh, it must be nice to be in there all jolly.” Then I thought about it, and I said nothing’s stopping me from going in there. So that’s when I knew it was time for me to re-engage, and I started re-engaging slowly. 

That first time it took about five minutes. And I walked my happy butt back into the room because I was not ready. A lot of trial and error. But when I brought up physically and mentally, I was physically sick from the stress. The doctors thought that I had pancreatic cancer. 

Lisa: Oh, no.

Lori: I had lost a tremendous amount of weight. You would not recognize me. Even his friends that knew me. I would see them and they wouldn’t recognize me. And don’t worry, I gained it all back.

Lisa: She’s alright everybody. That’s scary, though, when it was that bad.

Lori: Yeah, it was that bad. It was so bad that I couldn’t take a shower without taking a break. Because I didn’t have energy and I couldn’t eat and it was horrible. So anyway, that’s how it came about. And throughout that year, we also perfected, I guess, what you would say is the Nacho Kids method. I found people in Facebook groups that were being attacked by other step moms.

Lisa: Oh. 

Lori: If they said, “I don’t like my stepkids,” then somebody will say, “oh, how dare you. They are your children. You became their mother or their father when they married. You married this person.” I would private message them on Facebook and invite them to my secret group. In the secret group, I taught them how to Nacho and then finally, three years ago, we opened up the normal, private I guess it’s not private. It’s a private Facebook group you have to ask to join. 

We started our podcast, we started the Nacho Kids Academy because we couldn’t keep this to ourselves. We had to turn our tragedy into a testimony. 

Lisa: Yeah.

David: Everything she said

Lori: I’m so glad that you did. Because from talking to so many people, it is such a common experience. I have not personally met one individual in a blended family who has not had at least a degree of that experience. I know there can be a spectrum of how hard it is. We do get personal on this podcast as personal questions, you do not have to answer personal questions. I’ve asked you something you’re like, “no…”

Lori: Okay, you’re scaring me. We talk about everything. so you’re really scaring me.

Lisa: But I am curious to know, just for the benefit of our listeners, can you describe a little bit more when you talk about when it was bad? When it was hard? Tell us the story of how that evolved a little bit, because, and again, we don’t have to go into details that are too personal, but I want our listeners to know that they are not alone in this experience, right?

I’m guessing that you guys met and started dating like anybody else. David, you had four children at the time? And Laura, you have one? Tell us about the early experiences. Did you just start hanging out together with the kids from time to time? Was that okay at first, or was it always challenging?

Lori: Oh, it was good until year two. Year two, things just— it wasn’t like we woke up on the day of year two, and it’s like, oh, my god, everything’s gone to crap

Lisa: Sure.

David: With us, no. I mean, I think when we went into this, we were thinking we really want this to be hard. And we really want to do everything wrong.

Lisa: As one does, right. Yes.

David: We were successful in doing everything wrong. But no, it was good in the beginning. 

Lisa: How old were the kids in the beginning? 

David: Great question. So my triplets were… 

Lisa: You have triplets?

David: Yes, ma’am. So they were eight when we got married? 

Lori: Nine. 

David: They were nine. Then I have an older son who is a year and a half older. So he was 10.

Lori: He just turned 11. 

David: Okay.

Lori: My son was four when we got married.

David: Yeah, we dated for a year, maybe a little over.

Lori: A year and a half. 

David: Yeah. 

Lori: Well, we’re talking about seriously dating. That’s a whole ‘nother podcast.

Lisa: That is another podcast. But it was so that if you guys got married, like a year and a half, and it was sort of after you got married and started living together that things took a turn…

David: No, no.

Lisa: What happened?

David: I like to say that there were different things happening depending on your perspective. So from my perspective, there were certain things happening. From her perspective, there were different things happening. We both had a different experience from those things, even though we were in the same household and all that, the experiences were vastly different. So I’ll speak for myself on this, and then Lori can speak for herself. 

But for me, there were a lot of challenges around my kids not liking what Lori was bringing to the table as far as trying to parent them. That spilled over into our extended family because they would complain to their grandparents, and they would complain to their biological mother, and they would complain to their aunt. All these people would come back to me and say, “What are you doing about this, David? You got this lady who’s out of control and telling the kids to brush their teeth.”

Lori: Everybody hated Lori, and I’m not exaggerating. 

David: Yeah. 

Lori: So that was the worst thing I needed. But anyway…

Lisa: But that’s what happens, right? Because it is so easy to become vilified in that situation. People take just a little bit of information and run with it. Lori told them that they had to brush their teeth. Can you imagine? I mean, it turns into these terrible things. 

David: Yeah. 

Lisa: But it also turned into a lot of pressure on you, David.

David: Yeah. From that side I had the pressure of the kids in the extended family and everybody, “what are you gonna do about this?” But on the other side I had Lori saying, “Your kids aren’t doing this, and your family’s butting in our business, and what are you going to do about that?” From both sides, I’m being pressed to fix all these problems that I am not equipped to fix, because they’re all other people’s problems, mostly. 

That was what I felt. She who mentioned us talking about her potentially moving out. At the time, the only thing I can think of is how can I release this pressure that I’m feeling and how can we reset? And that’s the only thing I can think of at the moment, which I’m glad we didn’t do. But I would just set the point where it’s like nothing’s working. Nothing we’re doing is working, and how in the world can we get this on track here.

Lori: It was to the point that his kids didn’t want to come. 

David: No, they would call me the day before they would come back from their mom’s and say, “She’s still there? Have you not kicked her out yet?”

Lisa: Well, I mean, that’s just such a hard situation. Because David, you must have felt like “I cannot make any of these people happy at all. I’m always upsetting somebody.” I can also totally understand how in these situations, you would think about separation or divorce. That is why people get separated or divorced — because they don’t know how else to solve these problems, and it feels so overwhelming. That’s what happens.

David: At one point, I would even purposely make people mad at me because it was easier for me to deal with them being mad at me versus her or the kids or whatever. So if Lori came to me mad at the kids, I would make her mad at me, because I could handle that. I can control that to some degree. Because now I was the one that kind of had the crosshairs on me, not my kids. And I would do the same thing with others. They would take the crosshairs off Lori and blame me for it. It was just the easier way out. It was the worse, or the lesser of two evils. I guess you could say.

Lisa: That makes perfect sense.

David: So how about you? What did you feel?

Lori: Well, oh, I felt everything. One thing, I moved into his house with where he lived with his ex.

Lisa: It’s probably hard.

Lori: Right. So I moved 45 minutes away from where I live and brought my son. He had to change schools, which he adapted great. But there were, of course, the step kids not wanting my son involved in things. No, that’s our Christmas tree. No, that’s our stuff. So it made me feel like my son was the redheaded stepchild. 

That was one big challenge for me. And also, everybody hated me. Here I am doing what I think is right. I’m trying to get these kids some responsibility and teach them how to empty trash, because that’s how you teach them to move out the house at some point. 

David: Oh, there’s the motive. 

Lori: Yeah. I mean, it really, really got bad. I remember asking David one day, I said, “do you wish I would die?”

Lisa: Oh, no. 

Lori: Because that’s how I felt everybody felt. Nobody wanted to come home. I would hear stuff through the grapevine that was not pleasant about me. And it was just horrible. It was just horrible. Then the kids would come. They didn’t want to be here. So they were miserable. They would get kind of snappy with me. Now, this is pre-Nacho, of course. 

I remember we were talking about perspective a minute ago. One of his kids told his mom, “Lori hollered at me this morning.” I’m thinking, “I ain’t hollered at him.” You know what it was? Momma used to wake them up, rubbing their back with the light off, gently, “Wake up, darlin.” I woke him up by flipping the light on saying “Rise and shine kids that ain’t mine.”

Lisa: Like an air horn. That’s actually better than what I was thinking. But it was not that much different. You just had a different style. It wasn’t about anything that you did, Lori, it was that they wanted to be mad at you for every little thing.

Lori: It was their perspective. 

Lisa: Yeah

Lori: To him, I honest to God hollered at him. So he would go tell everybody Lori hollered at us. Of course, at the time, I was so wrapped up in my own hurt. I couldn’t see that the stepkids were hurting, or anybody else. Honestly, I don’t know that I cared because I felt like I was on death’s doorstep. David says, “Don’t play victim,” and boy, that spun my head around like The Exorcist. 

Because I’m like, “I’m not playing the victim. I am the victim.” So we had a long discussion about that. And I still don’t know that I understand what he meant completely because I wasn’t playing the victim.

Lisa: Right. You were having a legitimate self-experience of being victimized.

Lori: Right

Lisa: Yes.

David: That’s what I call telling yourself the victim story. And that’s a whole ‘nother thing.

Lisa: Yeah. David, you said it so beautifully when we first start talking. We all carry our own individual perspectives into these situations, and we can be sharing what appears to be the same experience and having vastly different experiences, and I hear that in your story.

Lori: We wanted… Both of us, even though the books we read said treat these kids like they’re your own, treat it like a nuclear family. You are basically a nuclear family with an extended version on the outside. That’s what we tried to do. David wanted us to have family dinners together, and I understand family dinners are important. But listening to the stepkids slurp spaghetti drove me insane.

So guess what? If you weigh the options of is it better for Lori to go crazy here while the stepkids slurp spaghetti? Or is it better for Lori not to eat supper with the stepkids when we have spaghetti? It’s a no brainer. I would just not eat supper with them when they have spaghetti. Again, it lowers distress so much.

Lisa: I think what I’m hearing between the lines here is that, and I’ve had this experience so many times as a marriage counselor, what happens is that there are these very intense power struggles that go in a few different directions. It’s like, the kids should be behaving differently, and partner, why are you not making your kids behave the way that I think they should be behaving? 

Then the kids are upset, and everybody’s upset. Again, David, I don’t want to make assumptions, but then it turns into this like defensive thing. It’s so hard. 

Lori: Oh, you’re not assuming.

David: You can’t talk bad about my kid. Even today, we’re almost 13 years in, and I’m still like, “don’t say that about my kid.”

Lisa: You brought up such a good point that I think it is very easy to miss when we’re in the thick of this is, kids are okay, after divorce. I mean, there’s a lot of research that supports that. 

The first few years after that, it isn’t easy for them emotionally, and they have a lot of reasons to not like the new person in their life. So you’re swimming upstream anyway. Do you know what I mean? So the situation is already primed against you. Then if you’re like most people, and you have opinions about the way kids should behave and people should be parented, that gets really, really tough really fast.

Lori: The funny thing is, when I met David, he had his kids 11 out of 14 days. I’m thinking he’s gotten to be a great dad.

David: Awesome dad.

Lori: Yeah. Most dads, at best, got 50/50. That was rare at the time, think this was 13 years ago. It had just started where dads were getting more time. Then after we got married, all of a sudden, I thought he was a crappy Dad. What happened? My perspective changed.

He wasn’t a crappy dad. When I met his kids, they were as polite as four kids their age could be. Again, what changed was my perspective. We joke about this, I say men have a 30-second delay. Well, when it’s your own kids, you’ve got a three-minute delay. So I always see something that I thought they were doing wrong, and I will say something. 

Well, then what I did was took the target off of what the step kids were doing wrong, and put it on my back of Lori’s complaining about my kids again.

Lisa: Right. 

Lori: Number one, it might not have been something he thought that they were doing wrong. He let the kids treat the couch as a gymnasium.

David: Well, it’s got springs on the couch so you can jump on it. 

Lori: I didn’t. All of a sudden Lori moves in, we can’t jump on the couch anymore. We are quiet after a certain time. We can’t run through the house. And all of a sudden, there’s these rules that they didn’t have before. They knew where they came from. 

Lisa: Yeah.  Definitely. Well, and those parenting differences. I mean, those exist in any relationship. I mean, just as you’re talking, I’m totally the first one to let kids jump on the couch and my husband’s like, “Don’t let them jump on the couch!” Oh, yeah, totally. We have a role reversal relationship. 

In many ways, like when you were talking about moms making the kids brush their teeth at 8pm. I’m like, “Oh, Lord. I’m not that mom.” But I understand it from the other perspective, because my husband is like, “did you brush your teeth? For how long? Was that 20 seconds? Did you sing the happy birthday song?” Like all of that stuff, right? Yeah. So anyway, I get it. There are always these differences in any marriage, but it’s all, you know, that you share these children. 

Then all of a sudden, if it’s not your kid, to be able to come in and try to impose those rules, and have another child in the home that you do expect to follow by the rules that are important to you, and other kids that you don’t have the authority over, and you need the other person to enforce the rules that you think are important. 

Lori: Well, in a nuclear slash traditional family, if I would have gone to my mom or I would have said to my dad, if I went to my dad and said, “I don’t like mama. She’s being mean to me.” He would have never said, “Oh, well let me get divorced because you don’t want your mom.” Whereas in this situation, when a kid goes to the bio parent, and says, “I hate being part of this family.” What do you do? And a lot of people’s first reaction is, “This isn’t working; my kids are not happy. Their happiness is most important to me. So we need to split up.”

David: Yeah. And when you were a kid, you couldn’t go to your dad and say, “I want to go live with mom,” because you live together.

Lori: Right?

Lisa: Yeah, totally. 

Lori: It’s hard to sometimes put that into perspective when something bad happens. We talk about whether the marriage comes first or the kids. I’ve argued with people about this, because they’re like, “Your marriage has to be first.” And I said, “I’m sorry, my son’s first. I’m all he has; he is my first.” I’m responsible for taking care of him. If David said, “either you let Jackson go live with his dad, or we’re getting divorced.” I would say, “hasta la pasta, baby.” But that doesn’t mean we don’t have a strong marriage. I think people misunderstand that the whole marriage has to come first. 

Lisa: Yeah, it can’t be that black or white. Because what is sort of encoded in there is, “so you have to prioritize me and my feelings and my preferences over those of your child if we’re making the marriage first,” right. I think a parent cannot do that. 

Also, in good conscience, because, this is terrible to say, but it’s also true — people do get divorced. You don’t divorce your children, right? Partners can come and go, but if, and I’ve had therapy clients that experience their parents as abandoning them for a new partner, or boyfriend or spouse or whatever, and they’re in my office 20 years later, having a lot of feelings about that. So it really does matter.

Lori: My son asked me one day, you gotta think it was just me and him for so long. Yeah. He turns four when we got married… But anyway, he asked me one day, he said, “mommy, who do you love more? Me or David?”

Lisa: Oh.

David: You said David, didn’t you? (laughs)

Lori: Of course not. I said, “Of course, I love you more than anybody. You’re a part of me.” He needed that reassurance. 

David: Yeah. 

Lori: I did say, “I love David, but it’s completely different. I don’t love him like I love you.” Hee was okay with that, but I can almost see that relief come over him. You have to think, too, that his dad and I weren’t together when I had him. So he had never had anybody to share my attention with or anything like that. So we do really have to remember that the kids come in. And even though kids are resilient, they need to understand things, and they need those affirmations that they’re loved, and they’re going to be taken care of no matter what happens. 

Lisa: Yeah, they really do.

David: I mean, for me, I did feel like I put my marriage first. I just have a different view of what that means. I think putting my marriage first means that if you think of it kind of like a filter, everything filters through that relationship first. It doesn’t mean that it’s a higher priority than my kids, it just means that it’s considered before it gets down to my kids. 

In that respect, I do put things first. If my kids want to do something, then typically, I’ll go to Lori about it and just say, this is what they want to do, how do you feel about it or whatever. So there’s consideration there. Therefore, I’m putting that relationship first.

Lori: However, I’m gonna interrupt you if you don’t mind. When your kids, if something would happen and bio mom couldn’t get them, you never had to ask me if it was okay for you to get them. That was an understanding that we had straight from the beginning. 

David: Yeah, yeah, absolutely. 

Lori: So in a way, technically, the kids did come first.

Lisa: But it’s like that you are also in agreement about that, though, like you had like your partners with each other, but like this shared values around, of course, “our children come first” because that is what parents do. I was sitting here thinking I’ve had a number of single clients who are dating people who have children, so they’re not married. It’s like a dating relationship. 

I’ve had conversations where they’re coming they would say to me, in a very sort of annoyed way, “I just don’t feel as important to them as their children are. I’m afraid that I never will be.” I was like, “You are correct about that, and you don’t want to be with somebody who would prioritize a new girlfriend or boyfriend over the feelings of their children.” You don’t want to get into that situation.

But people, I think, to use your word, lower those expectations around like what it should be that can cause us so much pain. Yeah.

Lori: One of the things that, well, first of all, anybody listening to this, if you are not in a blended relationship, like married or living together yet, but you’re thinking about it, please, for the love of God, get help before you get in there. Because it’s so much easier to address these things before the “big blend” happens. For instance, you can go ahead and have the kids not run through the house. That way, it’s not Lori’s fault that they’re not allowed to run through the house. 

You’ve got to let go of those nuclear family expectations. Grieve it, spend a month if you have to to grieve the fact you will never be a nuclear family. But it’s okay. Your blend can be great. I love my stepkids. Like I truly love them. But not the same as I love my son. That’s okay, too. I love all of them differently.

David: Yeah, and they don’t expect her to love them. As a matter of fact, we’ve had this conversation with them. We’ve asked them, “how would you feel, hypothetically, if I loved Jackson,” which is her son, “if I loved him the same as I love you?” All four of them are like, “Are you crazy? Why would you ever do that? We’re your blood. We’re your sons.”

Lori: And my son said the same thing.

David: Yeah, it doesn’t mean that we treat them badly, because they’re our stepkids or anything like that. Somebody asked me one time, how do you treat them differently? I’m like, I treat my own kids differently from each other. So yeah, I treat my step kid differently. It’s not that I’m treating him worse. It’s just treating differently but I was treating all four of my kids differently.

Lisa: Let’s talk about what changed for you guys and for your family. So you had this epiphany in the parking lot outside the counselor’s office, you’re like, they’re not your kids. And like, woah, and so then you came home and I’m sort of getting this sense — putting myself into your shoes. Lori — I’d be like, away with all of you. I laugh, just like, I’m done. I’m done with you people. And just stepping out. 

In doing so, stepping out of the expectations, the pressure, excusing yourself from situations that would have been power struggles? I mean, tell us more about what that looked like when you were just like, “Alright, fine. Done with you people.”

Lori: Well, I didn’t do it like that.

Lisa: Okay, I’m projecting.

Lori: If it was my own kid, I probably would. But instantly, I felt like the weight of the world was lifted off my shoulders. The kids could tell. I mean, they knew what we went through. It was not a big secret. They even went to the same counselor. I have to say this, he asked them, he said, “what could Lori do to make things better?” And you’ve got to think again, things were so bad. These kids did not even want to come here.

David: In this particular meeting. She’s talking about how we had their mom there. We had my parents there. They gave us an intervention. Oh, yeah. It was big. 

Lori: Oh, yeah. Because they were “abused.” 

David: Yeah. And so go ahead with your story.

Lori: So they say, “Take us to Disney.”

David: Oh, I was so mad. I was so mad. I walked out of the room and said, “Here you go.” I’m looking at my parents. I’m looking at the bio mom and I’m like, “Here, you think it’s that bad? This is their response.”

Lisa: “Take us to Disneyland, and we’ll think about forgiving you.”

David: Right. And so “I need y’all to back off on me right now. Because they’re not being abused. Let us try to figure this thing out, but we need some pressure off.” And that’s part of what she did. And you’ve mentioned several times too, you’ve mentioned the word expectations. 

I think for us, that was a major issue in the beginning that, I would say, I take most of the blame for. I had all these expectations of what that family was going to look like. I had expectations of doing dinner together and what bedtime would look like and what the morning… And I projected those expectations onto Lori about what her role should be.

I wanted to feel like I could pluck their kids’ mom out of the picture because was there’s two roles, there was a wife role and there was a mom role. Only one of those was available, and that was the wife role. Laurie was filling that role, but I kind of wanted her to fill all of it. I want to just forget the fact that the kids had a mom just because we went through a divorce, and I didn’t want to deal with that. But that role was not available.

So all those expectations were being put on her. There were expectations that she was putting on us. Then the kids had expectations. We just realized that so much of the problems we had were just unrealistic expectations.

Lori: Yeah. One thing back to your original question. Before I got sidetracked, I do that easily.

Lisa: Oh, no, it’s okay. What a great point, though. I just wanted to say that because it’s so powerful, and I just really want people listening to this to hear that so much of everybody’s stress and distress and relationships often boils down to expectations, no matter what the situation. The step parenting thing is certainly very hard. That can show up in so many different ways. And I just appreciate you.

David: Yeah, I heard somebody say one time that if you’re ever hurt or disappointed is because of your expectations.

Lori: Yes. Well, I tell people, “have zero expectations.” Their response is, “how can you have zero expectations?” I said, Okay, have the expectation the stepkids won’t try to murder you in your sleep. But anything else, throw it out the window. I will say, too, while we’re on the expectations thing, before we get back, that I had higher expectations for my step kids at certain ages than I did my own son. A lot of that is because I have guilty parents syndrome. 

I admit it all day long. But also, you look at these 14-year-old kids, and you’re thinking they should fix their own breakfast, they should do whatever. Then when my kid turns 14, I’m like, “Darling, what you want for breakfast?” It’s different. You don’t necessarily intentionally treat them differently. It’s biological, I swear it is. I can look at those stepkids shoes being out of place at the front door, and it will drive you bonkers if you let it be. Your own kids, it might drive you bonkers, but not as much. It affects you differently. 

David: Or you come up with stories you tell yourself like, “Oh, he must have been in a hurry, poor baby.”

Lori: Yeah.

Lisa: It’s like your own mess. Like if I blow up the kitchen, and it’s a huge mess. That’s my mess. But if my husband did the same thing, and I was like, “All this stuff is everywhere. Why didn’t you put it away?” It’s like, it’s your kid doing something. It’s like an extension of your mess. 

Lori: Yep.

Lisa: I think that’s how it feels.

Lori: I had to identify my triggers. That was one of the first things that I’ve learned should be the Nacho process. One of my triggers was supper. I do not like to cook. I do not like to cook for people that say my food is like dog food.

Lisa: Absolutely not. 

Lori: That was one of the things right out of the gate that we said, “Okay, David, you start cooking when we have your kids. If you don’t want to cook for me and Jackson, that’s okay. I’ll take care of me and mine. But I’m not feeding your kids anymore.”

Now, granted, people take stuff to extremes. I know you see it. If a child is three years old, and you’re the only parent home — and when I say parent, I mean step parent — feed that kid, of course. You have to use common sense, which a lot of people don’t have. That’s another podcast. 

I started identifying these triggers. I started realizing that a lot of my triggers were not what I thought they were. The empty box, the empty cereal box, was a trigger for me. But why would a cereal box make you mad? Is it because of what it represented

Lisa: Okay, well what did it represent for you?

Lori: It represented lazy, disrespectful, unappreciative stepkids.

Lisa: Yeah. 

Lori: That would live with me till they were 60.

David: Yeah, when she saysempty cereal box, she means they would empty it and leave it in the kitchen…

Lisa: I have a 14-year-old who knows all about the empty cereal box. 

Lori: Yes.

Lisa: Empty waffle boxes, empty ice cream boxes. There’s almost nothing that the child doesn’t put away.

David: Very interesting is that all four of my kids now are older and they’ve moved out and for some reason we still have empty cereal boxes. Amazing. 

Lori: It’s because you do it.

Lisa: Lori? Just kidding.

David: I’m just saying.

Lisa: But it’s what it represents. It’s not that the physical thing like, and especially like in an emotionally charged situation. It feels like being offended. It feels like somebody is doing it on purpose.

Lori: It’s like somebody slapped me in the head with a frying pan. 

Lisa: Yeah

David: What she brings up is what I call you’re telling yourself a story. When you see that empty cereal box, you’re telling yourself a story about why that cereal box is empty. So the kids are disrespectful, and they’re gonna grow up to be there. So in telling yourself that story, it creates that reaction inside of you that makes you angry.

Lori: I identified other triggers. For instance, if the stepkids came in, and they said, “what’s for dinner?” Hello, you can’t acknowledge me, but you want to know what was for dinner? And this wasn’t even after David started cooking. My response was, I’m not sure you’ll have to ask your dad. A lot of people misunderstand the Nacho Kids method as being rude, crude, and socially unacceptable to the step kids. It’s not. 

You treat them like you would a friend’s kid. You respond to them, you don’t ignore them, unless they run around and acting crazy. And then you take a statement and say, can you do something for the kids? And that’s pretty Nacho days are the first part of Nacho days. But you still treat them like they’re human beings. They’re not less than. 

One of the things, too, that I learned was, it drove me crazy if they didn’t clean up their room. And David’s mama would come clean their room.

David: Which drove me crazy.

Lori: But yeah, nobody would tell her. So this was practice for Nacho perfectly. I had to let it go. People think I’m saying, “Oh, just sweep it under the rug.” No, I dealt with it and it made me angry. But then I said, you know what? I need to give this the proper emotional weight. I do not need to be mad for five minutes, much less five days, five months, five years, because their rooms are dirty. And you realize that you have to let go of control of things you didn’t have control of in the first place. 

Instead, control how you let those things affect you. And a lot of the nacho kids method is personal development. We talk about negative thinking. Good Lord, you can’t get rid of the negative road in the blended family in a heartbeat. Like all the arrows are like go this way is negative, go this way is negative. But you have to focus on the positive. If you wake up, and you think those step kids made me mad yesterday, what good is that doing anybody?

What if you woke up and your husband wants to remind you of everything you’ve done wrong the day before, or as a child, who wants to remember that stuff? Give them a clean slate, start over, don’t carry yesterday’s hurts to today, and also realize that they need grace too. I learned, through this whole process, a whole lot about myself. It was very hard in the beginning for me to keep my mouth shut. Very, very, very, very hard. 

But I’m so good at it now that I used it at work, I’ll use it at family get-togethers. I mean, I’m Nacho Walmart girl. I’m telling you, this changed my life. It’s a way of life. 

Lisa: Yeah.

Lori: Because I refuse to live an unhappy life because of other people’s reactions or actions or whatever.

Lisa: As you’re talking, what’s coming up for me is that there’s almost like a Buddhist quality about all of this. You’re talking about not getting attached to particular outcomes or things being a certain way and detaching your ability to be happy from what is happening around you, and really coming back into staying in the present and not going down the rabbit hole of different thoughts or beliefs. 

This is an enormous amount of work to do. It’s just tremendous. It’s a lot. 

Lori: Well, I’m sure you’ve heard of Dr. Daniel Amen. I love him.

Lisa: For our listeners. So Dr. Daniel, he’s written a number of books on life, brain health, and ADHD.

Lori: Yes, automatic negative thinking is one of his big things. He actually wrote a children’s book, Captain Snout, and the ANTeater or something like that. But it’s to identify these negative thoughts. Your brain is trying to protect you, but it works against you. Once you realize that, what I’m thinking is not true. And what I’m thinking is not realistic. Or what I’m thinking is fortune telling. If I can really could do people’s fortune and stuff, I would not be doing Nacho Kids. 

I would tell people to go buy lottery tickets or whatever. But one of them is the—

Lisa: Yeah. The black and white thinking. 

Lori: Yes. So there’s a lot of value in what he talks about. One of the challenges I have in the Nacho Kids Academy is changing your stinking thinking. That’s how much I love this man. And so, of course, I made it a month-long challenge, and it’s got more than just his teachings in there. But, really, you don’t realize how much you can change your life, just by changing your focus. 

One of the things I learned with the step kids was if I couldn’t walk away from what they were doing that drove me crazy. I could play on my phone, I could count ceiling tiles. There’s all kinds of things you can do to change your focus. Even get up and just go in the other room to start the laundry, it’s something. And sometimes it’s even talking to yourself saying, “Lori, stop. You are off the chain; you’re spiraling. This does not mean that the step kids are gonna live here till they’re 40 just because they don’t know how to take the trash out.”

David: Yeah. We had one lady we were coaching. We were coaching a couple, but the lady has a bad problem with negative thinking. She would put a rubber band on her arm, and every time she’d have a negative thought she’d pop or sail to be a pattern interrupt. That was how it kind of snapped her back into reality.

Lori: I would have had blisters all over my hand. It takes time to make these changes, you know that.

Lisa: Oh, absolutely, it does. Thank you for bringing that up because one thing that I always worry about with podcasts like these is we come and talk about things and like, okay, here’s what we’ve learned. And I say this frequently on this podcast, I will say it again, creating change does not work like that. It’s not like you get a bit of new information and should be able to go do that perfectly. 

This journey, I’m guessing, took you years before it started to fully flesh out, and I’m hearing that it felt better quickly. But the kind of work you’re doing that it takes a really long time. So it’s very easy for people to judge themselves or feel bad about themselves if they can’t do that automatically. I just want to take away that expectation from everybody that you should be able to do that because that is not the way people work. 

Lori: It’s the same thing, too, with the whole Nacho method. It takes time, and it takes work. You can’t join the Academy, and all of a sudden, you’d be great, because you’ve got to do the work. A lot of it is soul searching, and realizing you’re not the problem, but it’s what you represent. All this other stuff that we’ve talked about. It’s also important to know, well, we tell people, number one, don’t give up on your relationship. 

If you love this person, work on it because you’re more than likely going to end up in another blended relationship. Why not make this one work? Giving up is easy. Nothing worth having… What is that saying? Nothing worth having comes easy. 

Lisa: Yeah. 

Lori: We taught our kids to fight for their marriages.

Lisa: I mean, that is for real like to be able to see you guys getting to the place where you did and be able to come back from that. That is very, very powerful for children to be able to see how relationships are repaired. It’s not a problem that people are fighting, it is watching you repair it, and that is such a gift.

For our listeners, I’m sure we have many intrigued people who have been dealing with some of what we’re talking about. If they wanted to begin doing some Nacho parenting in their own house, what would you suggest? Is there a way to start in small ways? Or is it like a whole enchilada thing where you are like, alright, alright, everybody, I’m done with you.

Lori: Well, a lot of people, they ask the question, “Once I start nachoing, will I have to do it forever?” No, but you will want to because, I’m telling you, it will change your life.

David: Let me touch on something for you. It’s also important to understand that where you are today is not going to be where you are in six months, or in three years. If you were coming to me for coaching, I would say these are the things you need to do today. But don’t freak out because “Oh, now, you mean to tell me I can’t ever have dinner? You mean to tell me that I’ve—”

Lisa: There’s that black and white thinking.

David: Right. No, you don’t have to do that. But we’ve got to do some triage first. We’ve got to—

Lisa: Break the pattern.

David: Get some progress going, and then six months later, it’ll look different, right? 

Lori: Yeah. 

David: For some reason that 97% of people get hung up on “you mean to tell me it’s always going to be this way?” No, nothing’s ever always, anyway. 

Lisa: There are stages, there are phases. There’s a first stage where you need to step out, step out of that negative cycle, that toxic pattern, and let it begin to heal is what I’m hearing you say.

That look like what? So I heard you say it could be in the “what’s for dinner?” and you saying, “well, I’m not sure; you should check in with your dad about that because he makes you dinner.” What are other little ways of just just going back into that space? “I’m not your parent. I am a friendly adult who lives in the same house with you, but I’m not your parent.”

Lori: Definitely refer them to that, refer them by a parent. One of the things I realized not long after I started nachoing, the step kids started appreciating what I did for them because that stopped abruptly. They didn’t have their favorite cereal anymore. If they went to Dave said, “We don’t have any honeycombs,” he said, “Well, you need to ask Lori to get you some. She does the grocery shopping.” “Oh, so we’ve got to go through Lori, and Lori is the one that got us those.”

Little things like that, they definitely pay attention to. But one thing is don’t say anything negative to or about your step kids. 

Lisa: Yeah. 

Lori: When I say that, anything that can be construed as negative, no negative interaction. To the kid, that includes “go brush your teeth,” it is because—

Lisa: “I am not your parent; it is not my place to tell you to do anything.”

Lori: Now granted, if you are again, say David worked out of town, and I was with the step kids by myself, then I need to kick in a babysitter mode. In that, you make sure the kids don’t get hurt. If they don’t brush their teeth, you’re not going to punish them because that’s not what babysitters do. That is not what… You’ll say, “well, your dad asked me to make sure you brush your teeth.”

Whether they do or don’t. The next day, when dad comes back, you don’t say, “well, little Johnny did this.” As a babysitter, you’d never have a job again. I’m not degrading stepmom to a babysitter role. This is an emotional mindset that you have to kick into to detach a little bit.

Lisa: Yeah, “I am temporarily supervising you because your parent isn’t here.”

David: Not forever. For example, now, she has no problem telling my kids what to do.

Lori: Or how stupid they’re being. 

David: Yeah. They have no problem receiving that…

Lori: Because they know I love them.

David: …because there’s a relationship there.

Lisa: There’s a relationship. I totally get it.

Lori: Let the bio parent do the parenting, no matter how horrible you think their parenting is. Unless it’s affecting you, it’s none of your business. I mean that with all due respect, that’s the Southern way of saying whatever, bless your heart. But with David, there were things that he would let his kids do that I did not think he should. But that wasn’t my business unless it affected me or my son. 

Now granted, people can say, “Oh, well, it affects me because then they think they can do this all the time.” No, when I say it affects you, I mean, I’m talking it disrupts your life. 

Lisa: Yeah. Is there a fire in my kitchen?

Lori: Right? 

Lisa: Yeah. 

Lori: I will say I want to add this before I forget. You’re never Nacho safety. The fire thing made me think about it. 

Lisa: Oh, yes.

Lori: Yeah, there’s a difference between adulting and parenting. If you see a child that is at risk for getting hurt, an adult is going to stop that from happening. 

Lisa: Of course.

Lori: A parent will stop that from happening, but will discipline them after. So leave this disciplining and the parenting up to the bio parent, whether you agree with it or not. Be supportive of them and their role as a parent. 

Treat the step kids as you would a friend’s kid, be the fun aunt. Be the one that they can do the fun stuff with. I remember the kids sitting at the table one day, and they said, “I don’t want to go to school tomorrow.” I said, “If it was up to me, you wouldn’t have to.” Which, I was kidding, because if they were my kids, yeah, they went to school. But they were like, “Oh man, Lori is so cool. She wouldn’t make us go to school.” Or I woke them up at 2 o’clock in the morning on the weekend and made cupcakes for them. Like, “Come eat your cupcakes.”

Lisa: Because that is what fun aunts do. That’s awesome. This is fantastic advice for anybody listening to this who is in a maybe a dating relationship or a new relationship with somebody who has a child is to adopt this stance from the very beginning. “I am fun a fun aunt. I am a friendly adult. I am the partner slash companion of this person. This person has a kid and I do not have any direct say over what happens or doesn’t happen with this kid.”

Sometimes they may be supervise if they have to, but that’s that, and finding different ways to have a positive connection, hopefully, with that child, as opposed to trying to step into a parenting role that’s going to create those power struggles and those bad feelings.

Lori: If you’re in a bind and you’re struggling, again, come to, come to the academy. I don’t care if you go to somebody else.

Lisa: But be careful who you go get— okay, sorry, I have to get on my soapbox here for a second. Because this is actually a very serious issue. There is a big problem in my field to begin with, because you guys might not know this, but most therapists who are providing couples counseling, marriage, or family therapy are not marriage and family therapists. They are LCSW. They’re LPCs. They are not qualified to be providing family therapy or couples counseling, and they have no idea how to deal with any of this. They understand the diagnosis and treatment of mental health conditions. So that is not what we’re talking about. 

I have been shocked by the number of marriage and family therapists who… Because in my practice, Growing Self, we have people who want to join our practice. We have a very careful vetting process, like how would you handle these clients in these cases? One of the case vignettes that we talk about is a blended family situation. 

It has blown my mind how many licensed marriage and family therapists would be advising a course of action that is exactly the opposite of what you guys are describing. Obviously, they would not be successful in our practice. But to our listeners, like you’re saying, Lori, get help. Be very careful about who you are getting help from and make sure that it’s evidence-based. Like what you’re describing, Lori, is very family systems, right? You are not seeking to change other people. You are changing yourself. In doing so, you are creating change in the entire system. Not all help is the same.

Lori: Right, because I have seen too many step moms. 

Lisa: Yeah. 

Lori: That are on depressants, anti-anxiety medicine, suicidal even. They go to a therapist, and the therapist says, “well, you just need to love those kids more.”

Lisa: Oh my gosh.

Lori: You just told this woman that is brittle, that is at her wit’s end, and you told her, she’s doing something wrong. 

Lisa: Right. 

Lori: That she just needs to love these kids more. And, to me, that’s just astonishing. Yeah.

David: Yeah. “Do more of what’s not working.”

Lori: Yeah. Do more of what’s not working.

Lisa: Okay, I do have one last question. And you guys have been so kind and I want to be respectful of your time, but I have to ask you something really important. If this is okay and forgive me, again, if this is sort of veering into the personal here again, but I also have had a number of clients or people in this situation and dealing with similar things, part of their attachment, though, that is very difficult for them to let go of is not even related to what the kids are doing or are not doing. 

They are saying, “I have lost respect for my partner because of their parenting skills,” or “because of her way of being with my children.” The differences created a wound in the couple. “It changed my opinion of this person after I saw how they parented or how I saw how they behaved with my children.” Can you speak to that? 

Lori: I will answer the part about the woman seeing the man parenting poorly and losing attraction there.

Lisa: You can add that other women can be terrible parents. 

Lori: All of a sudden, I saw David in a different light with his parenting. I noticed I started thinking, “he’s letting these kids walk all over him. He needs to man up and he needs to be the daddy and put them in their place.” First of all, again, David was a good dad before we got married, right? Secondly, you have to understand the guilty parent syndrome. It is real, and it can dictate your life. 

David, if his kids were here all the time. He may think I’m gonna put little Johnny on restriction for two weeks because he did such and such. Well, in reality, little Johnny goes back to his mom’s tomorrow for a week. Do you want your last interaction to be negative with your kid before they get back to their parents? No. So it’s funny because through this Nacho process, if you do the Nacho Kids Bootcamp, it’ll take you through “the step kids are my issue” to “oh, wait a minute, my husband or my spouse is the issue because of their parenting.” Oh, wait a minute. Let me not focus on the relationship that he has with his kids. Instead, let’s focus on our relationship, our marriage. How does he treat me? How does he provide for the family? Does he love his kids? 

Like you said earlier, some step parents will say, “well, they give their kids more attention than me. Well, that’s a good thing. You’re an adult. Go entertain yourself. Get a hobby. You have to realize that their parenting has nothing to do with your relationship.

Lisa: Absolutely. Also, their parenting is only a statement of your own values and judgments. Like there are so many ways to be an excellent parent. And Lori, I think I’m hearing that you’re probably more like a law and order kind of parent in a way. Do you know what I mean? There’s so many different ways, but people have so many different orientations, who would prioritize relational things or there can be strength and flexibility too, right?

There are so many different ways of doing this. But if you have a lot of problems with the way that your partner is parenting, it’s not necessarily because they’re parenting wrong. It’s because you have even subconscious core beliefs about the way things should be, right?

Lori: You should have date nights, where you’re not allowed to talk about the kids. Because too many people get into these relationships, and their relationship is focused on the stepkids or the ex. And once the ex is not as much of a high conflict as she used to be, or the kid has kind of grown up, there’s no relationship, because that’s all your focus has been. So make sure you make time for them and also hold the mirror up. 

If you’re judging their parenting, you might want to look at your own, because I guarantee you it’s not perfect. Anybody listening to this can judge somebody else’s parenting. Again, it doesn’t mean that your parenting is wrong, it’s different. Alright, so now, David, when you thought that I was mean to your kids, did you stop loving me?

David: Let me say something about the parenting aspect of it. Sometimes, the person that has the kids hasn’t had to do a lot of parenting. Then all of a sudden, they find themselves one day now being the primary parent, at least 50% of the time or the weekend, whatever the custody schedule looks like. 

For example, for me, my ex-wife, she was a stay at home mom. When we got divorced, the person that was the primary caregiver that did all the grocery shopping and the cooking and all this stuff like that, that person’s going into now falls on me to do. There’s a time period where I’m trying to deal with going through a divorce. I feel sorry for my kids, they’re going through a divorce.

I’m giving them everything I can possibly give them to make it less impactful on them. Then all of a sudden, I meet Lori, and we get married. She’s looking at me going, “you need to parent your kids.” I’m thinking, I’ve never had to do that in the way you’re asking me to. So I don’t know what that looks like. I need a little bit of time and grace to figure out what that means. 

Lisa: Yeah.

David: Because I haven’t been that person for so long. I just want to bring up that some people have a big challenge understanding parenting kids. Even in a nuclear family, you have this issue, especially when kids get to be teenagers, and everybody’s looking at each other, “I have no idea. Nothing’s working.” And just understand that. But for me, a lot of it played out. 

As far as your question goes, a lot of it played out and the fact that when she was mean to my kids, or they came to me and said she was mean even if I didn’t see it, it really affected our relationship in that I was not quick to defend her. The kids came to me, and they said, “She was mean to me.” Instead of me really digging into that, my response might be, “Well, I’m sorry she was mean to you, I’ll talk to her about it, but she definitely needs to calm down because I’m not going to stand for this. She shouldn’t be mean to y’all.”

So you’re not defending or at least coming into that situation with an open mind of “okay, there’s probably three sides of this story. I need to figure out what this is.” You don’t want to defend that person because you almost have that us against them mentality in your own family.

Lori: What do you do about how it makes you feel towards me? Because I’m sure… I mean, I know we both got to a point that, not that we didn’t love each other, but it was a different kind of love than we had when we got married. It wasn’t the rose colored glasses, for sure. 

David: I realized that when there are relationships in the home, like for me and my sons, however they saw my relationship with Lori that affected them. If they felt like we had a good relationship, they liked her more, if they felt like, we have a bad relationship, they like her less. So when they saw us fussing and fighting, then they liked her a lot less.

Lisa: Yeah, well, they watch you to know how to be.

David: Right. The same way was happening with my kids. If I felt like she was picking on them, or they didn’t like her, she didn’t like them, then my relationship with her went down as well. If I saw and when I saw that relationship improving, then our relationship automatically improved. Because I felt okay, she likes them more, I like her more. There’s all these gauges within the family that are going up and down and everything.

Lisa: I know. Family systems are so complex. 

Lori: Normal families are complex.

Lisa: This has been a phenomenal conversation. I mean, this has just been such good stuff. I know that you’ve helped so many people and thank you for your work. I just wanted to ask too, I mean, I think I heard you guys say that. How long has it been since you first got married? Did you say 13 years?

Lori: Yes, we got married in 2009, 13 years ago.

Lisa: Okay. So then let me ask you this, said children that were probably what 12, 13,  when you guys got married are now in their 20s. Right. There’s not the same level of a “Oh, crisis, we have to do this in our own house.” And yet, you guys are still doing this every day, and now you’re helping other people figure it out and get them out of the fire. Why is that? Why is it so important? 

Lori: I really believe it’s my calling. There’s something to be said when you get an email from somebody that says, “Thank you so much. You will not believe how much you and David have changed my life. And, again, we gave them the tools, they did the work. But I even get goosebumps now thinking about it. I can’t explain the difference of me doing this full time and a normal corporate job, where I might have liked the job, but it’s completely different. I feel like…

David: You’re making an impact.

Lori: I’m making an impact. I’m making a difference. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that these step families are struggling, they can do better. We can reduce the same 82% failure rate for blended families. 

Lisa: Absolutely. But it really is. It is very meaningful, helping stabilize a lot of families, and also probably helping to really improve the lives of a lot of kids. What a terrible statistic I probably shouldn’t even say, but it was in my head. 

Children in step family situations are like eight times more likely to be abused than family situations and to have to go through the chaos of another divorce versus being able to watch each of their parents, the second time around, repair relationships, create stability, have an emotionally safe environment. I mean, it’s not just making things better for the couple that you guys are doing this. 

It’s really making things better for the children who are going to grow up and be adults who will have healthier relationships and healthier families because of the work that you guys are doing today. So thank you, and on behalf of our listeners, thank you. 

David: You’re welcome. I also want to end on this. You brought up how long we’ve been married and how well the kids are. The stepfamily, blended family challenges don’t end when they turn 18. We were seeing that and we were living that. There’s still things that come up and it’s not that they’re terrible things but they’re things that come up. Kids are getting married or having kids and so we have grandkids and now you have the step grandparent.

You got a step grandparent, things are happening. Then people that you divorced are now starting to come back into your life again, because now there’s a grandkid. We often have people that come to us that have kids in their 30s, and they’re dealing with blended family issues. So it’s not something that when they turn 18, all this goes away. 

Lori: We don’t say this to discourage anybody.

Lisa: But it’s good because I think that sometimes that can be like, okay, four more years, they’ll be out of the house, and then we’ll be happy.” That kind expectation. So that… The stage of life.

David:I mean, as long as you’re dealing with humans, then you’re gonna have to understand how relationships function and how you can work within those.

Lisa: Definitely. 

Well, this has been phenomenal. Thank you guys again so much for coming and talking with me today. This has just been great. If people wanted to learn more about you and your academy, where should they go?

Lori: They can go to, We are also on Instagram and Facebook. I will warn you, our Facebook Group is a little off the chain. So if you’re sensitive, you may want to think twice about joining that. Also, recently, we have gotten on TikTok. 

Lisa: Do you dance? 

Lori: No. I didn’t know there was a TikTok on there with David pole-danced at Home Depot.

Lisa: Really? I do not have a TikTok, but if I did it would be for the purpose of watching David do a pole dance at the Home Depot.

David: Yeah.

Lori: I can send you the video.

David: I didn’t realize it’s on there until recently, I was like what is this doing there? We also have a podcast as well. So when you’re listening to this, you can go to Nacho Kids Podcast and get all of those episodes as well.

Lori: Yeah, do it. We can have your podcast.

Lisa: I’d love to come visit with you. I bet your podcast is a lot of fun.

Lori: Yes, it is. Well, thank you again. We really appreciate it. David: Yeah.

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  1. What about when the stepchild’s behavior or actions effect your bio children? Are you not allowed to say anything to them when it’s affecting your children?

    1. Hi Christine, great question! Based on the principles of nacho parenting, I imagine it’s important to be on the same page with your partner around boundaries at home, and then allow them as the bio parent to discipline their bio kids as they see fit. This doesn’t mean you can’t make expectations and rules at home clear, particularly around how we speak to or treat one another. But the correction and discipline comes from the bio parent. I hope this is helpful but for more information, and a more support than can be provided here, I recommend meeting with a counselor trained in parent coaching. You may also want to do some of your own reading on the Nacho Parenting techniques. Best, Dr. Lisa

    2. Hey Christine! Thank you for your follow up question! To follow up after my first response, I wanted to let you know that I have since had the great pleasure of visiting with Lori and David again to record an episode of *their* podcast, and I made it a point to pose your question to them. We discussed this in length, and I hope you listen to the episode! It will be out in a few weeks, and I’ll do my best to remember to post the link to it here once it’s available for you to hear. In the meantime, thank you again for your comment, and for listening to the Love, Happiness and Success Podcast! xoxo, Dr. Lisa

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