Dos and Don’ts of Step Parenting
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 episode of the podcast is about an approach to step-parenting that helps you release unhelpful expectations so you can create a happy, harmonious blended family. 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.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Our authentic relationship experts know how to help you learn, grow, and move forward into a bright new chapter.
The Dos and Don’ts of Step-Parenting: Episode Highlights
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 things our experts shared on this episode:
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.
The Dos and Don’ts of Step Parenting From Nacho Parenting Academy
The Nacho Method is a method 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.
And yet, step-parents often carry the expectation into their relationship with their step-kids that they should be like another parent figure. They often don’t even 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 and respect, but without the expectation that it’s your job to parent them.
Things a Step-Parent Should Never Do
As we discussed in today’s episode, there are ten things that step-parents should never do:
- Say anything negative to or about the step-child.
- Expect more from the step-child than their own parents do.
- Care more about the step-child than their own parents do.
- Parent them like your own — trying to do this will only create power struggles.
- Expect the step-kids to treat you like you’re their parent.
- Expect your partner to parent like you think they should.
- Become a control freak about what goes on at the other parent’s house.
- Discipline them like your own.
- Expect the step-kids to treat you with respect if your partner doesn’t make them.
- 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.
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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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!
- 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,
Listen & Subscribe to the Podcast
Dos and Don’ts of Step Parenting
The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast with Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby
Free, Expert Advice — For You.
Subscribe To The Love, Happiness, and Success Podcast
Music in this episode is by RESERCTION with their song “Frozen Let It Go: Symphony of White Remix.” You can support them and their work by visiting their Bandcamp page here: https://reserction1.bandcamp.com/. Under the circumstance of use of music, each portion of used music within this current episode fits under Section 107 of the Copyright Act, i.e., Fair Use. Please refer to copyright.gov if further questions are prompted.
Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby is the founder and clinical director of Growing Self. She is a licensed psychologist, a licensed marriage and family therapist, and a board-certified coach, as well as the author of “Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love,” and the host of The Love, Happiness & Success Podcast.
Let’s Talk: Start With a Free Consultation
If you’re ready to grow, we’re here to help. Connect with us, and let us know your hopes and goals. We’ll follow up with recommendations, and will help you schedule a first, free consultation.
Marriage Counseling Questions | Couples Therapy Questions
If you’re considering getting involved in marriage counseling, couples therapy, or relationship coaching you probably have questions! Get your marriage counseling questions answered, right here.
Our relationship experts have tons of free, helpful relationship advice on numerous topics to support you both on your journey of growth together. View our relationship advice.
How Healthy Is Your Relationship?
Take our free relationship quiz to discover your strengths and growth opportunities, and get expert recommendations.
When To Get Marriage Counseling?
Was that just a yucky fight? Or is your relationship really in trouble? Here’s how to tell when to get marriage counseling.
What To Expect From Marriage Counseling
Learn what to expect from marriage counseling, from your first free consultation to the triumphant “graduation” from couples therapy.
Relationship Coaching vs. Couples Therapy
What’s the difference between relationship coaching vs couples therapy? Learn about both approaches, and which is right for you.
How to Find a Marriage Counselor
Not all marriage counselors are the same. Getting involved with a bad one can be a disaster. Here’s how to find a good marriage counselor…
Pre Marriage Counseling
Couples counseling before marriage is not the same thing as premarital counseling. Many couples need to grow together before they can move forward. Learn more…
How Long Does Marriage Counseling Take?
You shouldn’t be in marriage counseling for years. Learn the average length of marriage counseling, depending on your situation, and your relationship goals.
How Marriage Counseling Works
Marriage counseling works, but how? Learn how marriage counseling works, and how the process can help you grow, together.
Does Couples Therapy Work?
Couples who successfully work through rough patches come out stronger than ever before. If you’re wondering, “Does couples therapy work?” read this article for the inside scoop.
Can We Do Marriage Counseling Online?
Online marriage counseling can be incredibly convenient and effective — but not always. Learn when online marriage counseling is the best bet, and when it’s a bad idea…
Can You Do Long-Distance Couples Therapy?
Yes, we provide long-distance couples counseling from all over the world through secure, easy, three-way online video.
Does Insurance Cover Marriage Counseling?
Insurance can pay for marriage counseling (aka, family therapy), but only sometimes. Learn when insurance covers marriage counseling, and when it won’t.
How Much is Marriage Counseling?
Getting expert help for your marriage can be the best, most life-changing decision you ever make. How much do couples therapy and marriage counseling cost? Get all the details, here.
Gift Relationship Help
If you have a loved one who is struggling in their relationship, you can help them get help by “gifting” couples counseling or coaching. Here’s how…
Discernment Counseling For Couples
Before marriage counseling can work, both partners need to want it to work. Discernment counseling helps you resolve ambivalence, and get clarity.
Why Evidence-Based Therapy Matters
Marriage counseling can be a huge waste of time if your counselor doesn’t practice evidence-based approaches to marriage counseling. Here’s why…
Online Couples Therapy
We offer Denver couples therapy and Denver marriage counseling as well as online couples therapy. Learn about our online couples therapy services.
Our Relationship Services
We offer premarital counseling, sex therapy, perinatal counseling, parent coaching, affair recovery, blended family counseling, financial therapy for couples, and more. Learn about all our couples counseling services.
Meet Our Relationship Experts
Growing Self relationship experts are marriage and family therapists with specialized training and experience in effective, evidence-based approaches to help couples grow, together. Meet our team of relationship experts…
The Best Marriage Counseling
Curious to hear what others have to say about their experience with “the best marriage counselor?” Read their stories…
Free Resources, For You.
Our experts are incredibly generous and have put together an entire library of free resources and actionable advice to support you on your quest for Love, Happiness, and Success. View our blog + podcast.
More Questions? Let’s Talk.
We’re available by phone, email, and chat, and happy to answer any of your questions personally. Get in touch, anytime.
Start Couples Counseling or Coaching
Ready to begin marriage counseling, couples therapy, or relationship coaching with Growing Self? Start by scheduling a free consultation meeting with the expert of your choice.
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?
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
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