Co-parenting: why the “Nacho Parenting” method is gaining ground among in-laws

Being a step-parent comes with its own unique set of challenges, especially when you’re merge families with different values, routines and levels of discipline. What one parent might consider strict, another might consider letting their children off the hook with murder.

But when you introduce the complex and murky territory of parenting each other’s children, that’s when things can get sticky and relationships can get strained.

When Melbourne mother-of-two Sarah* moved in with her partner Tim* and two daughters, she says she was unprepared for how difficult it would be.

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Baby's first steps.  Parents teach their child to walk.  A happy family.
(Getty Images/iStockphoto)

“They were lovely girls and I looked forward to the different dynamic that we would all bring together,” she says. “Tim and I had been dating for two years when we moved in together, so we all knew each other and we all liked each other, but it felt like living together put a lot of different personalities and approaches into a pressure cooker and the ‘set the temperature to the maximum!”

Sarah says she struggled with Tim’s relaxed approach to discipline most.

“There didn’t seem to be any clear structure or authority in the way he spoke to his daughters,” Sarah explains. “I’ve always been a bossy parent – my boys know when I say do something, they have to do it. They don’t always like it, but it’s an instruction, not a suggestion.

“Tim was always negotiating and cajoling to get something done, and half the time he was giving up. So when I talked to my stepdaughters with my usual approach, they just exploded. They hated it Where we once had a harmonious relationship, we now had constant friction and slamming doors. Everyone was upset, and it made me wonder if moving in together was a good idea.

It’s this kind of experience that saw American stepmother Lori Sims come up with the Nacho Kids movement – as in, they’re “nacho kids”, they’re your partner’s kids.

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Sims is quick to clarify that his approach is not “Nacho kids, nacho problem” but rather “Nacho kids, nacho responsibility”.

She said Atlantic that she and her husband David went to family counseling, where their therapist constantly stressed that David’s children were not his children. And after a few months, Sims says she finally absorbed the message.

“All that man said to me was, ‘Those are nacho kids!'” she said, adding that she and David burst out laughing. “The clouds parted and the rays from the sky descended, and it hit me. These are not my children. I was creating my own misery trying to raise these children who already had two parents. “

Sims says her life has become infinitely easier now that she realizes it stepchildren have two parents, and she doesn’t need to be another.

Psychotherapist Julie Sweet from Seaway Consultation says she has seen an increase in the number of blended families seeking help through counselling.

“The roles of parents and stepparents in the early days can be fraught with fear, misunderstanding and hypervigilance,” she says, adding that it’s important to keep the lines of communication open.

“The role of the step-parent is essential because children can thrive when they have additional connections with more than their parents, but it is useful to define what this role actually means. So clarity between the couple [on what that role is] is paramount.”

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Julie says that in her experience, the biggest indicator of whether a child can thrive and be happy in a blended family situation is whether the child’s parents are friendly with each other.

“This factor changes everything and sets the temperature in both and all homes in general,” she says.

Julie says she sees merit in the “Nacho Kids” approach, saying it shouldn’t be up to the step-parent to discipline their step-kids, especially in the early days.

“Children need time to bond with the step-parent, so discipline/setting boundaries etc. is not for step-parents, that’s the domain of the parents,” says- she.

“That’s not to say step-parents don’t have the right to express how they feel and be respected. But the discipline has to come from the parent, and you can imagine how frustrating that can be. if the parents’ style is different from the mindset of the in-laws.

“Therefore, again, it is imperative that the parent and step-parent work together as a united team to come up with strategies that work for both players on the team. The parent can then lay the groundwork and provide clear the frame to the child/children.”

Julie says the benefit of the “Nacho Kids” approach allows the step-parent to step back – not walk away – and allow their partner take the lead.

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“It waives the responsibility that some in-laws may take on when they become the scapegoat or, in a few cases, the invisible third wheel,” she says.

“One of the most important things is that the parent continues to raise their children and fulfill their role, independent of the step-parent. That is a very positive aspect of this approach.”

Julie says it is also important for children to be aware of the changes their children are going through and to make sure they are giving their own children what they need to ensure this important life transition is as smooth as possible.

“For some children (depending on age), seeing their parent affectionate and close to another adult who is not their mom/dad intensifies their sense of loss and can increase the loyalty they feel towards their other parents,” she said.

“It benefits children to know that there is no replacement or competition when it comes to their mother or father. Children still need to spend time with their parent, their sacred time together in face-to-face.

“Later on, the step-parent can develop their valuable role and also spend time with the children, once the children feel more comfortable with the changes and the new dynamic.”

“Space is key,” says Julie. “Acting slowly and with compassion is in the best interest of the child.

“As corny as it sounds, it’s a journey. A fluid, ever-changing journey.”

*Names have been changed to protect privacy.

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