Remember that scene in The Parent Trap whee Annie meets her Dad’s new, very young girlfriend, Meredith Blake for the first time? she’s mortified because of the sickly sweet manner in which Meredith tries to immediately manifest a tight-knit bond with her fiancé’s child out of thin air.
And while Meredith is ultimately portrayed as both ill-fit to be a caretaker, it’s easy to understand Annie’s uneasiness with Meredith’s approach. Loving bonds with someone who might be viewed as “replacing” another parent don’t form right off the bat.
It’s whats led some step-parents, especially step-moms, to take a new approach to bonding with and parenting their step-kids: the Nacho Kids Method, aka “not your kids, not your responsibility.”
For example, say one of your step-kids isn’t listening to repeated pleas to take all of five seconds to put their dirty cup in the dishwasher. You try a reward system, then threats and punishments, and the child continues to leave their dirty cups everywhere a la Signs, only adding to your ever-growing chore list. Not only that, but it strains your relationship further. What the hell do you do?
Take a deep breath, accept it isn’t your problem to make this child do anything, and walk away from the situation. Stop picking up the cups or cleaning their eventual spills. This is not your problem or responsibility. Tell your partner it’s an issue, and that he’s the one who will have to deal with it. That is what the Nacho Kids method would have you do.
At first glance, this may seem like a callous and apathetic approach to step-parenting. After all, when you decide to be with someone, aren’t you supposed to take all the good and the bad, including children from previous relationships? Aren’t you supposed to work to make things, well, work, even if it pushes you to the brink of insanity?
Lori Sims, the woman behind the Nacho Kids movement, was at said brink of insanity when she decided to simply disengage with her step-kids after years of battling what she considered too lenient of parenting on her partner’s side.
Sims and her husband David went into couples’ counseling, and as Sims told The Atlantic, their therapist kept pointing out that David’s kids were not her kids. After months of this, it finally hit Sims.
“All that man said to me is ‘They are nacho kids!’” Sims recalled, noting that she and David burst into laughter at this point. “The clouds parted, and the rays from heaven came down, and it hit me. They are not my kids. I was creating my own misery by trying to parent these kids who already had two parents.”
Sims is by no means alone. There are countless posts in the stepparents Reddit community from step-moms begging for any sort of help navigating the power dynamics and inherent (and often sexist) expectations of a step-parent, step-child relationship.
In this subreddit and other digital forums for frustrated step-parents, women pass around an anonymously penned essay outlining how the author had no choice but to adopt the Nacho Kids Method after years of frustration. The essay is secretly shared like an esoteric text: sacred for its content but not to be shared with the masses for fear of backlash or criticism.
Let’s combat some of that backlash and criticism by defining what Nachoing is *not*.
Nachoing isn’t simply checking out mentally whenever a step-kid gets on your nerves or doesn’t listen. Instead, it’s all about how “to disengage appropriately.” This opens the space for your significant other to step up and do the parenting.
“Some may need a bit of a push, but their kids are their responsibility and you did not marry them to take over their parental roles,” Sims notes in the FAQ section of her site Nacho Kids.
Disengaging also helps break negative patterns that might have been previously established with step-kids. Now, this doesn’t mean simply ignoring your 16-year-old step-daughter being glued to her phone at the dinner table will make her stop the behavior in a day, but it will break the cycle of nagging and allow a new, healthy pattern to form.
To be clear, the Nacho Kid Method doesn’t mean abstaining from any maternal instinct or role completely. Instead, it asks you to take a step back and look at the assumptions in your relationship with your significant other and adjust them accordingly. A biological parent should not automatically assume that their partner is signing up for all the obligations of a biological parent when they are entering a relationship. Boundaries should be openly discussed to avoid parenting dynamics that end in resentment.
That is to say, if you love being a step-mother and parenting the shit out of your step-kids (and they love it, too!), stick with that! If you formed an instant and deep bond with your partner’s kiddos, that is amazing and absolutely should be cherished. Or if your step-kids don’t have another bio parent in the picture — you may be more welcomed to step into a deeper parenting role.
However. If your step-kids are really pushing your buttons and your partner doesn’t seem to mind at all — or expects you to handle the discipline and housework — it’s time to have a talk. There is no one-size-fits-all for how to make blended families work, and Nachoing is just as valid as any other way of keeping your blended family happy and healthy.