The Stepdad, Pillows And Fish Tacos

Smiling Stepdad and Teen Son

I was a 14-year old 8th grader. I put my finger in my stepdad’s face. He was twice my size. We were in our new, San Diego living room…his living room. And with everything I had, I spouted,  


I was ready to punch him. I wanted to fight him.  

He needed to be punished for what he had done. 

I was a 14-year old kid in pain. 

We were six months into our new life as a blended, San Diego family. My stepdad Marion and my mother married in Northern California, and we promptly moved south to San Diego for his new job, where we began our new blended family life together.  

For me, it was a world of firsts. For the first time in my life…

-I lived hundreds-of-miles away from my dad…and my older sister Molly, who chose to live with him. 

-I lived with a stepparent. 

-I started a new school, in a new city, with zero friends. 

I hated my new life.  

I missed my dad. I missed my sister. I missed my old school. I missed my old friends. 

The only emotion I understood was anger. And there was only one person to blame. This was all his fault. 

I hated my stepdad. 

What happened next was incredible. Beautiful. Amazing. It was life-changing. 

What happened next helped shape me into the man/parent that I am today.  

With a 14-year old finger in his face, cussing at him, Marion chose to not cuss me back. He chose to not yell at me…or hit me…or threaten me.   

Instead, he stood his ground. He was firm, and he was kind. He chose patience and gentleness. 

Soon afterwards, Marion introduced me to some more firsts. 

-He invited me to go out, just him and I, to have my first San Diego fish taco. 

-He asked me questions that no one had ever asked me before. Questions like, “How are you feeling?” “How are you coping with missing your old friends?” “How can I support you with this difficult transition?” 

-He comforted me. Sometimes with words, sometimes with pats on the back, and sometimes with…fish tacos. 

-He taught me how to practice self-care…and the healing power of a great fish taco. 

It didn’t happen overnight, but soon, my eyes opened.  

I now saw my stepdad differently.  

I now saw an amazing man. A man full of strength, patience and kindness. I saw Marion for what he was, an amazing, wise, loving stepdad. An amazing parent. 

Because of Marion, my high school years were full of countless caring conversations. Innumerable pats on the back…and a lot of fish tacos. 

I am not a stepparent, but as a once angry 14-year old who is now a parent and a Parent Coach, I want to share some bits of wisdom with you. Imagine you and me enjoying a San Diego fish taco together as you read this. 

1. Be Patient

Having a stepparent(s) is a complicated thing for a kid. Give them time to grow up, heal, adapt, and as I did, to open their eyes.

2. Practice, Model And Verbally Teach Excellent Self-Care

This generation of kids/teens are horrible at self-care. When I say horrible, I mean HORRIBLE!

 Parents need to practice great self-care because  

  • It’s good for you  
  • Being a parent/stepparent is hard!  
  • Your kids need to learn this life-skill from you! A school does not teach this, this is a parent’s responsibility to model and teach this. 

3. Set The Bar High For Behavior – And Keep It High 

There is a nasty lie going around the parenting world that needs to be exposed. The untruth says, “Being a kid/teen is hard and so parents are supposed to be a punching bag for kids. Kids need a safe place and person to act out and unleash their emotions.” Ummm, no. This is horrible parenting advice.  

Parents are not punching bags. We should not encourage our kids to take out their anger on their parents, or any person.  

Parents deserve respect and kindness. Kids need to learn self-care and how to handle their emotions without hurting others, or themselves. 

No matter what your kid/teen/family is going through, even something really hard, like what I wrote about in the above, parents should set the bar high, and not enable bad behavior or acting out. 

4. Be A Comfy Pillow

Marion was a comfy pillow for me (as were the fish tacos!) 

Instead of being a punching bag, I coach parents to view themselves as a comfy pillow. Pillows deliver comfort. Pillows help us recharge. Pillows are intimate, personal and safe. Pillows are not for punching, they are for self-care. A good pillow can change our mood, which can change our lives. 

So here’s to you parents:  Enjoy your kids, your pillows and your tacos. 


Sean Donohue HeadshotSean Donohue is the Founder of, a Family Coach, a Teen Expert and one of the most popular youth speakers and parent educators in Northern California, speaking to thousands of parents and students every year. His team of Family Coaches coach hundreds of tweens/teens and parents online through FaceTime, and in the privacy of their homes. He makes inspirational parenting videos on social media as The Family Coach. For more information visit, Facebook and Instagram


The Stepdad, Pillows And Fish Tacos