I’m not kidding when I say that ‘The Brady Bunch”, a popular 70’s sitcom, has unwittingly inflicted untold damage and suffering upon thousands of couples in remarriage with children. This Hollywood idealized version of the perfect blended family still lingers in the minds of those who enter remarriages with hope, optimism and the expectation that they and their children can become one big happy family.
Families are not Osterizer blenders.
As soon as the couple says, “I do”, for many, all hell breaks loose and their new “blended” families look like anything but. If they still can muster up some kind of sense of humor, a more accurate term would be “lumpy families”. It’s odd that there is an expectation that because two people with children fall in love and remarry, that everyone else, especially the children, would easily go along with this new union and their family would by the instant power of two words (“I do”) become blended. As a family therapist who’s been specializing in working with stepfamilies for the past fifteen years, I don’t even know what “blended” means. The long and short of it is this: Families are not Osterizer blenders.
The new couple hears, “Oh, how is your blended family?” It’s also odd that this expectation disguised as an adjective is foisted upon the newly ready-made family. Couples come into my office feeling like failures because their stepfamily doesn’t feel blended at all. Kids don’t like the new stepparent, exes are being intrusive, new partners judge the other’s parenting…the list could go on and on. Let’s make things simple and realistic. First families are called “families”. Similarly, stepfamilies need only to be called “stepfamilies”. Done. If one takes the time to think about it logically, most would agree that it is unrealistic to believe that one can take children who come from two completely different families, rules, traditions and histories and expect them to blend into one harmonious unit. And, as is common, if both divorced parents repartner/remarry, all members need time to learn to adapt and adjust to both families with extended families. It’s enough to make one’s head spin.
Disillusionment comes quickly
Most couples in remarriage who come to therapy lament, “We never knew it would be this hard” and wonder why their “blended” family is not so blended. They thought their love would be big enough to convince themselves and their children that they could bring a group of non-biologically related people into one home and expect peace and harmony. When this doesn’t happen, they feel like failures and question themselves and the state of their marriage. I tell them is there is nothing wrong with them or their children. The blame needs to be placed on the “blended family myth” that the culture and media insists must happen when two families come together. We are a culture that is addicted to happy endings, despite the reality that when it comes to remarriages with children, the prognosis is grim. Many are not aware that second marriages with children have a 62-73% divorce rate.
There is hope
As dismal as these statistics are, there is hope. When couples let go of the “blended family” myth, they heave huge sighs of relief. They become optimistic once again when they learn that there is nothing wrong with them or their children. The goal for families in second marriages is not to emulate the Brady Bunch but rather to create a home where there is patience, mutual respect, kindness and acknowledgment of the unique ways each family member functions and lives in the family and in the world. Successful stepfamilies take into consideration that children have been raised in different homes and usually involve two very active biological parents who although divorced, are each parenting their children. Once couples have their eyes wide open to the realities and natural complications of stepfamily life, they have a much better chance of a happy Hollywood ending.
Mary T. Kelly, M.A. is a family therapist who has been practicing in the Boulder area for over twenty years. For the past 15 years, she has been specializing in working with stepfamilies locally and nationally and internationally through Skype and Facetime. She runs a monthly stepcouple support group and stepmom group, as well as on-line support groups. She created and teaches a workshop, “Married With Baggage: 8 Ways to Stay Sane and Married in Stepfamily Life”. She writes for Huffington Post and Stepmom Magazine.
She can be contacted at: email@example.com or 303-594-5240.