In this week’s Love Essentially, I offer tips for those considering a blended family.
Did The Brady’s Set The Bar Too High For Blended Families? by Jackie Pilossoph for Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press
My heart sank when I heard the news last week of Florence Henderson’s death. A talented, successful and well-loved actress, Henderson is of course remembered most by her role as Carol Brady, the warm, loving mom and step-mom who with her on-screen husband and fellow widow, Mike, was dedicated to dealing with family problems in a constructive and educational way. And, every “Brady Bunch” problem was solved within 30 minutes!
But while the “Brady Bunch” certainly painted a delightful picture of second marriage and blended families, and while I appreciate the sitcom’s message of hope and happily ever after, I’m wondering, did the show give divorced parents a false sense of bliss? Did the Bradys make blending families seem too easy and stress-free?
I’m thinking yes. Not that the Bradys are responsible for really high second marriage divorce rates, but it is possible the delightful little sitcom could cause single parents to become disillusioned into thinking remarriage is heaven.
I wanted to get a therapist’s perspective on the subject, so I reached out to Dori Mages, a North Shore-based licensed clinical social worker who has been working with kids and teenagers for 22 years, including those in blended families.
“People forgot after awhile that the Bradys were a combined family,” said Mages, who is a mom of two teens and a pre-teen. “I think I remember an episode when one of the parents said, ‘We don’t have stepchildren in this house, only steps.'”
Mages pointed out three reasons the Brady’s blended family worked so well:
1. Carol and Mike were on the same page as far as parenting. They consulted each other on every issue and made decisions together.
2. From a parent level, they realized that not every child is the same. They found each kid’s individual needs and tried to meet them as a family. (Think about it. How different were Marcia and Jan?)
3. The parents had respect for each other and acted as a team.
Although I do realize the Bradys were fictional characters, I feel like if more parents implemented Mike’s and Carol’s values, there might be a lot less divorce.
I asked Mages some of the things she hears from kids living in blended families. Here are four issues, along with her tips for parents in handling them:
1. “My mom/dad doesn’t spend as much time with me as she/he used to – just one on one.”
Dori’s advice: Sometimes kids can be resentful of this. Don’t argue with your kids and try to convince them that it isn’t true. Acknowledge their feelings, empathize and execute a plan that includes a schedule for more one-on-one time.
2. “I dislike my step-dad/step-mom.”
Dori’s advice: It is everyone’s job to try to build a better relationship, not just one person’s, but rather the child, the biological parent and the step-parent. Work together to find commonalities, things they like to do together. Also, pay attention to why the child is saying it. Is it unwarranted and they are saying it because they want something they aren’t getting? Or, is it more realistic? Ask questions and find out exactly what the real reason is for the dislike. Also, remember that the child and the step-parent do have something very important in common – love for the biological parent.
3. “He/she treats me differently than their own kids.”
Dori’s advice: Find out from the child in detail what would be a “better” way to treat them. Ask them what specifically the biological kids get that they don’t get. Where is the discrepancy?
4. “I feel like I am forced to spend time with my step-brothers/step-sisters.”
Dori’s advice: While family time is important for building a bond, listen to their concerns and make additional time for you and your biological children.
When asked what the positives are that can come from blended families, Mages said more siblings can mean more kids to play with and more overall attention for kids. She also said a step-parent can offer wisdom, warmth and love, and can become another source of support and a healthy role model for a child. And lastly, kids in a blended family can have the opportunity to see what a healthy romantic relationship looks like. In other words, seeing their biological parent and their step-parent happy together, enjoying each other, and treating each other with kindness and respect sets a healthy, meaningful example.
If you happen to be channel-flipping and you end up on a “Brady Bunch” rerun, I guarantee it will instantly bring a warm smile to your face. But ask any single parent…(Click here to read the rest of the article, published in the Chicago Tribune Pioneer Press.)