If you grew up in the 70’s, you probably watched at least a few episodes of “The Brady Bunch” on the old clunker TV with knobs you had to turn. Not only did the show sugar-coat how harmonious combined families could live, but it set the bar high for traditional, first-marriage families.
This may have seemed like a great role model to live by, but it was a disservice to reality.
In the real world, combined families are quite common, but not without generous helpings of discord. With half of all marriages ending in divorce, and most marriages having children involved, the likelihood of becoming a step-parent in a second marriage runs pretty high. What’s missing is the “combined family guide book” that prepares parents for the daunting task of combining two families under one roof.
The Brady’s got along cheerfully for the most part (except for some hair-raising scenes in their shared bathroom), but the show failed to depict a presence of ex-spouses, or real, ongoing issues that manifest inevitably. If both mother and father are widowed, it makes parenting more transitional than trying to schedule visits, or deal with conflicting rules of the non-custodial parent.
If you fell victim to “the Brady Bunch syndrome” in the back of your mind, you will need a reality check before proceeding forward. No problem couldn’t be solved within 24 minutes for this fictitious family, but remember that it was based on ratings-driven fantasy. Think alongside of “Modern Family” and “Step Brothers” to get a preview of how multi-faceted blended families can be. And realistically, expect more like years for families to mesh together.
Here are some things to remember for anyone who wants to make their own “Brady Bunch”– that is, without Hollywood screenwriting magic, and suspension of disbelief:
- Keep in mind that it will not be like a “traditional family.” You need patience to cope with stress levels escalating when both families are together. Superhero strength patience.
- Space is a commodity. The more children you have in a combined family, the less space you will have for each family member (unless you’re living in the Spelling mansion).
- Boundaries and rules must be agreed to and established by the combined parents. When conflict erupts among your kids, both parents have to enforce rules or make quick judgments governing the home.
- There are only ex-spouses, not ex-parents. The real mother or father (however horrible you think they might be) will always be golden to the children, so don’t try to replace anyone’s role.
- Avoid conflict by parenting your own children and enforcing rules to step-children. One way to avoid stepping on toes is to tell step-children, “in this house, we…” while the true parent does the disciplining/parenting.
- Watch for fairness. Being strict with your own children and passive with step-children will cause resentment and tension in the household. Remember that visits aren’t “guests” of the house, and they should uphold rules just like resident children.
There is also a possibility of dealing with an ex-spouse who can wreak havoc on a combined family. Try to establish a way to deal with outside static, and when in doubt, use humor to get through sticky situations. Even the Bradys had a live-in maid, and stay at home mother. Who can afford a maid with six kids and a single income these days?
Raising a family is the hardest job in the world– even for traditional families. With an ample supply of patience, perseverance and a dash of funny bone, combined families can also weather the storms that come with blending lives. Add to that unconditional love and they will receive the necessary tools for a happy, healthy life.