Sunday, August 9, 2009

As my husband and I left the theater after seeing “The Proposal” the other night, I glanced at the posters for upcoming films.

The first one was an ominous-looking poster showing two fists, one wearing a wedding ring, clenching a necktie as if to strangle someone. In the middle were the words, “This fall Daddy’s home,” and at the bottom was the simple movie title, “The Stepfather,” the letters dripping blood, of course.

I wonder how many other stepparents have seen such visuals and thought about the influence of such media on stepfamilies.

We all know what Disney’s “Snow White” and “Cinderella,” made in 1937 and 1950, respectively, contributed to the image of stepmothers. At that time, remarriage occurred mostly after widowhood; divorce was rare.

Many experts in stepfamily blending have written about the ‘70s show “The Brady Bunch.” Since my husband and I remarried with five kids six years ago, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard, “Ah, the Brady Bunch.” I now use my standard reply, “Well, I don’t have an Alice, and I am definitely not having a Cindy.”

Today, one-third of the U.S. population is remarried, and the majority of those who are remarried have been divorced. The divorce rate for second marriages is estimated to be between 50 percent and 60 percent.

In a May 1, 1994, article, “Lessons From Stepfamilies,” in Psychology Today, Virginia Rutter pointed out that such a break-up rate statistic “paints stepfamilies with too broad a brush; it conceals their very real success.” She continued, “A far more useful, more important fact is that stepfamilies do indeed face instability, but that shakiness occurs early in the remarriage — and may ultimately be traced to lack of support from the culture.”

Assuming movies are an influential part of our culture and recalling recent movies with stepfamilies, I am disappointed. There was “Stepbrothers” in 2008 with Will Ferrell and Adam McKay. I’m not a movie expert by any means, and I knew it was an R-rated Will Ferrell comedy. Many reviews said it was funny and infantile. It certainly was that; I just wish it wasn’t called “Stepbrothers.” The title was wasted; a movie called “Stepbrothers” could have sent a powerful, positive message about the dynamics stepsiblings face and how to overcome them.

Then, earlier this year, “The Uninvited,” starring Emily Browning and Elizabeth Banks, was released. All I needed to see was the trailer about a vindictive, evil stepmother, and I didn’t even bother to go see the movie. I don’t think I will go see “The Stepfather” either.

Do people notice these posters? Can the posters and trailers alone for movies such as these negatively affect society’s view of stepfamilies? Can they perpetuate the myths that all stepparents are evil?

I’m not looking for films like “The Brady Bunch” model either. But, there has to be something in between that and blood, gore and evil stepmothers. When will the movie industry provide us a broader range of views of stepfamily and remarried life?

I’ll bet you can find plenty of entertaining humor and uplifting drama in real remarried households across America. There are many positive stories to be told about successful stepfamilies. Many stepfamilies have faced tremendous pain and stress, and survived to be even stronger than a traditional biological family in the end. There are real triumphs and inspirational stories to be shared.

Ms. Rutter contended in her article that stepfamilies are turning out to be “living laboratories for what it takes to create successful relationships.” She emphasized that stepfamilies are more complex than first-marriage families, and added that they are also richer. “New information about what really goes on, and what goes wrong, in stepfamilies will definitely change the way you think about them. It also promises to change the way you think about all families.”

One myth she busted in her article is that stepfamilies aren’t successful in raising healthy children. According to her, “80 percent of the kids come out fine.” Would anyone like to see a feel-good movie about that?

Paula Bisacre, founder of Remarriage LLC, is the publisher and executive editor of reMarriage magazine (, a quarterly publication that provides practical solutions for the growing remarriage community. She can be reached at publisher@remarriage

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