What’s a “normal” family these days anyway? It’s certainly not Bio Mom, Bio Dad and their two bio kids. Sure, that’s “normal” for a lot of people, but just as many experience family life as something quite different. So why aren’t big, messy, blended families (or stepfamilies, or whatever you want to call your brood) shown in more movies and TV shows? Or, more to the point, why aren’t they portrayed in a more realistic, relatable way?
Basically, Hollywood needs to do more. (There have to be more than a few stepparents running shows over there who can relate to the rest of us on some level, right?) But in the meantime, these TV shows and movies have paved the way for what’s (hopefully) to come.
Satire aside, there’s truth at the heart of the extended, blended Pritchett-Dunphy-Tucker clan, the stars of ABC’s multi-award-winning Modern Family. By focusing on everyday events (particularly those that go wrong, as well as “big” moments for all families, like breakups, promotions and graduations) instead of crazy, far-fetched scenarios, the characters have stayed relatable from the start.
Nope, not a typo. On the face of it, Grey’s Anatomy is a medical drama series (the longest-running of all time) and most of the action takes place in the ER or the operating theater. But one of the show’s strongest themes is family — most of the doctors at Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital find their new (true) families through work, whether that’s because they don’t have biological families, or because the families they were born into, well… suck.
Mrs. Doubtfire (1993) is one of the late, great Robin Williams’ most beloved movie roles, but beyond that, it’s a charming tale of a divorced dad who’ll go to any lengths to see his kids. Makeup, wigs and fake boobs aside, it’s completely relatable to anyone who’s felt like an outsider when another person appears to be taking their place at the family dinner table (in this case, Pierce Brosnan as the terribly suave — and really irritating — Stu).
The Fosters is one of those TV shows that’s easy to overlook. It’s on the Freeform network, for starters. (Yes, it’s an actual thing.) And then there’s the cringey title: it’s a series about a foster family called The Fosters. But if you’ve missed it, you’re missing out. On another network, it could have been This Is Us before This Is Us was. With biracial lesbian couple Stef (Terri Polo) and Lena (Sherri Saum) as parents of a mixture of biological and adopted children, it feels fresh — and the thought-provoking storylines shine a light on topics other shows avoid.
This Is Us
The time-hopping joy that is This Is Us follows the Pearson family through all of life’s ups and downs, including fostering, financial stress, unemployment, death and a whole lot more. One of the strongest storylines focuses on Randall’s experience as a transracial adoptee. Jack and Rebecca don’t always get it right, but what parent does? Of all the touching moments on this show (and there are about 3 million of them), the scene where Jack uncovers Randall’s reason for wanting to box is one of the sweetest.
Yours, Mine and Ours
If you have a blended family with several kids, the 1968 movie Yours, Mine and Ours, loosely based on the true story of Helen and Frank Beardsley (starring Lucille Ball as widow Helen and Henry Fonda as widower Frank) might give you a couple of hours of escapism, or even a few ideas for how to keep your large brood organized. (Navy officer Frank draws on his military training, assigning each of the 18 children — yes, 18 — a number, a bathroom, a bedroom and a place at the table.) FYI, the 2005 remake, starring Rene Russo and Dennis Quaid, isn’t as good.
Take a moment before you write off the 1999 movie Stepmom as an unattainable ideal. Who says Biomom and Stepmom can’t be friends? Ok, so it’s not perfect — it shouldn’t have to take a cancer diagnosis to get adult humans onto the same page for the sake of their kids, but it’s refreshing to see a stepmother on the big screen who doesn’t have a wicked bone in her body, and if nothing else, the movie attempts to show that a stepmother’s job is never easy.
Bonusfamiljen (‘Bonus Family’)
Think blended family is the new stepfamily? Not according to the politically-correct Swedes, who use “bonus dad” and “bonus mom” to avoid the negative connotations with “step.” Hence the title of the award-winning Netflix dramedy, which follows couple Lisa (Vera Vitali) and Patrik (Erik Johansson), plus their exes Martin (Fredrik Hallgren) and Katja (Petra Mede) as they try to figure out how best to co-parent the three kids in the mix. It’s totally compelling (like, bingeing-three-seasons compelling), emotional and reassuring.