Nobody starts out their adult life thinking to themselves: “I want a blended family.” They tend to be more of an accident of modern times.
For example, when you start dating after a divorce in your 40s or 50s, it’s pretty much inevitable that you’re going to end up dating another parent. You may not be looking for more kids, but that’s likely what you’re going to end up with at this age. I, for instance, am divorced and have eight children (they’re all grown now).
Of course, me having eight kids was a bit more steak than most women I met were willing to bite off. Here would be the typical start to most first dates I went on. We meet at a coffeehouse, get our drinks, and sit down at the table. A little more chit-chat about the weather, and then:
“So, do you have kids?” she asks.
“Yeah,” I say. “I’ve got kids.”
“Six daughters and two sons,” I say.
“You have eight kids?!”
Long uncomfortable silence in the coffee house. Then, she checks her watch.
“Gosh,” she says. “Look at the time. I have a magazine subscription to renew. Better get going.”
And then what follows is her sprint to the door and down the street, quicker than the noble cheetah.
Eventually, however, I did end up with someone for whom my enormous number of children wasn’t an issue. (There are plenty of other issues with me, believe me, but a starting lineup for an 8-man football team isn’t one of them.)
Given the relatively common occurrence of blended families, it’s not surprising that some of our most beloved movies are about this exact topic. Here are my five favorites.
It’s almost impossible to think about this movie without becoming sad about the death of its star, Robin Williams. There’s a simple cure for that—watch Mrs. Doubtfire again. I wasn’t particularly charmed the first time I saw this movie, but I watched it again recently and was completely won over. Williams is simply marvelous as a divorced father dressing up as an English nanny in order to spend time with his kids. After much hullabaloo, they reach an amicable resolution to the custody arrangement and come to discover that their family can be just as happy even if not traditional. The biggest problem for me is—prepare to gasp—I am no fan of Pierce Brosnan and never have been. He’s just not that good. But the rest of the movie is so wonderful it’s worth ignoring him. Directed by Chris Columbus off a screenplay by Randi Mayem Singer and Leslie Dixon. Go ahead and laugh. It’s okay. He would have wanted you to.
Either version is just fantastic. The original starred Hayley Mills, who I had a HUGE crush on as a kid. The remake in 1998 starring Lindsay Lohan is, in my opinion, just as good as the original. Lohan is utterly winning in the dual roles of identical twins separated at a young age in a divorce. (Look, the story doesn’t make a lot of sense, so don’t spend a lot of time thinking about it.) This is an unconventional take on blended families because it’s about two long lost halves-of-a-whole reuniting. Both versions are tremendously charming movies.
This is one of my favorite movies about families and parenting. While not specifically about two couples blending their families into a new one, this film is about the various forms that parenthood takes in different stages of marriage. Parenthood is an incredibly honest and unsentimental movie, even though everything pretty much works out in the end. Directed by Ron Howard off a brilliant script by Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, it features one of the truest lines I’ve ever heard in a movie. Jason Robards is talking to his son, played by Steve Martin, about parenting, and tells him, “When it comes to being a parent, it never, never ends. It’s like your Aunt Edna’s ass.”
Based loosely on the true story of Frank and Helen Beardsley, this tells the story of a widow and widower with large families who marry and have a combined 18 children. The bulk of the action of the movie is about their courtship, and it stars Henry Fonda and Lucille Ball. The kids are deeply opposed to their union, and do everything they can to undermine it. It’s a delightful movie and I recommend it highly. It was remade in 2005 starring Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo, but feel free to miss this remake. The original is better.
This is a completely different take on the blended family. In this one, a teenage girl inadvertently gets pregnant and decides to give her baby up to an apparently stable middle class couple. The couple, however, have some major issues of their own that may make them completely unsuitable parents. A tremendously sharp script by Diablo Cody, and starring a fantastic cast that includes Ellen Page, Michael Cera, Jason Bateman, and Jennifer Garner.
David Raether is a veteran TV writer and essayist. He worked for 12 years as a television sitcom writer/producer, including a 111-episode run on the ground-breaking ABC comedy “Roseanne.” His essays have been published by Salon.com, The Times of London, and Longforms.org, and have been lauded by The Atlantic Magazine and the BBC World Service. His memoir, Homeless: A Picaresque Memoir from Our Times, is awaiting publication.