Stepfamilies on TV: Step by Step
Family has been a main focus on television since the beginning of the television, beginning with families like the Cleavers and the Waltons — good, wholesome people who seemed to reflect the spirit of the American family in the 50’s and 60’s.
As the years progressed, the American family began to change. Divorce rates soared and the number of single-parent households rose. Families began to take on a different shape. Stepfamilies — families with one or both parents married previously with children–became more and more common.
As the times changed, TV changed along with it. Shows centered on stepfamilies began to air. These shows rarely portray what a stepfamily is like in reality, however. One TV sitcom about a stepfamily in particular, “Step-by-Step,” is exceptionally fictitious.
As with many TV shows that are supposed to merely entertain, many situations are exaggerated for effect and plots are stretched to inconceivable limits. The characters seem unbelievably naive and get involved in ridiculous predicaments.
“Step-by-Step” is no exception. The two parents of the show, Carol and Frank, had each been married before and had children from these marriages. Carol has three kids, and Frank has two. During the first season of the show, only a few episodes focused on the issue of the new family, such as the kids not getting along or everyone having to make adjustments because of the new situation. Halfway through the first season, though, all family problems seemed to be resolved and the plots began to resemble a typical sitcom’s. Being part of a stepfamily myself, I know firsthand that the short-lived “problems” the characters in “Step-by-Step” experienced don’t resemble at all what the members in a stepfamily must go through in real life.
Along with having “normal” family problems, such as raising teenagers and staying on a budget, stepfamilies have many other issues to deal with. No mention was ever made in the show about ex-spouses, child support, or visitation rights, yet all these things play a large role in a typical stepfamily. This could simply be because Carol’s and Frank’s ex-spouses weren’t in the picture for one reason or another and never posed a problem, but the children never mentioned their other parent either, which again seems highly unrealistic.
The biggest discrepancy between the TV stepfamily and a real life stepfamily is the relationships of the family members with one another. Everyone on the show gets along pretty well, even for a traditional family. In the beginning, Carol’s oldest daughter didn’t get along well with Frank (which is not at all uncommon in a stepfamily); there were also a few problems with Carol’s girls and Frank’s daughter not getting along. But these situations were handled in the typical TV fashion — rather lightly and very short-lived.
In reality, however, such circumstances are not so easy to deal with. One important problem in a stepfamily is the relationship between stepparents and stepchildren. If the children’s biological parents keep in contact with them, the kids might not regard their stepparents as legitimate parts of their life. If the children have a “real” mom or dad, why would they need a step-dad or step-mom? The child might resent the new stepparent for trying to take the place of their natural parent. The biological parent, in turn, might try to pull the child away from the stepparent, feeling threatened by the new parent’s presence. If a child’s natural parent is no longer around, the child may feel that there is no true parent for him or her and not accept the new stepparent.