Plan A is that progeny are raised by the parents who brought them into the world, everyone under the same roof. Plan B is that happy and healthy, productive children are raised by child-focused co-parents -- separated yet co-operative. Add new romance in one or both households and that's what we're increasingly experiencing today in the form of step, or blended, families.
As clinicians we're not enthralled with the current word, "blended" to describe step-families. We acknowledge it is difficult to come up with a term to encapsulate the phenomenon of a reconfigured and reconstituted collection of kith and kin. With multiple divorces and remarriages, imagine the complexity that ensues.
The notion of blended brings to mind the image of a sauce or smoothie, not individuals. Another term -- which we haven't come up with yet -- is needed. At last count, blended now accounts for 40 percent of all American families.
Making blended or step-families work is arguably more challenging than making a single-parent household fully functional. Blended families have more moving parts after all. The divorce rate for marriages in which partners bring minor children along hovers around two-thirds whereas it's a 50/50 roll of the dice for first marriages.
Ever on the lookout for films reflecting families in transition -- and not just dying but thriving -- we were intrigued by Blended. We connected to the vibrant yellow and red billboards of the comely stars Drew Barrymore and Adam Sandler in a face-off nose to nose with a gazelle, zebra, wart-hog and even a tumbleweed hovering in the background.
With high hopes we trucked off to a dinner and the movie by the eponymous hateful name. We found this third collaboration in over a decade with Barrymore and Sandler finally growing into delayed adulthood in an Appatowian way.
For us, Blended was an enjoyable take on the Brady Bunch experience except that Barrymore has sons who are under-co-parented by their father and the widower Sandler has all daughters. Single parenting is hard but this film is rife with fully realized rom-com possibilities.
The idea for this bona-fide box office hit came from producer, Mike Karz, reading in the New York Times some years ago that hotel chains had developed a new category of vacations coined "Familymoons," intended to help blended families bond.
One of the issues bandied about in our practices is how much (or little) to expose children to your courtship practices and mating rituals. You don't need to be a Freudian to know that children like pets have issues with your sexuality as they try to tear even a slightly romantic couple apart.
How to manage adult sexuality, even minor public displays of affection, so that it isn't jolting or offensive -- doesn't create anxiety in children -- is important. The pay off for newly formed couples in the throes of passion is to enhance the chances of children going along with the new arrangements. Good judgment dictates that when in doubt, tone it down.
Remember, by the time most children become aware of relationships, had their parents stayed together chances are the light would have dimmed or gone out on the intimacy. Towards the end of their parent's relationship the children probably experienced their parent's disdain and coldness between each other.
In Blended, co-screenwriters, Ivan Menchell and Clare Sera, show us three different families. Two of them -- our leads who detest each other -- have accidentally fall into an African familymoon after a disastrous first blind date. As a metaphor and location, Africa is a great backdrop for the sexual tension at the heart of this film.
At Sandler's and Barrymore's table are the stereo-typical hyper-sexual May-September couple parodied by ever-funny Kevin Nealon and equally hilarious Jessica Lowe with his understandably awkward teenage son well-played by Zak Henri.
Each family in its own way is going through harsh transitions. Each character has difficulty navigating the new realities. Shift and change occur as Drew's and Adam's characters generate self confidence in each other's children.
Barrymore develops heartwarming empathy for the girls who are desperately in need of a female touch -- a nurturance different than what a father can give. Meanwhile, Sandler steps in to coach her boys in the way their disengaged father does not.
As positive overtures are made towards each other's kids these two charac ters become endeared to one another. As the children's needs are met, the adults turn to each other in love. This is the film's unselfish charm.
Half the battle is won. The children like their respective surrogate parental figures. Are the two main characters attracted to one another enough to create a lasting and viable relationship or will it all flop miserably post-safari?
We foresee a sequel, because there are so many questions that potential blended families face. Real life blended families encounter numerous existential questions. What makes them ultimately work? Blended the movie, portrays an organic (code for messy yet productive) process.
The children are drawn towards a need -- a void they want filled -- as parents do their best to keep their lives afloat. Just because a way of life or method worked in the past, one doesn't necessarily keep working in that same manner.
These two characters allow the universe to teach them these lessons. They embrace new ways and thus, each other. Rated PG-13, this is a lovely example of positive and entertaining summer film fare for the entire family.
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