THE BLOG
09/17/2014 09:52 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2014

Move Over, First Families: 'Blended' Families Are the New Game in Town

A few days ago, Honey Maid, the maker of a wide variety of well-known graham cracker products including the honey-flavored Teddy Grahams I once served my own children, unleashed the second installment in its "This is Wholesome" campaign.[1] The campaign, which is accompanied by two videos, celebrates stepfamilies and has been scheduled to coincide with National Stepfamily Day on September 16. Not only do these ads appear discriminatory toward still-married spouses and their intact families, they recklessly disregard the devastating consequences of divorce on millions of children.

The first video, a two-minute already-debuted documentary-style spot, is accompanied by the hashtag "NotBroken." The second spot, a 30-second clip, aired nationally on Monday, September 15.

The longer ad depicts a young boy and two stepfamilies that talk on-screen as soothing music plays in the background. The young boy mentions the difficulties of explaining his "blended" family to others when he perceives no meaningful differences between his new extended family and other families. As an example, he points to the differing hair colors of his two dads. And the boy's stepmother says she'll never forget the first time her stepson called her "mom." She notes, too, that she saves the "fun" things for her weekends with him. But "primary" and "custodial" parents know that trick, the one where the non-custodial parents and stepparents get to do the "fun" stuff, and the primary or custodial parents get to be the disciplinarians and take care of the day-to-day drudgery.

"I have two moms, and I've got two dads," the boy explains, the undeniable implication that it's certainly not the children of divorce who can't understand or cope with the difficulties of divorce. And, of course, that there are no differences between his "mom" and his "stepmom" or his "dad" and his "stepdad."

Honey Maid's spin goes well beyond any attempt to encourage tolerance toward stepfamilies though, by seeking to normalize divorce and sell the fallacy -- and fantasy -- that the serious consequences that follow divorce are nonexistent. [2] In my view, it also attempts to sell the proposition that stepfamilies may in fact even be the preferred family model. Indeed, when I first saw the ad, I instantly pictured some child in America running to his still-married mom or dad after seeing the commercial, kicking the dirt in front of him, as he screamed: "Why don't I have two moms? And why can't I have two dads!"

My ex-husband and I vehemently disagreed on many things during our divorce. But when we negotiated the parenting agreement that became part of our divorce judgment, we agreed to inclusion of a provision that our children would call him and him only "dad" and me and me only "mom," if either of us remarried. (My ex did remarry, although I have not.) Ads like Honey Maid's, however, place moms like me and dads like my ex potentially on the defensive, maybe even to be labeled bigots. But why should I ever need to defend myself for wanting to make sure that my children know that their dad is "Dad" and their mom is "Mom." Indeed, Honey Maid's commercial and ad campaign encourage adoption of the idea that the words "mom" and "dad" perhaps shouldn't have much, if any, meaning in our culture. Because, after all, aren't they just so passe'?

"[Divorce] is what it is," one on-screen dad proclaims further along in the video. But the video contains no disclaimers or other warnings about the harmful consequences of divorce, including that divorce and remarriage may be hazardous to your health and to your children.

For example, approximately 65-66% of second marriages fail along with 73-74% of third ones. One in 10 children under 18 are part of a stepfamily, and one-third of all marriages today are stepfamily weddings. The research is clear that being part of a stepfamily can be hazardous to your health for both adults and children. Why Marriage Matters: Thirty Conclusions from the Social Sciences, by Brad Wilcox (and colleagues) concludes that "[f]amily instability is generally bad for children" and that "[t]he intact, married, biological family remains the gold standard for family life in the United States insofar as children are mostly likely to thrive...in this family form." Moreover, research debunks the myth of the so-called "good divorce," including the results of a just reported study.

And despite the video's happy talk about making sure kids are not pulled apart, they inevitably are. And the research proves it.

In the closing segment of Honey Maid's video, one "mom" muses about divorce and "blended" families. "It's who we are," she says, "as perfect as we are supposed to be." Frail humans after all, I suppose, not meant for the hard work of rising above and beyond our difficulties, limitations and selfish desires, to honor our commitments or to spare our children suffering if we can.

The health and welfare of our nation's existing stepfamilies is certainly important. After all, they begin with so many strikes already against them, and the overwhelming likelihood that they will fail. I recognize, too, that many people, like me, tried to save their marriages and that many were also divorced against their will. Some of these individuals found love again and became members of stepfamilies. And my sincere desire is for these unions to succeed. But millions of spouses over the last four decades have not placed family "first" as the commercial claims. The proof is in our system of no-fault divorce and the millions of spouses who are divorced against their will and without cause.

Honey Maid should not be giving short shrift to marriage and encouraging the formation of more stepfamilies. And its campaign -- which denigrates "first" moms and dads and paints remarriage in a false light -- is thoughtless, discriminatory and, in my view, in reckless disregard of the welfare of millions of adults and children.

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Footnotes

[1] Controversy has surrounded Honey Maid's first installment, which featured dads and families from different backgrounds, including gay dads and interracial couples. This essay focuses purely on the second installment and issues surrounding stepfamilies. I do note, however, that perhaps unlike its first commercial, in my view Honey Maid's second installment not only seems exclusionary, but to actually promote the stepfamily model.

[2] I use the term "stepfamilies" rather than "blended" families since Honey Maid's intentions seem suspect, and I am concerned about attempts to curb free speech especially in the absence of harm, bigotry or discrimination. Moreover, it seems to me that Honey Maid might not be all that dismayed if the terms "mom" and "dad" became extinct either.