positive examples of blended families

By: Brock Hickman

While blended families and stepfamilies have existed for centuries, they haven’t always been portrayed in the most accurate or positive light through media. The evil stepmother troupe is an instantly recognizable fairy tale archetype that for years has painted stepfamilies from an unrealistic and negative perspective. Fortunately, in recent years modern media has begun to portray blended families and stepfamilies in a more accurate and positive light.

So let’s break down the history of blended and stepfamilies in media before looking at more recent positive portrayals.

A Brief Overview

The Government of Canada states, “Stepfamilies and blended families differ from original family relationships in many ways. The stepparent enters a new family group that already has a shared history, strong bonds and an established way of operating. And the adjustment is much more significant for the children. For example, children who have not adjusted to parental dating will have even more intense problems as they try to adjust to their newly blended family.” “Stepfamily” and “blended family,” although they appear to be interchangeable, are terms that refer to slightly different familial arrangements:

  • Stepfamily refers to a family where at least one of the parents has a child from a previous relationship.
  • Blended Family refers to a family with two parents who have children from different relationships and may include a child of the current relationship.

First thoughts

When I started researching this article, I found it fascinating how often the concept of a stepparent of a family member or blended family is used for comedic purposes.

It has become an everyday staple of television sitcoms and comedy films. Early examples portray these situations as unconventional to society, a place where wacky antics and hilarity ensue due to differences and family conflicts. However, more recent representations have started to portray blended families in a more realistic and heartfelt way, reinforcing what family is for modern audiences. 

If you are someone like me who doesn’t have any personal experience with a step-family or blended family, it is through media that we can become aware and better understand the situation. For many people, this can even be the first way people are introduced to this family dynamic.

Representation matters; all humans want to see themselves and their backgrounds represented accurately. The more cultures and backgrounds that are represented on the screen, the more it helps us as a society to better understand each other. Negative examples of a step or blended family situation have often been portrayed as unrealistic, overly comedic and “zany/wacky”. As far back as Cinderella, there’s been the stereotypical evil step or composite family member. They are shown to only want something from the situation, spouse or family member. 

Positive examples of a blended or step-family in media are ones that move away from the evil stepfamily motif and into celebrating the difference in families with support and love. They also portray these situations with a more realistic and heartfelt approach helping to shift representation and normalize these families. They help redefine what family means to the audience. 

Though these more positive examples of blended or step-families have become more common, there is still progress to be made regarding continuously showcasing these dynamics in a more accurate and well-intended way.

I can only imagine how frustrating the negative portrayals have been for blended or step-families over the years. Negative representations of step or blended families give the wrong insight into this kind of family dynamic. It is baffling why these relationships have constantly been used as a comedic or sinister concept. 

Fairy Tale Beginnings and Disney Influence

Representation Matters - Positive Examples of Blended Families in Media

Early folktales and fairy tales like Cinderella, Snow White, and Hansel and Gretel, written by the Brothers Grimm in the early 1800s, are where the wicked stepmother/family member archetype and trope originate. This archetype was created to be the worst enemy a child could have — an evil villain rising out of envy or the desire to receive more love from their spouse than the kids. Most of these tales were subsequently turned into Disney animated films, which helped further popularize and propagate this unfair archetype, the influence of which is still being felt today.

1937’s Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs is the first example of a Disney cartoon classic’s wicked stepmother or family trope. The Queen in the story becomes jealous of her stepdaughter’s beauty and tries to kill her (mirror, mirror on the wall — why are so many children’s fairy tales so focused on murder?). 1950’s Cinderella also includes an evil stepmom, Lady Tremaine. Cinderella’s stepmother, and her new stepsisters, Anastasia and Drizella, treat her terribly and force her to do chores and serve them. Lady Tremaine also tries to hide Cinderella from the Prince, preventing her from attending a ball.

These Disney cartoons, all based on those Grimm fairy tales, became instant classics upon release and helped popularize and bring to mainstream consciousness the archetype and trope of the evil stepmother/family member. For decades its influences never left public consciousness as this trope is constantly re-adapted for modern times and carried into other films made by Disney. Fortunately, in recent years, the idea has slowly shifted.

Representation Matters - Positive Examples of Blended Families in Media

Disney produced two versions of the film The Parent Trap, once in 1961 and the other in 1998 (launching Lindsay Lohan’s career). The story is about teenage twin sisters who swap places and scheme to reunite their divorced parents after being raised separately by one of their biological parents. The film’s main antagonist is the stepmother, whom the twins work against to stop her from marrying their father, and is shown to only be interested in him for his money. 

These films further perpetrated the archetype of the evil stepmother/family member. They negatively showed the dynamics of a blended/stepfamily by suggesting stepmothers are inherently evil and that blended or step-families will never be as good as your “original” family or biological family.

These dynamics, tropes and archetypes were later flipped around in the 2007 film Enchanted, which was both a homage and parody of early Disney animated films. The film is about a young girl who lives in an animated fairy tale world when an evil queen sends her to a live-action New York. The film blends Disney-style animation and live-action seamlessly. The movie subverts the evil stepmother archetype by having the queen be the stepmother of the Prince in the story. 

Still, the main character, played by Amy Adams, becomes a new stepmother to a young girl in the end. This is a role she gladly accepts and is shown to be loving, supportive and wanting the position. The young daughter in the film also explains how she is afraid of getting a stepmother because she only knows terrible things about them from fairy tales and stories like Snow White and Cinderella. Both women in stepmother roles in the film are shown to be very loving and supportive; however, when Amy Adams’s character Giselle reassures her that she comes from a fairy tale world and most stepmothers aren’t evil, it becomes even more meaningful for her. 

The message of the film is somewhat confusing. On the one hand, there is a positive portrayal of a stepmother and blended family dynamic, oftentimes pointing out the ridiculousness of old fairy tale tropes, although simultaneously perpetuating the narrative of the evil queen character.

While the film does a good job at pointing out the unfairness of these archetypes and tropes by flipping them around, it still requires a more positive representation of blended families to remove decades of negative cliches stuck in popular consciousness. While the film gets points for promoting positive blended family and stepfamily dynamics, Disney would later turn their animated classics into live-action remakes, further sending these archetypes into popular culture. 2015’s Cinderella retold the story in live-action with little changes from the source material showing the range of time these archetypes and tropes have been in popular consciousness, from the early 1800s to 2015.

A positive example of a blended family in a Disney cartoon is apparent in the television animated show Phineas and Ferb, which aired from 2007-2015. The show follows the adventures of stepbrothers Phineas Flynn and Ferb Fletcher as they occupy their time and get into misadventures during their summer vacation. The show’s antagonist is known to be Candace, Phineas’s older biological sister, who wishes to expose their schemes to their parents, although rarely successfully. While the show’s conflict and humorous incidents occur due to the brother and sister relationship, the blended family is constantly shown in a positive light. Ferb Fletcher rarely talks, but when he does, it’s apparent that, like his biological father, he has an English accent. The father dynamic is explored within the difference between English and American culture, but the mother and father are shown to be very loving and supportive of their children. While Candace is also shown to have it out for Phineas and Ferb, she loves them equally and, in the end, wants what’s best for them. This show is beloved by children and adults alike, and its influence continues today with a recent film released in 2019. Phineas and Ferb’s blended family dynamic is portrayed as loving and functional and represents a positive example of blended families in media.

Like many, my introduction to blended and step families was through media, especially early Disney cartoons. As the first introduction to these dynamics, I believed these negative blended family archetypes were bad for impressionable young viewers. Over time it has slowly shifted to a more positive representation. However, still, I believe it’s essential to explain to children that these representations are based on fairy tales and fantasy and may not always be honest or accurate depictions.

Blended Families Used for Comedic Effect

Yours, Mine and Ours

This film (released once in 1968, and again in 2005) is about a widower with ten children who married another widow with eight as they decided to form a substantial unconventional family. 

While the 1968 version starring Lucille Ball and Henry Fonda was acclaimed, the 2005 version starring Dennis Quaid and Rene Russo was universally panned as tired and played out. 

Whether audiences and critics had grown tired of the premise or time had finally shown, the use of blended families to this comedic effect no longer worked is unknown. Either way, both films aren’t a perfect depiction of a blended family. The premise is used mainly for comedic purposes and situations which mostly play off as unrealistic or too zany and silly. While there are heartfelt moments, and the families are shown to be supportive and loving, the comedic and unrealistic aspects vastly overshadow this.

The Brady Bunch

The first example that probably comes to mind when most people think of blended or stepfamilies on television is The Brandy Bunch, which initially aired from 1969-1974 and further expanded in syndication, a spin-off series and movies. The series is about the misadventures of a large family that unite when a widower and widow marry, each having three children of their own. 

The issues of the series arrive by blending these two large families when Mike has three children who are all male, and Carol has three children who are all female. This is probably the first instance of the concept of blended families being used as a comedic premise, as the dynamic of this sudden adjustment of families created wacky hijinks and humorous situations. The Brady Bunch is one of the most famous examples and has been a consistent cultural influence for generations as essential life lessons are learned in each episode. 

It seems The Brady Bunch had such a cultural influence that the blended family dynamic became a popular television sitcom and comedy format that continues to this day. Examples like Full House, which even has its modern reboot (Fuller House), Step by Step, Sister Sister, Different Strokes, ALF, Punky Brewster, Two and a Half Men, and even the Family Guy cartoon spinoff The Cleveland Show are just a few examples of a blended family or step-family dynamics being used as a comedic premise for a sitcom. 

Modern Film Examples

The concept of using a step or blended family for comedic effect is just as apparent in films just as on television and continues in pop culture today.


Representation Matters - Positive Examples of Blended Families in Modern Media

The 2003 family comedy Elf stars Will Ferrell as Buddy the Elf, a human orphan, adopted by Santa Clause and who grew up thinking he was an Elf. Upon learning the truth, he travels to New York to meet his biological father. 

Though it starts as a somewhat tumultuous relationship, Buddy’s biological father, played by James Caan, learns to accept and embrace Buddy for who he is. Buddy also builds a positive relationship with his fathers, new wife, and son and is slowly accepted into the family and loved. 

While not the film’s main focal point, it represents a positive example of a blended family dynamic and how people can learn to grow and accept others.

Step Brothers

Step Brothers is a 2008 comedy film starring Will Ferrell and John C Reily, who are forced into a blended family dynamic after their parents marry. 

While they initially dislike one another, they learn to become brothers. The film – quite ridiculously – shows how blending families together and having to embrace stepbrothers or parents can cause disagreements and conflict. In its own strange way, the film shows the stepbrothers slowly accepted by their parents for who they are as they accept them. 

While not the most positive of blended family dynamics in media, the film re-enforces how these themes are continuously used for comedic effect through the conflict that can arise.

Daddy’s Home

Daddy’s Home (2015) and Daddy’s Home 2 (2017) are films that aim to flip the dynamics of a blended family for comedic purposes. However, instead of using the situation for laughs or conflict between family members, the dispute in the movies arises from two fathers, played by Will Ferrell and Mark Wahlberg competing for the affection of their biological and adopted children. 

Throughout the films, they slowly realize the feud is hurting their family and learn to love one another for who they are. This realization helps them begin to build a stronger family together. The films present a large blended family with multiple parents but show each parent as loving and supportive.


A more recent romantic comedy, appropriately titled Blended, was released in 2013 and starred Adam Sandler and Drew Barrymore as two single parents forced to stay together in Africa after a blind date gone wrong. 

Again the concept of a blended family is used for comedic purposes. While on vacation, Adam Sandler’s character Jim and his two daughters must learn to get along with Drew Barrymore as Lauren and her two sons. I won’t spoil the entire movie, but I am sure you can see where the story goes and how it ends. 

On the one hand, the themes of blended families being used in comedy is played out and stale. However, seeing these types of families normalized in such a popular movie is also refreshing. 

Modern Television Examples

This is Us

Representation Matters - Positive Examples of Blended Families in Modern Media

This Is Us follows the Pearson family through various time jumps while focusing on a set of triplets and their everyday struggles. The show aired from 2016-2022 and has been received with widespread acclaim. It depicts a sizeable blended stepfamily through various adoptions and marriages. It focuses on all the positive and negative experiences that life throws our way in a profoundly emotional, heartfelt, and dramatic way.

Like most families, they have their differences, but they are shown to be very supportive, and loving of each other. Its popularity has played a part in normalizing largely blended and step families for audiences without direct experiences. The family dynamics are always treated very seriously and never used for comedic purposes while happily celebrating differences. The heartwarming theme of love is what makes a family, not blood or direct relation.

Modern Family

Representation Matters - Positive Examples of Blended Families in Modern Media

Modern Family was an American sitcom that aired from 2009-2020 and starred an ensemble cast. 

Watching the show’s progression throughout the years was fascinating as you see all the children grow up each season. The show is about one large blended family and how the dynamics of its different relationships lead to vast misunderstandings.

Consisting of three relationships, Jay is the family patriarch married to his much younger wife Gloria, who also has a younger son, Manny. His daughter, Claire, is married to Phil, with whom they’ve had three children. His son, Mitch, is in a same-sex relationship with Cam, with whom they’ve adopted a young Vietnamese baby named Lily. 

While, at first, the show was primarily acclaimed as groundbreaking for its depiction of a gay relationship on television, the show has also been criticized for its cliche depiction of queer stereotypes as well as its propensity for using Latin stereotypes for comedic purposes. 

While no show is perfect, Modern Family and its massive success have led to blended families becoming more normalized in pop culture as it introduced these concepts to its vast audience. While talking about steps forward for queer representation on television and blended family dynamics, it also takes a bit of a step backwards in its portrayal of Latin and queer cliches used for comedic purposes. 

What I think the show does best, and why it represents a positive example of blended families in media, is that the characters learn and grow throughout the years. They slowly embrace each other’s differences and love one another, creating a stronger bond. 

Jay especially has the most significant growth from struggling to come to terms with to eventually embracing his son’s homosexuality.

The show’s comedy derives mostly from misunderstood human differences rather than poking fun at the unconventional dynamics of their family. The relationships stay grounded (for the most part) as opposed to going off on depicting wacky, zany or unrealistic situations. The show’s representation of a flawed but functional family shows audiences what modern family dynamics are like.

The Fosters

The Fosters was an American family drama which ran from 2013-2018. The premise involves a lesbian couple and their blended family of biological, adoptive and foster children. The Fosters is another positive example of blended family dynamics in more modern media. The show represents a diverse family of various races, ethnicities and sexual orientations in an authentic and heartfelt way. Not only was the show groundbreaking for its portrayal of a blended family, but it’s also a portrayal of a lesbian and biracial couple. The show again helps normalize blended families for the audience unfamiliar with the concept and also helps become an example for redefining what a family is and looks like.


Recent trends in media are changing the perceptions of viewers and redefining what a family is, creating more opportunities for blended and step-family representation. While there are certainly more negative examples than positive in the past, these recent positive examples will continue to help change public consciousness and further create greater awareness, understanding and opportunities for blended families and stepfamilies representation.

Works Cited

Canada, Public Health Agency of. “Page 11: Because Life Goes on … Helping Children and Youth Live with Separation and Divorce.” Education and awareness, August 11, 2016. https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/publications/healthy-living/because-life-goes-on-helping-children-youth-live-with-separation-divorce/page-11.html.