The term “blended family” was coined years after “The Brady Bunch” television series aired in 1969. A family with parents and stepparents, biological children and stepchildren, was rare then. According to family and marriage therapists, blended families are commonplace today.
“About 50 percent of marriages end in divorce and 60 percent of second marriages also end in divorce,” said Christine Charest, a licensed marriage and family therapist and president of the Maine Association for Marriage and Family Therapy.
With high rates of divorce, many families are far from the traditional mold. Men are finding themselves in roles as father and stepfather far more frequently, which, Charest points out, isn’t something that happens overnight. It can take between four to six years for everyone to adjust, Charest said of the process behind blending families.
“It takes time to figure out each person’s role,” she said.
It’s a process John DeRoche, 57, never expected to face. The father of two adult children – Scott and Christie – found himself divorced after 24 years of marriage. Not wanting to be alone for the rest of his life, he turned to online dating.
“I was 100 percent positive I wasn’t getting married again,” he said, but he didn’t want to spend the rest of his life alone, either.
Five years ago, he met the woman who changed his mind.
Alice DeRoche, 61, was also a parent of two adult children – Ben and Alicia. She had been married previously and also never intended on marrying again.
Their first date was at Grissini Restaurant in Kennebunk, where they quickly agreed upon one thing.
“It was important to both of us that our children approved (of the relationship),” said DeRoche.
Not long after they began dating, Alice’s children met John and John’s children met Alice. Alice’s children approved of John and John’s children told him not to “mess it up.”
All four children began quickly building a relationship, as well. After a year or so of dating, DeRoche realized something: “Why wouldn’t I want to marry her?”
Three years ago, when John said, “I do,” he became a stepparent of two in addition to his own children. On top of that, all four children are married and have a total of six granddaughters with another on the way.
Charest said that when older children are involved, becoming a stepfather is less complicated. Adult children can be responsible for maintaining relationships with both biological parents, while younger children are dependent on the custodial parent to foster those relationships.
“But you parent still when children are adults,” she said, which means it’s up to the parent and stepparent to understand each other’s boundaries with the children.
Those boundaries seemed to be well established for John and Alice, but the couple still faced a problem – their Kennebunkport home was not big enough to host the entire family. So the couple has worked on that through various renovation projects.
“Most people our age ask me why we need such a big house,” DeRoche joked. “Our first holiday together we had 10 people and realized, this is not working.”
The small three-bedroom home has nearly doubled in the amount of living space offered. DeRoche is also working to add another bathroom. The expanded living space allows for more comfortable gatherings and separated play space for the granddaughters.
Randy Seaver, 49, can relate to the struggle of defining a role within a blended family. In 2001, he met his wife Laura Kidman Seaver. Randy didn’t have biological children, but Laura had two boys – Tim and Matthew.
“What makes my situation unique is that I didn’t have to deal with a biological counterpart,” said Seaver. “The kids [Matthew, 4, and Tim, 6, at the time] had such an easy time accepting me.”
Even still, Randy and Laura understood certain conversations needed to be had. Laura had already made the decision not to have more children, so Seaver had to be comfortable with not having a biological child of his own.
“I thought, ‘Why would I want my own biological children when I get to step in and be the Little League coach,’” said Seaver. “I get to enjoy the best years.”
He told his wife he wanted to be an involved parent. He respected that she had the final say, but he wanted some level of authority when it came to raising the boys.
When they sat down to talk to Tim and Matthew, the only question that remained was what they should call Seaver.
“The only rule was, (the boys) couldn’t call me Randy,” he said. “I told them ‘Come up with anything. It just can’t be Randy.’ So for the first year, they called me Pa.”
Charest counsels families to do just what Randy and Laura Seaver did in the process of bringing separate families together.
“It’s important for stepparents to recognize their role, not that they’re taking the role of a biological parent,” Charest said. “Biological parents take care of the discipline and authority. (Stepparents) are defined as respected adults who provide guidance.”
Keeping clear lines of communication open, understanding everyone’s role and being receptive to the adjustment period are huge factors in the success of blended families, Charest said.
“(As a stepparent) basically you’re an outsider coming in,” she said. “That stepparent needs to find a way to slowly find acceptance. That takes time.”
It’s time worth taking, when both men can happily say their Father’s Day are that much richer being dad and stepdad.
Emma Bouthillette is a freelance writer who lives in Biddeford.