Representation is a HUGE thing in media right now, as it should be. We all deserve to see people we can relate to on our screens because it makes each of our worlds feel a little less lonely.
Up until now, some of the only representation stepmoms had to look to for comfort were the historically and situationally inaccurate The Sound of Music, the wildly idealized and unattainable The Brady Bunch (THEY HAD A MAID!), and later, the exaggerated and problematic Step by Step.
Thankfully, now there’s Netflix.
The thing about representation is that sometimes it’s like playing Where’s Waldo?, trying to find relatable characters in a sea of characters that meet the societal standards that not everyone does.
In order to write this article, I had the pleasure of combing through Netflix Originals that either spotlight or simply touch on the struggles of blended family life.
The 3 Best Netflix Originals for Stepfamilies
S2: E12 & E13
These episodes really struck a chord with me. If you’ve ever felt like you built walls between yourself and your stepchild, these are so encouraging to watch.
A new character to the series, Sophia, shares her feelings with her partner as she tries to unpack the prospect of loving a child that doesn’t belong to her.
There are many situations in which we can find ourselves no longer stepmoms, and therefore, in the case of a childless stepmom, no longer parents.
The idea that a life we work so hard to keep can be gone in an instant adds a level of insecurity to our relationships with our stepchildren that is both hard and embarrassing to express.
Episode 13 touches on the mind-boggling phenomenon of why we’re even with our partners, stuck it out, or even bothered coming back in the first place. Unfortunately, this gem of a show cannot answer the “why” but it does show us someone else who can’t seem to help herself despite “knowing what she signed up for”…just like us!
S3: E10 & E12
Spoiler Alert: Unfortunately, we do not get to see more of Sophia. Note to Netflix: we have questions.
Despite the abrupt ending to Sophia and Ian’s relationship, Workin’ Moms still shines a light on the everyday complexities of a blended family, starting from the beginning. We get to explore the ins and outs of Frankie’s new relationship and how it influences her existing relationships with her ex-partner and the daughter they share together.
S1: E14 “Reggie’s Dad Forever”
Twelve Forever is a cartoon targeted at children but can be really constructive for parents to watch as well, as it illustrates some complex pubescent/prepubescent emotions that we may not be not in touch with but still affect our blended family.
This specific episode, while it doesn’t deal directly with blended families, dives into a child dealing with emotions that stem from her absent parent, how that makes her feel, and how to cope with those feelings.
Although I wasn’t technically a stepchild until later in life, I did grow up grappling with my own emotions toward my father for not being around, and this episode really hit me in my feels, even as an adult.
While every child may not experience or express her feelings the same way Reggie does, the important takeaway from this episode is how she finds peace and solace, who she finds it with, and the fact her mother, in discussing the issue with Reggie, remains open and warm despite the personal hurt she must be experiencing as well.
Bonus Family (Bonusfamiljen)
Full Series, Three Seasons
Yes, I saved the best for last. Can you believe there’s a WHOLE SERIES about being a stepfamily?
Listen to me, this show is the “This Is Us” of stepfamilies. I’ve laughed, I’ve cried, and it’s like a stepfamily onion on this show–layers and layers of various stepfamily dynamics and relationships.
This show follows the sprawling branches of the central stepfamily into the comfort of their homes, school, and jobs. So, whether it’s through a debate about an ADHD diagnosis, significant others being engaged in the lives of their partner’s children, teenage angst, sharing holidays, infidelity and healing, LGBT+ stepparents, and the list goes on.
In addition to the central stepfamily characters, we also meet their stepfamily therapists. These therapists are a husband/wife duo who advise the main characters on their issues from a unique place of understanding, as their stepfamily dynamic is hinted at throughout the first season.
So, not only do we get to see the family go through all these super-relatable issues, but we get to hear their therapists’ professional advice and personal thoughts on these matters as well.
It really is such a beautifully done show.
*Disclaimer: this show is Swedish and captioned in English. The subtitles made it harder for a non-Swedish-speaker, like myself, to become invested in the characters because the substance of the dialogue was disconnected from the characters’ emotions. Once I stuck with it though, I was able to get a command of the characters’ personalities and the show became even more personal to me.
We can only hope that these examples of stepfamily representation mean that we are in store for even more shows like them in the future.
In 2016, NBC discussed adapting Bonus Family for American audiences, but the studio doesn’t seem to have gotten past the discussion phase.
Maybe three years ago America wasn’t considered “ready,” but we definitely are now! Over 50% of American households are blended (source).
While major networks continue to miss the mark on stepfamily representation, Netflix has our backs!
P.S. Looking for more TV tips? Check out this list of TV shows featuring nontraditional families!