More Blended Families Reject The 'Step' Title More than 4 in 10 Americans have at least one so called "step-relative" in their family, but the term "step" still carries some heavy baggage. And combining families is rarely easy, though those new bonds are often as strong as biological ones.

More Blended Families Reject The 'Step' Title

More than 4 in 10 Americans have at least one so called "step-relative" in their family, but the term "step" still carries some heavy baggage. And combining families is rarely easy, though those new bonds are often as strong as biological ones.

Brenda Ockun, publisher and creator, Stepmom magazine
Andrew Cherlin, author, The Marriage-Go-Round: The State Of Marriage And The Family In America Today


This is TALK OF THE NATION. I'm Neal Conan in Washington.

First maligned in fairy tales, then celebrated in popular culture, the reality of stepfamilies is a lot more complicated than either "Snow White" or "The Brady Bunch."

A new poll from the Pew Research Center finds that more than four in 10 Americans have a relative they would describe as step. The reasons include more than just second marriages, and more and more look for alternative terms to avoid the stigma of that word, step.

This hour, we want to hear your stories about your bonus family. What's your challenge when it comes to blending families?

Later in the hour, "The Blind Side's" Michel Oher tells his own story. But first, stepparents, siblings, children, we want to hear about your challenges, give us a call, 800-989-8255. Email us, You can also join the conversation on our website. That's at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Brenda Ockun is the publisher of Stepmom magazine and a stepmom herself. She joins us from member station WXXI in Rochester, New York, today. Nice to have you with us.

Ms. BRENDA OCKUN (Publisher, Stepmom Magazine): Nice to be here. Thank you, Neal.

CONAN: And how did you become a step?

Ms. OCKUN: Well, my husband and I married almost seven years ago, and at the time, his children were ages six and nine. And I did not have any children of my own. So I became a stepmom and learned real quick that it's not as easy as you might think. There were a lot of challenges involved. And it's been a journey. It really has.

CONAN: Well, I think we can understand some of the challenges right away. Were there some you didn't expect?

Ms. OCKUN: There definitely were some challenges that I didn't understand or expect, as I think is the case with a lot of families. One of the biggest is the expectation that you get married, you inherit some stepchildren, and you're going to feel like a family right away, right off the bat.

And that first family expectation I think really hits a lot of people. You know, it really surprises them that this bonding does not take place quicker. And everybody wants to because when you're newly married, you're optimistic, you're excited, and you think that everything, you know, your good intentions can make up for some of the real challenges that may be facing your family.

CONAN: Was there a moment when you said oh, boy?

Ms. OCKUN: That might have been the moment where I was sitting in my walk-in closet, crying, saying: I don't know if I can do this. And I think every -especially every stepmom, the ones that we talked to through the magazine, have had those moments where they say I just don't know if I'm cut out of this, if I can do it. It's a lot harder than what I thought it would be.

CONAN: And was it active resistance, or just how you describe the kids' response?

Ms. OCKUN: No, you know, actually, I mean, we had our challenges. In the big picture, I had a very good situation. I have an extremely supportive husband. I have two stepchildren who are really great kids.

But even in the best of circumstances, and I am living proof, even in the best of circumstances, it can be a real challenge.

And, so really it was just - a lot of it was the pressure that you put on yourself to feel like a family, the pressure when you're not bonding as soon as you think you will. And the research shows that in a lot of cases, in most cases, it can take up to seven years before a stepfamily really bonds together and feels comfortable; feels like they've really hit their stride. But seven years is a long time.

CONAN: What was the relationship like with your children's mother?

Ms. OCKUN: Well, you know, our relationship started off really, really rocky. It was very difficult for all the, you know, all the usual reasons. We - there was a divorce involved. So there was anger and bitterness over the divorce.

There was fear involved. Her life was changing. She was inheriting a stepwife, as she calls it, and she really didn't want one. She didn't know what my intentions were with her children. I didn't really know how to navigate the situation. So there's a lot of confusion on both parts, a lot of stress.

And for most stepmoms and moms that can make it to the other side and get along, they will tell you, as she and I will tell you, it's a process to get to a place of peace in your life. And it's not an easy road. It takes a lot of work and commitment from both people.

CONAN: We're talking about blended families, stepfamilies, 800-989-8255. Email us, We want to hear about the challenges, and we'll go to Michael, Michael calling us from Lebanon, Ohio.

MICHAEL (Caller): Hi.


MICHAEL: Yeah, I've grown up with a stepfamily. I have a stepdad, and I remember it being easy at first to connect with my stepfamily.

CONAN: How old were you?


CONAN: How old were you then?

MICHAEL: I first started to get to know my stepfamily, I guess, when I was around six.

CONAN: And by the way you said that, it got a little harder later.

MICHAEL: Yeah, definitely. As it - like, as I got older, I guess I saw things in my stepfamily that I didn't particularly like, as I, you know, learned more about the world.

CONAN: And were they legitimate, as you look back on it now, or were you just a teenage in rebellion and finding other reasons to be in rebellion?

MICHAEL: I feel a lot of them are legitimate. Part of it was a lot of the drinking on my stepfamily. They weren't, like, abusive alcoholics or anything. It was just some of the things they'd say when they were drunk always made me uncomfortable.

CONAN: That can happen, yeah.


CONAN: And how do you get along now?

MICHAEL: I've mostly been avoiding them, to be honest. I haven't been to the last three Thanksgivings or Christmases at the stepfamily, so...

CONAN: Brenda Ockun, I suspect you hear stories like Michael's through your magazine.

Ms. OCKUN: We hear lots of different stories, yes, and it's not uncommon for younger children to, as they become older, just as all of us do, we start to analyze things a little bit more, we start to understand our surroundings and the people around us a little bit more, and we start to form our own opinions and judgments about the world and the people in our families.

And stepfamilies are no different from first families in the sense that people are human, people have flaws. And so, you know, on top of dealing with all the issues that any other family would, stepfamilies have that added dynamic of not being biologically bound to each other, which can sometimes make it even a little bit more hard to - you know, you can tolerate Aunt Ginny and her bad habits, but if Aunt Ginny isn't your biological Aunt Ginny, that can be a little bit more challenging to be accepting of those things and sometimes a little bit more challenging to deal with or to face.

You know, I would suggest to this caller to, if he wants to have a better relationship, to really try and address some of these things. And it might be that his - the members of his stepfamily don't know how to reach out to him. They may be perceiving his absence as, you know, not wanting to get involved, or who knows what they're perceiving.

But, you know, sometimes, direct communication can get a lot of these stepfamily issues out of the way.

CONAN: Michael, good luck.

MICHAEL: All right, thank you.

CONAN: Appreciate the phone call. Andrew Cherlin teaches sociology at Johns Hopkins. He's the author of "The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today" and joins us today from member station WYPR in Baltimore. And Andrew Cherlin, nice of you to be with us today.

Mr. ANDREW CHERLIN (Author, "The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today"): Great to be here.

CONAN: And I assume you hear stories like that, as well, and how difficult it can sometimes be, well, sometimes easier when you're younger.

Mr. CHERLIN: Sure, it can be easiest at some times. You know, we have to do -when we're in stepfamilies - and I'm in a stepfamily, a great one, actually -you have to do the work of building the family. You have to be in there, pitching in, doing activities which make a stepfamily work.

With our biological kin, we don't have to do that. You've always had them, you're going to have them no matter what happens. It's pretty easy. It may not work, but they're there.

So what happens with stepfamilies, as Brenda was saying, is over time, you have to do a process of making the stepfamily and building it and investing it. That's when it works well.

CONAN: And can you tell us, there seem to be more stepfamilies than there have been in the past. Is this just divorce rates?

Mr. CHERLIN: It's not just divorce rates. You know, we have the highest divorce rate of any wealthy country. So we certainly, for the last few decades, have had lots of divorces and lots of remarriages.

What's happened recently is an expansion to what we might call stepfamilies without marriage. For instance, I'm let's say living with a woman who had a child with another guy. They didn't get married. The relationship ended. Now I'm living with them.

If that relationship lasts, if I spend time with that kid, I'll probably consider him a stepchild, but nobody's ever been married. You know, maybe in a year or two, we'll decide to get married. If we do, it will be a first marriage for both of us. There's no remarriage, but there's a stepfamily.

Because of the large number of people having children outside of marriage in this country today, there are more and more of these kind of living-together stepfamilies than in the past.

CONAN: And does that lack of definition cause any issues of its own?

Mr. CHERLIN: The problem with the living-together stepfamilies is they don't tend to last as long. The people who just cohabit but don't marry often don't keep their relationships going as long, and so the kids in those living-together stepfamilies see a series of caregivers come in and out of their houses sometimes.

That's my main concern about them, is that our cohabiting relationships in this country are pretty fragile, and kids need stability. So when I look at this large number of living-together stepfamilies, I see the possibility that for some of them, kids may have some difficulty.

CONAN: And when kids have difficulty, how does it manifest itself?

Mr. CHERLIN: Problems in school, behavioral difficulties, acting out. Now, look, most kids can handle a stepfamily, and most kids will do well. But I do think the risk goes up of some difficulty if the stepfamily doesn't last.

In fact, I think what kids need is stable relationships, whether they're first marriages or single parents or remarriages. They need caregivers who stay with them. And many stepfamilies, especially those that are married, provide that stability for kids and do quite well.

CONAN: So they should stay together for the sake of the children?

Mr. CHERLIN: Pretty much, yeah. Now, there are limits to that, where we all are Americans today who think our own personal happiness matters. But we want to balance that and what we think is best for our kids.

CONAN: We're talking today about stepfamilies, of blended families, if you will. If this is your story, give us a call. We'd like to hear about some of the difficulties and the challenges that you encountered as those processes continued. 800-989-8255. Email us:

Our guests are Brenda Ockun, who's stepmother of two children and publisher and creator of Stepmom magazine. Also with him, you just heard him, Andrew Cherlin, who teaches sociology at Johns Hopkins and is the author of "The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today."

Stay with us. I'm Neal Conan. It's the TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: This is TALK OF THE NATION, from NPR News. I'm Neal Conan.

We're talking about blended families: stepparents and step-kids. The Pew survey we mentioned earlier showed that 40 percent of adults now have a step in their family, but it also revealed a split. Most of those adults feel a stronger sense of obligation to their biological relatives than to their stepfamilies. We've posted a link to that full survey result at Click on TALK OF THE NATION.

Stepparents, siblings, children, we want to hear your challenges: 800-989-8255. Email: Our guests are Brenda Ockun, stepmother of two and the publisher of Stepmom magazine, also Andrew Cherlin, who teaches sociology at Johns Hopkins and wrote the book "The Marriage-Go-Round." And let's go next to - this is Jim, and Jim's with us from Meridian in Idaho.

Jim, are you there?

JIM (Caller): Hello?

CONAN: Yes, you're on the air. Go ahead, please.

JIM: Thank you, Neal, for taking my phone call. I'm kind of on the opposite side of this. My wife and I, when we got married almost 34 years ago, she had three children, a set of twin boys that were seven and a daughter that was 16. And then we had - I had two little girls that were about a year younger and a year older than the twins.

And those four younger ones became blended so fast and so well. It was just something that was just made in heaven, or whatever. It was a beautiful thing. The older gal was a little put off by me, but she now calls me dad. She's 50-some-odd years old, and she calls me dad.

And they're all just a real beautiful part of our life. The term step was - we never consciously started out to say step or not step or whatever, but the kids always just - the boys called me dad, the girls called their mom Mom.

CONAN: It's interesting. Brenda Ockun, you call your magazine Stepmom. Is this an issue?

Ms. OCKUN: Well, no, not really. I mean, the key to a successful stepfamily -there are a few keys, and one of them is finding what's right for you. And it sounds like Jim and his wife, by not using the term stepfamily, that can be a very beneficial thing because they weren't putting labels on individuals, and therefore, they were removing the expectation that naturally comes with those labels. So that could very well have helped their development and their bonding process.

You know, we call the magazine Stepmom magazine because in reality, that's the term that society has placed. That is what we are. But I really stress to people when I talk to them that it's more important to look at the relationship and remove themselves from the label.

Whether you use the term stepfamily, blended family, bonus children, whatever you're calling yourselves is really secondary to the way that you think of the relationships with the people that you're involved with.

And if you can kind of remove those labels that society places, and all the stereotypes and stigmas that sometimes go with those labels, then you're going to set yourself up for success. And that's really what you want to do if you're in it for the long haul.

CONAN: Jim, thanks very much.

Mr. CHERLIN: Can I also say...

CONAN: Go ahead, Andrew Cherlin.

Mr. CHERLIN: I also think there's easier times and harder times to set up a stepfamily. I think Jim and his wife were fortunate that their kids were young. I think it's easier with young kids. And I was fortunate that my stepfamily didn't form until my kids were out of high school.

The time when it's tougher is for adolescents, which is why his older child had a bit of a tougher time. Teenagers have a tougher time accepting these new circumstances. It's more challenging with them.

CONAN: Here's an email we have from Melissa in Ann Arbor, sort of on this same subject: My stepmother has always had a problem with the title step. She's been my stepmother for over 30 years. My mother died when I was three, and I was always told to call my stepmother mom.

As I've gotten older and dealt with the loss of my mother, I've come to feel that acknowledging my stepmother as mom in a sense wipes away or does not acknowledge my mother. I see using stepmother as an acknowledgement of the fact that I had a mother, and I miss her presence in my life.

Ms. OCKUN: Neal, I'd love to...

Mr. CHERLIN: You know, if...

CONAN: Go ahead, Brenda. Why don't we start with you?

Ms. OCKUN: Oh, sure. I want to really stress that anytime someone is told to call a stepparent mom or dad, that - we consider that a major no-no. And there are a lot of reasons for it, and I'm sure Andrew can help explain some of the dynamics that go behind this.

But as a child, you have one mother, and you have one father. It is biologically true. And that is not to say that you can't have a very strong, healthy, good, productive relationship with a stepparent. But in a situation, especially where there is a death involved, and the child feels that this is somehow hurting her ability to honor her mother, that's a huge no-no for any stepparent, and really, we advise against that.

CONAN: Andrew Cherlin?

Mr. CHERLIN: One of the lessons I've learned from my stepfamily is a good stepfamily accepts the fact that there will always be some differences between your biological relatives and your step-relatives, and that's okay.

So that I don't try to be a biological father to my stepchildren. It's not necessary. It's a losing battle. There's no reason to do it. Instead, I try to be somebody who's maybe like a kindly uncle, someone who cares about them, is there, enjoys being with them, but doesn't try to take the position of being a bio-father. That seems to be, for many stepparents, a better way of handling this relationship.

CONAN: Let's go next to Bob, Bob calling from Des Moines.

BOB (Caller): Hi. Good afternoon.

CONAN: Afternoon.

BOB: Thanks for having me on.

CONAN: Sure.

BOB: It's a great show. I am on my - or my son, who's six, is on his second stepfather in less than two years. And as a person who works in trauma psychology, I - you know, I moved to be near him to provide him with some stability. And I would - this would be the third husband in seven years and the second stepfather, as I said, in about two. And...

CONAN: And this has been the process of divorce, or...

BOB: Right.

CONAN: Okay. Just...

BOB: That's correct: two divorces, three marriages for his mom. One of the things I would maybe disagree a little bit with, with your speaker, is just that children do need to experience secondary losses of people who, in their lives, come and go. And we might be talking about teachers, these kind of things.

And, of course, the stronger the bond with the primary, that sort of - that primary mother or father, if they're both there - not in the case of a death. But as long as that bond is strong with the mother and father, that limbic kind of bonding, actually, there's some strength-building that occurs for a child as they lose people in their lives that would be considered maybe secondary caregivers.

And I think that is important to consider. It certainly doesn't apply every time. But that was my comment.

CONAN: So the first stepfather is completely out of your son's life now?

BOB: Overnight, entirely, overnight. He lost the stepfather, the home, the bedroom, the stability literally overnight.

CONAN: Oh, that had to have been very difficult for both him and for you, too.

BOB: He went into regression. I was 500 miles away, and I came up and got him the next day. He was in a hotel. And he started, you know, wetting his bed and separation anxiety, all those classic regression signs that children can show.

You know, and then once I came on the scene, that - you know, I'm not giving myself all the credit here, but it really has helped a lot for him. You know, he was having some behavior problems in school, and these kinds of things. And I think just, you know, knowing that one of the parents is - and the mother is stable, too, but just knowing that one of the parents is there for him without being - you know, the vagaries of the romances I think has helped him.

CONAN: Bob, we wish your son and you continued good luck.

BOB: Well, thank you very much.

CONAN: We appreciate it.

BOB: Great show.

CONAN: Thank you very much. And I just wanted to ask Andrew Cherlin about that situation. You talked about the difficulties if there is not stability. But obviously, the stability in this case, well, provided by the original biological father.

Mr. CHERLIN: Which may do the trick. You know, there's no other country in which kids see so many caregivers, parents, parents' partners, come in and out of their households than in the U.S. That's because of our high divorce rate. That's because we partner and re-partner and un-partner in cohabiting relationships. And so there's turmoil in many kids' lives.

Sure, experiencing a bit of loss is good for you, but experiencing a lot of loss and also having to cope with a lot of new people in your household can be difficult for a kid to adjust to if it happens fast.

So without knowing the specifics of this family, I have to say, you know, that child would probably be better off if there was less change and fewer transitions for him to adjust to.

CONAN: Let's go next to Amy, Amy with us from Sacramento.

AMY (Caller): Hi, and good afternoon.

CONAN: Afternoon.

AMY: I'm calling - I'd really like to stress the importance of stability, much like a couple of your other callers have mentioned. But my parents got - or my dad got remarried about 20 years ago. And he brought two children into the marriage, and his new wife brought two children into the marriage. My stepsister and I are 13 days apart in age and could not be more different in personality.

(Soundbite of laughter)

AMY: And I think that a lot of the differences came from the instability that I had, having both my parents in the same city and going back and forth to households that had different rules and different expectations, whereas my stepsister and stepbrother stayed in town. Their dad was out of the state and kind of out of the picture. And they grew up in one household, so it was much more stable. And it's just remarkable how much that can change life experiences (unintelligible) growing into adults.

CONAN: When you were introduced to your stepsister, were you told: and you will be great friends?

AMY: Of course.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And I gather that has not worked out that way.

AMY: Well, you know, 20 years later, sure.

CONAN: Well, that's good.

AMY: But not for those 20 years.

CONAN: And, Brenda Ockun, that situation where one child has the stability of remaining in the home, the other child, well, there is different custody arrangements.

Ms. OCKUN: That's one of the difficulties when you have both mom and dad bringing children into the relationship. And very often, children of the mother live with the mom full-time, with the dad, maybe back and forth between two households. And that's where, you know, the ability to coordinate between both households comes in very handy. It's really important.

You know, when people say you should put the kids first, this is a crystal clear example where two divorced parties should hopefully be able to pick up the telephone and work out some type of consistency between households that makes it as easy for the child as possible to live in that type of an environment, going back and forth between the two households.

It's very difficult to achieve for a lot of people. Again, the anger and bitterness of divorce often clouds their ability to work with the other parent. But truly, if you want to walk your talk, be a good parent. Put the children first. You need to do this. It's - it can help the child tremendously.

CONAN: Amy, when you were in these two different households with two different rules, I assume you shopped for the parent who would give you permission to do whichever it is you thought that they would let you do.

AMY: Well, of course.

(Soundbite of laughter)

CONAN: And...

Ms. OCKUN: That's exactly what happened.

CONAN: And did it work?

AMY: Well, I think that's up to interpretation.

CONAN: Okay. But, in any case, that was certainly something you try. And there's a, you know, the feeling that maybe you can manipulate people a little bit more than you might have been able to before.

AMY: Right.

CONAN: Well, Amy, I'm glad that things are working out better with you and your sister.

(Soundbite of laughter)

AMY: Thanks.

CONAN: Right. Thanks very much for the call. We're talking about blended families, stepfamilies. Brenda Ockun is our guest, a stepmother of two, publisher and creator of StepMom magazine, with us from WXXI in Rochester New York. Also with us, Andrew Cherlin who teaches sociology at Johns Hopkins, author of "The Marriage-Go-Round: The State Of Marriage And The Family In America Today," with us from member station WYPR in Baltimore.

You're listening to TALK OF THE NATION from NPR News.

And let's go next to Angela, Angela with us from Lehi, in Utah.

ANGELA (Caller): Hi, Neal. How are you?

CONAN: I'm very well. Thanks.

ANGELA: I called to - because I have a stepmother comment. For all my life, my - the woman I call my stepmother, Marilyn, I loved her and appreciated her role in my life. But in reality, she never was my stepmother and I didn't even know that until I was an adult.

My mother and my father both had previous marriages and a child from a previous marriage. My mother got divorced, and then she and my father got together and had me and my sister. We're twins. And that was 30 years ago. But, I was well into my 20's before I realized that my father was - is still to this day not divorced to his wife. And I was in my adulthood before my half-brother and half-sister came clean and open about how much turmoil my sister and I, our very existence, created in their lives and in their home because, obviously, his wife kicked him out.

But as my sister and I were growing up, we never saw any of that. We saw her during holidays. We looked forward to seeing her whenever we could. My father, he moved out of the state. And whenever he came back up to visit, especially during the holidays, he would take us to Marilyn's house and we would see her. And we've had this great relationship with her. And even now, lately I was digging and doing some family history research because my father is a bit older, I called her because her memory is much sharper than his, and she was able to help me. And as an adult, I can't even get my head around it, how she didn't just kick us out and say you horrible little spawn of this woman. Why are you here? I just find her completely amazing.

CONAN: Well, it's interesting. Andrew Cherlin, I think we have to accept the fact that there are some people who are astonishingly accepting and of situations that can be, well, as Angela demonstrates, a little unusual.

Mr. CHERLIN: And complex. And with family secrets, there's a lot of that around. But let's just take a minute to note that stepmothers have a rough job. It's probably tougher to be a stepmom than a stepdad. And the reason is, the kids probably only live with you part time. There's a bio mother still in the picture that the kids live with. And so you're competing in a sense with the bio mother. Whereas, a lot of divorced dads aren't in charge - in touch with their kids. So - then your stepfather doesn't face the competition. It's a tough job and some do it better than others. But we ought to give them credit for trying very hard.

CONAN: Angela, thanks very much for the call. Very interesting.

ANGELA: Thank you.

CONAN: I wanted to get to this email from Christina. I'm the stepmother of a six-year-old. My husband and I don't have our own children and have been married for just a few months. I've known my stepson since he was four. He's a great kid, love him very much. I find, in my situation, I'm not only challenged by the decision-making process regarding the child, but his family, my family, is also challenged by the ex-husband or wife situation. My son's mother is extremely cooperative, friendly. My husband is extremely supportive of me as the mother figure. But sometimes I still feel overwhelmed by emotions, jealousy, envy, insecurity. I really dislike it. I find myself always having to put my immaturity aside, to balance these bad emotions.

Lately, I've been thinking about how another child might make us feel more like a family or how another child could complicate the situation. The funny thing is, we really don't want another child. So the question is - this is in capitals - WHY DO I CONSTANTLY THINK THAT HAVING ANOTHER CHILD MIGHT MAKE THIS EASIER?

Well, I'm afraid, Brenda Ockun, I'm just going to give you 30 seconds to answer that.

Ms. OCKUN: Sure. There's an easy answer to that, not an easy answer, but... The reason is a traditional first family, where there's a mom, a dad and a child, is what society has come to expect. And what this woman is feeling is, she's feeling as the outsider. She is feeling - which is a very, very common stepmom emotion - she is feeling that she is somehow a bit removed from all the biology in her house. And one of the things that she needs to do is find some support, find some other stepmoms to talk to, find some other women who don't have children, in her situation, that she can talk to and just share stories with. She's feeling like the outsider, and that's a very common feeling for stepmoms, especially stepmoms who don't have their own children.

CONAN: Brenda Ockun, thanks very much for your time today.

Ms. OCKUN: Thank you.

CONAN: Brenda Ockun is the publisher and creator of StepMom magazine.

We're going to take a couple of more calls with Andrew Cherlin, if he can spare the time. This is NPR News.

(Soundbite of music)

CONAN: In just a moment - you remember the movie "The Blind Side" - we'll be talking with Michael Oher, the kid and now the man, whose story that is. But first, we want to continue our conversation about blended families with Andrew Cherlin, who teaches sociology at Johns Hopkins. And he's the author of "The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and Family in America Today." Let's get another caller on the line. This is Dennis, Dennis with us from Rochester, New York.

DENNIS (Caller): Oh, hello. Thank you for taking my call.

CONAN: Sure.

DENNIS: I am a stepfather. And my wife and I have a "Brady Bunch," and all six of the children live with us. And it'll be 18 years, this week, since we were married. And we've really had a very good experience. I give a lot of credit to the kids. And probably the biggest challenge has been to find the time to work on our relationship with each other and make sure that that didn't get lost in just all the busyness...

CONAN: It can...

DENNIS: ...(unintelligible) around.

CONAN: It's difficult with - you have six kids between you?


CONAN: And three are hers and three are yours?


CONAN: And what has it been like blending the kids? Have they been worked out together?

DENNIS: Oh, yeah. It's been really great. A couple of kids live in the Washington, D.C. area. They're a stepbrother and stepsister. They're always getting together. You know, we get together a lot for family reunions as kids have moved around the country. And really, it's just like they were six born to the same parents.

CONAN: Andrew Cherlin, Dennis' point, a good one. The parents have to remember to keep working on their relationship.

Mr. CHERLIN: As Dennis says, if the parents' relationship doesn't work, everything else falls apart. So parents in these stepfamilies do need to make a priority of their own relationship, and that's part of what makes it work. That's the bedrock that other families can build on. Dennis' family sounds a bit like my stepfamily. We are four rather than six. People get along.

Stepfamilies can work very well. They spend a lot of time talking about their problems, their difficulties, and, certainly, many of them have them. But there are ones that work real well with family members who take a lot of time to care for each other and work on their relationships, and that can be very rewarding.

CONAN: Well, Dennis, thanks very much for the call. Continued good luck.

DENNIS: Oh, thank you. Yeah.

CONAN: And Andrew Cherlin, we appreciate you sticking around for us.

Mr. CHERLIN: Sure.

CONAN: Andrew Cherlin teaches sociology at Johns Hopkins, and as we mentioned, his book is "The Marriage-Go-Round: The State of Marriage and the Family in America Today," with us from Baltimore and member station WYPR.

In a minute, not blended families so much, but foster families. We'll be talking with Michael Oher from "The Blind Side."

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