My education in stepfamilies began long before I became part of one.
As a kid, my after-school ritual consisted of lounging on the couch of our family room (we called it a den) with a snack in my lap and the TV tuned to “The Brady Bunch.”
Or to “Gilligan’s Island” or “Hogan’s Heroes” — anything to postpone doing homework.
But I was particularly drawn to the Brady clan, especially eldest sister Marcia, who was so confident, and so blonde.
And eldest brother Greg, who, in the vernacular of the time, was so decent.
Back then, I didn’t know anyone in a stepfamily. I didn’t even know anyone who was divorced, except for an eccentric uncle who blew into town occasionally in a new car with cool gifts for me and my two brothers.
So the Bradys, featuring handsome widower Mike (played by Robert Reed) as the father of three boys, and his perpetually poised wife, Carol (played by Florence Henderson), as the mother of three girls, became my case study in what stepfamily life looked like.
It looked great.
Everyone was finely coiffed and well dressed, even if they were going to bed or, in Carol’s case, especially if they were going to bed.
Every spill was wiped up, lost button quickly resewn and cake baked to perfection by a smiling, full-time housekeeper named Alice, who wore spotless white shoes.
Six children, abruptly thrown together when their parents wed, happily shared two bedrooms and one bathroom.
The worst of teen turmoil wasn’t drugs or bullies or failing grades. It was little Cindy reading Marcia’s diary.
In short, there was no imbroglio that couldn’t be resolved to everyone’s satisfaction in 26 minutes.
With the news last week of Henderson’s death at 82 from heart failure, I watched again a few of the early Brady episodes. There’s such goofy sweetness in them.
And such folly.
But, hey, who knew anything about blended families back then?
“The Brady Bunch,” among the last of the old-school family TV series, aired from 1969 to 1974, a time in American life when 73 percent of children were living in a family with two parents who were in their first marriage.
By the early 1980s, 61 percent of children were living in this type of family, according to Pew Research. That’s about the time when “Full House” began airing, but this TV sitcom about a single dad of three girls didn’t bring in stepkids for five seasons.
Today, less than half — 46 percent — of children live in a traditional two-parent household. Second marriages end in greater numbers than first marriages, especially if kids are involved.
It’s interesting to me, then, that there are so few TV series today focused on the difficulties, and payoffs, of stepfamily life, since so many of us live in them.
“Modern Family” and “This Is Us” are among the few current shows that incorporate stepfamilies, but the sometimes maddening merging of clans is not the major focus of either show.
So we must push ahead with no script and, worse, no Alice.
Our reality show features stresses around loyalty and perceived favoritism, grief and loss, attempts at creating new traditions, differing rules and discipline styles, exes and money tensions.
But this is nothing the Brady actors didn’t know — even then.
Many media accounts suggested that Reed detested the sunny and unrealistic portrayal of an American family, because he felt forced to live a lie. Reed died at age 59 from cancer hastened by complications of HIV.
Barry Williams, who played adorable Greg, admitted to drug use as a young man, even on “The Brady Bunch” set.
And Henderson joked in recent years that, yes, her character did come into the marriage not as a divorcee as some speculated, but as a widow — because she killed her first husband.
But Mrs. Brady was spot-on about one thing. She understood that kids — yours, mine and ours — want to feel safe, secure, valued and loved under any roof they reside. She acted on that belief week after week for five seasons. We should all keep trying to act on that belief.
Ten years in, half of our blended clan is launched, and it’s not fiction to say that even messy and complicated stepfamilies that hang in there can experience an unexpected evolution.
Slammed doors open. Loyalties solidify, often against the grown-ups, which secretly makes me happy.
Someday, all they’ll have is one another, and, in real life as in reel life, you just can never have too many people in your life who love you.