Winter 1990 // Volume 28 // Number 4 // Ideas at Work // 4IAW2

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RENEW: Building Remarried Family Strengths


Stephen F. Duncan
Extension Family and Child Development Specialist
Alabama Cooperative Extension Service
Auburn University
Auburn, Alabama

Enhancing the well-being of families is one of Extension's national goals. Families are especially affected by changes in marital status. In designing educational programs to help remarried families, family professionals most often focus on the unique problems of this family type, often ignoring possible or potential strengths.1 It's counterproductive to focus only on the problems of a family type that's increasing in numbers.2 That's why Extension family life specialists at Auburn University developed "RENEW: Keys to Strengthen Remarried Family Life."

RENEW is based on the family strength research of Stinnett and DeFrain,3 Olson and McCubbin,4 Knaub,5 and Coleman and Ganong.6 Five strengths of remarried families served as the foundation of RENEW: family caring, family communication, family pride, family unity, and community and family ties.

Program Description

RENEW is a home-based, family enrichment program that can be done independently by the family or with volunteer/professional help. Families choose the degree of help they want. This "independence" approach helps to build the family's confidence in its ability to control its own destiny. While this program isn't designed for families who are having serious problems, they'll likely benefit from RENEW's quality time activities.

RENEW consist of six booklets: an introductory booklet and a separate booklet for each strength area. Each booklet discusses a specific strength, potential challenges remarried families may have in developing that strength, and eight to 10 strength-building activities.

For example, the introductory section of the Family Pride booklet discusses the importance of valuing the traits that make one's family unique and special. Next, it describes how negative stereotypes of remarried families in literature (Cinderella, wicked stepmother, and stepsisters) or the unrealistic expectation to be just like first-married families pose obstacles to developing family pride and esteem. This section ends with a reminder of the potential strength of developing a unique family style unfettered by "hand-me-down" norms and roles. The following activities are designed to help families gain a greater appreciation of their uniqueness.

One such activity is called "Name Calling." A common situation in a remarried family is for some of the children to have a different name than the stepfather and, possibly, their mother. This activity helps remarried family members understand the importance of names to one's identity and accept and appreciate name differences. While many of the activities would be suitable for any family type, several of the activities are designed exclusively for remarried families.

At the beginning of RENEW, families complete the "Discovering Our Family Strengths" questionnaire. This 25-item questionnaire measures individual family members' perception of family strengths in the program's five areas. Family members eight years and older complete the questionnaire. Scores are computed individually, then totaled for a family score. Family members discuss their similarities and differences and decide where to focus their strength-building efforts. They then hold a family council to decide what specific activities to do in which strength areas, when they're to be done, and who will be in charge.

Families complete the "Discovering Our Family Strengths" questionnaire at the beginning and end of six months of RENEW activities. This activity has the dual purposes of helping families monitor their own progress and evaluate the program's effectiveness.

Preliminary evaluation of the program has been positive. Families enjoy the way the information is organized and the many family enhancement ideas that RENEW provides them. One family reported that their communication was more open since beginning RENEW activities. They enjoy the quality time RENEW encourages them to spend together.

Recruiting participants has been a major challenge because remarried families often feel stigmatized. However, we're confident that RENEW can help remarried families develop their unique strengths and increase the quality of family life.


1. M. Coleman, L. H. Ganong, and R. Gingrich, "Stepfamily Strengths: A Review of Popular Literature," Family Relations, XXXIV (October 1985), 583-89.

2. P. Knaub, S. Hanna, and N. Stinnett, "Strengths of Remarried Families," Journal of Divorce, VII (July 1984), 41-55.

3. M. Coleman, L. H. Ganong, and R. Gingrich, "Strengths of Stepfamilies Identified in Professional Literature," in Building Family Strengths, Volume 7 (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1985).

3. N. Stinnett and J. DeFrain, Secrets of Strong Families (Boston: Little, Brown, 1985).

4. D. H. Olson and H. McCubbin, Families, What Makes Them Work (Beverly Hills, California: Sage, 1983).

5. Knaub, Hanna, and Stinnett, "Strengths of Remarried Families."

6. Coleman, Ganong, and Gingrich, "Stepfamily Strengths" and Coleman, Ganong, and Gingrich, "Strengths of Stepfamilies."