June 2008 // Volume 46 // Number 3 // Ideas at Work // 3IAW3

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About My Families and Me

About My Families and Me is a program for children living in a stepfamily. This innovative curriculum addresses stepfamily issues and helps children share, understand, and work through feelings. By participating in journaling, gaming, and discussion, children feel more positive about living in a stepfamily.

Nancy Recker
Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences
Lima, Ohio

Lois Clark
Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences
Wapakoneta, Ohio

Ruth Anne Foote
Extension Educator, Family and Consumer Sciences
Wapakoneta, Ohio

Ohio State University Extension


The American family is changing as the number of stepfamilies continues to rise. More than 40% of all marriages in the United States have one partner that has been previously married. (Goldscheider & Sassler, 2006). Much of the literature on the effects of remarriage on children is 10 to 20 years old. A new family type has emerged that includes members of two (or more) families that existed before the divorce and remarriage. This new family type is referred to as a "binuclear family." (Ahrons, 2004). A challenge in this field is creating supportive materials that meet the needs of children living in these binuclear families.

Stepfamilies (binuclear) face many challenges, and, although this family type has become more of the norm, cultural norms do not clearly indicate how stepfamilies should address their roles. (Ganong & Coleman, 2004). "Crucial to children's overall well-being and development in remarriage and stepparent families, as in divorced and intact families as well, is the quality of parenting" (Arendell, 1997, p. 187).

The difficulties of bringing families together under one roof present an array of challenges specific to this family type. One challenge is the legal definition of stepfamilies. The American Bar Association's Model Act Establishing Rights and Duties of Stepparents and the Census Bureau use custody as the differentiator, while American society emphasizes the importance of the relationship between a child and both biological parents. (Engel 2003). Another challenge is the diversity of stepfamilies. For example, there are variations in who lives with whom, how often, and who shares biological parents to name a few. (Dunn, 2002).

Adjustment problems in the children are linked to the parent child relationship and the quality of the adult relationships. Both affect the child's adjustment. The quality of relationship with the non-resident parent rather than frequency of contact is linked to a child's adjustment. A child's temperament can also contribute to problems in stepfamily relationships. (Amato & Gilbreth, 1999).

To assess the needs of this diverse and specialized audience, focus group discussion were conducted with stepfamilies in a three-county area (Foote, Recker, & Clark, 2000). Results lead to the creation of the About My Families and Me curriculum.

About My Families and Me Curriculum

The curriculum package is designed for elementary school-age stepchildren. The overall goal of the curriculum is to strengthen the understanding of stepfamily relationships and create a positive image of the stepfamily for participating children. More specific goals include:

  1. Providing a support network for children in stepfamilies through after-school programs.

  2. Helping stepchildren learn that being in a stepfamily is acceptable.

  3. Creating a positive awareness of stepfamilies.

  4. Helping children deal with their feelings and personal thoughts about their family situation by giving them a journal in which to record their thoughts.

Extension Educators work with school guidance counselors to identify youth in grades 3-6 living in stepfamilies. These counselors then encourage the children's participation in the About My Families and Me program. Children are required to have a signed consent form granting them permission to participate in these activities. The permission slip contains information on dietary needs and emergency contact information.

The About My Families and Me program can typically be conducted in a 2-hour after school format. Sessions are co-facilitated by Extension educators with assistance from school counselors. Guidance counselors then follow throughout the school year with the students to assess needs expressed in their About My Families and Me scrapbooks.


Introduction to the program begins with the opportunity for students to share their family structures. Facilitators talk about the variety of family configurations present and indicate how each individual is a part of a stepfamily.

Family Tree illustrates the variety of relatives in a stepfamily. This game helps children visually display the people in their families by having them build "family trees" for both their mother and father. Children learn their families are unique and special because of the variety of relationships existing in stepfamilies.

My Houses activity demonstrates the principle of living in two houses. By playing a relay game, students place statements such as "I do my homework here" or "I spend most of my time here" on the house game board. Educators discuss rules, similarities, and differences when living in two houses.

Feelings Bingo helps children identify new feelings and emotions that might occur as a result of changes in their lives. Using a bingo type format, children play this game by circling pictures in response to statements read by the facilitator. Children are encouraged to express feelings and not keep them "stuffed" inside.

What Love Feels Like helps children understand that belonging to a stepfamily means there are more people in their lives. In this activity, children creatively draw their definition of love.

About My Families and Me scrapbook gives children a journaling experience about their families. Children are encouraged to work individually or with a family member to complete the scrapbook. Activities have been designed to help children learn more about their stepfamilies as well as their families of origin.

Evaluations included in the curriculum are a forced choice evaluation tool developed specifically for children in grades 3-6 and open-ended questions to assess the usefulness of the information and what participants learned.

Results and Impact

Seventy-four stepchildren have participated in six workshops. Evaluation data is collected immediately following the program. Guidance counselors also evaluate the About My Families and Me scrapbook to determine special needs of the stepchildren.

Evaluation data showing impacts have been reported in County State Annual Reports, reports to stakeholders and resource allocators, and to parent teacher organizations. Comments from the participants and guidance counselors, such as this example from an intervention specialist, "The benefits from their attendance was obvious. Your presentation gracefully turned an uncomfortable topic for children into an open, comfortable, and positive situation. I recommend this presentation for any children experiencing a stepfamily environment," lends credibility to the value of this Extension program.


Ahrons, C. (2004). We're still family: What grown children have to say about their parents' divorce. New York: HarperCollins.

Amato, P., & Gilbreth, J.G. (1999). Nonresident fathers and children's well-being: A meta-analysis. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 61, 557-573.

Arendell, T. (1997). Divorce and remarriage. In Contemporary parenting: Challenges and Issues. (154-195) Thousand Oaks: Sage.

Dunn, J. (2002). The adjustment of children in stepfamilies: Lessons from community studies. Child and Adolescent Mental Health, 4, 154-161.

Engel, M. (2003). United States law degrades stepfamilies. National Stepfamily Resource Center (On-line), Retrieved June 13, 2008 from: http://www.stepfamilies.info/law/issues.php

Ganong, L. H., & Coleman, M. (2004). Stepfamily relationships: Development, dynamics and interventions. New York: Kluwer Academic/Plenum.

Goldscheider, F., & Sassler, S. (2006). Creating stepfamilies: Integrating children into the study of union formation. Journal of Marriage and Family, 68, 273-291.