Iowa State University
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News Service

News Service:

Annette Hacker, director,
(515) 294-3720

Office: (515) 294-4777

02-20-06

Contacts:

Marcia Michaels, ISU Marriage and Family Therapy Clinic, (515) 294-8439

Cathy Curtis, College of Human Sciences Communications, (515) 294-8175

Kevin Brown, News Service, (515) 294-8986

Iowa State blended families researcher seeks participants for new study

AMES, Iowa --For blended families -- remarried couples who bring one or more children to the new living situation -- common events such as weddings, birthdays and family reunions can provide unique joys and challenges.

Marcia Michaels, assistant professor of marriage and family therapy at Iowa State University, specializes in research on this growing group of families.

"Remarried couples don't really experience a honeymoon period when couples typically nurture and strengthen their relationships," Michaels said. "Remarried couples have parenting responsibilities from the start because they bring their children with them into the new marriage. It's a challenge to find time alone to build a strong marital relationship."

Michaels, who is applying for funding from the National Institutes of Health for a new Iowa educational program that will focus on blended families in Polk, Linn and Black Hawk counties, said blended families experience many emotion-related issues.

"Children, for example, may travel between two separate homes with two different sets of rules," Michaels said. "Or, parental feelings of frustration or anger may arise because one spouse is perceived not to 'love their step child' as their own. And, communication is always a big issue for all families."

Michaels said she is focusing on those three counties because of the diversity and size of their populations. The program is slated to begin in March 2007. Michaels is seeking names of interested parents now.

The free program is open to remarried couples or those in a committed, long-term relationship for three or fewer years. One parent must have a child from a previous relationship age 8 to 15 who lives in the home at least 50 percent of the time. Parents also must not be involved in counseling for marital problems or individual mental health issues.

Each county will have a multi-couple group that will meet for 10 weeks in a local facility, such as a community center. Each group will consist of six to eight couples. The number of groups in each county will vary with the program able to serve a maximum of 80 couples.

"Participating couples will learn how to incorporate the new stepparent into the family, build strong marriage skills and receive tips from couples with proven successful stepfamily relationships," Michaels said. "All material is research-based and focuses on bringing families together."

The educational program assists families with communication issues, age-appropriate discipline, realistic expectations for family events, and steps to strengthen and reinforce the positives of the marital bond.

"We look at several different techniques to work with blended families," Michaels said. "We use role playing and problem resolution scenarios, stress flexibility in planning family events, reinforce the need for support systems -- both in and outside of the family unit -- and the need for a sense of humor."

People who sign up for the program will immediately begin receiving a quarterly newsletter about blended family relationship issues and be provided with access to additional information on building successful families.

Michaels stresses the importance of programs like hers to help families succeed because the success of blended families has an impact on the futures of children.

"I have worked with a lot of older adolescents and young adults who come from divorced or blended families," Michaels said. "They often have strong opinions about marriage and divorce as a direct result of their personal experiences. They also carry negative feelings about significant events in their lives because their parents continued to bicker long after the divorce. The more positive the remarriage experience, the better for future families."

For more information or to register, call 1-888-275-3123. To learn more about Michaels and her research, visit http://www.hdfs.hs.iastate.edu/about/faculty/marciam.html.

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Quick look

A marriage and family therapy researcher who studies blended families -- remarried couples who bring one or more children to the new living situation -- is planning a new educational program targeted to those families living in Polk, Linn and Black Hawk counties.

Quote

"We look at several different techniques to work with blended families. We use role playing and problem resolution scenarios, stress flexibility in planning family events, reinforce the need for support systems and the need for a sense of humor."

Michaels