Riddle me this: What September holiday isn’t listed on the Hallmark holiday calendar? Hint: It is an official national holiday. And, it’s a chance to tell stepfamily members that you appreciate your lives together.
The answer is: September 16, National Stepfamily Day, which has been expanded to National Stepfamily Day and Week. It’s a great time for stepfamily appreciation.
A Mini-History Capsule
Celebrating its 20th anniversary this year, National Stepfamily Day was founded by Christy Tusing-Borgeld in 1997, to celebrate stepfamily togetherness. Borgeld, a new stepmom at the time, observed that President Clinton had proclaimed a “National Parents Day” and it sparked her fire. Why was there no “Stepparents Day?”
Borgeld followed the lead of Anna Jarvis, who in the early 1900s petitioned government officials to get Mother’s Day recognized as a national holiday. Borgeld’s persistence with National Stepfamily Day paid off. National Stepfamily Day (or, Stepfamily Day) and Week, running from September 16 – 22 this year, is a week of raised awareness and appreciation around the topic of stepfamily life.
Why celebrate NSD? More than 40% of families exist in some form of blended family. You, your family of origin, or your best friend or loved one might be a stepfamily member.
Leave Your Silence at the Door
Some families struggle with pain or shame when it comes to life after divorce or death in the family. Family members may feel that families born of loss are “different” from other families. Or family members are—despite the 40% blended statistic—still convinced that “natural families are the ultimate definition of family.” However, both death and divorce open the door for successive marriages and future stepfamilies who deserve to be celebrated, not shamed.
Fortunately for stepfamilies, our society has come a long way from the time it was customary to be silent about the word “stepfamily.” When I was growing up, no one in my family of origin ever referred to us as a stepfamily. Even today, when someone asks me if I grew up in a stepfamily, my first response is “no.” Then I pause and say, “Wait, wait! Yes, I did.”
I lived with two parents who were each married before to other spouses, and had children in those marriages. That arrangement gave me siblings I was told were technically half-sisters and a half-brother. I am not ashamed to say that our family is a stepfamily!
Living the Stepfamily Appreciation Mission
Observing and participating in Stepfamily Day and Week is a nationally recognized way to leave shame behind and focus on celebration. As Borgeld proclaimed in the holiday’s mission, Stepfamily Day exists to: “…support the stepfamilies of our nation in their mission to raise their children, create strong family structures to support the individual members of the family, and instill in them a sense of responsibility to all extended family members.”
Although my stepdaughter didn’t plan her 2011 wedding to fall during Stepfamily Day and Week, lo and behold it did. The bride, groom, and wedding officiant—who is a family friend—designed the wedding theme around how the couple’s love was a reflection of the love they had each experienced in their families of origin.
As a living example of the Stepfamily Day mission, the ceremony included a tribute to my stepdaughter’s mom, who had passed away many years before. Then, all stepfamily members were included as part of the recognition and ceremony so that no family member felt left out. Each year, throughout Stepfamily Day and Week, I feel grateful for the miracle of being included during the wedding event.
Precious Moments Can Happen in Unusual Places
What can we do to acknowledge our stepfamilies? Each family can develop its own traditions. In the 1990s, my stepchildren—who lost their mom to cancer—grew from elementary school to junior high. I was their full-time parent in the mom role. One of our stepfamily’s favorite places to be together during that time was what we called “the tower room” at the Jasmine Garden Chinese restaurant.
Picture a strip mall restaurant that has a surprising turret-like structure incorporated into the front of the building. Inside, this turret provided a private, round and darkish room separated from the restaurant by a beaded curtain. In this room, our stepfamily of four enjoyed many a Chinese meal. The room’s mystique seemed to cloak us all in good moods and humor.
How Will You Celebrate?
One general idea for Stepfamily Day and Week is to speak simple truths with your stepfamily members. You might say something like, “While we didn’t, at first, all choose to be a family, we are together now. Today is a day to celebrate what we have.” Other ideas include doing specific activities together, which could range from a family picnic outdoors together, to cooking a meal for a family in need, to a board game night, or even a vacation together. Borgeld has produced a short video that offers 101 ways to celebrate NSD and Week: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EoK20HcVD2A.
No matter how you celebrate NSD and Week, the key is to make it meaningful for your stepfamily. In meaning, we find epiphanies, and in epiphanies we find healing. This week, round up your stepfamily members and choose a celebration that is right for you.