- The Washington Times - Sunday, September 13, 2009

Even if you are remarried, my guess is you probably haven’t heard of National Stepfamily Day, celebrated every Sept. 16. If you aren’t in a stepfamily, I’d really be shocked if it rings a bell. I had been remarried for five years and purposefully researching remarriage before I learned about it.

Christy Borgeld, founder of National Stepfamily Day, was inspired after President Clinton signed the Parents’ Day resolution into law in 1994. Christy, a stepmother in Michigan who has experienced the unique complexities stepfamilies face, asked, “Why not stepparents? Stepgrandparents? Exes? And all stepfamily members, for that matter?”

On behalf of all the kids who have no voice in divorce, Christy embarked on a mission to make a positive difference for stepfamilies.

What a difference she has made. She tirelessly contacted government leaders and received resolutions and letters of support from three former presidents and nearly every state. In 2000, National Stepfamily Day was placed in the U.S. Congressional Records. Today, Christy is working to obtain a proclamation from President Obama and resolutions in all 50 states.

So why don’t more people know about this day? Claudette Chenevert, a stepfamily relationship coach in Herndon, Va., says, “Stepmoms don’t feel a need to search for information until they are in a situation where they are frustrated and in despair. … Eighty percent of couples did not look for counseling before getting divorced again. They aren’t aware of the specialized help that is out there for stepfamilies and people fear being judged and feeling they are not normal.”

This theme is echoed by Jeannette Lofas, president and founder of the Stepfamily Foundation in New York City. “The majority of families are some form of stepfamily or single-parent family, and everyone is treating family as an intact group. The nation is in denial about this and people haven’t realized there are places where you can learn.”

Despite the fact that nearly one-third of our population is living in a stepfamily, the stigma associated with being divorced and remarried continues. What is eye-opening is that remarried couples often are more embarrassed about seeking specialized counseling and stepfamily education than about getting divorced again. And, few people would debate the healthier choice for all of the children involved who don’t even have a say in the decision.

With divorce rates higher for second marriages than for first, stepfamilies really do need all of the open support and encouragement they can get from the people around them. And, society should care.

Both Ms. Chenevert and Ms. Lofas aptly point out that taking care of stepfamilies is not just for the family itself, but for everyone, especially the children in our society. When a stepfamily is having difficulty at home, schools, work and neighborhoods are affected. Society needs to become aware of the different kinds of pressures on stepfamilies and why they are different.

Support could start with a call just wishing someone a happy Stepfamily Day. Or tell a remarried co-worker about the day. Stepfamilies could have a special family picnic, dinner or game night. The key is to spend family time together to recognize the joys, trials and triumphs your stepfamily has faced.

These are small steps, but we need to start somewhere. Stepfamilies need to feel they are accepted and encouraged by society to seek education and assistance to have lasting, successful marriages.

If Christy achieves her dream, a presidential proclamation will help pave the way. I’m happy to do my part by trying to reach out to stepfamilies and ask you to consider the same on Wednesday. To help celebrate, I invite all stepfamilies to enter the reMarriage sweepstakes to win a vacation to Jamaica; details are available at www.remarriagemag.com.

Paula Bisacre, founder of Remarriage LLC, is the publisher and executive editor of reMarriage magazine (www.remarriagemagazine.com), a quarterly publication that provides practical solutions for the growing remarriage community. She can be reached at [email protected]

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