(BPT) - About 1,300 new stepfamilies form each day in the United States, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And of the 60 million American children younger than 13, half are currently living with one biological parent and that parent's partner. As a result, couples are trying to find ways to include their stepchildren in the marriage ceremony and commemorate the union of all members of the new blended family.
Andy Netzel of Geneva, Ohio, turned to Things Remembered, the nation's leading retailer of personalized gifts, to find something unique and meaningful to commemorate the special day he married his wife, Margie, and became stepfather to Emily, 4.
During the couple's ceremony, instead of naming Andy and Margie husband and wife, Pastor Michael Meranda paused after the couple kissed and asked Emily to step forward. The couple hadn't prepared the little girl for this moment. If she knew about it ahead of time, they knew she'd be anxious throughout the entire ceremony.
Andy took the microphone and told his stepdaughter-to-be that it wasn't just he and Margie who were joined, but rather all three of them. He opened a jewelry box with a Things Remembered bracelet inside. It was engraved with "Mom, Emily, Andy."
"To me, this wasn't just about Margie and I getting married. This was a lifelong commitment to our new family," he says. "Margie had a ring. I wanted Emily to have something she could remember this day by, even when she was getting married herself." It appears to have worked. Emily now refers to the wedding day as "the day we all got married."
More couples are turning to personalized gifts to commemorate the occasion, says Amy Myers, vice president of Creative Services at Things Remembered. The retailer has seen a steady increase in the number of couples coming in to commemorate the occasion.
"We began noticing couples using commemorative gifts about 10 years ago," Myers says. "Our store managers were the ones who pointed it out to us. We began including engraving suggestions for stepfamilies about five years ago. We have a lot of people come in, not knowing exactly what to say." Myers says the message seems to drive the gift. Once they find the right words, finding a gift is usually the easy part.
Many families have also purchased engraved "community bricks" to honor the day they became an official family. Bricks can be purchased through churches, schools, civic organizations or even to support a special landmark that is special to the family. Online retailer, Cut In Stone, specializes in engraved bricks of all shapes, sizes and materials.
The symbolism of creating a cornerstone to celebrate the day a blended family came together has a powerful impact, as does the permanence of placing the brick in a prominent part of the community. Many families make a family event out of visiting the location of their brick on their anniversary. When purchasing a brick, families should inquire about purchasing a second one to keep in addition to the one that becomes part of the community landscape.
Some stepparents use the occasion to create a time capsule of sorts with a handwritten letter. In addition to writing a letter to the child about the formation of their family, stepparents can write about what this new family means to them and their hopes for their future together. This further emphasizes the transformation from a couple to an official family.
The letters are often stored in a special box with a few photos and other mementos from the wedding day. Even if the child is quite young on the wedding day, they'll see the effort that went into making them a big part of that day - and the couple's life.
Just as a first-time wedding is cause for celebration, the coming together of two people and their children to create a blended family is an extraordinarily special event. By taking a moment to recognize and pay tribute to the children in a blended family, couples help children realize they are not losing a parent, but rather gaining another person or group of people to love and support them throughout their future.