Introducing My Parentsssss
The Complexities of "Extra" Parents
. . . Suggested Solutions

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There are less and less traditional nuclear family units these days. It has become more the norm, because of the increasingly high divorce rate, to have multiple sets of parents and grandparents in the "mix" of planning a wedding. The addition of multiple sets of parents can make planning more complicated. There are some solutions and some answers, but the first and best piece of advice that relatives need to take to heart is to remember that the bride and groom and their happiness should be the central focus for everyone involved. If relatives heed that advice and maintain a positive, cooperative attitude, logistics will have a way of working out.

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The bride and groom might begin by considering their relationship with each set of parents, and with stepparents. Opening the lines of communication early on is a good way to set the mood. The bride and groom ought to sit down and talk with all their parents and find out, up front, how they feel and what makes them comfortable. Certainly, there should be every attempt made to keep everyone's comfort level high. There is no purpose served by putting people into awkward or uncomfortable situations. Many of those can be nipped in the bud, by early discussion.

Usually it is the set of parents who raised the child (bride or groom) who will be most involved in planning the wedding. If both sets of parents raised the child, then the bride and all her parents will want to discuss and divide the responsibilities and coordinate who does what. Today's young couples often avoid this problem completely by taking charge of and planning their own weddings. Although this may, indeed, be less stressful, it seems a pity to keep parents out of the loving circle that wedding planning can be.

The engagement announcement is usually made by the parents with whom the bride has lived most of her life. The announcement can read as follows: "Mrs. Joan Smith announces the engagement of her daughter Jennifer to . . . " In other cases, both the bride's parents are mentioned. The announcement can read as follows: "Mrs. Joan Smith of Kingston and Mr. Jim Baily of Hurley announce the engagement of her daughter Jennifer to . . . "

The wording of wedding invitations becomes a bit tricky when there are multiple sets of parents. Again, there are several logical solutions. One way to avoid the debate about who announces the wedding on the invitation is for the couple to do it themselves. The invitation can read as follows: "Together with our parents, we request the honor of your presence at . . . " More often than not, however, the invitation will include both sets of parents' names or neither.

Should both or either parent be remarried or unmarried, but the bride and groom do not wish to include stepparents in the invitation, it may read "Mrs. Joan Smith and Mr. Alex Jones request the honor of your presence at the wedding of their daughter . . ."

If only one parent and stepparent are announcing the wedding, the wording suggested should indicate whose child is being married. It may read: "Mr. and Mrs. John Smith request the honor of your presence at the wedding of Mrs. Smith's daughter . . . "

If both parents have remarried and are hosting the wedding jointly, then both names should be listed on the invitation, with the mother of the bride's name listed first. It may read: "Mr. and Mrs. John Smith and Mr. and Mrs. Richard Katz request the honor of your presence at the wedding of their daughter Joan Katz to . . . "

It is becoming more and more of a tradition that the groom's parents host the rehearsal dinner, This, of course, presumes that the bride's parents are paying for the other wedding expenses. When there are divorced and remarried parents, it seems appropriate for both sets of the groom's parents to co-host this event.

The nature and tone of the relationship between "ex's" may be problematic at a rehearsal dinner. Special attention to seating arrangements can help ease the tension, Rather than seating guests at a dais or head table, round tables deflate the appearance of some hierarchy and may prevent one or the other parent from feeling slighted.

If the rehearsal dinner is held in the home of a relative, the more informal, casual atmosphere may also help to diffuse any ill-feelings or tension that may arise over one parent not wishing to pay for an "ex" or his/her family members.

In some unfortunate situations, family members may choose not to attend an intimate rehearsal dinner gathering. Brides and grooms should be understanding and accepting, using the "it's their loss" philosophy and plan "around" the scenario.

Planning the actual wedding ceremony again presents some awkward moments. The issue of who will walk the bride down the aisle has significance to every parent. If the differences can be set aside, divorced can both walk their daughter down the aisle. More and more brides are following Jewish tradition and choosing to have not only their dad, but also their mom escort them. Another alternative is having the bride's stepfather (or mother and stepfather) walk her half way down the aisle and her father (or father and stepmother) walk her down the rest of the way. Yet another option is to have one father (or one set of parents) precede and another follows the bride, as she walks down the aisle "alone."

When there is a particularly strong animosity between divorced parents, couples have chosen other solutions. A bride may walk down the aisle one or two grandparents. She may walk down the aisle with a best friend, or a best friend couple. The same holds true for the groom if he is being escorted as well.

Once the couple has made it down the aisle, in a Jewish ceremony there is the additional problem of which and where the parents will stand under the chupah. There is a smorgasbord of choices here, with the decision based on the relationship of the couple to their respective parents and the parents and stepparents to one another. Cases vary so much from one another, that this aspect of the ceremony needs to be dealt with on a case by case basis by each bride and groom.

Whatever decisions the bride and groom ultimately come to, the "no surprises" rule holds. Parents and relatives should be informed, well in advance of the wedding, as to the decisions that the couple has made.

Choosing the officiant for the wedding can also become difficult with multi-parent families. Does the bride select the officiant from her father's or mother's or her church or synagogue? There are logistics that come into play, because the location of the wedding may eliminate one of the choices. All things being the same, what's most important is that the wedding officiant knows the bride and, if possible, the groom, as well. So first choice goes to whomever the couple know best and are most comfortable with.

The reception will go more smoothly if serious attention is paid to the seating arrangements. There is no percentage in seating divorced parents (and their respective families) close to one another. Avoiding a head table and seating parents at separate tables best deals with the problem. In some unfortunate cases, bad feelings run so deep that two separate receptions may be a good option. This second reception is usually held after the couple returns from their honeymoon, as a sort of welcome home party. In some cases, one set of parents may attend the ceremony and leave. The second set then attends the reception only.

The tradition of the bride dancing with her father becomes a bit complicated when there are a father and a stepfather. One option is to select, for the first dance, the father who did not escort the bride down the aisle. The other is to have two dances, one with each dad.

Any announcements which involve parents or stepparents should be carefully and thoroughly discussed with the emcee, so that the wording is just right. Feelings and sensitivity levels run high at weddings, so preplanning and forethought can go a long way.

Money and who pays for what is a touchy subject under the best of circumstances and with the best relationships. Traditionally the bride's family pays for most or all of the wedding expenses. For couples where divorce and/or remarriage are involved this becomes somewhat more complicated. What couples need to try to avoid is the development of a power play between parents. Once again communication is a key factor. Couples should talk to each set of parents (not an altogether pleasant task) and ask straight-out what each is prepared to pay for. Couples should also make it clear from the beginning that as the bride and groom, they reserve the right of veto power.

If parents can remain reasonable and cooperative, they can opt to share the cost of the wedding. Expenses may be split in half, or in quarters, or even fifth (if the bride and groom are also contributing). Another option is for the bride and groom to assign various expenses (taking economic, location and other issues into consideration) amongst their parents. Yet another solution is for each parent set to pay for their number of invited guests. This last solution also resolves the "how many can we invite issue." There is, however, no formula or magic solution that will make this aspect of wedding planning evolve perfectly. Time, patience, consideration, and sensitivity must all be employed to have a happy ending. In some cases couples choose to avoid the money and parents issue altogether, by paying for their own weddings.

The new, non-traditional composition of the family unit does usually pose additional problems in wedding planning. Everyone involved needs to be reminded often that the objective is to rejoice and celebrate with the bride and groom. Keeping focused (and refocus when necessary) on this objective will help to make solutions more easily forthcoming.

If you have any creative solutions which you would like to share with us, we would be most appreciative. E-mail us at tom@hudsonvalleyweddings.com

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