The Grown Up Child’s Top 10 Considerations for Wedding Planning

by Carolyn on October 27, 2009



Maybe I’ve just had weddings on the brain, but it seems like I’ve been reading about matrimony everywhere.  First, I read about the demise of the magazine Modern Bride.  Can you believe that?  The publication has been dropped.  Then Wednesday Martin posted a link last week to the art and story of a second wife’s wedding day and opened a discussion about how women handled their weddings with their husband’s children.  And just before that I saw a tweet from my friend at Eyes Wide Open, linking to a steaming garbage pile of an article detailing wedding etiquette for stepparents; with inane guidelines such as having your stepparents sit in the row behind both biological parents and suggesting that it isn’t appropriate for stepparents to attend wedding receptions.  Seriously.  I don’t have the creativity to make that crap up.

The wedding etiquette article is nothing short of ridiculous.  Offensive, even.  And the biggest problem is that someone might read it and think that it’s credible.  That’s the problem with the internet and something that I always had to teach my students about when preparing them to write research papers.  Anyone can write anything and post it out here on cyberspace.  And that article proves it.  The internet in itself is not peer reviewed.

But this article does illustrate a problem for divorced and step families.

Like so many times in a child of divorce or divorced parent’s life, there’s often no ‘standard’ to look to.  No ‘way it’s always been done’.  So when we come to various milestones in our lives, no one is really sure how to proceed.  I cringe to think about what could happen if the wrong divorced child or parent were to google “stepmother wedding etiquette” and found that article.  In the hands of a parent or child wishing for reconciliation or retaliation, it could be used to hurt a stepparent terribly with the excuse of it being proper etiquette.

The problem is, the ‘proper’ etiquette doesn’t exist.  Yet.

Now I’m certainly not an expert in weddings.  I’m also not an ‘expert’ in divorce.  I simply share my experiences, thoughts and observations in the hope that others will consider what they themselves might think or do in a given situation.

Eight years ago, I encountered this conundrum.  And it was difficult.  It was hard to find the balance between prioritizing myself and my then fiancé, keeping us as the focus of the day while thinking about making sure both of my blended families were comfortable and feeling honored too.  I tried hard but I’m not sure I succeeded.  One of my parents told me that my wedding was the worst they ever attended, but I certainly never meant for any of them to feel that way.

There are so many time honored traditions surrounding weddings with their focus being mainly on the family.  And the range of blended and divorced families is so wide that there can’t be any hard and fast rules or even firm guidelines.  Since I’m clearly unqualified to write a grown up child’s ‘how to’ on this subject, we’ll call this a ‘list of considerations’ (not as catchy, but what can you do?) for weddings.

The Considerations

The hosts
Traditionally, the bride’s family hosts the wedding and reception while the groom’s parents pay for the honeymoon.  But that doesn’t happen much anymore.  I’ve had friends where the bride and groom’s parents have split the expenses.  And more and more, the couple either pays for the wedding themselves or splits the cost with their parents.  For my wedding, my mother and stepfather along with my husband’s parents split the cost of the reception.  My husband and I paid for the rest.  In the end, it ended up being split in quarters with me, my husband, his parents, and my mom and stepdad each picking up about 25% of the final bill.  I never highlighted them as the actual hosts of the reception though.  It wasn’t important to any of them to be pointed out as such.

You will need to explain it all to your photographer.  Explain who each family member is and who is to be photographed with whom.  I got ready at my mother’s house.  The photographer came there to do the bridal party shots and also photographed my mother and I together.  After the ceremony, the photographer got my father and I together to do the father/daughter shots.  It worked out well, I think.  She also took family photos with me and both of my families, but the pictures were skewed towards my mother and stepfather who she had met at the house earlier.  I just found in my proofs there were more pictures of that side.  I also noticed that she took pictures of my husband with his siblings but there were none taken of me and my siblings.  I don’t think my photographer had a lot of experience shooting blended families and didn’t know quite how to do it.  And on the day, I didn’t have the resources to direct her well enough.  Be careful here and be very clear about your portrait wishes and expectations with your photographer.

The aisle walk
Traditionally the father of the bride walks her down the aisle and ‘gives her away’ to the groom.  I felt weird about this.  I felt like in order to give me away, my father would have needed possession of me first.  I had decided long before the wedding to walk down the aisle myself.  But my mother felt it was important that I ask him.  When I explained the reasoning behind my decision, she asked if I would feel more comfortable if they both walked me down the aisle.  For some reason, that fit for me.  Both of my biological parents, one on each arm, walked me down the aisle and I simply hugged each of them when we got to the end.

Wedding seating
Traditionally, the wedding party sits in the first row on their respective sides at the wedding.  The parents of the bride and groom sit in the next row on their respective sides.  When you have a side with two sets of parents, they could sit together in the second row.  But if that’s not possible or will cause too much tension, one set can sit in the second row and one set can sit in the third – this is what happened at my wedding.  Another possibility is that both sets could sit in the same row but with one on either side.

Ceremonies within the ceremony
There are so many little traditions to consider when forming the ceremony.  Will you honor a stepparent with doing a reading?  If you do a unity candle ceremony, who will you have light your candle?  There are so many cultural ceremonies that couples are including in their weddings these days and if one or both of them is a child of divorce, they may find themselves rewriting the rules to include all of their parents or trying to stick as close to tradition as possible in an attempt not to offend anyone.  I did the unity candle, but our candles were lit before the ceremony and my husband and I were the only ones to go up and light our wedding candle.  I also decided to include all of the parents in performing a ‘blessing of the couple’.  They all stood up together and were asked three questions about supporting the union.

The receiving line
Traditionally the receiving line is composed of women (excluding the groom, of course).  Mothers of the bride and groom, the newly married couple, maid/matron of honor and bridesmaids are all traditional welcomers.  I have to say that every wedding I’ve ever attended had the parents as couples (including the fathers) standing in line.  But when one or both of the people getting married have two sets of parents, this can make for a pretty lengthy receiving line.  I think it’s best to do all or nothing, meaning you either include them all or none at all.  You will need to decide for yourself what will work best for you.  If your parents don’t want or will be uncomfortable standing side by side for this length of time, then maybe it would be easier to have them separated by the a neutral set of parents or the maid/matron of honor.  I included all of the parents in the receiving line, but none of the bridesmaids so as to keep it shorter.  The order of my receiving line was: my father and stepmother, my in laws, my mother and stepfather, my husband and I.

Reception seating
Should you put your divorced parents and stepparents all at the same table?  That depends on how well they all get along.  I didn’t.  I didn’t think any of them would particularly enjoy that and I wanted them all to have fun at my reception.  I also made sure that both tables were in the first row directly in front of the head table.  It worked out well for me in that both of my parents had enough close family present that I could have them each sit at a table filled with people they loved.

There are so many traditional dances at a wedding!  There’s the couple’s first dance, the father daughter dance, the mother son dance, then switch those up to father in law and bride dance and mother in law and groom dance, and then there’s the wedding party dance.  Whew!  That’s a lot of dancing that not many people outside of your immediate family are all that interested in seeing.  I’ve been to lots of wedding since that did the couple’s first dance right after entering the hall, the father daughter dance during dinner, and the mother groom dance during desert.  I decided to honor my relationship with my stepfather as a nearly life long father figure by dancing a special dance with him first and then doing a special dance with my biological father next.  That’s something that sparked a lot of anger from my stepmother and siblings.  It may have been right.  It may have been wrong.  But it felt right for me and I’ve never regretted it.  Good luck trying to figure this one out for yourself!

I think it’s important to give all of the parents an opportunity to speak at the reception and to acknowledge all of them in your speech as well.  If you’re concerned about time, you could ask them to keep their speeches within a certain length, but snubbing a set in this regard wouldn’t be acceptable.

Gift opening and morning after

Unfortunately, I had to leave right from my reception for my honeymoon (I was married a little over a month after 9/11 and they were shuffling planes faster than a deck of cards!).  But this is a tradition that either all parents can attend or you can tailor to your particular situation.  Being that my father, his immediate family as well as some extended family were all in from out of town, I would have loved to have done a special luncheon with them.  The one thing you can count on being at your reception is busy!  And while mingling with a couple of hundred guests you will find that there’s really very little time to spend with anyone in particular.  At the end, you may (like me) find yourself wishing you’d had more time to spend with those who made such a great effort to share in your special day.  This was the only real disappointment I had with my own wedding experience.

I believe that a wedding is like a snapshot of your life.  If I were to get married now, my wedding would look very different than it did then.  But also remember that your wedding and the memories attached to it will be timeless for you and your parents alike.  You don’t want to do something out of spite because you’ll regret it later and it will only serve to make you look petty.

If you are getting married soon, congratulations!  Good luck maneuvering through the challenges and details I discussed here.  If you’d like to share your wedding story, whether it be upcoming or long ago, I would love to read it.  If you would like some feedback or are wondering what other’s think about a wedding issue, feel free to start a discussion in the forum.  I’m looking forward to hearing from you!


{ 25 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Peggy October 28, 2009 at 6:49 am

Carolyn – Geez! So much to consider in a wedding with mix and match parents. Oy!

My second marriage – The bridal party was built around my four bridesmaids – my two daughter and Richard’s two daughters. My step sister was my maid of honor. Richard’s best man was his ex-wife’s oldest brother. Two of his groomsmen were her brother and step brother. The other two were his oldest son and one of my brothers.

Photo Op – We did immediate family (my dad, stepmom#1, me, Richard, his mother) then we did extended family which included my stepmom#2 and Richard’s ex-wife’s mom, stepdad, dad, stepmom.

(yes, there will be a quiz later)

When my youngest step daughter got married this summer, her mom and I sat together. We saved the seat between us for Richard – only we messed him up because we were holding hands during that all important hand off from Richard to our new son-in-law.

Not only did we hold hands, but his ex-wife wanted Richard’s one and only line in the wedding changed. When the Chaplain asked “who gives this woman to be married?” Richard originally said “her parents and I do.” His ex-wife asked me if I was ok with her suggestion and when it came time for Richard to answer the big question, he replied with “her MOTHERS and I do.”

Pictures – Richard’s ex-wife wanted me in the pictures with her daughter – but before I stepped into the frame, I made sure the photographer took pictures of my stepdaughter and her parents. Then I stepped in. When the men stepped out, the photographer took a picture of the stepmom, the bride, and the mom.

We’re not the norm…but it works for us.
.-= Peggy´s last blog ..October 28th Guest of Honor ~ Tess Marshall! =-.


2 Carolyn October 28, 2009 at 11:13 pm

Peggy, thanks for sharing! Your stepdaughter’s wedding is a wonderful example and reflection of the amazing co-parenting relationship you have with your husband and his ex. I wish it could be that way for everyone. It would certainly cut down my list! ;)


3 Melissa October 28, 2009 at 11:18 am

Oh geez, this post hits very close to home. My step-brother is getting married (my step-fathers son) and my Mother is not welcomed to help out. In fact they couple is having a dual shower and my Mom was actually considering not attending because my step fathers ex was so rude to her.

Although I have a child I have never been married and only considered until recently that the only wedding I would have would be one that takes place at a county court house. I would love to have a traditional wedding, but the turmoil between my parents makes me question it all the time. I have considered mentioning it to them once the time comes but feel it would only bring up more issues.

Only time will tell. If anything else, I would at least save money by not having a traditional wedding.
.-= Melissa´s last blog .. =-.


4 Carolyn October 28, 2009 at 11:14 pm

I know, it can feel overwhelming. And I understand the idea that the only way to keep the day about you and your partner will be to only have the two of you there! I wish you the best here. Hopefully by the time you’re ready, things will be easier. Or, yeah, you could save the money. ;)


5 Sassy Chica October 28, 2009 at 11:29 am

I heart you and your blog and think you are FABULOUS! I find it very thought provoking!!

Sassy Chica
.-= Sassy Chica´s last blog ..I Am So Blogging This… =-.


6 Carolyn October 28, 2009 at 11:15 pm

Thanks Chica!


7 Blond Duck October 28, 2009 at 12:16 pm

I can’t believe you had a parent tell you it was the worst wedding ever! It sounds like you poured so much time and energy into it! How rude!


8 Carolyn October 28, 2009 at 11:17 pm

I did try, but everyone is entitled to there own opinion. Thanks for the support though!


9 Urchin October 28, 2009 at 4:53 pm

I find it very uncouth that your parent told you that. Okay, so they thought that for whatever reason but it’s not something you needed to know. Their telling you, was hurtful and unnecessary (in my soapbox of an opinion.) I’m sure that your wedding was absolutely lovely, Carolyn, because you’re the kind of person who takes into account how other people feel.

I’m not looking forward to having to make these sorts of decisions either. So much of my family (adoptive and both sets of biologicals) are very religious and I… am not. Neither is my boyfriend. Neither are a lot of my friends, or they’re all from different walks. My adoptive father has very little good to say about me to anyone, and I don’t want him ‘giving me away’. I don’t want anyone “giving me away” since I’m not a traditionalist in this matter either. But where do I place my biological family? In the second row? They’ve been as much a part of my life as my adoptives nearly as soon as I met them.

It’s all so confusing, but I don’t have to worry about it now, or for a while.


10 Carolyn October 28, 2009 at 11:19 pm

It *is* confusing! I think the most important thing is to make sure you love your wedding, whatever it ends up looking like. It’s something you’ll remember and think of forever. And when you get married, I’ll probably still be here. We’ll brainstorm. ;)


11 Yaya October 28, 2009 at 7:45 pm

And this is why I wish we had just gotten eloped….
.-= Yaya´s last blog ..D-Vlog =-.


12 Carolyn October 28, 2009 at 11:20 pm

Uh oh. It sounds like it was a bit difficult. Sorry to hear that Yaya. If you have any advice to add here, I’d love to hear it.


13 Holly Ann October 28, 2009 at 11:10 pm

this was a very interesting read…


14 Sassy Chica October 29, 2009 at 2:02 pm

Stop on by and see what I have waiting for you!!!
.-= Sassy Chica´s last blog ..Life Is Like A Box of Chocolate =-.


15 Carolyn November 2, 2009 at 10:06 am

Thank you Chica!! That’s so nice of you!


16 Angelia Sims October 30, 2009 at 3:19 pm

My step dad and dad got along but it was my mom who gave me away my 1st wedding – it was appropriate. Being divorced and now with an amazing man – I hope Jason & I marry, if we do (I have a 15yr old & he has a 3 & 5yr old-all girls) I’d like for my daughter and I, and him and his daughters meet at the back of the Church. The daughters will take hands and walk before us and then we would take hands and walk down together. I know it’s not *traditional* but for me, it would truly signify our blending. Who knows tho? That is kinda my thoughts of it right now.
.-= Angelia Sims´s last blog ..Blog 4 Cause =-.


17 Carolyn November 2, 2009 at 10:08 am

That sounds like such a beautiful idea. I think that ‘traditional’ weddings have really gone by the wayside. Now, people do what works and feels right for them and their families.


18 Theta Mom October 30, 2009 at 7:13 pm

Explaning it to the photographer and the speeches–two key elements I think that should be addressed. You always know what to say! BYW, how do you like WP? I’ve been having Blogger issues lately and have been thinking about WP. I’ve been a little MIA in blog world, trying to solve the Google/Blogger issue. So, WP? You like?
.-= Theta Mom´s last blog ..Shabby Apple Giveaway! =-.


19 Carolyn November 2, 2009 at 10:08 am

Thanks Heather! I’ll send you an email with my thoughts on the blog platform.


20 thatgirlblogs October 31, 2009 at 10:19 am

why do weddings bring out the worst in people? very sorry to hear your parent’s words to you. I still remember dancing with my brother at my wedding 17 years ago. He said, “You look good. Don’t get fat.”
.-= thatgirlblogs´s last blog ..I’m a Martyr for Halloween. You? =-.


21 Carolyn November 2, 2009 at 10:09 am

lol! Your brother! Such a brother-esque thing to say. ;)


22 WhiteSockGirl October 31, 2009 at 10:25 am

Phew, I am tired after reading all that!!! No wonder some brides turn into psychos during the planning process,… that is way too much pressure. Let me live happily ever after in sin.
But interesting read as usual!
.-= WhiteSockGirl´s last blog ..A Story for Every Picture: Who are you? =-.


23 Carolyn November 2, 2009 at 10:11 am

Thanks WhiteSockGirl! It is a lot of pressure! I’m glad I did my wedding the way I did, but I would never do it again. If my husband and I decided to renew our vows, it will be on a beach somewhere with either just ourselves or a few very special people.


24 maryleigh November 19, 2009 at 12:26 am

When my husband and I married 26 years ago, my brother walked me down the aisle because he represented both “factions” – my dad was not in my life signficantly and my mom and grandmother had raised me. He offered to help pay for the wedding if he walked me down the aisle. I just couldn’t see someone who was never faithful, never went out of his way to have a relationship with me walking me down the aisle. As it was most of my life, my needs never came first. My parents would not work together on anything. Divorced parents seem to do a much better job today of not putting the children in the middle.

Great article on protocol –
You might enjoy my article on the mother/son dance at my oldest son’s wedding –
.-= maryleigh´s last blog ..The Blue Cotton Blanket =-.


25 mary September 23, 2010 at 10:15 am

I’m enjoying reading your blog….
just a note on the referenced ” steaming garbage pile of an article ” LOL
I think when the author suggested that the step-mother not attend or later in the article that the mother not attend, she was referring to the receiving line. I do not think she meant to say that they should not attend the reception (though indeed that is how it reads, but in context it suggests that it is the receiving line). It was just a really poorly written article and no doubt my step-kids’ mom will find it and drag it out come wedding time as support for whatever wacky notion she proffers regarding my attendance/participation.


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