Wedding Planning with Divorced Parents
Before The Big Day
Ever since you first looked through your grandparents’ wedding album, you envisioned the wedding you might someday have. Of course, your fantasies never included the scenario of divorced parents slugging it out over seating arrangements, but unfortunately, this may have become your reality.
Take heart — you are not the only one. In fact, nearly half of today’s brides between age 18 and 26 have divorced parents. As if planning a wedding weren’t stressful enough, you must now deal with a hotbed of extremely sensitive issues. Who do you tell first? Who pays for what? Most importantly, how can you keep your wedding from becoming a battleground for your estranged parents? There are a bevy of potential land mines when planning a wedding with divorced parents, but with some forethought, you can create a genuinely joyous celebration.
Who Gets the News First?
While it is always hard to choose between mom and dad, it is most common to tell the parent you live (or lived) with of your engagement first. Hopefully, both of your parents will be so delighted with your news, they won’t even notice the order in which they were told.
Putting this as delicately as possible, the first and most important issue is who is going to pay for this wedding? If you and your fiancé have resources of your own, this may not be an issue. However, many brides find themselves in an awkward predicament when it comes to who is footing the bill. While many fathers will still offer to pay for the wedding, it is becoming more common for both parents to divide the expenses. In some cases, one parent may refuse to (or be unable to) contribute. Be prepared for any situation.
Which names appear, and in what order? This is one of the greatest dilemmas of the bride with divorced parents. It used to be that wedding invitations were always sent by the bride’s mother (and new spouse, if applicable). Today, they are issued by the parent with whom the bride lived, or by the parent who is financing the wedding. Except in extreme cases, proper etiquette dictates that the bride’s mother’s name should appear on the first line. If your mother and father are splitting the expenses, the invitation would include both of their names.
The engagement party is usually the first pre-wedding event, and the obstacles faced here are similar to those that will arise throughout your wedding festivities. Etiquette for invitations is similar to that of the wedding invitations — the names of the person or persons hosting the party should appear. If the bride’s mother is giving the party, the bride’s father (her ex) would be an invited guest, along with his new wife, if remarried. If the bride’s father and stepmother are hosting, their names would appear on the invitations, and the bride’s mother would be an invited guest.
Stepfamilies (i.e., stepbrothers, stepsisters) should be invited only if the bride is close to them. If the bride’s mother or father has remarried or has a significant other, that person should be invited too, though it is not necessary to invite a casual girlfriend or boyfriend. If the mother’s or father’s significant other is controversial, that parent should be prepared to attend alone.
If only one of the bride’s parents is announcing the engagement, that person’s name would appear at the beginning of the announcement, i.e., “Mrs. Dorothy Evans Smith of Tulsa announces the engagement of her daughter, Christine Elise Smith…. ” The other parent would then be mentioned later in the announcement, i.e., “Miss Smith is also the daughter of Mr. Robert Smith of Oklahoma City.” If the parents decide to make the announcement together, their names would appear together at the beginning of the announcement.
Since it is traditionally considered improper for a member of the bride’s immediate family to throw her a bridal shower (including stepmothers) invitation wording shouldn’t be an issue. What may become sensitive is whether or not to invite your father’s new wife/companion if her presence will make your mother miserable. Usually, if an awkward situation is anticipated, stepmothers or companions will bow out graciously. If it is possible for both women to attend and “behave,” they should do so. If not, consider having two showers (many people do this anyway). Your mother can attend one shower, and your stepmother, the other.
Unfortunately, grooms with divorced parents are not exempt from wedding angst. The rehearsal dinner or party is the groom’s parents’ event. Again, it is important to decide who is hosting (and paying) for the event before any other decisions are made. The groom’s parents may decide to host together, or one parent and his or her spouse may host. In any case, any parent not hosting would be an invited guest. If the relationship between the groom’s parents is very strained, the groom may host the dinner himself, or with his fiancée.
Invitation wording should follow the same examples as for wedding invitations. Only those hosting the party should be named on the invitations.
Seating can be very tricky, as each parent wants to sit in a place of honor. The best solution is for the bride and groom to sit at their own table, perhaps with their attendants, and to provide separate tables for each divorced parent and his or her guests. Unless your parents have remained friends, make sure their tables are not right next to each other.
Keep in mind that even if your parents are on friendly terms, they may not feel comfortable co-hosting your wedding parties, so don’t expect them to do so. It is true — there are additional challenges involved in planning a wedding with divorced parents. However, if you confront them now, your wedding may be even better than your original fantasy.