The Delicate Issue of Steps (and we don't mean the staircase you have to descend on your wedding day!)
By: Maureen Thomson
Consider yourself unusual if you and your spouse-to-be both have parents that are still married to each other (not your parents to your fiancé's parents of course, cuz….well….that would be just…well….WRONG, but you know what I mean-both of your respective biological moms are still married to your respective biological dads!) I don't have any firm statistics, but based on the number of couples I've seen, I'd offer a guess that only about one in 10 fit this mold. The rest of you have parental units that are some mishmash of divorced, divorced and single, divorced and remarried, divorced and living with a significant other, divorced and gay, or even divorced, remarried and divorced again. Multiply that by four and the possibilities for stress are endless!
The first thing you need to do is assess the situation. Remember that you are under no obligation to include anyone and everyone in your wedding ceremony. It's your day! Easier said than done, however, if you are trying to be respectful to everyone but your mother won't get near "that" woman and your dad will not acknowledge your stepfather's existence. There are some however, some tips to get you through the worst of it.
Much will depend on the timing. If your parents divorced when you were young and the "step" was an integral part of your upbringing, then you will probably want to give them a higher level of involvement than the step who didn't come into your life until your adult years.
For the most part (and I will acknowledge that there are exceptions to every rule) it is probably best to put a priority on the feelings of your biological parents-unless they are just being plain unreasonable. Always mention them first and include them in your ceremony in the highest places of honor. Generally, these include escorting the bride down the aisle, helping the bride get dressed (definitely reserved for your biological mom!) lighting the unity candle, the etiquette of being seated (i.e. bride's mother is always the last to be seated, with the groom's mother just before her), being given front row seats, inclusion in the prayer of thanks to parents, being thanked via a toast at the reception, inclusion in the receiving line (if there is one) etc.
Regardless of the closeness of the "step" relationship, please remember to give each parent (and "steps" are parents even if they are not biological ones) a corsage/boutonnière. It's inoffensive to all, inexpensive, and subtle and the gesture will be appreciated.
Here are some other ways to include your step-parents in your wedding day, based on the comfort level of all involved:
1. Have your step mothers seated as part of the processional. Just make sure they are seated before the biological mothers.
2. If your stepfather has been an important part of the bride's life, then think about having him escort you part of the way down the aisle, or joining you and your dad as you arrive at the front row. Check with your dad first!
3. Have your dad escort you down the aisle (in traditional fashion). When the officiant asks, "Who gives their blessing to this marriage?" ALL the parents (even the groom's) can answer "We do."
4. Have one of your step-parents do a reading or recite the final blessing.
5. Include your step-parents in the prayer of thanks to the parents. Out of respect for your parents, you'd have the officiant refer to your biological parents first, then your step-parents after that.
6. Blow off the entire idea of including any of your parents. Walk down the aisle alone (or with your groom) and just have all parental units be guests. That way, no one gets offended!
7. Have your biological parents do all the honors for the wedding, but include a special word of thanks to your parents AND step-parents in the program.
8. As far as seating goes, traditional etiquette (which can always be flaunted in unusual circumstances) dictates that married couples should be seated together. According to the rules of those etiquette mavens in the know, it should look like this (it's the same for both bride's and groom's side, so we'll just list the bride's side). Your mom gets the first row and she should be seated next to her husband/significant other. Stepmom goes in the second row, seated next to your biological father. In cases where there is enough seating and everyone gets along, then all four parents (if there are that many) can be seated in the first row. The order should be (from outside in) mother, stepfather, father stepmother. Of course, if your father and stepfather are ready to kill each other, you'll need to modify this arrangement. Use your common sense and get your officiant to help you-etiquette rules are there to make people comfortable. If following them has the opposite affect, then toss them and make up your own rules.
9. If the situation among your parents is really tense and you truly like and respect your stepparent but want to respect your biological parents' wishes, then go along with your biological parents' wishes for the big day, but be sure to arrange some special time with your step-parents beforehand so that you can tell them how much you value them in your lives. Take your stepmother out to lunch, have dinner with the groom's dad and his wife a week or so before the wedding. Make them feel special and let them know you are glad they will be there on your special day, in spite of possible difficult circumstances.
10. Alert your officiant and your wedding coordinator, if you have one, to possible volatile situations, sources of friction, etc. We've got experience in this field and a word from us in a recalcitrant parental ear often works wonders!
Maureen Thomson is a Wedding Officiant and owner of Lyssabeth's Wedding Officiants, with offices in the Bay Area of California, as well as Denver, Colorado Springs and the Rocky Mountains of Colorado. Visit her webssites at www.MemorableCeremoniesBA.com, www.RockyMountainWedding Officiants.com and www.MemorableCeremonies.com.
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