The Wedding Series – The Parents of the Bride and Groom

When children find true love, parents find true joy. Here’s to your joy and ours, from this day forward. ~ Anonymous

Parents have many hopes for their children. They hope they will grow up healthy, happy and free of worry. They hope they will find decent and loyal friends, enjoy and get good grades in school, go to college and launch fabulous careers. They hope their children will love them and stay in touch. And, one of the biggest hopes parents have for their children is that they will find true love and make a good marriage.

Bittersweet Passage

With that last hope, parents also know how elusive love can be and how it takes hard work to make a marriage successful and last a lifetime. Parents also know how important it is to find the right person to marry. And, when all those pieces seem to be falling in place, it can bring great joy to parents.

The engagement of their child and impending marriage, however, does not free parents from the continued hope that all will go well, both with the wedding and the marriage! Thus, a wedding can be a bittersweet passage for parents and cause conflicting emotions, which can sometimes overwhelm. This occurs as parents realize that the ties that bind them to their daughter or son are loosening a bit as the center of their child’s life shifts to make other ties that will be just as strong and grow stronger over time. The relationship between parents and child will remain steadfast but it will change, and the wedding marks that change.

The bride and groom, as well, will sense that their lives are changing but as they are younger and have a different perspective they might not feel the shift quite as profoundly as their parents will. Thus, it is essential to the smooth running of the pre-wedding planning and events, the wedding day itself and the preservation and flourishing of the relationships between the wedding couple and their parents that the latter try to maintain an even keel throughout the process. At times it won’t be easy, but the effort to do so will pay off.

Clarify Parents’ Roles and Contributions Up Front 

As the parents of a daughter or son about to marry, you should sit down with your child and, if possible, the other parent or parents, to discuss the plans. If it’s not possible to discuss plans and finances with the other parents, at least discuss them with your child and his or her betrothed so everyone is on the same page. Relationships among the couple’s respective parents might be too new or delicate to collaborate, but there should be some communication.

With regard to expenses for the wedding, if the couple is too young to have worked long enough to earn and save a sufficient amount of money to pay for their wedding, one or both sets of parents will have to do the funding and provide as simple or elaborate an affair as their pocketbooks will allow.

These days, however, couples tend to be marrying later. According to a 2011 Pew Research report, half of all men don’t marry before age 29 and half of all women don’t marry before age 27. By the time people are in their late 20s or into their 30s they usually are working and earning enough to pay for their own weddings, sometimes with a little help from their parents.

Regardless of the ages of the wedding couple, however, 21st Century wedding etiquette has changed regarding the funding of weddings. According to the late etiquette authority Letitia Baldrige’s 2003 update of her book, New Manners for New Times:

 “Traditionally, the bride’s family bore the brunt of almost all of  the wedding expenses. Today, so many people are getting married at a later age, and so many people are divorcing and remarrying that these customs are changing. The following are today’s options for paying:

If the groom’s family is rich and the bride’s is not, the groom’s family pays all or almost all of the expenses, even though the invitations are still sent out in the bride’s parents’ names.

If the bride’s family is rich and the groom’s is not, the bride’s family pays for everything, including the rehearsal dinner that is customarily the groom’s family’s responsibility.

If the bride’s and groom’s families both have modest incomes, the groom’s family may offer to pay as big a portion as possible of the wedding expenses to help out.

If the bride and groom are both working and in their thirties or older their parents may be retired and living on limited incomes. The bride and groom would pay for their own wedding in this case.

If the young bride has been divorced and her parents are not in comfortable circumstances, she and her new groom might divide the costs between them.”

With regard to invitations, however, aside from being sent by the parents of the bride, it’s also perfectly acceptable and quite common for the wedding couple to send the invitations in their own names depending on how formal or informal their wedding will be. There will be more on this topic when I address wedding invitations in a future entry.

Once the couple and their parents have settled financial issues and the couple has set a budget, the subject of parental involvement with the planning should be discussed. The wise couple is generous in involving all their parents in the planning to a reasonable extent depending on schedules, capabilities and levels of interest; and the wise parent exercises a degree of restraint as to how and how much they will be involved. With younger couples there is the temptation for parents to become over involved, especially if they are footing the bills. But, try not to be helicopter parents in the planning of your offspring’s wedding unless you are sincerely invited to fill such a role. With older couples ask what you can do and express what you would like to do, but respect your son’s or daughter’s wishes and accept their decisions. As with anything, the less you push the more your suggestions and desires will be considered.

Honor Thy Father and Thy Mother 

That said, a word to the wise bride and groom: Your parents have wisdom achieved through years of experience and skills that can be utilized to help you avoid missteps, augment the planning and enhance the wedding itself. Listen to their advice and suggestions and don’t automatically dismiss them due to some preconceived notions. Exercise understanding and tact, and include them as valued members of your wedding team. Permit them as much or as little participation as they wish. They will be going through their own moments of stress and emotion, so be kind.

In cases where you might not be close with a parent, he or she is difficult or you are estranged, consider how you will handle the relationship so that it will not adversely affect you, them, or other parents who are involved. As the wedding couple, support each other in considering the feelings of your own parents as well as those of your future parents-in-law and in handling any delicate situations. One of the benefits of a wedding is the ability to bring people together, and this should apply to your parents as well.

Gay and Lesbian Wedding Couples and Parents 

As LGBT wedding etiquette is still evolving, that actually gives gay couples and gay parents a bit more leeway in deciding how the parents should participate. Therefore, it’s my opinion that one or both members of the wedding couple could walk down the aisle together; or they could walk separately, each escorted by one of both of their parents. Alternatively, one could walk down the aisle escorted by one or both parents and the other could wait at the alter for him or her.

Along the same lines, if the parents of the bride and/or groom are gay or lesbian, they can participate in the same manner, by one or both escorting their son or daughter down the aisle. As for the customary first round of dances, they should be handled in a manner with which everyone is comfortable. If the groom is okay dancing with one or both of his dads and the bride is fine with dancing with one or more of her moms, that’s what should happen. Then everyone can switch partners.

The bottom line is as a gay couple or as gay parents, collaborate with each other and use your creativity. I was happy to see that gay etiquette expert Steve Petrow generally agrees with these approaches!

Parents are Members of the Wedding Party

Parents of the bride and groom are bona fide members of the wedding party and hold special places of honor. They have varying resonsibilities leading up to the wedding, at the rehearsal and rehearsal dinner and during the ceremony and reception. Stay tuned as next week we begin to take a closer look at each parent’s role in the wedding planning and celebration.

Until next time,

Jeanne

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