The Wedding Series – The Stepparents

Most important is the recognition that stepparenting
is different from primary parenting.
It can be just as satisfying, it can be a reciprocally
loving and caring relationship between parent and child,
and it can provide some very good moments when it works,
but it is different. ~ Claire Berman

According to a 2011 Pew Research survey nearly half of American adults have a step relative, and more than half of them reported that “they are very satisfied with their family life.” But, of course, there are challenges. As those surveyed acknowledged, having step relatives is not something for which people anticipate. And, in many cases it’s not something that is accepted gracefully or graciously.

And when family occasions, such as weddings, arise it’s easy to feel left out if your stepdaughter wants her natural mother to help plan her wedding or her natural father to walk her down the aisle, even if she is on good terms with you, her stepmom or stepdad. Even if you have stepped into the role of mother or father because your spouse was widowed and have reared your stepdaughter or otherwise have a cordial relationship with her, a wedding might arouse emotions in your stepdaughter that are bittersweet because her birth mother or father is not there to share the joy. Or your stepson told his natural mother or father about his engagement before he told you. All of these issues are the challenges that stepparents face.

Thus, whether you are a stepparent who is on good terms or somewhat shaky with your stepson or stepdaughter, make the best of the situation in which you find yourself. Support your spouse in the journey taken with his or her child, and be supportive and upbeat of your stepchild.

Note to the Bride and Groom

While this is your day, it’s important to include family, and the most important family members are your parents. And, while blood is thicker than water, as the saying goes, you should make every effort to include your stepparents. This may not be a problem at all if you are close to them; but if you’re not you likely will be making your parents happy if you include them. This may not be the case 100% if some do not get along, but unless the wedding is very small you can most likely accommodate everyone.

Wedding Etiquette Guidelines for Stepparents

InvitationsThe names on wedding invitations traditionally refer to those who are footing the bill and, therefore, hosting. If the bride and groom are paying for their own wedding, then stepparents need not be concerned with the invitation wording. However, if stepparents are involved with underwriting the wedding, the following are suggestions for wording, and can be modified to accommodate various situations:

If the bride has been legally adopted by the stepparent, then the invitation should read in the traditional sense as if both parents were biological.

However, if the bride has been raised by a biological parent and stepparent who did not legally adopt, and the other biological parent is either deceased or otherwise not cohosting, the invitation may read:

Mr. and Mrs. Thomas Jones [or Thomas and Mary Beth Jones]
Request the Pleasure of Your Company
At the Wedding [or Marriage] of [Mrs.] [Ms.] Jones’s Daughter
Lizbeth Mary (Smith)

If the biological parents are hosting along with the stepparent, all names should appear, birth parents first, such as:

Mr. Thomas Jones
Ms. Sara Lynch
and Ms. Mary Beth Jones
Request The Pleasure Of Your Company
At the Wedding [or Marriage] of [Mrs.] [Ms.] Jones’s Daughter
Lizbeth Mary (Smith)
To Roger Mayberry Davis
Son of…. 

If both biological parents have remarried and all parents are hosting, then the wording may be:

Sara and Ben Lynch
and Thomas and Mary Beth Jones

The wording examples may apply to the groom, as well.

If the biological parents of both the bride and groom are divorced and remarried and all are hosting the wedding, the invitation will carry all four couples’ names, in this order:

Bride’s mother and spouse
Bride’s father and spouse
Groom’s mother and spouse
Groom’s father and spouse

If the bride and groom are hosting their own wedding with financial contributions from all parents, the invitation may simply read:

Together With Their Families
[Ms.] Lizbeth Mary Smith
and [Mr.] Roger Mayberry Davis
Request The Pleasure Of Your Company

PartiesBe as helpful as possible with the plans for pre-wedding parties, such as those to mark the engagement, showers and rehearsal party. You certainly should not be left out of any celebrations but you should also tread lightly.  If you wish to host bridal shower for your stepdaughter, or host the rehearsal dinner for your stepson, consult with the bride’s natural parents first. Or alternatively, speak with the maid/matron of honor or best man to see what can be arranged. Perhaps you can co-host a shower or the rehearsal party. In the case of showers, having more than one is not unheard of. Just be sure to remain part of the wedding team and work though the normal planning channels rather than going off on your own. In doing so, your involvement will be more welcome and appreciated. The goal should be to keep your stepdaughter happy and stay on good terms with her.

Down the Aisle – Which dad will walk the bride down the aisle? Or which mom? Or depending on which kind of service — such as Jewish — which pair of parents? This can be an agonizing decision for the bride. If the dads or parents involved are on good terms, there are plenty of options. One option is that both the biological father and the stepfather escort the bride, one on either side; or the stepfather escorts the bride halfway down the aisle to her waiting father who escorts the bride the rest of the way to her waiting groom.

The latter approach could also apply to parents; one set could escort her to the other set. Whether the relationships among the parents, biological parents and stepparents are cordial or not, they have shared the children up until now; thus, finding the wherewithal to share nicely now that a daughter’s and son’s big day has arrived seems to be a reasonable expectation. The bride could also choose to walk alone, but she should not do so because her extended family is squabbling. Be supportive and avoid any pressure or coercion. If the bride is crying as she walks down the aisle it should be because she is happy!

SeatingAt the ceremony, the bride’s biological/legal parents are seated in the first row on the left facing the ceremony site. The groom’s biological/legal parents One exception is the Jewish wedding, in which both mother and father of the bride stand with the bride and groom under the chuppah. Divorced parents may be seated together if they are on good terms, but if not the bride’s mother and stepfather (if there is one) are seated in the first row with members of the bride’s mother’s family are seated in the immediate rows behind them. The bride’s father and stepmother (if there is one) will be seated immediately behind the bride’s mother’s family. This is the seating even when the biological father of the bride escorts his daughter down the aisle and is paying for / hosting the wedding. If the groom has the same situation, his parents and stepparents are seated in the same fashion in the rows to the right as they are facing the ceremony site.

At the reception, traditionally the bride’s and groom’s parents have their own separate tables to host close family members, such as grandparents, godparents, favorite aunts and uncles as well as close friends. In the case of stepparents who are married to divorced biological parents, there may be additional separate tables to accommodate extended family members. This all depends on the size of the wedding, number of tables and how well everyone gets along. Thus, the bride and groom must use good judgment when arranging the seating to provide their families with an enjoyable experience, and parents must be cooperative and cordial about the seating to make things easy for the bride and groom.

Receiving Line – It is customary for the bride and groom and the mothers of the wedding couple and the bridesmaids. Generally, the fathers and the best man are not required to stand in the reception line but rather mingle with the guests and play hosts. In addition, the best man might want to help direct guests to the reception and generally ensure that everything is running smoothly.

If stepparents are included in the receiving line, and they should be placed where it is most comfortable for the bride and groom and for the parents depending on everyone’s ability to get along. In this case the bridesmaids might be relieved of receiving line duty to also mingle with the guests, leaving the maid/matron of honor in the line. The reason for this is to keep the receiving line from getting too long and cumbersome. Alternatively, the stepparents might be excused from the receiving line to assist in greeting guests. But, either all or none of the stepparents should stand in line. The exceptions are when the stepparents are the legal guardians of the bride or groom; then the stepmother(s) at least should stand in the receiving line. 

Reception/DancesBe helpful and available as much as your spouse and stepdaughter and stepson have indicated throughout the reception; if the bride and groom are receptive, along with the other biological parents, help out by playing the role of host or hostess by greeting and assisting guests.

The next potentially tough decision for the bride is which father should lead off the dance. Depending on the bride’s preferences and her respective relationships with her two dads, her biological father could begin the father-daughter dance and her stepfather could cut in halfway through the dance to finish it with his stepdaughter. The same situation could occur with the groom and his mother and stepmother. Full dances with each parent might be a bit too much for the guests to sit through.

The important point that everyone concerned should remember is to consider others’ feelings, especially the wedding couple. Concentrate on keeping everyone happy and upbeat throughout the wedding journey and making the wedding day a beautiful and joyful occasion for all.

Until next time,



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