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Ask the Experts

Mother/Father

Question: My My stepson of 15 years is marring a very nice woman that comes from a good family. I also was brought up in a good family where things were done properly and by the book. However, my husband's first wife the grooms mother lacks a bit in this aspect. I know that this wedding is going to be a very formal affair. The wedding gown cost well over $3,000.00 just to give a hint. I don't know what to do. I don't want to out-dress the grooms mother, nor do I want to step on her toes. She and I have a decent relationship. She has grown to accept me over the last 15 years. But she can turn ugly at the drop of a hat by anything that I do, so I want to steer clear of that. I don't want to ruin my stepson and future step daughter in laws day. Being brought up the way I have I want proper etiquette to be used at the rehearsal dinner, considering that I will be paying half of it. I do mean I . I am the sole provider for the groom's father and my household. My husband was injured in a work related accident and can not work. I bring in the income. I refuse to do things anything less than proper. How do I get these feelings across without setting the mother off? ( The Mother and the Groom have a volatile relationship in itself.) How do I wear something appropriate without outdoing her? I really want to get along through this whole thing but yet hold to my values. Help!!!

Answer from Claire Hatch
Our Relationship Councelor

Dear Judy,
Counselors often call step-parenting “the world’s hardest job.” This is because so often, they find themselves in situations where they have values that conflict with each other. Very often the biggest conflict is this: step-parents have a relationship with their step-children and care about them, yet they do not have the same authority that the biological parents do. This means that they play a lesser role in decision-making than the parents, but are often affected by the outcome just as much.

There is probably no situation where this is truer than at a wedding. In your situation, I see your values as: Proper etiquette, proper dress for yourself, and peace and harmony at the events. You are concerned that you may not be able to have all of these at once. I think that if you step back and consider what is most important, it will be peace and harmony.

The best way to achieve this is to see yourself as a support and helper to the bride and groom. I can almost guarantee you that their top priority will be a dinner and wedding where everyone gets along and is civil, so they don’t have to worry about their parents and they can just focus on the experience of making a commitment to each other.

If your step-son and his bride are concerned about etiquette, then consider how you can help them. It is difficult to make a plan for dealing with “etiquette” in general. You would need to consider the specifics.

Regarding your dress, I think your goal would be appropriate and understated. Again, you have to ask yourself what your priorities are. Clothing is very personal and you naturally want to dress consistent with your tastes and sense of what’s appropriate. But think: If your step-son’s mother behaves in a way that makes him uncomfortable because she feels outshone by you, will it be worth it?

You have a particularly difficult situation in that you are the provider for your family and you are paying for your family’s half of the dinner. It is natural to feel like the dinner will be a reflection on you and to want it to be done correctly. And it would be nice if you were acknowledged for going above and beyond the step-mother’s typical role!

I think the best way to look at the situation is this: If you receive the acknowledgment you deserve and are able to have the arrangements as you like, that’s a bonus. Your priority is that the bride and groom have their events the way they want it. If they are unhappy or there is some unpleasantness, that is what people will remember, rather than the proper etiquette. I work with some couples who have resentments toward their parents and step-parents for years after the wedding! I don’t think that’s what you want. If you show the bride and groom you are on their side, and you make it your job to help them have the wedding of their dreams, you will be remembered fondly for years to come.


Question: My parents are meeting my fiancé's parents for the first time. We are planning to go out for a nice dinner. My Mom wants to knows who pays for this. I didn't realize it was even a part of the "wedding stuff". We know his family is paying for the rehearsal dinner. Any suggestions?

Answer from Marcia Coleman--Joyner
A Joyous Occasion

Congratulations on your engagement!
While traditionally etiquette dictates that the parents of the groom host the first meeting with the bride's parents, this is normally done at the groom's parents' home. Due to the fact that this meeting will take place at a public restaurant, I would recommend that each couple pay for their own meal, including you and your fiancé or, alternatively, if you are in a position to do so, that you and your fiancé pay for all parents' meals.
All the best!
 

Question: My parents are divorced for about 3 years. My dad has remarried. My mother has made it clear that she will be extremely hurt if I allow my dad to give me away and dance with me the father/daughter dance. She will not allow dads new wife to play the first roll with her nor does she want her in the second roll right behind her. She also does not want the new wife to be on any picture, she wants her to act as a non-family guest.
Honestly, I don't care if my father's new wife attends or not. She is not important to me; however, I don't want to hurt my dad. How do I let him know that his wife can come but stay in the background in order not to upstage my mother.
At this point only my mother has stepped forward and offered to pay for any part of my wedding. So my mom feels she is the hostess and should be calling some of the shots. She even suggested to leave my dad's name off the invitations because he isn't hosting any part of it. I see my mother's point but I don't want to make anyone mad.
Mom has said she understands that it is my day, and if I decide to do some of the things that will hurt her, she will not attend the wedding.
How do I behave appropriately? Where should my step-mother sit and where should she be when pictures are taken? Should I just elope???

Answer from Marcia Coleman--Joyner
A Joyous Occasion

Traditionally, in divorced situations, where the mother has been the most supportive parent, she sits in the first row and the father in the second behind her. However, if this will make your mother uncomfortable, your father and step-mother could sit at the end of the second row, or on the groom's side in the second row.
Photos could first be taken with you and your parents. Your mother could then leave and photos could be taken separately with your father and step-mother. As the wife of your father, her role should also be respected.
First, I would ask your Father if he wishes to contribute towards the wedding. Etiquette dictates that the person or persons who finance the wedding invite the guests. Therefore, if he contributes nothing, technically his name should not appear on the invitation.
Communication is always key. My advice is to sit down with your mother and father separately and explain that you are trying to plan the happiest day of your life; that their behavior and lack of support are putting undue stress upon you; and that you would hope they would forget their individual differences and act like parents, especially on the wedding day.

It is my hope that you and your fiancé do not give up your dreams to suit your parents. This is not a dress rehearsal. You only get one chance to do it your way.
I wish you all the best,
Marcia Coleman-Joyner, C.W.C.


Question:
My mother-in-law to be has already lost one son to cancer. This wedding is very hard on her because she feels like her other son is "leaving" too. Are there any suggestions as to how to make her feel "special" during our wedding with some remembrance of her deceased son? She also won't light the unity candle...can grandmothers do this? My parents are divorced, and I was thinking of having them both walk me down the aisle...because my mom has been there for me LOTS more!!
Any suggestions are appreciated!!

Answer from Michelle Hodges
"I Do" Weddings and Events

What we've done in the past is place a poem or a note in the program in remembrance of her deceased son. We've also done is to place a small bouquet of flowers somewhere, to symbolize that son. In the past it has been a parent, we placed it on the seat where he would have been sitting. Perhaps the book, Runaway Bunny might be an appropriate gift from the son who is getting married to give to his Mother at the Rehearsal dinner.
Yes, Grandmothers can do this, or Fathers, or a Special Aunt or the God Parents. You could even have them lit from the very beginning of the Ceremony, the Celebrant or Church coordinator would do it prior to guests arrival.
You can have both of them walk with you, or you may want to consider just having your Mom walk with you. Usually it is the Parent who has had the most influence in your life that would then in turn be honored on this special day.
The one tip I can give you here is, even thought it is your day, try to consider the feelings of all the other family members (which I can see that you are doing) and remember that you want to start your new life with your blended family out on the right foot. What you do on this day will make an impression for you and your Fiancée for the rest of your marriage.


Question:
My parents are divorced, and I am thinking of having them both walk me down the aisle, yet my mom has been there for me lots more?

Answer from Michelle Hodges
"I Do" Weddings and Events

You can have both of your parents walk with you, or you may want to consider just having your Mom walk with you. Usually it is the parent who has the most influence in your life that would then in turn be honored on this special day.

Send us your questions!


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