The Web address of this
article is http://sfhelp.org/sf/date/wedding.htm
Clicking underlined links here will open a
new window. Other links will open an informational popup,
so please turn off your
browser's popup blocker or allow popups from this nonprofit Web site.
Follow underlined links after
finishing this article to avoid getting lost.
This is one of a series of Lesson-7 articles
on howtoevolve a
high-nurturance stepfamily. The "/" in re/marriage and re/divorce
notes that it may be a stepparent's first union. "Co-parents" means both
biological parents, or any of the
three or more stepparents and bioparents co-managing a multi-home
Here "wedding" means a traditional church rite and reception or a non-traditional public
or private spousal-commitment ceremony and celebration."Planning"spans any
bridal showers, dinners, ceremony, reception, and honeymoon.
This article is for co-parent couples and adult stepchildren who want
a satisfying re/wedding experience for themselves and their families.
further, take this anonymous 1-question
defines a successful wedding, and offers...
perspective on ceremonial complexity,
honeymoon considerations, and..
selected wedding resources.
The article assumes you're familiar with...
intro to this nonprofit Web
site and the premises underlying it
Most American stepfamily unions follow the
legal divorce of
one or both new mates. Others follow a prior mate's death. One or both
partners have minor or grown children. This makes nuptial planning a challeng
are More Complex
Key differences between first-marriage and stepfamily celebrations
There are more people. Planners
must consider the needs, feelings, and relationships of minor or grown kids + three or more co-parents
+ all their
genetic and legal relatives + their respective friends; and...
Average American re/marriers
are more likely to have differing religious backgrounds, races, and
cultures, and wider age differences. These can promote stressful
among everyone; and...
There are no
well-accepted social norms and traditions to guide stepfamily wedding planners. That's
compounded by over
a dozen alien stepfamilyroles like step-uncle, step-cousin,
father-in-law, that adults and kids aren't used to. These
can cause uncertainty and confusions in deciding "How are
to behave at this celebration?"
Typical stepfamily wedding literature and
consultants aren't fully aware of these factors and what they mean. They may minimize or deny
this nuptial complexity, and overfocus on wedding trivia, joy, and
Most stepfamily ceremonies are
preceded by one or more divorces. Someguests and family members -
specially kids, ex mates, grandparents, and former inlaws - may still hold strong feelings about
this, whichcan get triggered bynew nuptials. This is
specially likely if a marital affair and/or an unplanned child
conception brought the new partners together.
And stepfamily weddings are unusually complex because...
ceremonies involve vows to key people, society, and God. A reality in most re/weddings is that
for one or both partners, their former vows were "broken." This may cause partners to feel that vowing "'Til death do us part"
isn't realistic. And...
One or both new
partners have existing kids and one or more living or dead ex mates.
This can cause confusion over if and how to include the kids in the
festivities and vows, and whether or not to invite the kids' other
bioparent and kin to various family gatherings.
The chance for
grief to erupt during the festivities is high for many
reasons. Stepfamily re/marriage affirms painful
(broken bonds) from divorce or death,
and may cause new lossessome adults and kids - e.g. kids and others can lose dreams of the divorced bioparents reuniting.
new-stepfamily couples and supporters are only vaguely aware of these
combined complexities, what they mean (personal and social "problems"), and how to manage them
effectively. Their unawareness and longing for marital and family
happiness can promote inadequate nuptial planning, significant
stress, and unhappy memories.
With these factors in mind, let's explore...
a "Successful" Wedding?
Personal and social needs have caused wedding ceremonies in
all eras and cultures. This suggests that
ceremony will fill everyone's needs "well enough." What
healthy citizens (e.g. blood tests), well-nurtured children raised by capable adults (vs. teen parents), and for stable, functional families;
need dignity, respect, harmony, good will, bonding, boundaries, loyalty, and social support and approval;
the couple needs
to publicly pledge their commitment and love, formally
accept the roles of committed partners; and to experience the support of friends and family in starting their life together;
their kids need to have their feelings
validated and respected, and to be reassured that their parent's choosing a
new mate will not lower their family status and/or security.
Typical new stepkids and
stepsiblings have manyother needs
they need informed adult help to fill over time; and...
many people need
to sanctify the sacred union of two loving people in the presence
of God and community; and...
need to demonstrate their support for the couple and to re-affirm
the profound specialness of a spousal commitment.
Inevitably, some of
these needs will conflict, so partners and supporters do well to
Whose Wedding Needs Come First?
I propose that long-term marital and stepfamily harmony is most likely if
each mate steadily wants to put..:
their primary relationship solidly
second, and then...
put everyone else's short-term needs third,
including your kids -except in emergencies.
Notice your reaction to this idea. Typical
Grown Wounded Child
(GWC) may intellectually agree with this scheme, but their actions may put
their mate's or kids' needs first out of anxiety, shame, and/or guilt.
That promotes eventual
Implication - for each
nuptial-planning dispute you mates encounter, discuss...
Whose needs are we trying to fill - ours, or
"What option is
best for my dignity, integrity, and self-worth here?; then...
wedding option is best for yours?"; then...
"What option seems best for the
long-term health of our relationship?", and then...
"What's best long term for our
kids and other key
If both mates can't adopt
this scheme consistently -
To create the best chance for successful nuptial events, take these...
Because of stepfamily complexities, thoughtful wedding planning
is more important than in first nuptials. Use this checklist after your dating
__ 1) Evaluate
honestly whether either of you is a
Grown Wounded Child
(GWC). If so, patient
wound-reduction should be among your
highest personal and joint priorities. Lesson 1 here provides a
way to do this. Also evaluate other key stepfamily adults for
significant psychological wounds. Divorce usually indicates them in
ancestors and prior mates.
__ 2) Agree
that "we are a stepfamily" vs. "just a (bio)family." Thendraw a multi-generational family
diagram to identify who
belongs to your stepfamily.
Include every living and dead adult and child that eachstepchild
includes as "my family." Use this
to resolve any membership disputes.
major progress together on self-improvement
Lessons 1-7 beforedeciding to commit. Augment this by reading and
discussing several books on
stepfamily life. Then Each
mate invest time and energy...
reviewing and discussing these
stepfamily myths and realities, s
these three steps suggests well-meaning
false selves are making your
decisions. That risks your vows and dreams going unfulfilled over future years
and possible psychological or legal re/divorce trauma for all of you..
If you ignore these three steps,
you risk planning your wedding using inappropriate biofamily norms
and expectations - and regretting it.
More vital pre-planning steps...
__ 4) Agree on
your mutual long-term priorities. If both of you mates aren't comfortable with the scheme above, expect
stress before, during, and after your ceremony.
__ 5) Get clear together on...
whether you see your
union as joining two people, two or more homes, three or more
families,or all of these. "All of these" is the normal
reality. Acknowledging this will
"a successful wedding," and...
who's responsible for the
success of your wedding, reception, and honeymoon; and...
who you want
to help you plan these - e.g. your kids, your parents, key
siblings, any ex mates, and perhaps a professional consultant.
__ 6) Tell kids and
others months in advance of your plan to commit. Expect many questions
and a range of reactions. If kids seem resistant or unsupportive,listen to them, vs. trying to reassure or persuade them.Bioparents,
kids to test who comes first with you - them, your new mate, or any
stepsiblings. When they
test, explain your priorities to them (above) and expect "resistance."
__ 7) Create several chances for members of all three
co-parents' biofamilies to meet each other socially, including kids. The more such
meetings, the lower the odds of awkwardness and discomfort at your wedding
gatherings - unless some kinfolk are
burdened with some of these common
__ 8) Invite key
family adults and supporters to read and discuss at least the
articles in the box at the top of this article. The best option is to have
them study and discuss
Lesson 7, for
all your sakes. One of five major
pre-planning steps seem useful and reasonable or "unnecessary"? Because
most U.S. stepfamily re/marriages
fail psychologically or legally, these steps are as vital as a careful
pre-flight check for jumbo-jet pilots.
After progressing on these steps, you partners and your supporters are
design a satisfying commitment celebration!
High-tech cameras will
probably capture many of your shower, wedding, reception, and honeymoon sights and sounds. How often you review
these in future years, with whom, and whether reviewing brings you fond
or painful memories all depend on how well prepared you partners were to plan
The ideas below focus on aspects of nuptial planning that are unique to,
and often conflictual in, typical multi-generational stepfamilies.
First, you partners help each other
assess honestly "Who's
leading our planning process -
true Selves, or
other well-meaning subselves?"
The latter are likely to skew and sabotage your plans.
Read and discuss these ideas
about evaluating stepfamily advice. Then...
__ everyone understands these
__ what you
mates' long-term priorities are,
and __ why you choose them.
seven or more complex re/wedding decisions and negotiate
mutually-acceptable compromises on:
Who shall we ask to officiate at our wedding?
How shall I design my vows?
How do we want to word our wedding invitation?
Should anyone change their last name?
Do either of us want to include
kids in our ceremony and other gatherings?
and/or I need to invite the kids' other bioparent/s to our ceremony?
To our reception?
Which of my and/or your kids' relatives should we invite to each of our
gatherings before, during, and after the ceremony?
look at each of these questions...
Who shall we ask to officiate at our wedding?
religious or spiritual faith is, your best choice for a facilitator is
someone who is familiar with divorced families and stepfamily re/marriages.
This is specially true if you seek pre-re/marital counseling (which I
don't know stepfamily realities may give you inappropriate
(biofamily-based) advice on celebration planning and vows. See these
options for selecting a knowledgeable
Q2 - How shall
I design my vows? Who's making my vows - my true
''someone else''? Who's
making your vows? Are we making joint vows, individual
pledges, or both?
My experience as a veteran stepfamily therapist suggests that the two
biggest reasons that most U.S. re/marriages fail are mates'
and unrecognized psychological
If either of you partners isn't sure your true Selves are guiding you, defer all wedding
plans for your and your kids' sakes, and work on
Lesson 1 together.
Lesson 7. The best time to do these is
exchange vows! Your relatives and supporters will probably not understand the importance of these
Lessons and may pooh-pooh them. Don't listen!
Unlike first marriers, you
mates are each committing to...
yourself and your partner,
Higher Power, if any; and...
one or more
grown kids, and...
the kids' other co-parent/s, and...
children you new mates conceive, and...
any new mates the
other co-parent/s have or will
and future kids, if any; and...
each relative you and/or your kids deem as "important," including "ex
and their attitudes and actions will affect each of you for many years. This justifies
meditation on what you want your nuptial vows and actions to express.
Avoid future regret and guilt from breaking a well-meant vow to love
your stepkids "like my own." Genuine love may
developover some years of living together or it may never occur.
Work towards mutual respect and friendship - love may be a bonus. A better option is to say something like
"...and (stepchild name), I pledge to respect, protect, and nurture you
across our coming years to the best of my ability."
Option - as part of your vows,read your stepfamily
mission (vision) statement
together. This can invite everyone to think about what
they're trying to do with their family. Win-win!
Another important planning decision is...
How should we word our wedding invitation?
Because you have members ofthree or more multi-generational
biofamiliesto consider, traditional invitation text may not
express what you want - or what's real. For instance,
you two might want to say "Please
join us in celebrating our love and commitment, and the founding of
our stepfamily" (or "... the blending of our families
and futures," or... )
Your nuptial announcements and invitations are a rare chance for
you to publicly affirm your migration from biofamily to stepfamily. People who aren't aware of stepfamily realities
and/or who want to avoid them may be uncomfortable if you two choose
such a declaration. Long-term, it's better to know that and seek to
admit and reduce the discomfort over time.
If you don't acknowledge your new
identity in print
and in your vows, you
imply to your guests that this is pretty similar to a traditional (first) wedding. Personally, legally, and spiritually,
it is similar. From a
perspective, you're planning a
They are very different!
Declaring your stepfamily identity in your wedding invitations,
programs, social media, and newspaper announcements will help you
recognize people who resist this reality. This can help you
two choose people best able to support you as you encounter
your mix of alien stepfamily
over the coming years.
If you affirm your new stepfamily identity in your
invitations and announcements, expect raised eyebrows, puzzlement, kidding, c/overt
criticism, or indifference. Well-intentioned supporters who focus only on
wedding-ceremony success rather than long-term stepfamily success may counsel you against such an affirmation.
View such reactions as normal stepfamily
Reminder - as you negotiate decisions on these complex questions, help each
other stay aware of your long-term goal - to evolve a high-nurturance
("functional") stepfamily together to protect your descendents from the
lethal [wounds + unawareness] cycle.
Another re/marriage-planning question to negotiate is...
change their last name?
single mom takes her new husband's last name, it will differ from her existing
kids' name - unless all agree that the stepdad will legally adopt his stepkids
(which is not the norm). Typical biofathers and some kids and/or relatives
Different last names can cause unexpected confusions in social and medical
situations and kids' school conferences ("You're Serena's biological Mother?
I thought...") Former and new wives with the same last name can also cause
awkward misunderstandings ("No, I'm Norman's second wife.")
Changing your last name will require altering legal documents like driver's
licenses, voter registrations, wills, credit cards; medical records, bank,
social security, and insurance accounts, parenting agreements, and loan
contracts. These may need changing anyway, if you move into a new home.
Kids, ex mates, grandparents, adult
siblings, and others can have strong opinions about whether a re/marrying
mother should change her last name. This can promote major values and
loyalty conflicts and relationship triangles among everyone. So - discuss this issue
well in advance
with each child and adult affected, and use your marital
to decide together.
For more perspective on stepfamily names, see
this after you finish here.
The next set of challenging nuptial-planning questions is...
Do either of us need to include
kids in our ceremony and/or other gatherings? If so, how? Does each child want
to participate? What if some of us disagree on this?
Answering these questions honestly requires each of you partners to
to weigh many factors Common problems include...
you mates may disagree on if and how to have
one or more kids may not want to
participate, or may feel major anxiety, guilt, and ambivalence;
relatives (e.g. grandparents) may have strong
opinions for or against; and
a child and their other bioparent may disagree.
Including kids in your vows and your nuptials demonstrates that
this is a stepfamily
commitment ceremony, not just a re/marital one.
choose a long-range view and use your shared
to guide you;
grow your competence and confidence at
spotting and handling loyalty and values conflicts and relationship
triangles. You will encounter several of these in making each of
your nuptial questions; and...
to poll adults' and kids needs and opinions on this issue. Give everyone
plenty of time to weigh and discuss kids' participation with each other
- and retain the right to make the final decision as a couple without
don't force unwilling kids to participate or
try to please everyone!
Don't assume that adult kids
will be "mature" about your wedding celebration and commitment. If they've
haven't grieved their losses well enough, they
may be resentful, hostile, critical, "indifferent," :"disinterested," angry,
may subtly or openly reject their
new stepparent, stepsiblings, and/or step-kin - specially if a child is
aligned with their other bioparent. If they've repressed or disguised their
real attitudes and loyalties. the wedding will probably force them to
Be alert to how your respective parents feel about your youngsters
taking an active part in the nuptial festivities. The seniors may have unrealistic
expectations of you and the kids unless they've accepted that you're forming
a stepfamily, and have begun learning
stepfamily basics and realities (Lesson 7).
If both you mates have kids,
their respective grandparents
may show or imply favoritism for their blood descendents over "those other
children." See this article on relatives' favoritism for more perspective and options.
you see, including your kids in your celebration is not a trivial decision -
so begin discussing this planning decision with everyone - including ex
mates - early in your planning!
Another complex planning decision that first-marriers
don't face is...
-How shall we include the kids' other
bioparent/s and their relatives?
This becomes a group of
Do we mates
each genuinely accept that our kids' "other (bio)parents" and their
relatives - and any new partner/s and stepkids - are full
members of our stepfamily?
Should we invite the kids' other bioparent/s to our ceremony?
To our reception?
Where should s/he
(and any new partner) sit?
s/he declines? What if s/he accepts?
(or they) be acknowledged in the ceremony? Participate in it?
what do each of our kids and relatives need about these questions?
thoughts and feelings right now. Discuss one question at a time, using a
long-range view, your stepfamily
mission statement, your Bill of personal
If either of you have
problems with your kids' other parent/s, then debating if and how to include them
your nuptials can foster major
loyalty conflicts and relationship
triangles among you all.
sample pros and cons below to help you planners move toward balanced
compromises and decisions on these questions..
Should Invite Your
and/or My (Co-parenting) Ex Mate Because...
clearly that we respect herorhim(and any new
partners) as dignified adults who will affect our stepfamily life for many
It affirms their
membership in our
stepfamily as worthy co-parenting partners;
It may lower
the odds one or more kids will be stressed by major
loyalty conflicts and relationship triangles;
It will signal
the kids' relatives that we respect the
as worthy contributors to our new
stepfamily despite past and present conflicts;
It may help us reduce existing
barriers that hinder the
long-term co-parenting teamwork we all need;
probably have very few chances to all gather together. Inviting the kids'
other co-parents can help us build the stepfamily unity, bonding, pride, and
harmony that we all want; and...
Inviting my /
ex mate may positively affect how their and our other
relatives feel about supporting and celebrating with us; and...
signifiespublicly, in the ex mate/s' presence, that we affirm
and honor her / his / their relationships with their children, and that we
wish to support and nurture those relationships
despite past or current disagreements;
(add your own pro's...)
On the other hand...
ShouldNot Invite Your
and/or My (Co-parenting) Ex Mate/s Because...
him / her / them may send the
message that we condone some attitudes, values, or actions that we really don't
accept or condone;
Some other adults or
child(ren) feel too angry or hurt to treat the ex mate/s civilly, which would
increase existing barriers and mar our ceremony;
S/He and/or their new partner
don't belong to our new stepfamily.
one or both of you partners believes this, read
If we invite
my/your ex mate, one or more relatives would be
outraged / critical / alarmed / not attend...;
bioparent's presence at our celebration would be too painful or confusing
for your / my child(ren), or it will raise or prolong their hope of a
that will never happen;
Idon't want your (or my) ex-mate's
new partner / stepkids / steprelatives to participate. Do you know why?;
Inviting my/your ex mate
is too painful a reminder of past hurt, loss, and conflict (a probable symptom of incomplete grief);
S/He'll take our invitation to mean that
s/he's forgiven, when (I am) (you / we are) not ready to
do that yet;
The point: thoroughly explore the
term pros and cons of inviting your kids' other co-parents to part
or all of your nuptial celebration. Work to identify what each person needs,
and seek acceptable compromises. As you do, note your
priorities in action, and help each other spot and resolve divisive
Because including your ex mate/s in your nuptials by name or in person is probably an
emotionally-complex decision, help each other avoid acting on impulse
(i.e. from your false self), and doing black/white thinking - i.e.
seeing only two alternatives. You partners probably have many options here, like inviting your ex/es to your reception, but not your ceremony, or
A last set of planning questions unique to your stepfamily wedding
Which of the kids' relatives shall we include in our celebration?
Which of my kids' relatives (e.g.
my ex-mate's biofamily)
should we invite to the shower / dinner / ceremony / reception?
Which of your
What if they
don't come? What if they do come?
Who's needs rank
answering these questions?
mates disagree on
your answers, you have one or more values conflicts to negotiate. Note that the social conventions you're all use to were probably designed to
fit first-wedding norms and traditions, not stepfamily re/weddings.
guidelines to help you find acceptable compromises in any conflicts.:
integrity and self respect?" and...
strengthen our primary
relationship long term?;" and...
help fill the primary needs of each child affected by our re/marriage?";
confidently you can answer "yes" to each of these, the more likely you'll
feel good in the future that you invited this relative to your celebration.
For more perspective on
step-relatives, read this article when
you're done here.
The last nuptial challenge you and your kids have is...
An ideal honeymoon allows a
new couple to rest after their hectic wedding activities, relish their
commitment-celebration experience, and enjoy intimacy without
The needs of dependent kids and their other bioparent/s make stepfamily
honeymoon-planning complex. Depending on how many kids there are, how old
they are, money, legal parenting and custody agreements, and other factors,
typical re/marrying couples choose between fiveoptions
Accept that current
money, parenting, and work responsibilities make any kind of honeymoon
impractical for now, and agree "We don't need one;" or new
make complex arrangements to
ensure minor kids are safe, and enjoy a token (e.g. a local motel) or
a classic honeymoon alone together. If that's not feasible, new partners...
bring one or more kids along
on a honeymoon trip - perhaps vowing a lovers-only trip in the
future; or couples may...
plan a two-part trip, first
with minor children, then alone - or vice versa; or new spouses may...
defer a honeymoon until money,
kids, work, and other factors allow it.
Because many people are involved, choosing among these options usually causes
values and loyalty conflicts.
Your honeymoon discussions will illustrate
who comes first with each of you - your Self, your relationship, your kids, or someone else. This may
be one of the
first times custodial minor kids really experience being
ranked "second place" to their new stepparent.
Whichever honeymoon option you pick, you can
family members to
criticize your decision. ("You newlyweds are taking Allen and
with you to Aruba? Aren't your priorities a little wacko?") Such
people probably discount your stepfamily
they don't know what it
If you mates have progressed on these vital
Lessons together, you can
nuptial disputes effectively!
- make three right re/marriage choices, by Peter
Gerlach, MSW; Xlibris.com, 2002. Also useful for re/wedded couples.
The Family Medallion offers some
beautiful wedding options to include kids and others in a
Again - An A to Z Guide, by Beth Ramirez; New Horizons
Weddings, A Family Affair: The New Etiquette for Second Marriages and
Couples with Divorced Parents, by Margorie Engel, Ph.D.; Wilshire
Publications, 1998. Margorie is a veteran stepfamily co-parent, educator, and
dedicated president of the Stepfamily Association of America (SAA).
Stepfamily Courtship offers specific protections against five
combine to promote widespread re/divorce.
This article is
for re/marrying couples with one or more kids who have studied (a) Lessons
1 thru 7 in order to
choose the right
people to commit to, for
reasons, at the right
and (b) these common courtship
exists because typical stepfamily weddings are far more complex and
conflictual than traditional (first-union) nuptials, and there is little
informed guidance available for couples and
complexities unique to stepfamily weddings;
"successful" wedding, and hilights the mosaic of personal, couple, and
family-member needs that shape "success;"
pre-planning steps to help create a successful celebration;
seven sets of complex planning questions unique to typical stepfamily
five common honeymoon options; and...
Reminder - as you negotiate decisions on these complex questions, help each
other stay aware of your long-term goal - to evolve a high-nurturance
("functional") stepfamily together to protect your descendents from
inheriting the lethal [wounds + unawareness]
Pause, breathe, and recall why you read this article. Did you get what
you needed? If so, what do you need now? If not - what
do you need? Is there anyone you want to
discuss these ideas with?
Who's answering these
questions - your wise resident
true Self or