When you imagine a wedding, you think of the man or woman you love and the combining of forces that will shatter the stratosphere with sheer passion. The two shall become one, right? Sounds nuclear. In my case, we shall become six, thanks to the four kids involved: my two and his two. About one third of weddings form blended families, meaning children from prior relationships are brought into the marriage. The joining of two families is a powerful thing, and deserves unique attention in ways that are different from traditional weddings. Before the big day, how do you prepare both emotionally and practically so your family is ready for this significant transition?
Because everyone involved has different feelings about about it, much of the planning for a BFW is emotional heavy lifting. For the children who are contemplating the finality of their parents’ prior divorce, there is grieving. For the couple who has found love again, there is joy, paired with concern for their children. For the parents of the bride and groom, there can be apprehension. For the ex spouses, acceptance or anger. Because of this complexity, honest conversations between the marrying couple and everyone else are important. Don’t forget to fill the officiant in–he or she should tailor the ceremony to the blended family situation.
Lauren Brown was apprehensive about how to articulate the news to her four-year-old stepdaughter. “We were already living together and had a new baby. We explained that we were already a family, but now my last name would also be Brown and we were having a party to celebrate joining our family together.”
Heather Hetchler and her fiancé each told their children separately about the engagement, and then got together to celebrate with ice cream afterward. The communication from biological parent to biological child was important.
She also told her ex-husband right away. “I always treat my ex-husband the way I would want to him to treat me, and therefore any “big” news regarding me or the kids, I tell him directly so he doesn’t get “second hand” info from the children. So when my ex came to pick up the kids the next time, I went outside and told him that Andy had asked me to marry him and I said yes, and I wanted him to know that we would be getting married. He replied ‘I don’t know whether I should hug you or shake your hand. Congratulations.'”
Bottom line: The reactions are going to range, but what should not is the thoughtful and clear way the engagement is explained to current and former family members. Facebook simply will not do. You want people to remember that you were up front about your happy news, even if it was hard for them to swallow–don’t give them a bone to pick.
Heather and her fiancé debated over their invitations. How should they be worded? They decided on this: “Andy and Heather together invite you to witness their wedding and celebrate their marriage and blending of their families…”
They also gave the children room to have a voice in how the wedding would play out. Their blended family includes six children: his two daughters and her two girls and twin boys, all under ten years old when they married. “I had the girls help me pick out their dresses. My two girls love blue and my two stepdaughters love purple, so we chose the same dress and my two girls wore it in blue and my stepdaughters wore the same dress in purple.”
At the Brown’s wedding, Ken’s daughter was the flower girl. “She picked out her dress and decided she would blow bubbles while walking down the aisle instead of tossing flower petals. She was with me and my bridesmaids throughout the morning as we got ready and I even brushed on a little blush and lip gloss so she felt like one of the girls. She was SO excited,” says Lauren.
Bottom line: Asking the children how they want to be involved and giving them the opportunity to make choices about the wedding helps them feel connected to the wedding instead of sidelined by it. There’s a huge difference between My dad is getting married and Our family is coming together.
There’s more: stay tuned for part two, to be published on Friday.