Wedding Series: Navigating Divorced Families

I'll never forget when a good friend realized, "So wait, your life is actually like the movie four christmases?!"

Yes, yes it is.

Not only did we plan an "inter-faith" Jewish/Atheist Wedding we also planned a wedding for 4 branches of family. My mom and step-dad, my dad, his mom, his dad and step-mom.

That's two moms, a step mom, two dads and a step-dad.

That's also: my paternal grandparents and family, my maternal grandparents (who are also divorced and remarried) and family, my step-family, his paternal family, his maternal family, and his step-family.

Our wedding was love-filled, laid-back, mostly relaxed, and yes, drama-free.

How did we organize it all? Lots of talking. Lots of planning. Many spreadsheets.

Involvement in Wedding Planning

With so many mothers wanting to host and be involved we divided up three events between them: A formal engagement party, the rehearsal dinner, and an out-of-towner's brunch. The formal engagement party was hosted by Hubby's Step-Mother: she loves to party plan, enjoys formal events, and has great connections to restaurants and vendors. Hubby's mother hosted the out of towner's brunch: the vast majority of her family came from out of town, and she had the most out of towns guests than any other family. My mom planned the rehearsal dinner: I wanted it to be laid back and so did she, she planned a relaxed night at a pub with appetizers and beer.

We quickly got a sense of which parents felt the strongest about which issues. Some were happy to remain supportive and relatively uninvolved, others had suggestions, questions and opinions about nearly everything. Step parent or not you never know who is going to want to be involved in which aspects of the wedding. Communicate and listen and find ways to include everyone.

That said we did have a few things that we limited to certain parents. I went dress shopping with my mom and my mom only. For me it was one of the other: just my mom, or all the moms, and grandmas and bridal party. I either had to pick one or include them all. I'm glad I went with my mother only. She has an impecable sense of style, she knows what looks good on me and I knew she would give me her honest opinion. She knew my taste better than anyone else and respected it, even if it wasn't what she would pick.

Fun Fact: A traditional wedding with married, living parents would have: two mothers, two fathers, and four sets of grandparents. Our wedding had: three mothers, three fathers, and four sets of grandparents (all from my side!)

Guest List

This can differ parent to parent as well. Some parents had to be encouraged to invite friends, and others wanted to invite all their friends and business partners. Yes you should ask who would be important to invite. But you should know your parents well enough to know who's important without asking. I made a list of who I thought my mom would want to invite and didn't show it to her. I then asked her to send me a list of her ideal guests...I actually had someone on my list that she had accidentally left off!

Family members come first. To us the number of family members invited didn't have to be equal. For example, my parents are not very close with their first cousins, so they weren't invited. My husband's parents are close with their first cousins, so they were invited.

As for family friends, we ended up asking each parental unit to invite one table's worth of friends. The family friend guest list would have ballooned out of control if we had not made this decision. Some parents would have invited three or four tables of friends, while others wouldn't have asked to invite any. To keep things equal we landed on one table of friends per parental unit.

Fun Fact: If each parental unit is given one table at a wedding where parents are married, there would be 16 friends, or potentially 8 couples. Our wedding had four tables - that's 32 friends, or 16 couples! (and 40 guests TOTAL was our original wedding plan...oy vey...)

Processional

We had an altered Jewish processional: Hubby met his dad and step-mom half way up the aisle and then escorted them to their seats. He then met his mom half way up the aisle and took her to her seat.

Bu who walks me down the aisle? I debated this seriously. I wasn't into the "giving me away" aspect. Should it be just my dad, to honour him? Or my dad and step-dad, who I've known since my earliest memory? Well then who walks my mom down? Maybe it should be just my mom? Pretty quickly I decided I wanted all three of them to walk me down. All three of them raised me after all.

Fun Fact: Some wedding processionals are long because of massive wedding parties (think eight bridesmaids!). Our wedding processional had a total of 14 people, 11 of whom were family! (6 parents, a niece, a nephew, a cousin/bridesmaid, and us).

Photography

- two photographers: we did not want a looooong photography break. In fact we prioritized candid photography over posed (and are so glad we did). Regardless of how simple we wanted to keep the family photos it could still take a very long time with four branches of family.

- assess each family's wants: like the guest list each parental unit's wants were very different. Some wanted posed photos with each and every family member, along with their friends, some just wanted family but wanted specific shots and some just wanted to get it over with and get to cocktail hour.

- photography schedule and shot list: I took everyone's wants and made a very detailed spreadsheet. I quite literally wrote out each and every posed photo that each family wanted. I sent it out to family members to confirm, so they knew that their wants were being respected and cared for.

- two areas for family photos: just family, family with us. This was our best idea. We had two areas for posed photos. One for just family members (some parents wanted this), and another with us. This allowed us to stand in one spot and have family members rotate around us. One photographer was at each spot. This was definitely the key to efficiency.

- someone to organize it all: Our maid of honour, also a professional photographer, was the overseer of all this. She made sure family members were where they were supposed to be, she barked at people to come get their photos, she told us how to pose when we were tired and slouching. This way I didn't have to worry about who was where, I just had to stand in one spot and look pretty.

Fun Fact: Typical posed family photography session could compose of 2 whole branches, 2 sets of parents, 4 sets of grandparents, 2 sets of siblings (10 shots). Our wedding had 4 whole branches, 4 sets of parents, 3 sets of grandparents, 1 set of siblings (12 shots), plus all of those photos again without us in them (another 12 shots), and more as reuqested by family members! I've never counted all our posed photos but I would imagine we have upwards of 50 different groupings of people.

12 groupings of family for posed photos.

Seating Chart

- one table for each parental unit and closest family: Instead of combining bride's parents and groom's parents at one or two tables we gave each parental unit their own table and asked them to decide who should sit at it.

- different table sizes: Our venue allowed for varied table sizes: from six to twelve people. This made flexibility possible between the different parents.

- putting specific tables next to each other: Some parents asked us to put tables close together so that their family could be within chatting distance. We kept a little bit of sepeartion/buffer between each of the parents' tables. That said, we kept the bride's family to one side of the dance floor and the groom's to the other. Why? Because our divorced parents are still friendly, and between all the extended family and friends there were quite a few people eager to catch up.

Fun Fact: A typical wedding could have one head table, one table for parents, one table for grandparents (3). Ours had one head table, five tables for parents & grandparents (6). Not to mention four sets of extended family tables (4-8) and four tables for friends (4). That's 14-18 tables, not incuding our friends...

Organizing tables the old school way

Speeches

- each parental unit was asked to make a speech: We did not ask certain family members to make certain speeches (ie, the groom's family toasts the bridesmaids, or whatever). We chose the order of the speeches based on who was most willing to drink at the reception (no joke). The order was: My maid of honour, my dad, hubby's father and step-mother, my mother and step-father, hubby's mom and finally his best man (who doesn't drink alcohol at all!). We asked that the speeches be short and sweet, around three minutes. The only content limit that we asked for was no embarassing stories. Other than that it was all fair game.

Fun Fact: There is no such thing as a typical family or a typical wedding. I am grateful for the divorces in my family because it has only served to expand it! I would not have my step-dad and his extended family, my Granny (mom's step-mom), some of my cousins, and more! And my husband and I, both biological only children, would never be aunt and uncle if it wasn't for his step-mother's daughters. Divorces can tear families apart but they can also expand them. I am extremely lucky that all of our extended, step, divorced, remarried and honorary family members came together to support us and enjoy each other's company!

Summary/ Advice

  • Involve all the parents fairly in hosting wedding related events. There are may available to delegate: engagement party, bridal shower, couples stag & doe, rehearsal dinner, out of towner's dinner or brunch, brunch the morning after, etc.

  • Step parents are parents too, and they may want to be more involved than you would anticipate! Embrace this. The more help the better.

  • Not everyone needs to do every single thing.

  • Family comes first: invite the family you want to be there. Even if that means one parent has three tables of family and another has one.

  • Invite family friends of your parents that you yourself want to be at the event.

  • For over-eager inviters: choose a fair number of parents' friends for each parental unit. The guest list could quicly get out of control and suddenly look more like their wedding.

  • Include everyone in the processional, even if that means they all walk down seperately. The more the merrier.

  • Make a posed photo shot list and be detailed.

  • Create two photography areas and delegate.

  • Choose someone to keep this running for you so you can stand in one spot.

  • Respect parents wishes to be close/far from family members. When in doubt do not put divorced couples at the same table - just give them each their own table.

  • Put the onus on them - let them decided who sits at their table.

  • Don't worry about traditional speech etiquette. Set a time limit and let each parental unit have their moment to speak.

#wedding #weddingseries #interfaithwedding #weddingplanning #personal #family

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