Alternative Ways to Incorporate Family in Your Wedding

Liz Susong weighs in on creative ways to include your loved ones in the wedding ceremony

Updated 08/10/17

Olivia Rae James

In Catalyst Wedding Co. editor Liz Susong's weekly column devoted to the feminist bride, she dives headfirst into the crazy history behind common wedding traditions we may take for granted. Here, she abandons her usual post of debunking wedding traditions and explores creative and unexpected ways to incorporate your family members in your wedding day.

Ah, weddings. Or should I say, the Olympics of family drama. I know firsthand that no matter how much your parents tolerate your free-spirited whims and impulses on a daily basis, when it comes to your wedding, they probably still want you to ask the moms to light a unity candle and have your dad walk you down the aisle; and they wouldn’t hate it if you picked a psalm as one of your readings. A lot of rad ladies get roped into traditional weddings in an effort to avoid offending their families—but the good news is, with a little forethought, you can make your families feel just as loved and included without copping to the man.

Typically, family members are incorporated into a wedding in a few standard ways: Dad gives the bride away at the ceremony, dad gives a welcome speech at the reception, dad dances with bride during the father-daughter dance, mom weeps gently into her hanky, etc. I know your family is important to you, but maybe you don’t care for the symbolism behind these traditions: aka dad’s in charge. Or, maybe your family relationships are a little less Norman Rockwell and a little more Gilmore Girls. If that's the case, here are five new ideas for meaningful ways to include all your family members in wedding festivities.

1. Write Love Letters

“Come on girls,” channel some Madonna, and express yourself! A wedding is a day to celebrate all the love in your life, so why not write a heartfelt note to each of your parents and other significant people in your life that you can share with them the morning of, or even leave for them on their chairs before the ceremony? You don’t need to go through the motions of including your parents in traditional ways if you actually just tell them you love and appreciate them. Radical, right?

2. Use Symbolism

There are many ways you can incorporate family members, both present and no longer with us, without asking anyone to get out of their seats. Maybe you wear a piece of jewelry or another accessory that belongs to an important family member. Or, at the welcome table, you can display family photos from weddings past. Maybe you play a song at the ceremony or reception in honor of a beloved relative. Just make a note in your program or have the officiant make a short comment acknowledging the importance of these symbols.

3. Get Creative with Ceremony

There are many roles to play in a ceremony that create space for members of your community to participate. My husband and I asked an older cousin to officiate our secular wedding. If this is something you are interested in, it’s not too challenging to get the necessary license to perform a wedding ceremony online. Additionally, we asked each set of our parents and grandparents to give a short blessing of their choice, which made room for their various religions and belief systems. This worked particularly well for our divorced families, as we have four sets of parents.

If you would prefer a more open forum at your wedding, Quaker wedding ceremonies provide a lot of inspiration. In Quaker weddings, couples self-marry, exchanging vows after a period of silence when they feel called to do so. Afterwards, “anyone present can then stand and share a message inspired by the couple and the occasion.” Cheryl of Pennsylvania adopted this approach with some trepidation, but she was thrilled with the outcome: “The vast majority of our guests spoke that beautiful October morning, a true testament to the mindful and humble belief of the Quakers that there is an inner light that guides and compels one to speak in a meeting.”

4. Incorporate Talents

I’d bet the farm that you have some seriously talented people in your life. If you have relatives that are great writers, musicians, crafters, or vocalists, you may consider incorporating their unique gifts into your wedding ceremony or reception. We asked loved ones to strum a guitar, sing the blessing before our meal, and even bake our cake. While I caution you not to use your friends and family to provide free services in the name of your fairy tale love story, I bet there are a lot of people who would be truly honored to be included in creative ways.

5. Ignore Gender Roles

Give me one good reason not to have a mother-daughter dance. Why can’t both of your parents walk you down the aisle? Wouldn’t it be fun to have bridesmen or groomspeople in your wedding party? Don’t let standard gender roles dictate who walks with whom, who speaks, or who pays for the wedding. Base your choices on your unique and beautiful relationships, not on what’s expected. In my case, at first, our families didn’t really get our wedding day vision, but afterwards, they were all so proud to be a part of such an intentional celebration that was a true reflection of us.

Y’all, marriage is changing. Women have careers, men wear babies, and same-sex couples can marry in all 50 states. If it’s not your desire to reenact family values of decades past on your wedding day, let me be the first one to say: Do it! Following the dictates of tradition does not prove your love for your family; there are many creative alternatives that are just as, if not more, meaningful, and I encourage you to start exploring what feels right for you.

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