Navigating family dynamics is rarely fun. But add a stepmother into the mix — even a loving, supportive, couldn't-fit-better-into-your-family one — and you could have a real headache on your hands when it comes to wedding planning. Why? Because you'll likely want to give a nod to both women at your wedding without offending the mother who birthed and raised you.
"When you honor your stepmom at your wedding, your goal is to make your stepmother feel included without hurting your mom's feelings in the process," says Jaclyn Fisher, owner of Philadelphia-based Two Little Birds Planning. "You want your mom to feel like her role as mother of the bride or groom is special and solely hers, and you don't want your mom to feel like your stepmom is replacing her or taking on roles that traditionally belong to the mother."
John Duffy, Ph.D., licensed clinical psychologist and author of The Available Parent, says honoring your stepmother at your wedding is a delicate balancing act. In fact, over-attending to your stepmother can make your mother feel like she's been pushed out of the spotlight. "She can feel as if the attention due her is somehow being divided," Duffy explains, "and left unaddressed, this can be hurtful, and can fester and have a deeply negative impact on the proceedings."
But you can toe the line — and sidestep any hurt feelings — between these two parents with this expert advice.
Communicate your intentions with everyone.
Says Duffy, "The mother should know that the stepmother will be invited, honored, mentioned, and so on. This should not be a surprise to her, or to the stepmother." Fisher adds that it's a good idea to loop your dad (and if you have one, stepdad) into the conversation, too. "There are a lot of emotions surrounding divorce, so be sure to consider everyone's feelings when deciding how to honor your stepmother at your wedding," she says. If you do, she adds, you can more easily avoid unwanted wedding-day drama.
Don't delay in having this conversation. In fact, Duffy recommends having it soon after you get engaged. "My bias would be that the couple start with the positives: the gratitude and appreciation and love," he advises. "The news about who else will be honored on the wedding day, including the stepmother, can follow. And be prepared that this may not please your mother, and allow her a moment if it does not. But be clear that it is important to you to honor your stepmother, explain the 'why' to your mother, as well as be clear that it does not mean she is replaced in any way, or appreciated any less, as a result."
Decide how you'll honor your stepmother.
How close you are with your stepmother will determine the appropriate ways to give her a nod on the wedding day, Fisher says. "If your parents divorced when you were young and your stepmom has been a big part of your upbringing, you'll feel more strongly about honoring her," she explains. "If your stepmom didn't come into your life until recently, it's still important to include her, but in different ways."
But no matter what you decide, Fisher warns, "don't make any decisions based on how much you like or don't your stepmom. Think about it: just as you want your family to accept your new husband, your dad wants you to accept his wife."
Now, you're ready to get specific. And here are three ways you can honor your stepmom that won't hurt your moms feelings. (We promise.)
1. Take both women dress shopping.
Depending on how well your mother and stepmother get along, you may want to ask both of them to join you on the hunt for the perfect dress. "It's okay to invite them both, but be sure to talk to them about it first," she cautions. Of course, if this plan won't fly, you can always offer to accompany your stepmother when she picks out her wedding day attire. "Just be sure to let your mom pick out her dress first, so that the style and color of your stepmom's dress is complementary and not competing," Fisher says.
2. Gift your stepmother flowers.
If you consider your stepmom part of your family, show her with a corsage on your wedding day, "just like the other members of your family," Fisher suggests. "This sweet gesture is perfect for stepmothers new and old because it shows her you consider her family. It's subtle and simple, so your stepmom's corsage shouldn't bother your mom in any way."
3. Mention your stepmother in a toast.
Says Fisher, "If you and your new husband plan on giving any sort of welcome or toast where you thank your family, don't forget to mention your stepparents." While you may be nervous to give her a shout-out, Fisher says, this move "shouldn't upset your mom since you're thanking all family and your stepmom is your family too."