How I Handled Wedding Planning With Divorced Parents

There are a lot of extra steps that go into decision-making.

Parents and grandparents at wedding.

Photo by Stephanie Brazzle

My favorite part about watching wedding videos is the dad’s reaction as he sees his daughter as a bride for the first time. It’s a small moment, but I’m envious of the private time they have to process the array of emotions they’re experiencing. It’s not something I had at my wedding.

On the day of my nuptials, my dad Joe, the man who raised me, showed up at the venue a few minutes before the ceremony was to begin. My mom and I arrived together and, a little while later, my biological father, Eduardo, who was in and out of my life, joined us. It was the first time in seven years that we were all in the same room. A series of emotions flooded me and led me to tear up—just as the wedding planner arrived to say it was time to walk down the aisle. Needless to say, I ugly-cried all the way down the aisle to Ryan, my soon-to-be husband, in front of more than 150 guests.

But this is the kind of stuff that happens when your parents are divorced. Especially if you’re the first in the family to marry, like I was. Eduardo only met my soon-to-be in-laws the night before at the rehearsal dinner. Joe didn’t attend the pre-party festivities because of a funeral. This meant the first time he talked to my in-laws was after our wedding ceremony.

Planning can be difficult regardless of whether or not your parents are divorced. The most important thing to remember is to do what feels right. Don’t follow tradition or a wedding planner's advice because you think it’s “how things should be.” Listen to your gut. Every choice is personal and differs from person to person, even among siblings. Here’s my advice for planning a wedding when your parents are divorced.

Asking for My Hand in Marriage

My husband, Ryan, talks about how nerve-racking it was to ask for my hand in marriage. The stressful process was only made worse by having to repeat it three times—once with each parent.

While dating, we talked about what that scenario would look like. I recommended he go to my mom first and ask for her advice on approaching my two dads. His return on investment paid off immediately. Each parent felt acknowledged and included in the process.

My sister’s fiancé, on the other hand, did not follow this protocol. I expected Joe to be fired up. Instead, he said it was an antiquated tradition, and as grown women, we didn’t need his or anyone’s permission to do what made us happy.

The Invitations

As much as I love Joe, he and my mom are no longer together. So when Ryan and I were deciding on text for our wedding invitations, we opted to only list my mom’s name along with his parents. We could have easily chosen the generic “along with their families,” but it felt important to call out the name of the person who shaped me into the woman Ryan would marry.

This was an easy decision to make, compared to figuring out who would walk me down the aisle.

Walking Down the Aisle

Heading down the aisle Meghan Markle–style, a.k.a. alone, was never a choice: I knew I wanted my mom at my side. But I agonized over how to handle my two fathers for months. Friends who knew my paternal situation offered unsolicited advice which only made me more unsure of what to do. So I did what I do when I’m stuck: I turned to my mom and we talked through various scenarios.

My first inkling was to walk just with her. But I adore my stepdad—he taught me that love was real. My biological father, Eduardo, however, isn't as close to me as either of us would like. I let go of my anger years ago but still find it difficult to respect a man who chose to leave his family. That said, his blood flows through my veins and it didn’t feel right to leave that unacknowledged.

In the end, I made the decision to have all three stand by my side—with some stipulations. We would walk down the aisle the way we walked through life. I entered the room with my mom on my left, Eduardo next to her and Joe to my right.

Meeting the Family

I do not recommend waiting until your wedding for both sides of the family to meet. The experience was overwhelming and disorienting. Instead of enjoying the wedding, I worried about making introductions. It would have been nice for both families to meet in a more casual setting, without any distractions.

My sister was smart and avoided this fate by hosting Thanksgiving dinner with her then-fiancé, months before their wedding. Both sides of the family got to meet, spend time together, and bond over beer and football. At the end, we were all sad to part and looked forward to reuniting for their big day. This made their wedding more fun and less awkward.

Speeches and the Father-Daughter Dance

My sister and I both decided to have just our mom speak at our weddings. She was the one who raised us and knew us best. It felt only right to have her speak on our behalf, regardless of what tradition dictated. My sister’s father-daughter dance became a mother-daughter dance. At my wedding, I danced with my stepdad but couldn’t resist inviting my mom and sister up as well.

Significant Others

I got lucky at my wedding. None of my parents had dates. I didn’t have to deal with the messiness of a new significant other. But I know how I would have reacted if they had. I would have told them to leave that person at home. I didn’t allow anyone to bring guests to my wedding unless they were married or in a serious relationship. Not everyone feels this same way, including my sister, but that’s the beauty of planning your wedding—you get to decide what to do.

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