Bringing your family together to hear you exchange vows, say "I do," and celebrate your new marriage is one of the highlights of a wedding. After all, it's a day where you instantly grow your family by one special person as well as their own network of loved ones. However, having all your family members in one place isn't always the easiest situation, especially if your parents are divorced. While some separated couples have a great relationship, that isn't always the case. If both your divorced parents will be attending your wedding, you may want to plan strategically and have some important conversations with them ahead of the big day.
"It's really important that adults who don't get along find ways to attend events of loved ones together," advises Lizzie Post, etiquette expert and co-president of the Emily Post Institute. "Divorced parents should politely ignore each other throughout the wedding events, or say hello and move on to hang out with people that that they feel more comfortable around. Even if a parent is the host, it is not their event to make about themselves and their bad relationship with their ex-partner. This is about the two people getting married and the more that we can prep parents to focus on the couple, the better."
Ahead, Post gives advice on planning a wedding with divorced parents, and how to prepare them for wedding events.
Follow Invitation Etiquette
If a parent is financially supporting your wedding, they would be considered a wedding host. This requires some recognition, according to traditional etiquette. "If all parents are participating in supporting the wedding and making the wedding happen, all of those parents are then hosts noted on the invitation if they want to be," shares Post.
If you don't want to offend a divorced parent by giving their ex-spouse higher billing on the invites, there is a traditional way to address it. "Typically, we say to give preference to mothers," says Post. "If you're not using language like 'together with their families,' we tend to say you would list the mother of the bride and their partner, the mother of the groom and their partner, the father of the bride and his partner, and the father of the groom and their partner—if everybody has fathers and mothers." Following this guidance can help diffuse situations ahead of the wedding.
Arrange Your Seating Wisely
If your divorced parents are not going to be comfortable being near each other at your wedding, arranging seating for your ceremony and reception is paramount. "I think it's really important when dealing with divorced parents and weddings to be realistic about the nature of the divorced parents. If they really don't get along and don't appreciate being around each other, sit them at separate tables," says Post. "If you're having a church wedding, you can also intentionally spread them a little bit apart. I think that's one of the best ways that you can manage them."
Have a Frank Conversation Ahead of Time
While it's not easy, Post says it's imperative that you have an honest conversation about expectations with both of your parents before the wedding. "I would talk to each of them separately, and I would let them know that I'm having the same conversation with the other party," says Post. "You want to come out treating mom and dad, mom and mom, or dad and dad equal in the situation. I think it's really important that to say, 'I want to be sympathetic to the emotions you might experience.' After that validating sympathizing, you can direct them to how you want them to behave on the day. Mostly, you're just sitting them down and saying I'm going to do my best to make everything comfortable for you. But beyond that, this is my day and I don't want my day to be filled with my parents' problems."
Post notes you must be explicit with your expectations. "Being as kind you can when you talk to your parents is really important. You're not a dictator. You're suggesting and requesting," she shares. "But, I think it's also important to be very clear, and you should feel confident getting to have that conversation."
While every relationship is different and you'll have specific points to address, Post does add that having conversations about alcohol can be helpful. "Alcohol can often get involved in causing trouble. You may ask moms, dads, or non-binary parents to not drink that day, to drink less, or to recognize that alcohol is not going to help the situation," she says.
Delegate Emotional Support
Your wedding day is a busy time. You'll need to be focused on preparing for big moments and enjoying it, too. While you might be someone your parent turns to when in times of emotional stress, your wedding is one time you should not be that person. Instead, ask your parent's sibling, best friend, or another close family member to be there for them throughout the day. "It's helpful to grab some of those great support characters. Weddings can bring out so many emotions in people. That's real. But what's also real is it's the couple's day," notes Post.
When you have your honest conversation with your parent ahead of the wedding, let them know who they can turn to if they need it. Post shares, "For example, you can say, 'We are asking both of you to be on your best behavior, not bring up old issues, focus on the good people that you are with, and just forget about the other person in the most polite of ways. We've asked Gail to be there for you. If Dad is really frustrating you and you need to take a minute, you can both go take a little walk, get a breather, collect yourself, and come back.'"