Most parents aren’t “happily divorced,” and even if it was an amicable split, there's bound to be some amount of tension in the room when they get together. Those formerly married couples you see on TV (you know the ones: all happily co-parenting and sharing their families and nobody minds) aren’t actually real.
That would be great, but it’s not reality for most couples who are trying to plan a wedding that is inclusive to their divorced parents, but still about themselves. Most blended and divorced families are worlds away from functioning pleasantly together, and when an important event like a wedding comes up, people get stressed out. Weddings are emotional experiences, and when you take all the baggage the formerly-married parents have, and add a little bit (or a lot) of alcohol, things can get awkward quickly.
The best way to avoid having things go off the rails on your big day is to address it with your parents in advance.
In some cases, parents who have been divorced a long time will tolerate each other quite well for the purposes of their child’s wedding. Some are even willing to share a pew. Others prefer to stick to Emily Post, and put Dad and his new wife or girlfriend in the second row. If your parents have been divorced for a long time, your wedding is probably not the first major occasion they’ve had to get through together, and the more siblings you have, the more they are likely to see each other. So, maybe all you have to do is confirm that everybody’s comfortable with however you’ve decided to seat them so there are no surprises on the big day.
For parents who are more recently divorced, things can be trickier. And there are a lot of brides and grooms with parents in this boat—it seems like lots of parents wait until their children are finished with college and off on their own to finally make the split. It makes sense that they’re still getting used to living as exes when engagements and weddings begin happening for their own children. The wedding may be the first time that the bride or groom’s parents have had to see each other since they signed the papers.
Sometimes, one parent is thrilled with being divorced, and the other is miserable. These are the most dangerous cases as it often leads to a scene at one of more of the wedding events. Especially if things are still fresh, and the happy parent has decided to bring a date to the wedding. That kicks everything up a notch, and can set the drama into full spin.
Try the following steps to get things under control for your divorced parents at your wedding, long before your wedding day:
Before things get out of control, make a plan to sit down with each of the divorced parents separately. Whether you include your fiancé depends entirely on the depth of their relationship with your parents. This is going to be an awkward conversation—will having your soon-to-be-spouse present make it better or worse? Use your best judgment.
Don’t try to have this conversation on the fly—do it when you have time to spend with them so they don’t feel like they’re not as important to you as they’re supposed to be.
Present your plans for your wedding day (seating, toasts, who is escorting whom, etc.) and find out if there’s anything that makes them uncomfortable.
Be willing to listen to their viewpoint and feelings about things that seem pretty simple to you. You haven’t been married to somebody for 20-plus years and had it fall apart—you don't know how your parents are feeling (hopefully, you never will). Be respectful of their wishes to the extent it’s possible without derailing your own wedding plans.
Find out if they plan to bring a date. If one parent is already in a relationship, and the other isn’t, suggest the single parent bring a friend regardless. It’s a good idea for mom or dad to have somebody to dance and socialize with through the wedding.
Make sure your parent has been able to invite their best friend to the wedding, so they have another solid person to lean on. Consider talking with this friend in advance, if you think there’s a chance your parents might drink and behave in an embarrassing manner. Discuss contingency plans for getting your parent out the back door, and home, if necessary.
If the divorce is really recent, and there was infidelity involved, consider asking the parent who cheated not to bring a date to the wedding if the person they’re involved with is the same one who broke up your parents’ marriage. Even if you’ve come to accept the person, your mother or father may not feel the same way. Best to openly discuss this, and deal with it, as far in advance as possible, to avoid a blow up in the weeks right before the wedding.
Don’t let there be any surprises at the wedding. If one is bringing a date, make sure the other knows. Make sure they both know the other will be at everything they’re mutually attending. It’s not fair to ambush either parent.
- Be sure to give both parents equal billing at your wedding. If you’ve always been closer to your mom, or you were on your dad’s side, so to speak, in the divorce, you need to set it aside on your big day and treat them with equal attention and respect. Guests will notice if you don’t, and it will be embarrassing for everybody. Make both your parents feel included and loved on the most important day of your life so far.