The Kids are All Right
Many repeat brides and grooms already have children from their previous relationship, and occasionally first-time newlyweds have them, too. As excited as the parent/s may be about the future ahead, it’s important to remember that the wedding itself is a monumental occasion for the soon-to-be step-kids too. Including them in the ceremony is a symbol that each partner accepts the other’s children, and understands that they are all uniting to create a new family, says Dr. Jann Blackstone-Ford, co-founder of Bonus Families, a Pleasanton, Calif.-based nonprofit for parents combining families after a divorce or separation.
“The ‘bonus family’ is acknowledged as a whole and each family member is seen as an important component to a successful future,” says Blackstone-Ford.
There are a number of different ways to involve the children, depending on their age. If they are less than 8 or 9 years old, an easy and adorable go-to role is flower girl or ring bearer, says Valarie Kirkbride, a wedding planner with Kirkbrides Wedding Planning & Design in Cleveland. Or if they are in the 8-to-15 range, they can be junior bridesmaids or junior groomsmen. As for “older” children, they could potentially walk their mother down the aisle, participate as a member of the bridal party or do a special reading.
If you’re looking for a less traditional role or gesture, Blackstone-Ford, who also co-authored of “Ex-Etiquette for Weddings: The Blended Families’ Guide to Tying the Knot” (Chicago Review Press, 2007), suggests having them sing a song, offering each child a gift or a flower from the bride’s bouquet during the ceremony, allowing older children to light a symbolic candle, having them sit in the front row and acknowledge them during the ceremony, or, at the end of the ceremony, when the officiant announces the new couple, he or she would invite the children to join their parents and would say “May I introduce Mr. and Mrs. Smith and their children John and Jane.”
There are numerous ways to involve and honor the children throughout the wedding. “They can be ushers, hand out programs and certainly stand in the receiving line to greet guests with their parent and the new spouse,” says Kirkbride. In addition, younger ones might enjoy passing out favors, while ones who are mature enough could oversee the guestbook. During the reception, Kirkbride recommends having an adult child give one of the official toasts, perhaps in place of the groom or father-of-the-bride toast. And Blackstone-Ford suggests having a special dance during which the children start out dancing with their biological parent, but then switch to their new “bonus” parent in the middle of the song. “I have also seen a lovely gesture in which the couple starts their first dance as husband and wife and then asks the children to join them,” she adds.
However, as heartwarming as all these moments sound, it is essential to note that while everyone is excited about moving forward and creating a new family, the importance of the former family must not be diminished, says Blackstone-Ford. “The children are now part of two families, neither one of which is more important or real than the other.” Comparing the two families may make the children feel like they have to pick sides or protect their other parent, and it will be much more difficult for them to accept their mom or dad’s new partner.
Instead, try to focus on that fact that, despite any problems that may have occurred, the past is what created these wonderful children – and, as it happens, the person who is your new spouse.