Planning A Wedding With Divorced Parents (Part II)


by Maddie Eisenhart, Managing Editor

Planning A Wedding With Divorced Parents (Part II) | A Practical Wedding

Last week we kicked off a discussion of wedding planning with divorced parents, with a lovely and emotional post from Rachelle. Today, Maddie (she of the original lazy girl wedding, and these days half of APW photography sponsor extraordinaire Hart + Sol) is here with a helpful, logistical advice post. This post is a Must Read people, even if you have nary a divorce in your family. Both David and I have happily married parents, but I found myself welling up and nodding as I read this post. Because the thing is? Families be crazy. Lovely, messy, loving, and slightly nuts…particularly at wedding time. And all of this advice is wise, and will make you feel a lot less alone. Because you know what? You’ve got Maddie on your side (and me).

Planning A Wedding With Divorced Parents (Part II) | A Practical Wedding

{Maddie’s Family Rainbow: she tried to make a family tree but it didn’t really… work}

Sometimes I look at the Pottery Barn catalogue and wonder what it must be like to be the kind of person who can order a kitchen table and have it delivered to their door in one piece, ready to transform a dining space, seemingly without effort, into something that looks like it belongs in Martha Stewart Magazine.

But frankly, I have no idea what that’s like. I own Ikea furniture. When I bought a new kitchen table, it came in two different boxes and the pieces for each component were split apart between the packaging, so I had to take all of the parts out of both boxes, lay them out on the floor, and then begin the puzzle-like assembly from instructions written in Swedish.

When I put my furniture together, it seldom looks like the picture in the catalogue, and there are always extra pieces that don’t seem to have any purpose but to confuse me. But at the end of the process, I have a kitchen table that I can eat off of, so I suppose that’s all that really matters. But still, I can’t help but wonder if the lives of the Pottery Barn elite aren’t just that much simpler.

My family is not so different. While other kids grew up with two parents who arrived at parties together and stayed in the same hotel room for out-of-town competitions, mine was the kind that came in separate cars, maybe didn’t speak to each other at the party, and yet still would be introduced as “My family (exclamation point, pause, jazz hands)” to inquiring parents of friends.

I could explain the detailed intricacies of my little unit, but Meg made me promise this post would be shorter than War and Peace, so suffice to say through a complicated mess of babies out of wedlock, marriages, and divorces, I have a mom, a biological father that I call “Dad,” a stepfather (who is no longer married to my mom) who I also call “Dad,” a woman who has been dating my biological father for twenty years who I call “Pam” to her face, but refer to as my stepmom behind her back, and a man named John who married my mom about a year ago and is very nice but might not ever earn a fatherly title. They all live within a mile of each other, are cordial in the presence of one another, and have been involved in raising me for most of my life. We aren’t a catalogue family, but we function nonetheless. And thankfully, it’s never seemed like work. I’ve always just been thankful to have a big support system made up of lots of different, complementary personalities. Why would I pass up the opportunity for big love like that?

Planning A Wedding With Divorced Parents (Part II) | A Practical Wedding

{Maddie’s Family Map: for reference purposes}

However, it wasn’t until planning our wedding that I realized why this complicated family of mine works so (seemingly) effortlessly. It’s because I put in a lot of effort into making it work. I’ve never blinked at my double birthday parties, or complained when I shuffled from my mother’s house to father’s house to stepfather’s house for Christmas dinner. I was always quick to ask my father for my mom’s child support check or defend my mom when my father’s sister questioned her parenting skills. Throughout my childhood I juggled personalities, relationships, and priorities like a well-trained circus clown. And I was happy to do so.

But the problem with weddings, you see, is that the bride isn’t supposed to play that role. There are surprise showers to throw! And celebrations to plan! And it’s your special day, so we’ll just take care of it!

And that’s when things go to shit. Kind of.

Planning A Wedding With Divorced Parents (Part II) | A Practical Wedding

{Maddie’s two dads walking her down the aisle}

I don’t think I have to explain to the kids of divorced parents what can go wrong when you are removed from the equation of wedding planning. Your family will take it for granted that you’ve been mediating their relationships and they’ll jump right in, preconceived notions and all, preparing for the celebration, often without consulting you or each other. And it can get messy. This is how I ended up with two bridal showers on the same weekend, in the same town, with the same guests.

But I’m also here to tell you, as resident Queen of the Kingdom of Broken Families, that there are ways to have a wedding that is authentic to you and your family that won’t* leave you feeling like you’re on the brink of:

  • Choosing Sides
  • Liking one of your parents better
  • Crying in the supermarket parking lot refusing to speak to your father because he hasn’t learned when to shut the hell up about your mom**
  • Feeling like you might kill everyone you’ve ever loved***

1.  Err on the side of inclusiveness. Sometimes I wish I could take the easy road and pick a dad. Just pick one. Wouldn’t it be easier? Your wedding presents an opportunity for you to make the important people in your life feel special, but it also presents an opportunity for naysayers to insist that one person should feel more special, or that another person doesn’t deserve to feel as special. And you need to say, “Eff that noise!” It is absolutely illogical that someone should suggest exclusion on a day that is about coming together. And when they do make those suggestions, they sound like Middle School biatches. So no matter how heavy the guilt might be, don’t give in to the cries of “Blood is thicker than water.” If your heart tells you that you need two mother-son dances or that your stepsisters should be co-maids of honor, do it. I guarantee you won’t feel half as bad about taking the extra step to include someone important in your life as you will if you consciously exclude them.

Planning A Wedding With Divorced Parents (Part II) | A Practical Wedding

{Two dads!}

2.  Not everyone will want the same level of elevation on your wedding day. Being a stepparent is complicated. They have their own set of rules; rules that have been established over a period of time and that might not have anything to do with being your stepparent. My Pam (stepmom) loves me dearly, but I know she hated the thought of taking the experience of being Mother of the Bride away from my mom. No matter how many times my mom and I protested, Pam wouldn’t listen. And you know what? I really needed to respect that. She was showing her love for me in a way that was both respectful to our relationship and to my relationship with my mom. Which doesn’t mean you shouldn’t include your stepparents in your wedding, it just means that you should be mindful of how they envision this day for themselves and have open conversations with them about what they think their role looks like. In the end, Pam made all of the bouquets for the bridesmaids and me. She got to be quietly included in the wedding without feeling like she was stealing my mom’s thunder.

Planning A Wedding With Divorced Parents (Part II) | A Practical Wedding

{Pam’s flowers}

3.  Don’t expect anyone to change for your wedding. If your crazy Aunt Helen has been taking quiet jabs at your mom for twenty-five years, it probably won’t change just because you have higher expectations for people on such an important day. I know it sucks that sometimes our loved ones won’t drop childish behavior, even if they know it hurts you, but I do feel like we can avoid some of the disappointment if we have realistic expectations of the adults in our lives. But that doesn’t mean you have to be a doormat either. You know better than anyone where that line is drawn.

4.  Sometimes you just have to cave. And I know from experience that this can be the hardest lesson of them all. When we were getting married I really hated the idea of a bridal shower. Single-gender parties aren’t really my deal, so I asked my mom to include me in the planning of my shower. We decided a Jack & Jill pot luck in the backyard would be just my style and moved forward accordingly. When my dad’s sister suggested that maybe we should do something a little “nicer” I politely declined and she seemed okay with it. I assumed we were all in agreement on the subject. So imagine my surprise a few weeks later when I heard Michael whispering into his phone one Sunday night that “Maddie is going to be so mad.” I knew immediately what he was talking about. His mom had been invited to a surprise shower for me, one that was planned for the day immediately following my mom’s shower, in the same town, with the same damn attendees. I was livid. And then I was really livid. And then I was f*cking pissed. And then I caved. I picked out a really cute leopard print dress that might have been a tiny bit inappropriate for the occasion as a silent protest, and I forged ahead. I pretended to be surprised for the sake of my aunts and their goddamned good intentions. Because at the end of the day, fighting is a lot of mother-effing work. And we all know I’m the original lazy girl, amiright?

Planning A Wedding With Divorced Parents (Part II) | A Practical Wedding

{Maddie’s mom and stepmom}

5.  Try to understand that the stupid stuff your family does is largely because they are stupid in love with you. And maybe, just maybe, we’re lucky because we get double that love (or n times that love, if you’re me). I believe that life maintains a balance. The family issues that Michael and I faced while planning a wedding with our divorced parents (Michael’s parents are divorced too, but that’s a whole different story) were more than offset by how much love we were surrounded by on our wedding day.

6.  Lastly, and most importantly, don’t forget your partner. As a child of divorce, I know that it can feel like you are the only person living your situation. Growing up I was the sole child in my family with my particular family tree (my siblings are all either legally or biologically my stepdad’s children, so their holidays are much less complicated than my own). When it came to planning the wedding, it seemed like I, alone, held the instructions for putting the different pieces of my family together in a way that wouldn’t result in catastrophe. Or a law suit.

Planning A Wedding With Divorced Parents (Part II) | A Practical Wedding

{Maddie hugging her mom’s husband, John}

But then I realized that Michael was there when my parents got divorced. He’d listened to me cry on the phone that time I tried to have a joint graduation party and it ended in disaster. He’d sat down on separate occasions with my mother, my stepfather, and my biological father and asked for their permission to marry me. He was already tagging along for the multitude of holiday gatherings that take place back home. He’s my person and he gets it, even if he doesn’t totally understand it. And your partner? They get it too. Even if your wedding is made from Ikea furniture and the process of putting it together leaves you in a pile of tears and tools*****, if you do it together it’s not just furniture anymore. It’s a custom-built testament to the efforts you’ve put forth in building a home and a life together. And that, friends, cannot be bought from no damn catalogue.

Planning A Wedding With Divorced Parents (Part II) | A Practical Wedding

{Family Photo with mom and two dads. Says Maddie, “I made them do this, but this is how I see my family.”}

*No promises. Bitches be crazy. I can only help you learn to use the force. You’ve gotta defeat the empire with it (or blow up the Death Star, or whatever it is that Luke does).

**True story.

***Every holiday, amiright?

****Also a true story.

*****What? This is hypothetical. Shut up.

First photo by: Kara Schultz.

Other photos By: Monica Donovan and Judson Lamphere of Eve Event Photography. Drawings by Maddie.

Maddie Eisenhart

Maddie is the Managing Editor of A Practical Wedding. She’s been writing stories about boys and crushes since she was old enough to form shapes into words, but received her formal training (and a BS) in the art of talking from NYU in 2008. In her spare time, she takes pictures of people in love. Maddie lives on a pony farm in the Bay Area with her husband Michael, her Mastiff named Juno, and her roommate named Joe.

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  • Madge

    wow. this is all super good advice.

    and also, without taking away from the seriousness of the occasion, hilarious.

  • Rachel

    Wow, thank you so much for this. Your family make-up is surprisingly similar to mine, which isn’t something I come across often.

    I have a mom, a biological father that I call “Dad”, an ex-step-father (who is no longer married to my mom) who I don’t call anything because we didn’t get along when he was married to my mom, a woman who has been dating my biological father for 16 years who I call “Daphne” to her face, but refer to as my stepmom behind her back, and a man named Dave who moved in with my mom about a year ago and is very nice but might not ever earn a fatherly title. (I literally copied and pasted this out of the post and made the couple of necessary changes – it’s that similar). Mixed in with that are Daphne’s four kids, who I refer to as my step-siblings, my half-brother, who is the child of my mom and ex-step-dad but who I refer to as my brother, and my 100% biological sister, who shares the same parents as me.

    It’s surprisingly comforting to hear from someone with a similarly complicated family situation who survived wedding planning, even though it seems you had some extra (joyous) complications in the sense that you have two father figures still in your life, while I really only have one. I’m only just starting to dip my toes into wedding planning, so I don’t know yet how it will all play out in my situation, but this post gives me so much hope and solid advice!

    • http://www.lovelyatyourside.com lovelyolivia

      I love that you copied and pasted and changed names! “Family” has become such an interesting term, no?

    • SpaceElephant

      I have this almost exact situation as well, except my bio dad passed away. So here is my question, for Rachel and Maddie and anyone else in this situation: How do you introduce your ex-step-dad in social situations (ie, at the wedding)? We aren’t very close, and I call him Dad to his face out of habit, but I have no idea how to present him to others, considering people know my bio dad is no longer alive/in the picture/was a terrible person. Is there a concise way you have found to explain his place in your life without too much awkwardness?

      • http://hartandsolphoto.com Maddie

        Hrm, that’s a good question. I always call my ex step-dad “Dad” because he raised me, but frankly I’ve also just given up on avoiding awkwardness. Although sometimes I put their first name in front of the word “Dad” to indicate that the title might be ever so slightly different from just “Dad.” So, like, I’ve got a CharlieDad and a LennyDad.

        But whatever you do, say it with confidence and answer questions candidly and people usually won’t bat an eyelash.

        Hugs and good luck!

        • Stephanie

          Maddie — I love that you’ve “also just given up on avoiding awkwardness.” I think that philosophy is applicable to pretty much every family situation having to do with weddings or other occasions. And it can be so freeing! There will be some awkwardness. That is ok. The end. Now if only I could practice what I preach…:-).

  • Franny

    I’m in the infancy of planning, can you write me the Child of Divorce’s Wedding Planning Manifesto. No really, the whole thing has me threatening to run away to goodness knows where with the mister to make it all official. The only time in the last decade that everyone was together was my graduation. I cried and not from excitement and happiness. So, ten thousand more words of advice and proof that I’m not alone would be completely priceless to me.

    • http://hartandsolphoto.com Maddie

      I cried at my graduation too. The wedding was so, so, so much better. You are totally not alone. Promise.

    • Erin

      Ahh! The last time everyone got together in my family was…never! In fourteen years….it’s going to be interesting!

    • Katie

      This, this, this. The last time my entire family came together was my brother’s graduation from business school (about 3 years ago), and it ended with tears. It didn’t help that it coincided with Mother’s Day and my mom’s birthday. (Hers falls EXACTLY on Mother’s Day some years.) I am hopeful for our wedding (eventual – in the pre-engaged state, so we have some time), but admittedly I’m already nervous.

  • http://jolynn.wordpress.com Jo

    Maddie, I want to buy you a drink. Because you rocked this, and made it humorous (something I’m convinced is also divorced child territory). My best friend’s family tree is actually more complicated than this, believe it or not. We have a giant flow chart of it.

    I respect so much the attitude you take toward your family.

    • Laura Mc

      I could not have said this better myself, Jo.

      One of the best and wisest posts I’ve come across on APW. Maddie, you are a special person with an insanely mature perspective on it all. Cheers to you!

    • http://bunniesnbeagles.blogspot.com Ms. Bunny

      Yes, sending a bucket of margaritas to Maddie.

      This stuff is hard. And since we aren’t supposed to “talk” about private family drama to nonfamily members, that drama can make us feel alone and like we are the only ones dealing with it.

      • http://jolynn.wordpress.com Jo

        In my family, you don’t talk about it with family members. It all sucks.

        • http://bunniesnbeagles.blogspot.com Ms. Bunny

          We have that in our family too — there are certain family members you just can’t bring certain issues up with and they have to be swept under the rug. It’s truly alienating and closes you off from connecting and solving issues.

          Which is why I’m glad I found this community and can trust you guys with some family secrets. Even though I’m not supposed to share them, being able to talk openly here is very reaffirming and strengthening.

      • http://hartandsolphoto.com Maddie

        I would very much like a bucket of Margs, please. :)

        • http://oversized-cliches.blogspot.com Zan

          Is it weird that this makes me imagine a bucket full of Marge Simpsons?

  • Karen

    This is wonderful to read, and hard for me to read, too, because I’m about to be stepmom to two great kids…and I can’t imagine ever, ever being able to have an event with them where their mom and I could look like Maddie’s mom and stepmom in that picture. I’m even afraid to hope that it might ever be possible, because the possibility of that hope being dashed is just too painful to contemplate. But hey, it’s only been five years…maybe after another 15?

    We don’t have any weddings coming up, of course (other than, um, mine and Brian’s!), but we do have the boy’s bar mitzvah in a year…and all I can hope for is that it won’t be as fraught with tension as the girl’s bat mitzvah was a year and a half ago. Unfortunately, the kids’ mom sees me as a major threat and the source of all evil (or something), so I don’t have very high hopes.

    Maddie, you are so, so lucky to have all these people who (mostly) have their priorities straight in life! Confusing or not, they seem to really know what’s important — or at least they did at your wedding. Thank you so much for posting.

    • Julia

      Karen,

      I know not all situations will work out the same, but, take heart! Coming from the other side of your situation, my bio sister and I called our step-mom Godzilla for years. We waded ans struggled through many awkward graduations and confirmations and holidays. But I now have a beautiful picture of her and my bio mom smiling and laughing the morning of my wedding!

      Even though “Godzilla” is no longer married to my bio dad, we celebrate holidays together, her kids are my brother and sister and I usually call her my wendy-mommy. (and only sometimes Godzilla . . . in jest . . .)

      Maddie is exactly right about the work it takes to create relationships in a blended family. And with teenagers! Oh man! But it is possible, even if you’re the wicked step-monster (another delightful name we had for our step-mom. we such were nice kids . . .) Love their dad and respect the kids and maybe they’ll come around. It is possible, I promise!

      • Karen

        Thank you, Julia!

        In this case it’s not that the kids have a problem with me — we get along really well, except for the usual problems when I ask the 11-year-old to do his homework or ask the 13-year-old to do…well, anything (she’s running for Teenager of the Century). While it’s possible they’ll grow to think of me as a stepmonster, I’m hopeful that we’ve had long enough to get to know each other that that’s not going to be an issue for us. No, the problem here is their mom, who after five years still refuses to acknowledge that I exist, let alone that I play any kind of positive role in the kids’ lives…and unless she has a major personality change, I’m afraid that she’ll make every event the kids have (bar mitzvah, graduation, wedding) about making sure they honor her and leave me invisible.

        But I will try to take heart from your experience — and once again, thank you!

  • Erin

    Oh, man. This.

    My parents are divorced, and my dad is remarried. My dad is not a fan of my fiance, and my stepmom downright hates him. She will not be attending the wedding, and I have very conflicting emotions toward my father because of all this. Luckily my mom is so solid, or we would totally be eloping.

    My fiance does not even have a relationship with his parents. He was raised by his grandparents, who were cool until they found out we were getting married. All the sudden, I’m not good enough because I’m not Catholic. Gah!

    I get very jealous of the Pottery Barn families, too. You are so right about the child’s familial role not changing despite the wedding happening. I hadn’t thought of it in those terms, but that explains a lot about why I’ve been feeling frustrated and just plain WRONG. Because no one is acting like how I thought they would act. They are acting like they always have!

    • Benny

      Solidarity, sister. Neither of my (divorced) parents approve of me getting married (it’s a combination age/lgbt thing) and my father has exchanged extremely unkind words with my partner. Luckily, my partner’s family is amazingly stable, supportive, and gung-ho about our relationship, so we’re not eloping either. Sending you major electronic hugs.

  • http://www.lovelyatyourside.com lovelyolivia

    I just have no words. This is my favorite post EVER. Knowing Maddie, I read this in her voice, which made it all the better. My family is not so disimilar, and I’ve discussed this with Maddie (which has been a saving grace), so seeing it all in print is amazing. People do get VERY weird during weddings, and like I always say, even with divorced parents who DO get along, it’s still a ton of juggling. I REALLY REALLY love that she puts into words how we mediate our ENTIRE lives with these people, but when we’re pulled from the equation, it goes nuttybananapants. This is why it’s so important to have siblings (Hi Jay!), or friends who know your family and the dynamics well, so you can (sometimes…) gracefully bow out of issues. I’m going to be re-reading this all day and night. And make Eric read it. And send it to my ENTIRE family. Thanks Meg and Maddie! Meg, APW is a true true lifesaver.

    I’m thinking of making an APW quilt in honor of my wedding sanity being saved by everyone here!

    • meg

      Awwww…. I want an APW wedding quilt!

      • http://www.lovelyatyourside.com Lovelyolivia

        Meg, I’m not kidding! I am totally going to work on it this summer! (I always wanted to be all avant garde and make a quilt of my parents’ divorce papers…weird, I know).

    • http://hartandsolphoto.com Maddie

      nuttybananapants. I love you.

  • http://lezgethitched.blogspot.com Diana

    Wow. This is wonderful. My blended family is the result of death, not divorce, but this rang so true for me. I hadn’t realized the mediator/peacemaker role I’ve been taking on through planning so far–even though it’s the role I’ve always played.

    I printed this post and hung it in my office. Thank you thank you thank you.

  • Chris Bergstrom

    What really resonated for me was the part about the bridal shower. I don’t have a divorced family, but I do have one friend in particular who didn’t hear my repeated pleas to not have a bridal shower and threw me one anyway. It was a strange experience to be grateful and overwhelmed with caring and support from my guests, while still being a little angry that it was happening at all, since I asked for it not to.

    • meg

      Mmmmmhummmmmm.

  • http://Arielgraphy.blogspot.com Ariel

    While neither of our parents are divorced, this could have been written about the dynamics between our two families. Sometimes there is almost too much love and involvement and it’s so overwhelming that you have to hide in the bath tub and cry until you find the strength to approach it again. And heads up, it doesn’t stop after the wedding. Or at least it hasn’t for us. But that is a whole other set of circumstances.

  • http://ohioonpurpose.blogspot.com Evie

    My parents are not divorced but I totally feel you on the not being “allowed” to plan or make arrangements with family re: showers, etc. Us mediators-from-birth are like, uh, how exactly is this gonna work you guys?

    And then everyone calls you crying but says they don’t want you to be worried about it. And you love them so much but also want to set them on fire.

    • Karen

      “And you love them so much but also want to set them on fire.”

      So true — about most families!

    • http://KimRossi.me KimRossi

      Ahhhh! I want to say *exactly* about a million times to this reply. You just described exactly what I’m going through. My FI has to keep reminding me to take deep breaths and let them all work it out on their own. But you’ve just given me a new description for how it feels: I love them so much but also want to set them on fire. Awesome.

    • http://bunniesnbeagles.blogspot.com Ms. Bunny

      Yup! We don’t have divorce in our family, but I am still a mediator. I didn’t really, realize that until this post. I mean, I always knew I had to resolve issues and, well, mediate. But didn’t think about that word as my role until now. There’s a lot of drama that I’ve been keeping at bay for years, and now with the wedding, that drama is in hyper mode. But since I’m “supposed” to take the backseat when it comes to mediating, it’s not working out so well. So I’m stepping back into the mediator role, because otherwise it will be one big disaster.

      • http://ohioonpurpose.blogspot.com Evie

        Nate Dogg and Warren G gotta MED-I-ATE….

        Seriously it is so hard to not dive in and fix everything.

    • meg

      “And you love them so much but also want to set them on fire.”

      AMEN.

  • http://www.jennifercarydiers.blogspot.com/ Jennifer

    Thank you so much for posting this!

    I too have a complicated “blended” family. None of my four parents (bio- and step-) live at the same address, but both sets are still legally and emotionally married. It wasn’t easy explaining that to my in-laws. I love that you call Pam your “stepmom” behind her back– I call my stepdad “Dad” to his face but “Scott” whenever I talk about him to anyone else. I would gladly call my stepmom “Mom,” but she was the last piece added to our puzzle and so I never started. I’m not even sure she’d want me to.

    Your suggestions are spot-on. I love the photos of you coming down the aisle with your fathers; I did the same thing, and I know how big a decision that can be. Congratulations, on everything. Your wedding looks beautiful, and your writing is beautiful too.

  • http://laurenmcglynnphotography.blogspot.com/ Lauren

    Dear Maddie, I think you’re awesome and this post is so right on, and oh girl I so feel you. Also I still think you’re awesome.You’re charts really do it for me as does being loved n times. Love, Lauren

    • http://hartandsolphoto.com Maddie

      <3

  • http://blametheweatherman.wordpress.com Melissa

    Pottery Barn can shove it. And who needs 57 screws, anyway?

    Brilliant.

  • J9funk

    “It is absolutely illogical that someone should suggest exclusion on a day that is about coming together.”

    YES!

  • http://justneedthisspace.wordpress.com ddayporter

    ahhhh Maddie!! you’re such a rockstar. this post……..!

    also I just have to tell you, when I first read this and saw all the asterisks after “…in a pile of tears and tools*****”, I was SupAR confused because I thought you were bleeping out something. tears and toolshit?? WHAT? hahahaha. but then I found the asterisk key. I still kind of like toolshit.

    • Laura Mc

      Hahah this made me laugh out loud. Perhaps because I did the same thing. :)

    • http://hartandsolphoto.com Maddie

      From now on, whenever we build anything, I’m going to make Michael call everything “toolshit.”

  • Amber

    Thanks, Maddie! As someone in a similar boat – I appreciate it mucho. Especially in these 10 days before the wedding when it becomes all about herding people! I have a mom and what I call her “ex-husband parade.” (Not to her face, don’t worry.) My dad, my ex-step-dad and her fiance. Wow.

    My mom and dad can talk when there are graduations or hospitalizations, but I don’t count on them to communicate healthily or readily on their own. I have a great tool that hasn’t been mentioned, though: SIBLINGS. I have dispatched my younger sister to help me mediate and “figure it out” between the two.

    • http://justneedthisspace.wordpress.com ddayporter

      heh heh ex-husband parade..

    • http://hartandsolphoto.com Maddie

      Oh lady, I feel ya. We’ve got my dad, my ex-ex-step dad, my step-dad, my mom’s former fiance and her current husband.

      We should have trumpets, you and I.

      • Emily Rose

        Ooh, we have a grandpa’s-ex-wives parade. One of whom is younger than two of my aunts. Trumpets do feel appropriate, somehow.

    • Briana

      YES! To the siblings! My parents were married for the first 22 years of my life & can hardly stand being in the same room with each other anymore. My dad has two sons from his first marriage that I refuse to call half-brothers & between them and my biological full brothers (and my “half” brothers’ wives) we all figure out how to wrangle my parents and other relatives in family situations (weddings, graduations, anything). It’s amazing how leaning on your siblings, partner, and other relatives can help diffuse awkward situations.

      My younger brother is getting married in a couple of months & I’m anxious to see how it all plays out. (We get to add my dad’s 3rd wife, “Jan” to her face, stepmom behind her back, and her kids to the mix with this wedding.) I’m planning to use it as a gauge for how much preparation we’ll have to do for my own wedding (I’m in the pre-engaged point of life.)

      The last bit of advice that I have is, I’ve found it very helpful to create expectations with your parents before highly emotional events about their behavior. I did this with both my high school and college graduations and it helped the events go much more smoothly that past family gatherings. I think when parents are forced to realize that their behavior has consequences outside of themselves, they put forth much more effort to be civil and not create a scene. At the end of the day, if the event is supposed to celebrate one of their children, they want it to be wonderful for their kids because they love you so much. Sometimes they just need a little reminder of this.

  • Lisa

    I vote this post become a must read for anyone with a family, divorced or not, during the wedding planning process. I don’t want to diminish the effect divorce must have on weddings (my parents are happily married but Pottery Barn my family isn’t!), but the points she brings up can hold true for anyone in the wedding planning (or happily ever after) stages of life. Seriously, point #3 (well, #2 and #4 too) made me want to jump up and down at my desk and shout “yes” because you are so right on with your advice. So, so practical and realistic. Just wish I could have read this the day after I got engaged!

    • meg

      Yes. Everyone with a family must read this, yes.

  • Vmed

    This is an amazing post. Though my parents are married, it really speaks to me as I have an international and multicultural family, and being the offshoot of that kind of hybrid brings up similar issues (still unresolved). I’ll be keeping your advice in mind. Thank you.

  • http://onabicyclebuiltfortwo.blogspot.com A Bicycle Built For Two

    Damn you Maddie, you made me laugh (the entire time) and cry (Michael asking all important parents for their blessing). I come from an equally dysfunctional but unbroken family but this post made me see things from my wife’s perspective which I often forget to do.

  • http://breadandcheeseplease.blogspot.com Charise

    Love, love, LOVE this! You write about the craziness, frustration, and love of divorced and blended families so well, and with a good sense of humor. You are right that a lot of people just don’t quite get it, and it can be maddening and inconvenient when you have to go three places for a holiday or carefully plan your wedding-related activities to keep everyone happy, but it can be so, so worth it. It’s the family we’ve been given, may as well make the best of it, right?

  • http://www.katiejanephoto.com Katie Jane

    I wish this had been written before my wedding. Maddie, you are amazing.

    My husband and I both come from divorced and rather complicated families (to start… my husband went to high school with his “step-mom”… so… yeah) and bringing everyone together for our wedding and trying to make everyone happy was rather exhausting and frustrating at times. But ultimately worth it to have all the pieces of our little puzzle in the same room for a few hours.

    And that last paragraph killed me. I feel like I cry reading APW way too often.

  • Mallory

    I have to agree 100% with the inclusiveness, even though it scares me to death. So many people hate each other in my “family”…but I just decided the best way was to invite them all. Hopefully that works out. :/

    Your wedding was lovely, and congrats!

    • Emily Rose

      Sending you best wishes, dear! Even if the attempts at inclusiveness don’t work out in the end, you’ll have no regrets. We had a few very key family members who threatened not to come (my mom, his parents, other aunts & uncles, etc). We kept pushing the invitations and made sure it was super clear that everyone was welcome, and in the end it was mostly fine – but even if crazy sh*t had gone down, I was glad to know that I had done everything I could. I hope all goes well for you!

  • KEA1

    I needed this today. Actually, I’ve needed it for a few years now and I’m gonna keep needing it for a lot more years, because I’m from an equally-dysfunctional but not-quite-as-blended-or-well-adjusted family. I’ve spent my life being taken for granted as the one who will bend over backwards to make family dynamics smooth, and it doesn’t seem to register with some of my family members that I might have emotional needs of my own (or, in one particularly painful case several years ago, actual urgent problems like worrying if I’d be able to pay my rent…and having to spend hours on the phone listening to one family member unload on me about things that were also hurting me very deeply at the time, and not being able to get a word in edgewise about aforementioned fear of financial straits…). And I see no signs whatsoever at this point that my family could actually get past their own issues enough to be happy for me and respect my and my (as-yet-hypothetical) fiance’s wishes if I ever get married. I’d love to be wrong on that, and we’ll see. But in the meantime, it gives me a *lot* of hope to be able to read stories that ring so true in so many ways, but also have a happier ending than the one I fear I’m in for. THANK YOU!!!!!!!

    • Lisa

      I wish I could give you a huge hug right now. I play the same role in my family and man, it’s hard and sometimes I could stop bending over backwards and being a diplomat. For some reason, I was sure my sisters, both of whom were recently married, would be super supportive and happy when I finally got engaged and married. Instead I was met with nothing but disappointment. While I hope you find more support than I did, I sure wish I would have had your insight to know things might not turn out like I had hoped. Best wishes to you!

    • http://lezgethitched.blogspot.com Diana

      Lots of hugs to you <3

  • http://thissaturnreturns.blogspot.com Laura H.

    Oh, Maddie, you made me well up remembering the frustrations of having a family that didn’t look quite the way I hoped while planning our wedding. We are now 3 weeks past, survived with flying colors, and much of it is because of following advice like that which you wrote. The biggest: erring on the side of inclusiveness. No, I wasn’t raised with either of my parents spouses, but it sure made them feel nice to be so welcomed and included in our celebration.

    Another word of advice: you cannot communicate enough! I feel that by being overly communicative, I prevented a lot of misunderstandings, and also prevented personal disappointment. So, making sure that I tell ALL parents the same thing every time.

    Good luck, everyone! I send you a big squeeze. It’s a hard process!

  • Hilary

    My stepmother and mother are supposedly planning my shower together. It’s half the shower I’d totally always wanted — and somehow not at all the shower that makes sense for me (or my friends — who aren’t geographically anywhere near my two families — or my future in-laws).

    But the idea that they could do this together is surprising and heartening. My parents were always good about keeping their views on each other hidden after their divorce. I don’t think that will change now, but actually planning something together is very different than co-existing separately.

  • http://singingpilgrimdancing.blogspot.com Pamela

    Thanks for sharing! And I agree with Meg that this a good one for everyone, even if they’ve not got divorced parents. Divorce is rare in my family tree, but I totally related to a lot of the advice you’ve given, like erring on the side of inclusiveness (I’m having a maid and a matron of honor because I can’t choose between friends), not expecting people to change for your wedding (as Meg said, families can be crazy), and… well, actually sort of all it, in the large general sense. It’s just good advice. :)

  • http://eclpse.livejournal.com Kimberly

    Loved the PB analogy. (I was a bit confused where you were taking it at first, but got on board anyway . . . glad I did!)

  • Other Katelyn

    I love the Pottery Barn vs. Ikea analogy. Beautifully done, and resonated with me–hard. The dream of instant, easy life flawlessness is so damn alluring, and so damn distant from my every-day hustle.

    Thanks for such a gracious, funny reality check!

    • http://bunniesnbeagles.blogspot.com Ms. Bunny

      And you know what is great about Ikea — you can hack it into something totally new that works for you in a way that you can’t with Pottery Barn. I think this holds up in Maddie’s analogy too.

      • Emily Rose

        Ikea DOES have a great return-policy, though… let’s just end the analogy there.

  • C

    Thanks for having this on APW. I think this is awesome, and I wanted to add one thing that I learned.

    I have the same family set up just with two moms instead of two dads and also extra parents that I consider parents and the whole messy bit. But mine? They hate each other with a fire-y passion. And have hated each other for my whole life. Suing each other and going to jail and just horrible disaster after horrible disaster. And I was surrounded by the hate that was so loud on my wedding day. For months leading up to the wedding everyone was saying, “Well, I’m not going if so-and-so’s going” even though that so-and-so was my Mom. There was even a fist fight between my brother and my dad at the reception because of old crap. As you can imagine, I was devastated. I am the peace keeper in the family and I was too busy having a wedding to pay attention and make sure everyone was ok. (which by the way, I am glad about now.) Having your divorced parents that hate each other all in one room can really send you back into childhood memories you don’t want to be a part of.

    It took me several months to stop hating my wedding day. Every time I saw pictures it made me panic and feel awful and cry. But for some reason, just the other day, (11 months after my wedding) I saw my wedding dress out of the corner of my eye, and just fell in love with my wedding day. All of a sudden I could see the love that was there. My friends, my husband, his friends, his family. They were pouring on the love that day and I couldn’t see it then. I can see it now. And I just wanted to say this because I thought I was hopeless and could never get over the hurt of my wedding day. BUT. It happens with time. The pain melts and the good comes out.

    So even if your wedding day seems recked by a difficult family, it isn’t. Just give it time.

    • Erin with an E

      This is really amazing and I am going to save it to read for after my wedding. I can not imagine how tough it must have been to plan a wedding full of love under such conditions, but you managed to overcome the hate being dished your way and make it through the day. The fact that it wasn’t easy and a lot of sh@t went down on your wedding only made it that much more amazing that you were able to wash over the ragged memories until one day all you had left was a smooth piece of beach glass. Thanks for sharing, and for letting us know that there is hope for loving your wedding, even if it is a journey to get there.

    • meg

      Have you written a grad post on this??? No, right? DO IT.

      • C

        haha, no not yet. Cuz just until the other day the only thing I could have written was, “F*ck weddings, I hate them!” But maybe now I could :)

    • http://hartandsolphoto.com Maddie

      I’m so glad you wrote this because I felt like my post needed a disclaimer about this being for families that don’t *totally* hate each other, but maybe don’t totally LOVE each other either.

      I’m so happy that you are able to see your wedding as something joyous now too.

      P.S. I totally had a huge family meltdown like two days before the wedding and it took like 6 months for me to get over it. But I find the less I try to remember that part, the less I actually DO remember that part. Hopefully the shitty stuff will fade for you too.

      • http://hartandsolphoto.com Maddie

        Also, lots and lots and lots of love.

  • Annie

    Thankyouthankyouthankyou, Maddie. From the bottom of my heart. I feel like this post cleared up so many worries I have been having for a very long time about my own wedding and how to show everyone in my family that I love them even though a large number of them don’t love each other.
    While the division in my family is due to the loss of my mother and my father’s remarrying, I feel that the solution of inclusiveness you embraced can be applied to several different family situations. I have gone through several different images in my head of what my wedding could/should be in order for me to hold onto my sanity, and yet all of those up until now have involved excluding a number of different people, and often, everyone except my partner and I. I now feel so much hope that love will prevail on the day of my wedding, and the drama will effectively be set aside for a time. And, even if it isn’t, at least I will know that I tried damn hard to bring everyone together (which is a lot!)
    I think all of us who have felt that we have often made sacrifices just to be the saving grace in our families deserve, at the very least, to experience love and joy all around on our wedding day. And that really shouldn’t be too much to ask.

  • http://theblogwhisperer.tumblr.com Heather G

    This is wonderful. Can totally relate, even more so because of the references to Star Wars.

    “Size matters not. Look at me. Judge me by my size, do you? Hmm? Hmm. And well you should not. For my ally is the Force, and a powerful ally it is.”

    Maddie = Yoda!

  • http://onwardfulltilt.blogspot.com/ Caitlin

    I loved this post so much. Maddie, you said it so well, so perfectly, and made me laugh while doing it. I commented on Part I of the divorce post that I still can feel like the 14 year-old at the dining room table listening to my parents tell us they were separating. The wedding brought so much of that out, it’s so nice to see people talking about it.

  • http://www.missgiggles.com/blog Giggles

    I love this part:
    the stupid stuff your family does is largely because they are stupid in love with you.

    Ain’t that the truth!

    • meg

      True, true, true. Divorces or no divorces.

  • Jacquelyn

    Thanks for the awesome article. My fiance comes from a divorced family. We would love some guidance on how to manage when the families don’t get along well. His mom’s extended family hates his dad and there have been (jokingly?) talks about a throwdown at the wedding. =\ We would love if the families got along and even though they each have new significant others, it’s scary to think what might happen.

  • http://www.ohdeerio.com Rachelle

    Maddie, you are amazing! This was so well-written and lovely. Also, your graphics were totally adorable (and your wedding pics, of course).

  • http://suburbaliciousliving.blogspot.com/ Lauren

    This might be my favorite post on APW. Maddie, you ROCK.

  • Suzanna

    Maddie, this is a great piece that I will refer to often in the coming months. Because maturely understanding where everyone is coming from, and including them, and forgiving them for ‘helping’ in ways I never asked them to? Yeeeahhh, that is not so much my strength.

  • Caroline

    I love this post. And I love the maps and colorful illustrations. WIN

    On the point of “Don’t expect anyone to change for your wedding,” I completely agree. But I did experience an unexpected thing: while people didn’t change, they were on remarkably good behaviour. Sometimes people can surprise you, and I wish sometimes that I had spent less time secretly freaking that a catastrophe was going to occur, while trying to play it cool like I was absolutely fine if it was the shi*tstorm i feared (because I have learned that people don’t change) – and maybe had a little more faith that things would be okay. My awkward relatives were the best version of themselves they could be, and that is all I could ask for.

  • Carolyn

    The best advice I ever received was from a family friend in the aftermath of my parents’ divorce. I wanted my parents, particularly my dad, to act more like the adult in the situation, saying he ‘should’ do this and he ‘should’ act like that.

    This friend told me (paraphrased), ‘yeah he should do this and should act like that, but you won’t be able to change him, he has to change himself. So you have to decide first if you want to have a relationship with him, and if you do, what changes you are going to make to make it the relationship you want.’

    It took me years, YEARS, to get that through my head, but once I did, my dad and I had a much better relationship.

    Once it got to wedding planning time, keeping that advice in mind kept the whole process much more sane- as well as acknowledging people’s feelings and being very clear about our intentions.

    I can’t really talk about all the craziness in my family, and the resulting sh*tstorms that have come of it, but lordy, those baby boomers!

  • Mary Ann

    My daughter just got engaged on Memorial Day. Her father and I are divorced. We all live in seperate parts of the country so really no issues. I am remarried and my husband who raised her since she was 7 is freaking out about the wedding and it’s only been a few days. My daughter doesn’t know how to deal with who is going to give her away. My husband wants to be involved but feels like an outsider. Any ideas there?

    • http://hartandsolphoto.com Maddie

      I’d say they just need to talk to her. Talking about these things doesn’t need to be complicated if there is a no-pressure attitude about it.

      She can always have both of them give her away (as I did), or neither of them. Or your husband can give her away and her biological father can be involved in a different way, such as giving a reading, doing a toast at the reception, etc.

      I think it’s just really important to get it out there early on who is going to have hurt feelings and what is going to hurt their feelings if it is not carried out.

      Best of luck!

  • EmKate

    Firstly, this was an amazingly written post on one of the most polarizing, complicated, emotion-filled and just rip-your-hair-out-get-drunk-and-elope issues I know I’ve been dealing with.

    Reading this post was like sitting around a room filled with ‘yeah, I get it’ people drinking some wine/ tea/ margaritas. LOVED IT!! The comments that followed were really the icing, so thank you everyone! I’m suddenly filled with the feeling that, ‘Hey, awkward happens, roll with it,” which has been a mantra at holidays for the past 14 years but suddenly seemed ridiculous when I thought about getting married.

    Thanks for bringing me back down to as close to normal as is possible.

  • middelred

    Thank you so much for this. I am in the early stages of planning and just starting to deal with the fall out of clearly communicating things that may hurt feelings so no one has unmet expectations. It’s been 20 years since I’ve lived with either one of my parents and I feel like I’m in Jr. High all over again. So good to find a group of similarly challenged women out there.

    I’m lucky in that everyone is really happy I’ve found the man I’m marrying and no one is against me getting married, but despite my best efforts at clear communication, everyone is reading hidden motives into every choice. It’s a tough one. Inclusion is key. So are clear boundaries and going with what feels right over what is claimed as traditional.

    I’m sure I’ll re-read this several times over the next 10 months.

  • http://www.brideinfashion.com John Smith

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  • Teagan

    I’m kinda late to the party, but does anyone have advice on what to do we siblings and divorced parents? I have three siblings, two partners, my mother and father and their partners, and I am not sure what to do with the seating arrangements. I don’t want to offend anyone, but my parents have never managed to be in the same room with each other for longer then 15 mins, even with out their partners to throw in the mix. I am tempted to not have set seating and make them all work it out for themselves.

  • Jenny

    You have no idea how much I need this article/blog! As a Bride with divorced parents, from the moment I said, “Yes” I already dreaded the politics of (even semi-amicably) divorced parents in planning ANY event in which both are involved socially and financially. My only wedding theme is, “no stress,” and I think I will visit your site twice a day to keep it that way!

  • Kate

    I read your lovely post with despair as there is no way i can have everyone at my wedding. My parents are divorced & my father remarried, I love my stepmom of 16 years dearly. My Mom says she will not attend my wedding at all if my Dad is there and refuses to talk about it further. I can’t imagine them all not being there and don’t want to elope. My only option seems to be not to get married at all. It’s breaking my heart and I just don’t know what to do…….help !!!!

  • Rikki

    Hi, this does help me to know that others have similar situations. My parents were divorced when I was 4, and my mom remarried to my stepdad who raised me since I was 6. I have a good relationship with my real dad, but he always bails when it comes to finances. I asked him to discuss my budget last night, and he offered basically to cover less than 1/4 the cost of an average wedding. My mom said she expected my dad to split the bill with her. I love my stepdad so much, and I know he will help me out since my dad again is not taking responsibility. I don’t feel like it’s fair for my stepdad to pay for everything for me my whole life, and then still be second best to my real dad. How do I explain to my dad that if he is not going to step up, he will not be the host. He will not get the first dance. I cannot put my stepdad behind him anymore. I’ve only been engaged three days, and I am very sad.

  • Melody

    I just wanted to thank you for writing this. My fiance’s parents have been together for almost 40 years and mine have been divorced just over 15. Sometimes I find that he doesn’t understand some of the issues and situations that have come up since we became engaged. It’s so frustrating and reading your article today felt so great. It’s so nice to know I’m not the only one. So thank you. Thank you all!!!

  • Cory

    Thank you! I have been struggling with planning a wedding and having a blended family. There are lots of do’s, don’t s and things to just let go and let them happen naturally moments. This made me feel like I wasn’t alone in feeling the pull of having two sets of parents and trying to not step on the toes of my parents and step parents. Luckily I have amazing siblings that have went through this before so all of my parents have an idea where they fit in and have a place, but it’s still harder then having them take on a traditional role of mom being the M.O.B. and dad being the F.O.B. I will defiantly be sharing this with a few people that can also connect with this article ( even my married siblings with appreciate this) I also wanted to point out that where your explaining that having more parents means you have that many more people to love you, I plan on taking that with me for much longer then the wedding and keep it in mind.

    I would like to ask though because another part of being engaged and getting married I feel like my life’s mission is to make our marriage last because my parents didn’t. I know this is something that most couples feel is important but to my fiancé I feel like he see my efforts as over kill. Am I alone in this?

  • Mandy

    This was just perfect. Now I just need a post on family who hates each other and would love to set one another on fire. My mother has told me she can A) come and cause a scene and ruin the day or B) not come at all because my stepdad will be there and will walk me down the aisle with my dad.

    I’m at a loss and it’s completely heartbreaking.

  • http://www.sugartopsllc.com J Carfaro

    I ordered jewelry to honor the children in our blended family – we wanted to make them feel included and a part of the committment. SugarTops did a great job with helping us design, and took the pressure off of this stressful time by creating and delivering a special necklace that had the blended family symbol and our childrens names… http://www.sugartopsllc.com

  • Amy

    Can I now have a post about how to tell my Dad that I want my mother to walk me down the aisle instead of him?