I’m honored and delighted to have Joanna here today, adding to the conversation about having a wedding with divorced parents, and the conversation about the ways that weddings, trying as they are, can offer healing. Beyond that, Joanna makes it so clear that the wedding is not the end, it’s just the beginning of something really great.
After we got married a year and a half ago, I was excited to write my wedding grad post and share all the amazing things that happened. But it never really gelled. And for a long time I felt like all the stuff I had to say about our wedding/being newly married had been said by others. Which was maybe annoying at first, and then a relief to realize I didn’t need to add anything. Then this discussion about divorced parents started. And the ladies had great things to say. But I still feel there was something missing, something that I can share.
Before he proposed, my brilliant and thoughtful fiancé (now husband) called each of my parents to ask permission to marry me. I had hinted during that pre-engagement time that he needed to ask my dad if he was thinking of proposing. When it came down to it, he said it didn’t feel right not asking the woman who raised me singlehandedly for most of my young life for her approval. Smart move.
Once wedding planning started, we made a point of asking all three sets of parents how they wanted to be involved in the wedding. C’s parents (still married and very straightforward) and my mom offered to help with anything including money. My dad quickly offered that if we got married in their town, where all my half-siblings live, they would all chip in with food and space and save us a bundle of money. After deliberating the options what felt like forever, we finally settled on holding the wedding in the town where we live, because the idea of planning a wedding cross-country made my blood pressure spike. Once we decided that, my mom confessed that she was terrified we would choose to do it in “their” space. Instead, we chose an option that was equally inconvenient, and neutral, for everybody – across the country, in our space.
Since my mother is single and my father is remarried, some interesting issues emerged as the wedding day approached. My dad kept telling me how excited he was about seeing my mom and her side of the family. My mom, however, kept sharing how afraid she was about what she might feel when she got there, and how it would look for her to be single.
Intentionally, we filled their respective reception tables with my parents’ favorite relatives, who they had a blast hanging out with. By that point, it didn’t actually matter anymore. It was mostly important for my mom to know ahead of time that she’d have those people there, sort of as a buffer if it was needed. But I’m getting ahead of myself…
Since our families are from opposite sides of the continent (C’s a Canadian), the first meeting of the parents was planned to be two nights before the wedding. The day of, my mom thought it would be weird and found a way to be busy picking up relatives at the airport at the time we were going to meet for dinner. So, my dad and stepmom represented. We all returned from dinner to meet and greet out of town guests at the hotel. Immediately after my mom arrived, my parents sat down together to chat—and didn’t get up for two hours!
While I worked the patio saying hi to everyone, I kept checking on them, trying to figure out what was going on. First they were laughing, then in deep conversation, and toward the end of the night they were talking, smiling and looking relaxed. When I asked my mom later what that was all about, she said that, as they like to say, I am the best thing they ever did together. And apparently had a lot to discuss given that their only child was about to wed. Once the rubber hit the road, so to speak, they could see eye to eye on celebrating this huge event in my life, and in some ways it was a success that only they two could really share.
I only planned to see my mom and stepmom before the wedding, at the hair salon where we were all getting ready. I had planned to have a moment of silence with my bridesmaids and my mom at the ceremony site when we arrived. Magically, my two half-sisters and my dad all ended up at the right place at the time, and joined right in. They all put their hands on me and said their wishes for our wedding. It was intensely grounding on such an intensely mind-blowing day.
So. Our ceremony. I agree with others that the ceremony is clearly the most important part of a wedding (duh?). First of all, we had talked about getting married on the beach for years, but we don’t actually live near the ocean (much to my general chagrin). So once we had decided to do this thing in our town, I thought we needed to create a “beach” to stand on and get married! We asked all of our parents to bring a jar of dirt or sand from the place where they live – where we grew up – and didn’t tell them why. Then, at the very beginning of the ceremony, our pastor invited each of them up to pour their sand on the altar. We then took off our shoes and stood in the sand, now all mixed together, while we said our vows and exchanged our rings. Our pastor talked about how where we come from is just as important as where we are going. And he talked about how just like this sand, we now married could never truly be separated. And as part of the ceremony, we scooped up some of the sand and put it in a small jar that we now keep in our bedroom alongside our wedding pictures.
After everyone had left the ceremony, each of our parents quietly filled jars of the mixed sand to take with them. The rest of the day was what it should have been: memorable, fun, and peaceful. And, above all, it felt immensely joyful, and joyful for everyone. Not just those who happened to be “doing well” on the marriage scale.
I realize not every child of divorced parents will get what we got. I was lucky. It helps that 20 years have gone by since my parents’ divorce… that my dad brought a positive attitude to the “reunion”… and that I’ve worked hard to keep my relationships with my parents strong and not hide them from one another. But what I learned from my wedding is that the joy you bring is contagious, and the relationships you honor—both of your old family and your new family—will flourish in all that joy.
And when families are larger, or more complicated, finding ways to involve each of the parents may help alleviate some of their stress about having to share the day. At the ceremony, my dad walked me down the aisle. My mom did a reading. Both sets of my parents stood up to say the whole “we bring this woman” thing. Everybody got their own moments in the sun, so I think it was easier for them to share the spotlight.
Having divorced parents means, at the very least, that you have some negative associations with marriage. My dad has been married five times total; mom, twice. Most of the marriages I’ve seen have involved fighting, people losing themselves, and divorce tearing families apart. For me, those experiences left me with core-freezing fears about marriage.
The other day, basically out of nowhere, I turned to the hubs and said, “You know, marriage is really not that scary!” And he said smiling, “I told you!”
Now that I’ve reached the other side of this marriage thing, I realize that being married doesn’t mean slogging through the pain of dealing with another person until you can no longer take it. It isn’t necessarily this hard, scary thing. It turns out that marriage can be immensely joyful, light, freeing. That a good marriage solidifies a fabulous relationship that’s so much fun you can’t imagine living without it. Like ours did.
Photos By: Restoring Memories Photography