Ask Team Practical: Changing Traditions To Fit Your Family

Instead of having a father-daughter dance at my wedding, I’m going to be having a grandmother-granddaughter dance. My parents got divorced when I was two years old and my mother gave custody of me to my grandparents when I was two. As a result I think of my grandparents as my parents. I even call my grandmother “Mom.” I also think of grandfather as having been my dad, unfortunately he passed away when I was nine. If my grandfather were still with us he would be the one giving me away, dancing with me at the reception, etc. My biological father and I are not especially close, and I’m not even sure if he’s invited to the wedding at this point. So my grandmother has agreed to dance with me in my grandfather’s honor. It makes total sense to me, but I’m afraid my guests will think it’s weird. How do I explain this to other people? I am also at total loss as to what song to pick, any suggestions?


Dear Anonymous,

This is the sort of situation where I get to remind you that weddings are about real life, and not about fitting some mandatory script. Sometimes there isn’t a small child to carry a pillow down the aisle. Sometimes you (shock!) don’t have an equal number of close male and female friends who are willing to stand up front in matching attire. Luckily, weddings are about honoring the real people in your real life, rather than trying to figure out how to squeeze loved ones into the pre-formed molds. You wanna honor grandmom? That’s awesome, and I think a special dance will be touching and sweet.

So, you’re on board with that. I’m on board with that.  But what to do about those pesky wedding guests, right? For starters, the nameless wedding guest usually deserves more credit than we give him. Out of a wedding for 150 people, you might have two or three random relatives with stinky opinions and lacking tact. But that’s not such a bad statistic, is it? Most folks will go with the flow of whatever is happening at the wedding—especially if it’s endearing and involves little old ladies. I’d guess the majority of them will more likely think, “How sweet! A dance with grandmom!” rather than, “WAIT, WHAT ABOUT DAD?” Beyond that, as Rachel pointed out, your wedding guests are actual people, with faces and names and a history with you. Chances are, most of the ones you know well enough to invite to your wedding, probably know who raised you.

But we can be grateful for the few, the proud: the obtuse. Because of Great-Aunt Helen’s inability to recognize that it might not be appropriate to ask why you didn’t dance with your dad, you’re going to get a taste of random people having opinions about your decisions (solicited or not). Pessimistic as it sounds, get used to it now. There always will be someone who thinks your decisions are weird. So, what you get to do in response is determine what you’re comfortable sharing and when (which is a bit of a learning process).

At the end of the day, this decision impacts only you and your grandmom (and tangentially, mom and dad). Which means that what everyone else thinks doesn’t really matter. I’m serious, it doesn’t. If you can really embrace that idea, it’ll help you firm up your resolve about things being the way they are. If you stutter or upspeak or say it with uncertainty, you’re just giving an open invitation for Uncle Nosy to jump in and tell you exactly what he thinks, with some added harrumphing. Instead, with that conviction that what’s happening is happening for good reason, you can talk about it honestly and kindly (honest and kind! It’s like my ATP motto), and within the bounds of whatever you feel comfortable sharing. “Nana is really important to me and I want to honor her,” states the truth without sharing any of the nitty-gritty that might make you uncomfortable.  It’s an art, speaking your mind in a way that both doesn’t give away more than you’d like, and doesn’t invite advice. It just takes practice.

Now to your last part—song ideas. I’m not so great with the music picking, but you know who is? Our readers. So, let’s hear it guys. What’s a good song for a sweet and meaningful dance with grandmom? And while we’re at it, what traditions did you tweak to fit your loved ones? Did you face friction over those changes?


Editor’s Note: Pride week is next month, which means that in keeping with past years, Ask Team Practical will be handed over to one of our longtime LGBTQ readers to answer LGBTQ-specific questions about wedding planning, marriage, relationships, and anything else you can think of. We’re still fielding questions, so if you would like Team Practical’s advice, send them in right here.

Photo Gabriel Harber

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

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  • Awesome song choice: I’ll be by Reba MacEntire. Yes, it’s country, not all people love country, but it is a wonderful song about a woman and her daughter and how they will be there for each other.

  • S

    How do you explain this to other people? You don’t. I’ts your wedding and you make the rules. Unless they ask, you can give them an answer but say it with certainty and if someone makes a negative comment, reiterate that its your choice and you are happy with it. End of story. I had my mother and grandfather walk me down the isle and looking at that picture fills me with joy. If there’s anything I’ve learned from this site is that you always, always, always must be true to yourself. Don’t worry about the concerns of other people.

    • Rachel

      Word. Also, other guests will do a lot of the explaining for you if it comes up. People might be curious but they may just ask a bridesmaid or something if they really want to know.

    • Note: I accidentally hit “report” instead of reply! So sorry!

      Very much agree, and the only other thing I’d add is that most of the people coming to your wedding are (hopefully) people who love you and want you to be happy. These people will either already understand something “unusual,” like having a grandma-granddaughter dance or having your mom walk you down the aisle, or they will figure it has special meaning to you and not need to ask any questions about it.

  • Rachel

    Great advice! (As always.) Also, I just wanted to add that if you get pushback on this after doing what Liz suggests, remember that YOU are not weird. YOU are not doing anything wrong. But a person who judges your choices and pushes you when you’ve made it clear the discussion is closed IS. I’m all for honesty and kindness but when people get pushy about my personal decisions, I have no problem scowling at them as I answer their question, or just saying, “Wow, that was really rude/inappropriate/etc. Are you serious right now?” The only way people learn that it’s not cool to say certain things is to be made aware of that fact. (I’m convinced that this is why people STILL ASK WOMEN WHEN THEY ARE GETTING MARRIED OR HAVING KIDS. Like, they genuinely don’t know that that is a shitty question.) I don’t know, I feel like you’re doing people a favor if you let them know that their comments are socially unacceptable…I mean, I’ve been on the receiving end of that kind of reaction before (I’m embarrassed to admit!) and as much as it stings at the time, I’m a better person for learning those lessons, you know?

    • Wow. Thanks for the idea. I need to remember this one!

  • Katharine

    My mom walked me down the aisle and my Uncle Louie (who isn’t even blood related!) did the father-daughter dance with me. And you know what? It was wonderful and nobody said a freaking thing. I am sure some of my blood related relatives were a little torqued but everyone who said anything just commented on how lovely it all was. Your wedding is a wonderful day to honor those who have loved and supported you!

    • Lisa

      I agree with chances no one will say a thing. My dad was in major denial about needing new knees. He could barely walk me down the aisle, let alone dance with me. Since all of our siblings were married/had significant others, we did a “sibling dance” instead. Some of my favorite photos from the entire day were from that dance. If anyone ever asked a question about the dance, they didn’t ask me directly and/or no one told me. Oh, and I think it would have been fabulous to have danced with my grandmother in my grandfather’s honor. Wish I would have thought of the idea!

    • Jennie

      My dad was not invited to our wedding and I was concerned about having to answer questions about it on our wedding day. My mom walked me down the isle and we didn’t do any specific dances. No one asked me about it at all.

      I hope that you can have a similar experience!

    • ferrous

      Adding my yep. I didn’t have a father-daughter dance at my first wedding. Only one person ever said anything about it (my father, who is only ever concerned about keeping up appearances). What a fabulous idea to have a grandma dance!

  • First and foremost, is there a song with meaning to the two of you? Something she used to sing you before bed, or something you used to listen to together? My grandfather used to always play me My Fair Lady on his record player when I was visiting. Something like that?

    If not, or nothing is jumping to mind,
    The One Who Knows by Dar Williams, a wonderful song about raising someone with nothing explicitly about the relationship, Rainbow Connection is always lovely

    Also, if you wanted to you could have the band/dj/mc say something like, “At this time Anonymous would like to honor her grandparents with a dance with her grandmother” (which also acknowledges your grandfather and explains what’s going on without explaining?)

    We changed a lot of traditions and “traditions” mostly by not using them and if anyone had an issue with it, they knew better than to say anything. Our (male) roommate was sad I wasn’t doing a bouquet toss, so after the ceremony when we were doing pictures I tossed it directly to him. It made him happy, amused me, and made for a couple cute pictures without me having to do any of the parts of the toss I was uncomfortable with.

    • jlseldon7

      The Dar Williams song is an awesome choice. I love her.

  • I think it’s great that you’re honoring the person who means the most to you, not the person who fills the biological role. My bio father and stepmother and that entire section of the family has not been a part of my life for the last several years, so my stepdad will be filling all of the traditional “dad” roles. He’s been in my life since I was 5 and married my mom when I was 8. So far, what I’ve figured out is that people who know the situation will quietly ask my mom or I what the plan is to find out how I will be handling it. As far as everyone else, yes, there are people that are nosy and lack social graces. Up to this point, a “this is what’s happening, it’s a long story” and changing the subject seems to be working.

    I’m not the best at choosing songs either (the ONE SONG we thought we had locked down is back up in the air), but what about looking at songs that are less specific to the relationship of the people and more about the connection? A good place to start might be the posts that talked about parent dances but had ideas for having both father/daughter and mother/son together ( and the comments on I hope this helps!

  • Since I had no parents to be involved with my wedding, I spent a lot of time obsessing about the traditional things parents do at weddings and that I would look like a loser and that no one loved me and I constantly worried about how people would ask me about it and I’d get upset. Lesson I learned? All that worry was for naught.

    Even at my small wedding where I was able to have a conversation with each guest (55 people) no one said anything to me. Because it was my wedding and the stuff they were saying was about congratulating my husband and I. Because as Alyssa pointed out, these are people who likely know you and your situation and if you don’t know them, they aren’t asking you personal questions like why you’re not dancing with your dad.

    No one is sitting there checking off each and every traditional thing that will take place at your wedding as it happens (garter toss – check, cake cutting – check.) Once the first dances start and presuming your dance with your grandmother occurs sometime at this point, the dancing has started. It seems unlikely anyone will come accost you on the dance floor or stop you while milling about with music blasting to ask what the hell about your dance with your dad. And I don’t know about your life, but I can’t even imagine a pre-wedding conversation with someone asking who you are having dances with – because no one is thinking about it but you.

    All this to say, I totally 100% understand why you’re worrying. I also think you should stop if at all possible. I wish I’d had someone bluntly point out the realistic side to all my wedding concerns about a lack of family presence. Because not one guest even asked me if my parents were there. And there were plenty of folks who wouldn’t know any better than to do so. Instead all anyone wanted to talk about was how awesome our wedding was. I think you’ll probably get the same treatment.

  • Allison

    I just wanted to chime in with a word of encouragement for Anon…You will never regret dancing with your grandmother on the day of your wedding. Your guests will understand that she is a VIP in your life, no explaination needed.

    I’ve suggestion ‘Wildflowers’ by Tom Petty here before, and I think it would work for you. But, maybe your grandmother has some suggestions or maybe a song that was a favorite of your grandfather?

  • Sarah

    If I knew you (as your guests do), I’m sure I would bawl my frickin’ eyes out watching you and your grandmother honour your relationship in a dance.

    As for your father, don’t feel pressured to give someone a special role just because he bears a title. I’m sorry I don’t have any song suggestions but I’ll think about it!

  • Brieanna

    With a situation like this I believe the best course of action is to let go, and enjoy this day with your husband and those closest to you. Because I guarantee if that’s what you focus on you’re not going to worry about what someone said about you or your wedding. You’ll know that you created a beautiful memory and celebrated it with those you love most, and you know what, all those important people will remember it that way too. Best of luck!

  • Song Suggestion: “Where You Lead” by Carole King, featuring Louise Goffin

    This is the theme song to Gilmore Girls, written by Carole King, and performed with her daughter. I suggest this arrangement in particular, because it replaces some romantic language with more benign language. I honestly didn’t even know it was a more romantic song until I heard the album Tapestry (where the original can be found).

    • Also because Carol King is a BAMF and the entire Tapestry album is my jam.

  • Sara

    Both my husband and my father passed away years ago before our wedding, so for the father/daughter dance part instead we did a ‘family dance’. I danced with my uncle, who is like a father to me, my mother danced with my husbands step-father, my husband danced with his mom, and my step-father danced with my husband’s step-mother. It was wonderful, not awkward like some father/daughter dances could be, and I still have wonderful memories from that dance. Our first big family dance!

    Do what you want and what will be special to YOU, not what you think people will want you to do.

  • Kat

    My fiance’s parents are both deceased but has a 92 year old gran who has stood in for a lot of “parent” roles over the years. For signing the paperwork we’re having my mom and his gran be our witnesses instead of members of our bridal party. Then for the special dances we’re having a father/daughter, grandson/gran dance at the same time which will be “To Know Him is to Love Him” by the Teddy Bears. We’re then following it up with our first slow dance as husband and wife.

    We also have a lot of deceased family members to honour and without getting overly morose or focused on those not with us we’ve instead made an altar piece of many pillar candles that my sister and I have carved initials into and then painted with black acrylic.

  • Cara

    It’s more important to have a meaningful day for you, not to fill other people’s expectations. I’ve been surprised that so many people have questioned my brother standing up on my side. I feel like these days, I see tons of mixed bridal parties and all kinds of tradition bending, but no one else has! So I get lots of questions about that, why he isn’t on my fiance’s side, jokes about him wearing a dress, etc. etc., but if I had a sister, she would be expected to stand up on my side. I don’t get why the fact that he’s a dude means he needs to stand with my fiance, when he has been my closest ally for much of my life. Luckily he’s chill and is fine standing wherever, but I’m kind of tired of people’s expectations!

  • Shiri

    Two things I learned in my own wedding process:

    1) People love anything involving grandmothers – mine was my matron of honor and people who don’t even know my grandmother cried about it.
    2) People who know you will understand, these aren’t just “people”, they’re your people, and they know you. Those who don’t understand won’t ask the bride, they’ll ask the person sitting next to them. And then they’ll coo when they hear the answer.

    And a bonus third one: do the thing that mean will the most to you when you’re looking back on it after if you can.

  • I’m assuming most of the people you’re inviting know you, and therefore know your family situation. They understand that you grandparents raised you and that your biological dad is not in the picture. Given that, I don’t think you have to worry about it OR explain it to anyone. And if one or two random guests think to themselves, “Huh, that’s interesting… wonder why she did that?” who cares. Do what makes the most sense for you and your loved ones. That’s what matters in the end. :-)

    Also, I think a grandmother/granddaughter dance sounds awesome and adorable. DO IT.

  • We broke tradition numerous times in our wedding. I don’t have much of a relationship with my dad but at the same time didn’t want to replace him outright, as I’ve been very independent for a long time. Instead, I walked down the aisle with my (now) husband. HE was the one who was there for me years ago when my parents weren’t. I wouldn’t have changed that decision for anything!

    We also had a “parents dance” instead of bride + father and/or groom + mother; to acknowledge my husband’s parents, as well as my mother and her husband, my dad, and the couple that took me in as a teenager, we had them all come out and dance. My dad’s wife didn’t come to the wedding so my older sister danced with him.

    While I’m sure my grandmother was making little comments on the sideline, a person has to be pretty brazen to actually tell YOU that they don’t agree with how you’re doing things. And those people probably don’t really matter!

  • april

    I’m having a similar issue with the question of who (if anyone) is going to walk me down the aisle. My aunt raised me, and I assumed she would want to do it. She doesn’t, so now I’m deciding whether I want to ask one of her male cousins (who have done a lot of the traditional “dad” things in my life — taking me fishing, teaching me to drive and how to play guitar, attending school father’s day lunches), or make the walk alone …

    • I (and other people here) walked down the aisle with my (now) husband. I’m an extrovert who hates being the center of attention, and I was terrified of walking down in my rather high heals alone, and did not want to choose between my 4 parents, since Jewish tradition is for both parents to walk you. I was so glad to be with him, especially for right after the bridal part had gone up when it was just the two of us for a moment.

      On the other hand, I wish we had done *something* to honor our parents since I think they didn’t really get anything. Maybe think of something else for your aunt (a toast, a corsage, a special reading) that she’d be more comfortable with?

    • Kate

      I have a great relationship with my dad, but I just felt most comfortable walking down the aisle with my now-husband. So that’s what we did – marched ourselves right down the aisle with our dog as “ring bearer.” It felt right, and no one really said anything! In fact, the only one to comment was my husbands grandmother (who I have a great relationship with usually!) who just asked me how my dad felt about it. No one else said a word, besides our photographer, who loved it!

      I still treasure the moment standing at the start of the “aisle” (we were outside so it was more of a path through the crowd) holding hands, watching everyone waiting for us.

      • april

        This is something I hadn’t really even considered, but I love the idea. Thanks!

  • A grandmother/granddaughter dance is just beautiful! One of my very first planning client Brides had no relationship with her parents & was raised by her Nanny (grandmother). As such, the Nanny walked the Bride down the aisle & danced with the Bride at the reception. It was so touching & sweet! Do what feels right to you!!

  • yet another Meg

    A possible song suggestion is Isn’t She Lovely (I have no clue who the artist is) which could apply equally to both people dancing.

  • Sara W

    At my sister’s wedding, her husband and his mother felt very strongly about having a mother-son dance, but we’re estranged from my dad so my sister felt odd about not having a father-daughter dance. She did ask my my mom if she wanted to dance, but as my mom DOES NOT DANCE, that was out. So, during the mother-son dance, mom came over and sat with my sister. The photographer made sure to get a photo of the two of them together. So, while there wasn’t anything “official” with my mom, it was still super meaningful to my sister that she wasn’t just “left alone”.
    At my and my husband’s wedding, we didn’t do official parent dances at all. But, the hubs danced with his mom later in the evening, and I danced with his father and his stepfather.
    So, my advice is to go with what is meaningful to you and your grandmother, and bugger anyone else who says something against it.

  • Vera

    While I can not speak to this personally I can say this: weddings are about love. You are celebrating the love you and your grandmother share, and everyone at your wedding should understand that. If they don’t like it, it’s their problem (also they probably won’t like your choice or lack thereof centerpieces). Ohana means family and family means no one get’s left behind, especially the people who raised and cared for you.
    My ideas for music would be Banana Pancakes by Jack Johnson, Hey Jude by the Beatles, or Until I met You (Corner Pocket) by the Count Bassie Orchestra.

  • Sarah

    This is my first post, after lurking here a looong time. I, too, am doing a non-trad dance. My dad is deceased, so my mom is walking me down the aisle. And she doesn’t know it yet, but we’re dancing to Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl.” Apparently she and I used to dance around the living room to that song when I was really little. I suspect we’ll both bawl our eyes out. And I will reiterate what others have said – do what you feel is right! Who cares about the naysayers!?

    • Ilora

      Dancing to Uptown Girl sounds flippn’ Fabulous!

  • We did a father-daughter dance b/c my dad and I like attention and did not do a mother-son dance because my mother-in-law and husband most assuredly do not. Nobody said a damn thing. :)

  • Jenny

    My dad died when I was young, so I’m also forced to forgo tradition. My mom and I are going to do a mother-daughter dance to “Make You Feel my Love.” I like it because it shows a strong, lasting love that is able to hold you up in the hard times. There have been many ups and downs in my life, but I’ve never had cause to doubt my mom’s love for me.

    I know Adele just came out with a lovely version, but we’ll probably stick to Garth Brooks since my mom is a country gal. It was originally by Bob Dylan but Kelly Clarkson, Billy Joel, and about 10 more artists have also recorded it. So if you’re interested in it, you would have your pick of genres/artists.

    And to echo what Vera said, weddings are about love. You and your grandmother love each other very much, and this is going to be evident when you dance together. That love is what people will notice, not the deviation from strict tradition.

  • js

    “You are the Sunshine of My Life” by Stevie Wonder, is a great song for non-specific but loving relationships. I also second Carole King’s “Where You Lead”. I also second “Isn’t She Lovely” by Stevie Wonder.

    “In My Daughter’s Eyes” by Martina McBride is a beautiful song, will answer all those rude, socially inept people’s question’s without saying a word, but is obviously very Mom/Daughter-centered.

    I really like “Summer wind” by Frank Sinatra and wish someone would use it for something. It’s about loss, so this could be dedicated to the Memory of your grandfather.

  • This post, the question and all the responses really struck me.
    I think having a grandmother/granddaughter dance is a really beautiful idea, and if all the people at your wedding love you and know you then they will understand. I think traditions are lovely, precious and important, but not if they make you do something you don’t want to or can’t do.
    Your wedding day is exactly that ‘yours’ and you can do as you very well please! Lots of people commented in a really positive way about the fact that we had a ‘non-traditional’ wedding – the strange thing was that it wasn’t a crazy, wild out there wedding, we just cherry-picked the traditions and elements of weddings that we liked and enjoyed and we had lots of things that come under the silly ‘non-traditional’ banner but they were really just things that we wanted to do, things that we felt represented us. Because of this we had the most perfect day. Really try not to worry about what other people are going to think, just do the day your way! Because ultimately it is a day all about you and your other half, the rest of the people are just there to witness your love for one another.
    I hope you have the most fantastic day, dance with your grandmother, it’ll be a moment that the both of you will treasure forever xxxxxx

  • Ashley

    The Best Day by Taylor Swift

  • Lindsay

    I’m in a similar boat, I was raised by my mom and will be doing all of the typical father-daughter activities with her instead. My dad changes his mind as to whether or not he will be at the wedding almost weekly, he’s too unreliable and I decided a long time ago I would be uncomfortable giving him the spotlight as a good parent when he wasn’t. My mom did it all, so that is who gets the good jobs. Also, no one has asked me why my dad isn’t around at other wedding functions. And people know my relationship with my mom and my off and on relationship with my dad, the people who I am close enough with to invite to the wedding already know enough to not be surprised.

    My mom has chosen “My Wish” by Rascall Flatts for the song we’re going to dance to . It’s beautiful :)