How To Plan A Wedding When Your Parents Are Not There For You

Estrangement, death, loss... and how to celebrate around it

I grew up in a household with a lot of abuse in South America, and I ended up running away from home at 15. At 37 I am still estranged from my mother.

My wedding wasn’t very planned. We decided to get married so nothing and nobody could separate us (ahem, immigration). My groom was American and therefore all of his family was here, and present for our wedding. My family, on the other hand, was still in South America… and not talking to me. On my wedding day, I stood in front of a bunch of unfamiliar faces, in the country I had just flown to, and recited my vows. There was no one from my family and none of my friends. The old belief that a wedding is “a celebration with your family” did not apply to me.

Now I work as a wedding photographer, and the first wedding I photographed this year consisted of a bride with a small family, and a groom who was an only child and whose parents were both deceased. The belief that a wedding is a celebration along with your family did not apply to him, either.

Nor did it apply last year, when at my last wedding of the season, the mother of one partner had died previously, and the father was too shy to take part in an event as public as a wedding.

Nor did it apply to the small, intimate wedding of one couple, in which both of their mothers had died of breast cancer.

And while media continues to push the concept of parents as an unconditional and always present being, a fundamental part of our lives, and pretty much key participants at weddings, I wonder, what happens when it is not like that?

What if you don’t have a parent to dance with at your wedding?

What if your parents have hurt you?

What if your parents have rejected you?

What if your parents have passed away, and you miss them terribly?

What if your parents are not part of your life?

The mainstream wedding industry continues to rub parental involvement in our faces, but not having a parent is more common than we all think. There are, unfortunately, lots of us. So for those struggling with the lack of their parents during their journey to getting hitched, I want to give you my five tips to help cope with the absence of a parent during your journey to wed, learned from my own experience and from working with couples for years.

It’s About The Two OfYou

Write this down and read it to yourself a couple of times. “Your wedding is an event between you and your partner.”

This might sound simple and basic, but embracing your wedding and reminding yourself of this on a daily basis is crucial for a healthy wedding planning journey. You don’t need anything else but your partner’s love.

Step away from traditions that don’t work for you

Americans really love traditions. Dying Easter Eggs, watching football on Thanksgiving, matching pajamas on Christmas, you name it, anything can be made a tradition because Americans love traditions! But what if some traditions are hurtful for you? Although some say weddings in themselves are a tradition (and that’s debatable), you can skip what everyone else is doing and use your wedding day to make your own traditions. Instead of a parent dance, for example, you can do a ladies’ dance and invite all da ladies to dance in a circle with you (or a conga line, or a line dance choreography! The possibilities are endless!). Or you can have a poem reading instead of dances, and invite anyone from your community you’d like to participate.

Cup half full, always half full

If your parent is not present in your life, acknowledge the presence of other people who have empowered you and supported you throughout your life. While wedding planning can be a painful time when we lack a present family, life often gives us amazing friends who become our family. So instead of looking at a cup half empty, this is a great opportunity to see it as half full. If you identify as a womxn, invite your friends to be part of the wedding planning process on activities that may “traditionally” be mother/daughter things. They know you, they love you, and they want to drink mimosas by your side while you try on dresses! Don’t isolate yourself!

Choose your vendors wisely

In the jungle of wedding vendors, you will find vendors who expect your parents to be present at every meeting, and vendors who prefer if you leave your parents at home. In other words, there are different styles of vendors, so pick the right ones.

When looking at a photographer’s portfolio, take a look at what percentage of images depict families in that portfolio. If you see a high number of pictures with families, it could mean that families are important for that photographer, and ultimately, you hire someone to document the wedding through their lens. A family-oriented photographer might approach your wedding from that perspective, so consider asking about that in your initial meeting with a photographer.

Find vendors through blogs that resonate with you, and be honest about what is important to you. When reaching out to vendors for the first time, pay attention to their contact form, and what kind of assumptions they are making. If assumptions about family (or gender, or anything else) feel off to you, that vendor is probably not a good fit.

Eloping is an alternative to consider

Back in the day, when we thought about eloping, our minds immediately went to “running away to a courthouse to sign a marriage license as an act of rebellion”. Nowadays, elopements are not that. Imagine climbing a park trail in a wedding dress, epic portraits on top of a mountain, saying “I do” with the music of nature, dancing around a campfire, or spraying Champagne by a waterfall! Now imagine coming back to a bar where all your favorite people await to celebrate with beer and tacos! Or go camping for a few days with them.
Elopements are a fantastic option for people who are not into the traditional parameters of weddings, or who want to enjoy the moment of the “I do” without family expectations, or find that planning a larger event is simply too painful. The beauty of elopements is that you control what is happening and who is involved in your adventure, so it can be easier to create space for your own feelings and needs.

Bonus Tip

I want to remind anyone reading this who, like me, struggles with family relationships because of an abusive past, or because of enormous loss, that you are not what happened to you. You are not what others think of you. You are not what someone made you feel.

You matter, you are important, you are worthwhile.

Your wedding matters too.

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