Ask Team Practical: Parents’ Wedding Photos

How do I recognize the marriages of my parents?


Q: Our wedding will have five parents honored. Mine have been together forty years, last November. My fiancé’s were married twenty years before they divorced, twenty years ago; his father remarried five years later and they celebrated fifteen years together this year. His mother, on the other hand, has been moving every three years to change jobs and has been single for fifteen-plus years. Though she had a brief second marriage that ended mysteriously, she still displays large framed photos from her first wedding to my fiancé’s father.

My question is related to honoring the relationships that are important to our histories and our lives. My fiancé’s parents’ marriage was not always a happy one but it lasted twenty years and created three amazing children—one of whom I am very thankful for! One tradition that I can’t exactly shake is the tradition of displaying wedding photos from parents’ and grandparents’ weddings. I love looking at the old fashions, seeing the couples in their youthful exuberance, and figuring out whose facial features we have. I worry that this would be crossing the line for my fiancé’s father and step-mother, though they will admit that they are happy their pasts led them back to each other (they had been high school sweethearts).

Am I being selfish with the wedding photo display? Are my options all or none? The idea of none does work for me—less DIYing before the wedding. Could we do just the marriages that are intact? If the latter is the case, I know my FMIL will feel left out and that her first marriage somehow didn’t matter to us.


A: Dear Anonymous,

The idea of displaying family wedding photos is, in theory, about paying tribute to the different relationships that have brought you where you are now. The puffy sleeves and crazy mullets are just a bonus. If you don’t feel that the very people you’re trying to honor will feel… honored, then it’s time for some reconsidering. Because (and this comes up pretty frequently in wedding planning) if you’re doing some tradition meant to show respect for someone, and the people in question actually hate it, keeping the tradition and disrespecting the person is missing the point.

So, I’d just flat out ask. Explain your idea, and see how they feel. Then, if they both agree that it wouldn’t be weird, include them in choosing which photos you use. I’m guessing a photo of them kissing at the altar would be on the “no no” list, while maybe a photo of them laughing together at the reception might be safer. Better yet, maybe you can find photos of them individually at the weddingall of the importance of the day, all of the hilarity of those old fashions, none of the uncomfortable mushiness that’s no longer relevant. Try digging in albums for a photo of dad with his groomsmen, or of mom styling her hair in the mirror. There are usually a handful of shots that don’t include the couple being coupley.

The idea of that conversation might make you nervous. Maybe you think it will still offend your in-laws, or that they won’t be honest about their discomfort. No problem. Meg suggests you consider including photos of your in-laws as parents, rather than from their wedding day. Like this great photo over here. All of the rest of the photos you incorporate can be wedding photos, sure, but maybe honor the father-son or mom-son relationship outright, rather than drudge up some more complicated past.


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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  • MTM

    I think it’s also important not to leave out the step mom here — she’s been part of his life for 15 years! If he has a good relationship with her, there’s no reason she should not be included in the tradition too.

    • K.

      Yeah, that stood out to me as well. But I can see how many people, from the groom to the MIL to even the stepmom, would be uncomfortable with having two wedding pictures with the FIL in them. Even though it accurately portrays life, it has a lot of potential to create unnecessary tension, hurt feelings, and/or just plain discomfort all around. That’s why I really like Meg’s idea of displaying photos of parenting, and maybe include one with the step-mom in it for good measure.

      This is of course assuming good relations all around. If not, it might just be better to skip altogether, honestly. I had to make this call because too many of my future in-laws were upset by the idea of having a photo of their (now deceased) divorced parents (my fiance’s grandparents) on display because it just reminded them too strongly of a very painful time in their life. As much as it would have been nice to have parent and grandparent wedding photos on a very superficial level, I know that no one will notice that the pictures aren’t there and that it will avoid the hurt feelings of either putting the pictures up there regardless of feelings or leaving one pair of grandparents out.

      • MTM

        I agree, but I think it’s inappropriate for the Groom’s mother to have a wedding picture between her and the father when he is married to someone else (and someone who will be there and is significant). I would go the route of the Groom’s mom maybe parenting, or at a different fancy event with the son as a child.

        • Violet

          See, that’s why this discussion is so interesting! Whereas you think that combo s inappropriate, I can’t see how ANY of the three FIL+wife pictures would work:

          only FIL+ex-wife: stepmom gets left out, her current marriage and relationship to fiancé ignored
          only FIL+stepmom: ex-wife (who on her own still displays her wedding photo, giving us an indication how she feels about this) will feel badly that she gets a parenting picture and the other couples get wedding photos, thus pointing out her single status
          FIL+ex-wife AND FIL+stepmom: awkward all around

          That’s how I interpret it, anyway. But obviously, there are many ways to see this situation!

          • Victwa

            I agree. This sounds like a morass of awkward.

          • MTM

            But Mom of Groom IS single (and who knows, she may be happily that way). I did not choose to have photos from the past at my wedding, but if I were the OP, I would go with non-wedding representative photos of my past that were meaningful. So, was there an important trip, or event (graduation, job, random happy Tuesday) that represents the relationship with the person. So instead of two awkward pictures, it would be Groom+Dad, Groom+Mom, Groom+Stepmom, all in pictures that are from the past (so still that nostalgic feel), but not awkward for the parents.

            Below, there is a discussion about is it selfish to want wedding pictures of the bio parents — yes and no. I get the desire to look at past wedding garb, but that seems to WAY overshadow the intent of the past photos. I would imagine it is incredibly difficult to be the Mom whose husband returned to someone from his past and I imagine it would be also difficult to be the stepmom whose 15 year relationship would get a slap in the face with a former wedding picture. BUT the wonderful Groom was created from the original relationship — it’s tough all around. That is why I (just, me, personally) would avoid wedding pics. Pictures of parents parenting (both bio and step) I feel are fair game.

          • Violet

            Oh yeah, I think we’re saying the same thing- that the wedding photos would be uncomfortable, but the parenting ones make sense.

            (And the only reason why I think his biomom might not be pumped about pointing out her single status is from my possibly over-interpreting the fact that she still has her wedding photo displayed in her house. But I’m a textbook case of someone who reads too much into things at times.)

  • Anon

    I agree with Liz’s advice and would add the following – in addition to your in-laws, perhaps you should ask your fiance how he feels about displaying pictures from his parents’ wedding. Will it make him feel sad to have pictures of his parents’ wedding on display, knowing that the marriage ultimately did not work out? If not, great. But I would figure out his feelings on the topic before moving forward – being the child of divorced parents can be complicated and stir unexpected emotions when your own wedding rolls around.

    • Violet

      This is really solid. To the point where I kinda assumed LW had already spoken with him and he cleared it. Because this is EXACTLY the kind of situation that makes the now-adult-child-of-divorce that is me go bonkers with hurt and sadness. (“Why can’t I look at a wedding picture of my parents without feeling sad? How can I mishmash together different photos in such a way that no one’s feelings are hurt and no one feels left out?” etc. etc.)

      • z

        Me too. And I hate, hate, hate, and resent, how their lingering divorce issues constantly create emotional and logistical problems for me. Eventually I managed to stop doing a lot of it– now I do more of what I want and if someone’s feelings are hurt or feels left out, it isn’t necessarily my problem. All of these things are the result of choices my parents made, and it isn’t my responsibility to protect them from the consequences of their own decisions. Adults are resilient, too, right?

    • MC

      Yeah this is what I was going to say. My parents are divorced and while I love looking at pictures of my parents from their courtship, their wedding, and their married life together, I would feel really uncomfortable having them displayed publicly. I can’t look at photos of my parents together without a sense of sadness and introspective-ness – which isn’t exactly what I’d want to feel on my wedding. And as someone marrying a person whose parents have been married for 30+ years, I’m pretty sensitive to not wanting to portray their marriage as a “success” and my parents’ marriage as a “failure.” ‘Cause life is complicated. So I would probably just avoid wedding pictures altogether and go with family pictures. But that’s just me.

      • Anon

        The more I think about it, the more I agree – just leave the parents’ wedding pictures out altogether, and maybe go with other older family pictures.

  • LM

    I agree that asking the future in-laws seems like a good way to go. We had family photos at our wedding but didn’t have a wedding photo of my maternal grandparents. We used a photo of the two of them from around the time of their wedding instead — perhaps that’s another alternative? It was still great to see them at a young age, honor our loved ones, and I doubt anyone questioned why it wasn’t a wedding photo (although there was obviously less emotional baggage in my situation).

  • KW

    Does it have to be exactly this tradition? Our family never did it, I didn’t know it was a thing actually until I attended some friends’ weddings. The most recent wedding I attended had a slideshow at the reception of the bride and groom growing up and then photos of their relationship as it unfolded. If you did something like this, you could start with the parents’ wedding photos, progressing to photos of you and your fiance as children with your family and friends (lots of candid photos) and that would then naturally eventually include his step mother as well, and then of pictures of you as a couple (with or without family around). This might help alleviate the awkwardness of having just wedding photos of the parents when one of those marriages did not survive.

    • MC

      Yeah, I like the idea of not limiting photos necessarily to wedding photos and making it more about honoring the relationships that the married couple has with their family/other honored guests.

    • NC

      Kinda surprised to hear it called a tradition. I thought it was a trend, but I guess I’ve seen it done a long time ago too. Given that it’s decor, though, I don’t really see that much that’s “traditional” about it.

  • Love the idea of doing photos of them as parents! You could also consider going back a generation or two and including lots of family wedding photos in your display…then it’s more about all the people who have come before you, and some of the more awkward photos might blend in a little bit more.

    • Hannah

      Agreed! Why not issue a request for wedding photos to various couples you admire? They need not even be family: if you have friends whose marriage has stood the test of time, I imagine they’d be thrilled to have their wedding commemorated, too.

  • Jules

    Could you do a collection of family photos (that may include some of the aforementioned wedding photos)? That way it’s not focused so much on the weddings, and it can potentially include everybody. I think this still honors the relationships, especially if you / your FI are in them!

    And like Liz said, I think you will still have to “know your people” and give them a heads up/check which photos are cool and which will be upsetting. Both of our parental sets recently divorced after 20+ years of marriage. For us, family photos would be ok, but ones of just Mom & Dad would be upsetting to all. That’s just us though.

  • kcaudad

    We did a similar photo display at our wedding. We made a slide show video that played during the cocktail hour between the wedding and reception. We asked family members to give us photos of their wedding day or marriages, us together with them, or us growing up, or whatever they wanted to contribute. We got some pictures of family members that had passed away or were not at the wedding. We also got pictures of us with family, friends, growing up, and of our relationship together. We combined all of these pictures in the slide show video to honor everyone, and people contributed what they were okay with sharing. People seemed to enjoy being able to see different parts of the vidoe and cassually watch it during the cocktail hour time.
    In your case, if there were lots of pictures of different couples or of you growing up, then it might not be so obvious that one marriage didn’t work out or that one person is currently single, etc. You could also do what Liz said and include pictures of you with the important people in your lives and honor people that way.

    • vegankitchendiaries

      This is a LOVELY idea!

  • Alison O

    From the letter I got more of a sense that looking at these photos can be something the writer does personally, rather than needing to show them to other people. It seemed like it was more about the enjoyment of looking at the photos rather than having them be a means for guests to share in really honoring those people and relationships. I know it can be fun to show other people your family photos or childhood videos because I’ve done it, but I also think the satisfaction is primarily yours, and in this case the awkward dynamics may outweigh the benefits.

    However, the first sentence of the letter talks about honoring the five parents, not the relationships. You can honor the individuals without paying particular attention to the relationships. If photos are the way you want to do that, I agree that showing photos of them as parents makes more sense than using wedding photos. However, in my own thinking as a guest, I think honoring people through having them do readings or making your own heartfelt toast to them is a lot more meaningful as a way to honor them in the space of your wedding community. When I’ve seen old family photos at weddings it was more of a “this is fun” kind of thing, not “wow these people are so important”–except in the case where someone very important could not be present due to death or another reason.

    • Meg Keene

      OMG how did I forget this till just now! All during editing, it never occurred to me. I was at a wedding where someone was getting divorced. I was close to the partner and knew about it, but the news was being hidden from the broader community out of embarrassment on the part of a parent. They put the wedding photo up nothing doing, and it was REALLY uncomfortable.

      Which leads me to draw the conclusion that sharing photos of marriages that ended in divorce probably only works if everyone is long since happily moved on and settled, and friends. If there is some level of drama, it can really make you feel like we’re all pretending something’s true that… isn’t.

      • Yep. I also think the circumstances of the divorce are important to consider. If both people honestly agree “we just drifted apart”and that’s why they got divorced and they have a good relationship, that is very, very different than many devastating divorces, often where the divorce was 100% one-sided.
        EDITED TO ADD: I recognize that even non-one-sided divorces can be devastating. I would imagine divorce is painful and hard and complicated, whatever the reasons…

    • Nell

      This gives me another idea for the letter writer. . .

      If what’s fun about the photos is looking at them yourself (not displaying them to others), why not make them a part of your getting ready process? Maybe display them in the room where you’re getting your hair done/dress on, and take a moment to admire them and talk about them with your family before getting all gussied up for your own wedding. This way, the focus can be on “oh wow, Mom, you look just like me in that flower crown” – without putting pressure on your future spouse’s family to do the same thing.

    • Lauren from NH

      Not to wander too far off topic, but what about honoring the dead? My partner and I are down a parent a piece and they were persons of great character who are dearly missed. I would love to honor them, possibly by vocally acknowledging their absence and that it’s okay. Because in my view we don’t get married for forever, we get married for love and family and the hope of the beautiful things we can build with the time we have. But everyone experiences grief differently and I don’t want to trigger deep sorrow or cynical gloom in guests who don’t get this perspective. But it is somewhat important to me/us as a couple given our experiences, not to pretend there is no end in life and love. Do guests get all uncomfortable with a few lines of seriousness?

      • Violet

        I wouldn’t presume to give you advice on what you should or shouldn’t do here, but when it comes to grief, I use the “Ring Theory” to help guide me as to who needs to be sensitive to whom:

        • Lauren from NH

          Hmm that is super interesting and makes a lot of sense. I am going to roll that around in my brain now.

      • Liz

        We did commemorative roses- no gloomy sentences, just pretty flowers with a name attached to each. Each of these roses representing a close family member, we were aware of who could possibly be more hurt than helped by the reminder, so we reached out to them first so it wouldn’t be an unexpected kick in the face.

      • Meredith

        Not sure what kind of ceremony you’ll be having, but we had a Catholic ceremony and honored during the prayers of the faithful. Just short little prayers (about 4 or 5) for various things, the deceased on was phrased like “For all our relatives and friends who have died, especially for our friends, _________& ______. We pray to the Lord.” It was a good way to work it in, without being too sad and lengthy. I’ve also seen a short mention in a program, if you’re having one.

      • KatieD

        I was at a wedding where the bride’s mother was deceased. At the very start of the ceremony she lit a special candle, which was explained in the ceremony booklet as being “in honour of her beloved mother”. It was beautiful.

      • Eh

        We mentioned loved ones who have passed away (including my mother and grandfathers) in the ceremony by name. We also had a memory table at the reception (it was off to the side so not in everyones face) with pictures of six loved ones (my mom and grandfathers and his one set of grandparents and his aunt). (we also had our grandparents, parents and siblings wedding pictures on our cake table – and we had a picture from my dad and step mum’s wedding there too) People were fine with it. My MIL loved the memory table and the old wedding pictures. I was a bit concerned because even though I suggested my husband talk to his family about it he didn’t mention it to his uncle or his cousin and we honored the memory of his aunt who passed away. I am not sure how they felt on the day, but I know his cousin knows that it came from a place of respect and honour. (I recently had a nice chat with his cousin about her mom and my mom as the anniversaries of them passing are one day apart.)

      • SarahG

        We are picking a reading from Shakespeare because my partner’s dad loved Shakespeare, and adding something about people we wish could be with us to celebrate on this day, including Mr G.

      • Another Meg

        Marriage can be pretty serious business, so I don’t see why honoring your parents would too serious. I’ve seen it done a few ways, all tailored to the couple and how affected parties felt about it. I went to a wedding where one of the groom’s parents had died and they left a chair reserved in the front row with a rose on it. That’s it. May not even have been noticeable to everyone. The couple didn’t want to say something but they wanted a reminder that their parents were with them even though they were gone.

        However you choose to do it, you might just make sure those who would be most affected by your choice know it’s coming.

      • SarahAreBee

        My husband mentioned “our dead” (as I think of them. Actually, this also included the close people of some of our guests, the losses of whom we were privy to, while perhaps they would not have made the guest list–e.g., my mom’s colleague’s long-time partner; our MOH’s younger brother and sister–in addition to our closely-held departed, like my grandfather, my husband’s grandparents, my uncle, my college roommate, etc.) in a few lines at the end of our toast/thank you. No one said anything about it being a downer/awkward and I felt good about our decision to do it. My dead (and my circle’s dead) are really important to me and I’m-a make sure everyone thinks about them as much as humanly possible. That said, the specific people we honored are people who are still much-talked-about in their absence, so we knew their closest would be comfortable having their names mentioned.

  • Amy March

    If the question is “I am being selfish here” I think the answer is pretty clearly yes. And I disagree with Liz’s advice to ask them. What would you gain by doing that? A pretty photo display. What would you lose? Well, sounds like you’re pretty reasonably worried about upsetting your finances mother and his step-mother, both of whom might actually prefer not to discuss their feelings about this with you. There are so many awkward painful conversations that have to happen in life (many of which crop up around your wedding as you make big changes) that if there’s any easy option to skip one of those, I’d go for it.

    • I agree. A pretty photo display is not worth it. There are other ways to honor parents. I would find another way that isn’t awkward and uncomfortable.

    • Guest

      But if you frame your asking as “hey, I’ve seen people displaying photos of your their parents’ weddings, is that something you’d be interested in doing at ours?” I think you leave it open-ended enough (and easy enough to say no to) that you can present an idea they might actually be really open to! without making it seem like a necessity.

      • Amanda

        I don’t know if the open-ended question really addresses the concern….in asking that, the dad and step-mom may say yes assuming that she only means including pictures of their wedding day and not the husband’s former wedding day to the mom.

        • Violet

          Plus (and I don’t think this is always the case), sometimes people feel like they have to say “yes” otherwise it will seem like they’re not “over it” or as evolved or whatever. My parents really try, but I can always sense the subtle, underlying “Who has really moved on from this divorce” competition, even though of course they’d both vehemently deny it if put to them that way.

    • Victwa

      I cannot tell you how much I would not want to have this conversation with my stepdaughter, AND how much I would feel pretty horrible about having a picture of myself and husband at our wedding displayed next to a picture of husband and former wife, also on wedding day. As everyone pointed out, pictures of everyone in the various families are totally appropriate– I just don’t see why they have to be wedding photos. There is a lot of pressure to “do things for the kids” and to stuff your own feelings down when it comes to being a stepparent. Being asked, “How do you feel about wedding photos of my mom and dad displayed next to you and my dad?” would feel really, really hard to be honest about. Thank you for pointing out this perspective.

      • Violet

        And the thing is, as kids (well, adults, but kids… offspring, whatever) we often don’t know what’s going to end up upseting our parents. For example, I did not anticipate that my dad’s wife contributing financially to the wedding would be a sore spot for my mom (she handled it like a champ, no dramatics, etc. because she’s an emotionally-healthy person) but just because they’re our parents doesn’t meant they aren’t entitled to their feelings, and just because they’re my parents doesn’t mean I always know what’s going to be a sore spot. So, uh, yeah, I avoid unless I have a darn good reason to bring up these things.

      • Amanda

        Thinking about having to have that kind of conversation with my potential, future “step” daughter-in-law just made me cringe…..

      • z

        There is also a lot of pressure on adult children of divorce to stuff their own feelings down to spare the parents and step-parents.

      • z

        Why would the photo bother you so much? Just curious.

    • Amanda

      I 100% agree with you. As both a child of divorce and a step-mother I think bringing in wedding photos makes things….complicated. It’s not that you or your fiance can’t enjoy those photos — although, I would make sure your fiance actually enjoys looking at them before bringing them out before the wedding. It’s just that the pictures probably don’t have the same goodwill associated with them that many wedding pictures do and that can make things feel….kind of weird.

      Personally, it makes me feel extremely awkward to look at pictures of my parents on their wedding day, even though they were married for 20 years and had all 4 of us kids together. I love my parents and I love our family (which now includes my step-dad of 12 years) but when I look at my parents’ wedding photos all i can see, outside of the funny ensembles and my siblings features on other peoples faces, is the great but complicated history that’s about to ensue. I see bad decisions written all over a lot of people’s faces….and it just makes me kind of sad for them. As such, my parent’s wedding day just doesn’t feel to me like something I want to commemorate and celebrate. Obviously, without it happening I wouldn’t be here so I’m thankful in kind of abstract way but, to me, it’s still awkward.

      And now, being a step-mom, I understand the sadness/bitterness from the other side as well, for my husband, myself and, partially, his ex-wife. His wedding to my step-son’s mom is representative of a lot of bad things in both of their lives — and they were only married for 1.5 of the past 15 years! The point being that, everyone can be in a very good place now and feel happy about the history that got them there but it doesn’t mean that they want to celebrate and commemorate all of those moments.

  • Kelly

    We had almost this exact same problem with family wedding photos (I really wanted them because my family has lots of strong marriages…FH’s family not so much) and ended up expanding the project to just include everyone. We now have a) wedding photos from family members and all of our married friends b) happy photos of partnered people and c) photos of happy memories with pretty much all of our guests. I think we’ll end up having a whole wall of community photos and we still get to look at fun old wedding photos. FH’s parents are divorced and his mom is happily remarried while dad is single. We asked her if she’d like that old wedding photo to be included and she’s still deciding. In the mean time, FH selected some nice photos of him and his dad and one family photo from the time when his parents were still married. The wedding is in a week, so we’ll see how it goes down.

  • emilyg25

    We had a very similar situation and ultimately, I decided it wasn’t worth it. We honor our parents’ relationships all the time, privately. I didn’t want to call attention to his parents’ divorce and unnecessarily cause angst just for a photo display.

    • vegankitchendiaries

      Yup, us as well. We both ached to honour the amazing marriage of my husband’s mother (to his step dad) and his father (to his step mother). However, I didn’t want to call attention to the fact that my mother has been single since forever (basically including the entire time she raised me and my sister). Even mentioning how inspiring and beautiful their relationships are to us, as much as we wanted to include it in our thank yous, just made me feel like my mom was going to feel SUPER weird so we left it out.

  • CH

    My husband’s parents have been married for over 40 years; mine are divorced. This is exactly the reason why I chose not to display family photos at the wedding. It would be too awkward* to show my parents’ wedding photo because it would be commemorating a marriage that did not last!

    *Also, it would be awkward because at my dad’s bachelor party, his brother got angry at him and punched him in the face. My dad had a black eye for the wedding. They tried to cover it up with makeup, but it was *super* obvious that something was going on. So yeah, the last thing I want to explain at my wedding is, “Yeah, my dad looks like he has an alien face, I know….right, see, my uncle punched him square in the face right before the wedding…mm hmm, he and my mom are divorced now…no, not because of the black eye.” NOPE.

  • Lisa

    We had the same question pop up with my fiancé’s grandmother. I love the idea of including the photos of our parents (all still married) and grandparents, but his grandmother’s marriage ended in a pretty bad divorce after 30ish years, and the grandfather remarried a woman no one liked. I love the grandmother and wanted her to be part of the photos I wanted to display of the relationships that brought us to where we are. My fiancé knew that this was something I wanted to do, and he tactfully approached his grandmother to ask if she would like any photos of her or her wedding included in the decor. She enthusiastically agreed and actually offered to dig out some photos of her grandparents and parents so we could include those as well.

    Perhaps the situation isn’t quite the same since the divorce happened 30 years ago, but if this is something you’d really like to do, I would encourage you to talk to your fiancé and maybe have him tentatively broach the idea with his parents to get their feelings on this. If any or all of the parties are uncomfortable, I agree with Liz that the parenting photos would be a great substitute.

  • KC

    I don’t think having them displayed is at all necessary (or, honestly, given that not everyone is “happily ever after”, a good idea), but you could potentially have one photo of you and your husband on your wedding day holding all the photos or surrounded by all the photos (ridiculous way to do this that does not require hanging them on the walls: finding a neutral floor [or piece of posterboard], “hanging” them around your heads, lying on the floor with husband, and take photo).

    But I really wouldn’t go for a display especially given that things are “uneven”. There’s always a chance that people would legitimately be okay with it and not have it bring up unpleasant memories, but that chance seems smaller than is worth it?

  • leafygreen

    The suggestion of photos of the parents being parents, rather than getting married, is an excellent one, I think. Especially if you have separate dad-and-kids and mom-and-kids photos.

    My parents divorced a couple of years after they had me and none of us have very pleasant memories of their marriage, but I think even I could get away with that without hurting any feelings.

  • Ella

    Ah, I loved this idea, and knew it wouldn’t work out since my husband’s parents are very, very divorced. We chose instead to go with pictures of ourselves growing up, with our parents and/or grandparents. This was especially nice considering my husband’s grandparents ended up too sick to attend our wedding. For me, this was a good balance of nostalgia and pleasing everyone.

  • Rachelle

    My parents are still married, but my husband’s aren’t, so instead of including parents at all and making those tough decisions, we just had wedding pictures of all 4 sets of grandparents, partially to honor the ones that weren’t able to be there in person. My parents weren’t upset that their wedding picture wasn’t included and I don’t think they even considered it.

  • Victwa

    Here’s something I keep thinking about– would any of us want to attend an event where pictures of our significant other were displayed prominently with him/her getting lovey with someone else? I’m going to to go with A BIG FAT NO for the vast majority of people. To my point below, I think that family pictures that may involve both formerly married parents are totally appropriate, because that’s part of the couple in question’s history, etc. I just really think that the wedding pictures when people are married to different people now are really different, and I don’t think asking the people in question is fair, either. What if the mom says yes, she wants a picture of her with her former husband, and the dad says no? Now you’re setting up a weird situation where you have to decide whose wishes you are going to honor, and boy, howdy, does that sound unfun….

    • Amanda

      Victwa, can we be friends?

      • Victwa

        Totally! I really liked your more lengthy response above, about having seen this from both the child and stepmom side. Can one email through disqus?

    • z

      I don’t think I would mind, personally. I don’t freak out every time I see an old photo of my husband and an ex-girlfriend, and I certainly wouldn’t skip an important family event over it. I think if you choose marry someone who has children with a former spouse, being reminded of the earlier marriage is just a normal part of life. Adults are resilient, too, right?

      I showed pictures of my parents’ marriage, even though they are divorced, because it was really important to me. And I would never have asked my parents’ or stepmom’s permission to do so. They chose to divorce, and chose the bad choices that damaged their marriage, and she chose to be the *third* wife of a very complicated man. I’m not going to erase my parents’ marriage to spare anyone’s feelings. It is a fact of life, and it is childish to try to pretend it away and expect other people to cooperate. I like my stepmom fine, but when it really comes down to it, I don’t feel obligated to place her preferences above my own. It’s not like I made any vows to her, and she’s not the only person with feelings here. There isn’t a solution that will make everyone happy.

      I am so sick of the constant, invisible emotional labor of the child of divorce, always having to stifle my true feelings and compromise my own preferences to avoid creating awkwardness for any of the adults who chose this arrangement for all of us. Divorce has meant a lot of losses for me, and there are some things I just choose not to sacrifice. There is a lot of social pressure on children of divorce to pretend that they are happy with the situation and think the divorce was for the best. But I don’t always go along with that. On my wedding day, I was true to myself. I hate having divorced parents, and I don’t owe it to anyone to pretend otherwise. I cherished my parents’ marriage, even though it wasn’t very good. I will always, always wish I could have had an happy family. I will always, always recognize the burden their divorce continues to impose on me, my husband, and my children, even if my parents refuse to acknowledge it. So to be true to myself and honor the idea of marriage, I displayed a picture of the family that once existed, even though probably it made my parents AND their new partners feel a little awkward. It’s really not about the picture, it’s about their feelings about their own choices and the disappointing realities of life, and it isn’t my responsibility to protect them from those things.

      • Amanda

        I think it’s odd that someone would want to be reminded of the disappointing realities of life on their wedding day and “honor a marriage” that didn’t work. On your wedding you can do as you please but it seems like a harsh thing to face on such a joyous occasion.

        Also, I do want to point out that ex-girlfriends/boyfriends are not the same as ex-wives/husbands. Not even close. Even long-term ones. Even ones where you might have maybe gotten married but didn’t. So it’s great that you don’t freak out when you see a picture of your husband and his ex-gf, but it’s not the same as an ex-wife. Also, no one was saying there would be a freakout but it certainly can be a pang of hurt for many parties and it’s at least worth taking into consideration. You have the right to do what makes you happy but you should at least consider the benefits vs. consequences.

        Finally, I know that divorce is hard on kids and families for forever — even once those kids are adults, actually, maybe more so when they are adults. But it’s hard on parents too and I think some consideration can be given to parents, especially when you become an adult yourself and realize life can get complicated and maybe our parents made mistakes but everyone makes mistakes. A little bit of kindness from all parties in the situation can really go a long way.

        • Violet

          Your take on having consideration for others is of course correct in theory, but sometimes, it can be very hard in practice. I personally try to be “the bigger person” most of the time with regard to my parents’ divorce (see all my other comments how I wouldn’t touch this issue with a ten-foot pole, out of respect for everyone’s feelings involved). But it does chafe to hear even well-intentioned people remind me that I should try be the bigger person for those times when I just feel I can’t. Maybe I have a skewed perception, but I mostly hear about children of divorce being “resilient” and “turning out fine” and it “being for the best” and how they should get over it if those things aren’t true (or seek therapy: I know, I have, I’m always working on myself). I much less frequently hear people saying, “You know what, what your parents did sucked for you. I get that you’re still mad, and that sometimes your anger means you’re not always the best version of yourself.” When you’re a kid and your parents divorce, you’re viewed (correctly so) as a victim of circumstance. Once you’re an adult, all of a sudden people expect you to contribute to bettering a situation that you never caused, and it feels incredibly frustrating. My experience only.

          • Amanda

            I absolutely agree with you, Violet, and have experienced the same exact things. It does suck for the kids and the fact that no one really acknowledges that once you’re an adult is incredibly frustrating. Especially when in a lot of ways it sucks even more once you’re an adult.

            I think the point that I was trying to make (maybe not so well) is that, when something is really important to you, you should do it…because it’s not your job to be the bigger person all the time and it’s always your job to take care of yourself. But, you should do a gut-check and at least think, does this really matter to me? Is it going to cause me more sadness and hurt than good? If the answers to those questions are respectively yes and no, than great! Go for it! But you should consider those things because not considering them can only make your situation hurt more. And along those lines it’s obviously 100% ok to be mad and sad and upset about the fact that you don’t feel like you can do those things without introducing more hurt and that SUCKS! And it’s also fine to do them knowing they are really important to you and who cares what everyone else wants! But you should ask yourself those questions so that you understand exactly how you feel about it.

          • Violet

            Oh! I see what you meant now. You were commenting that unfortunately, when your parents are divorced, you always end up doing this cost-benefit analysis. And it sucks, but yup, the analysis has to be done. I hear that, lady.

        • z

          Amanda, I hope you meant well, but do you really think I didn’t consider the benefits vs. consequences? Sometimes it feels like that’s all I do! And yet, no perfect solution manifests itself. I really do try to be kind– it’s not like I haven’t thought of that one. But I have my own well-being to consider as well. I’m a person too. So I find your words somewhat frustrating.

          My stepmom’s feelings about the photos were actually just an annoying sideshow– the real drama was over whether my mom’s boyfriend, with whom she cheated on my dad. My dad hates his guts, and I don’t like him either. My mom wanted him to be in the procession of “parents,” which is hilarious to me because he’s actually a pretty crappy parent to his own children. So I let him come as her +1 but not as a family member, even though it kind of crushed my dad to have him there at all. I would have preferred to not invite him at all, but I was afraid it would destroy my fragile relationship with my mom. Sometimes there is not a good solution, and chasing the dream of everyone being truly satisfied is a waste of time and causes more heartache than it resolves.

          There are many pangs of hurt at a wedding when parents are divorced. No pictures would have caused pain to my in-laws, because that’s an important tradition in their family. I wanted to recognize their marriage. It’s a wonderful thing for me to be a part of their happy, intact family, although it hurts sometimes to see clearly what my family has lost. My parents’ marriage was happy for many years, and it’s an important part of my life story, so not including a picture would have caused a pang of hurt for me. There was no way to make everyone happy, and I made a lot of other compromises to accommodate their divorce. As I often do.

          Everyone makes mistakes, but people also make choices. My parents made many bad choices. The choice to cheat. The choice to give up. The choice to be cruel to your spouse. I believe that the people who made those choices can experience the consequences, rather than expecting others to protect their feelings at the expense of their own.

          Adults’ feelings are the cause and justification for divorce, and yet sometimes the feelings of adult children or other people involved don’t seem to count for much.

          • Amanda

            Z, your situation sounds terribly hurtful and frustrating and I’m really sorry to hear all of that. I hope that maybe time will make it less so and that the other adults step up to the plate and take responsibility at some point.

            My original response was just a response to your first comment which didn’t have much context. In general, I’m an advocate for being a bit more understanding and considerate because I think not being so can hurt you a lot more in the end. Without any context, it seemed as though your belief was that the child shouldn’t have to give any consideration to the parents because they did what they did and I just don’t believe that to necessarily be true. In your case, it seems like you have had to carry the brunt of the burden which is not at all fair and you should ABSOLUTELY be standing up for yourself and your emotions.

            I’m very sorry if I offended you.

          • z

            Thank you. You’re very gracious and I appreciate it.

  • light0a0candle

    I like the idea of displaying ‘parenting photos’, you could include everyone including the step mother that way. Great advice!

  • Katie

    My parents are divorced and I wanted a family wedding photo tree at my wedding. It included photos of married siblings, grandparents, and great grandparents where available. I just asked my parents if they were ok with being included. Both of them said they were ok with it. To my husband and me it was about displaying family history, and my parents marriage, regardless of its outcome, is a part of that.

  • DC Jess

    This isn’t completely relevant to photos… but maybe relevant enough?

    My parents are divorced, as are my husband’s. We had a very non-traditional ceremony that was basically: I say something nice about my parents, Nick ditto, I say something nice about Nick, he about me, vows. Here is what I said about my “first family.”

    “On this day that Nick and I create a new little family, it feels right to appreciate the little family made me: my Mom and Dad. Though you may not be married now, your marriage showed me a lot of what I want in my own life. Yours was a marriage of equals, back in the day when that wasn’t so common, a union of two people participating fully in their professional and personal lives. Mom showed me that contrary to some opinions, women can be damn well respected in this man’s world. Dad showed me that beside every ambitious professional mom stands her equally feminist partner. You taught me to expect a lot, both of myself and of my husband, and it’s because of you that I knew how to pick a good man to be my partner. But you also taught me that hard minded equal partnership is not always enough. You need the squishy stuff too. You need someone who leaves love-note post-its on the bathroom mirror, and someone who will bike and hike and sail and adventure with you, someone who makes you feel safe when you would otherwise be vulnerable, someone who makes you a better version of yourself because you can’t help but be better through loving them. These are the things you’ve shown me in your new relationships. These are the things my first family taught me. These are the things I want for my own new little family.”

    • vegankitchendiaries

      Oh my, God. That’s actually incredibly beautiful and well said. x

    • scw

      this made me cry, and I’m a stranger, so I imagine that your parents were really touched.

    • Not Sarah

      Oh my gosh this totally made me tear up. That was beautiful.

  • Meredith

    Just don’t do the parent’s wedding photos. It is a lovely tribute when parents relationships are “normal.” My sister displayed parents and grandparents wedding photos at her reception. All of the parents and grandparents involved in her wedding had long and happy marriages. I did not even consider it because, while my parents have had a long and happy marriage, my in-laws is quite unique. My husbands dad, was a man in his wedding photos 30 years ago, but no longer identifies that way. Despite these changes, my in-laws still have a wonderful relationship and home life. I do know that for my parent in law, looking at old photographs of herself is very hard for her and she would not have wanted any on display for our guests. She is a great parent though, and if we would have asked to display the photos, I am sure she would have agreed, even if it hurt because she thought that’s what we would want. So I am glad we didn’t put her on the spot that way!

  • Rachel

    I am dealing with a somewhat similar issue – I have tons of family photos, while my fiancee’s parents are divorced and he has relatively few. I’m compensating my mixing in a ton of other photos – places we’ve been, pictures of our friends and adventures, as many pictures of our grandparents/ancestors as I can scrounge up, etc. So everyone is represented but the layout does not focus attention on either of our parents marriages.

    As far as I’m concerned though, grandparents marriage photos are totally fair game. Plus they always look awesome.

    • KH_Tas

      See, I would never consider posting my grandparents’ wedding photos, because while one set had 50 happy years, the other had six and a messy breakup with total estrangement of one from the children. Goes to show how individual we all are.

  • Laurel

    Just a thought…you also mentioned grandparents’ photos in your post. Between my husband and I, we have 7 wonderful parents (3 of these people are stepparents who have been around for varying degrees of time). I wanted to incorporate photos into our wedding (as I like that tradition as well), so we blew up pictures from each of our grandparents’ weddings (no divorces there) and displayed them. They were all black and white, and they were all so, so, so lovely. Our guests actually really enjoyed looking at them, and many of our grandparents are no longer with us or were unable to attend, so it was a nice tribute. We didn’t label them, so many people played along and tried to figure out which set of grandparents went with each of us or our parents. We incorporated our parents and stepparents into the wedding in other ways that were meaningful and more comfortable for them and us. Maybe this could be a “meet in the middle” option? And perhaps combine it with pictures of each of you with your parents in non-wedding situations?

    • joanna b.n.


  • We wanted to do the same sort of photo display, with parents and grandparents, especially because it would be a nice way to honor my late grandfather and my partner’s late grandmother. But my parents are bitterly divorced and I’m estranged from my father, and my paternal grandparents likely will refuse to attend the wedding.

    Just like the anniversary dance would be inappropriate, given that it would break my grandmother’s and his grandfather’s hearts, we’ve agreed that the photos are also inappropriate. We’ll find other ways to honor our grandparents. I think you need to let the idea go.

  • Lisa

    I would not honor the marriages/weddings, but the families.

  • invity

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  • Amanda L

    ” One tradition that I can’t exactly shake is the tradition of displaying wedding photos from parents’ and grandparents’ weddings”

    Is this a tradition? While I’ve seen it here and there at the weddings I’ve attended, I have never felt like NOT having this left a huge whole. For similar reasons (my DH’s mother is married to husband #4), we didn’t even consider it. Maybe you should gather the pictures you like (your parents and grandparents, his father’s second marriage, etc), and make an area in your home to display them. Not everything has to be for public consumption.

  • Sentimental to a point

    I really want to put our parents (both sets still married) and grandparents (all mine are deceased) wedding photos out, but I have run into a very specific problem – my paternal grandfather died decades ago, when my father was a child – and by all accounts was an abusive alcoholic. I’d like to put an old photo of my grandmother alone, as I have no connection to this grandfather and his own children have very little positive to say about him, but I realize this will look odd with the otherwise happy couples on their wedding day. If nothing else this is a conversation to have with my dad, but is it worth the confusion of other guests?

    • Lindsay Rae

      Late to the posting here but I am in the same boat. Both mine and my fiance’s parents are still married and both of his grandparents are/were married before passing. Both of my grandparents however were divorced. My grandfathers have passed, and I am going to use a solo shot of each of my grandmothers on their wedding days. Not that I didn’t love my grandfathers, of course I did, but the marriages ended unhappily, and both of my grandmothers are here to be honored, so I am honoring them. Hope that helps!

  • Larla

    My parents had a happy marriage but sadly by father passed away 20 years ago. My fiance’s parents are long divorced and his father is now in a very happy 20 year long relationship although they never married. I also love the display of old wedding photos but I recognize that its just not going to work for my wedding. I may do a photo table with various family photos including a wedding photo or two.