Just Say ‘I Do’
by Margaret W. Miller
The emotional burden of planning and paying for a wedding is massive — even happily married couples find it enormously stressful. Divorced couples may find the process so upsetting that they’ll want to divorce their ex-spouse all over again. But as someone who’s recently been through this experience, I can promise that it doesn’t have to be as traumatic as you may imagine.
To plan my son’s rehearsal dinner, top secret midnight wedding in Central Park and formal ceremony at a private club in Manhattan the next day, his dad and I collaborated on guest lists, expenses, menu choices and much more while maintaining a sense of humor and good will. How did we do it?
Though we divorced when Evan was nine years old, we’ve worked hard through the years to put our two children first, (Evan has a younger brother) to communicate regularly regardless of how many miles separate us, and to “forgive and forget” continuously along the way.
Every couple wants to see their son or daughter find love and have the wedding they’ve always dreamed of. Parents who split up may think they’re not ‘eligible’ for this right of passage or even that they don’t deserve it. Nothing could be farther from the truth.
In fact, collaborating with your child’s other parent throughout the wedding planning process is one of the most loving gifts you can bestow on them. Engaged couples have enough to worry about without arbitrating fights between squabbling ex-spouses. Besides—you want to set a good example for your adult children who, with all good intentions, are embarking on the journey of matrimony despite your failure to uphold your own vows. The best thing you can do is to model support, patience and cooperation at a time when they need it most.
Whose wedding is it, anyway?
Even if your wedding was decades ago, you can probably remember the anticipation and joy you felt upon becoming engaged and looking forward to your big day. This is exactly what your child is experiencing, so don’t even think about becoming the center of attention by airing old grievances or declaring restrictions about what you will and won’t do that are sure to put a damper on the occasion.
With one in two marriages ending in divorce, odds are that your in-laws-to-be may also be separated, divorced, or remarried. At Evan’s wedding, three of the four parents walked down the aisle with a second spouse on their arm. Fortunately, all of us were on good terms. Evan’s father, a writer, composed a reading with a paragraph to be read by each mother and father of the bride and groom, which you can read on our blog. There wasn’t a dry eye in the house.
5 Ways To Ease The Tension
Even if your child is only a teenager, it’s never too early to begin thinking about how you’ll handle emotions and logistics on The Big Day. Here’s a checklist to help you get started.
- Just because you are divorced doesn’t mean that your child has lost the need—or the right—to the couple that can be called his parents. Maintaining a shared vision for your child and communicating about it on a regular basis will prepare you for milestone events like high school graduation, college commencement, and wedding planning, which await you both.
- As soon as you’re aware of the engagement, communicate to your child and their significant other your understanding that this is an occasion to celebrate and honor their vows and that you’ll do all you can to make their day go smoothly.
- Reach out to your in-laws-to-be with a courteous note or phone call of congratulations. Be aware that you’ll share your child (and grandchildren) with these individuals each Christmas, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and other special occasions for years to come. Embracing them as ‘family’ will go a long way toward making those shared visits easier to bear. Encourage your former spouse to do the same.
- Be honest when communicating with your ex about wedding expenditures. A wedding is no reason to go into debt. If you can’t contribute an equal amount toward the rehearsal dinner, wedding gown, flowers, venue, cake, entertainment, transportation, honeymoon, say so. But find opportunities to contribute in other ways. Address the invitations, arrange the flowers, invite out-of-town guests to stay in your home.
- There are bound to be differences of opinion along the way. Instead of unloading your grievances or complaints about your former spouse on your child, enlist a trusted friend or a counselor to take on the role of listener/advisor.
When the wedding photographer snaps a photo of the groom (or bride) between two smiling parents, you’ll be sending a hopeful message to the world.
Divorce doesn’t always mean disaster.
Children come first.
Families are forever.