Planning a Wedding with Divorced Parents? Read This

Let’s face it: If you’re a child of divorce, you've probably experienced a lot of changes in your family life. Perhaps it has never even fully recovered to a normal state (unless that state is, of course, chaos). I know the feeling. My parents "started" divorcing while I was in high school and they didn't finish until I was halfway through college. Times like these are incredibly emotional and life-changing for everyone involved. Being the child of divorced parents can also be extremely tricky when it comes time for your big day. 

After my now-husband Graham proposed and we started planning our wedding, I suddenly had a lot of questions. Is it bad form to have just my mom walk me down the aisle? (I didn't have a good relationship with my father at the time.) How could I involve my dad without stirring up family drama? What if both parents walked me down the aisle? Is that even possible to ask from two people who once had a restraining order against each other? What if my dad’s wife comes? If she does, where do I seat everyone? WHAT DO I DO?!

wedding family portrait

If this is you to any extent, first, remind yourself of something I hope many people are already telling you: It's your day. In a perfect world, the people who love you will put their differences aside for this incredibly happy occasion and come together to celebrate your marriage. For me, like many other brides, it was a huge awakening to discover that this isn't always the case. If you tend to be a people-pleaser, then you may have to learn how to put your foot down.

Graham was extremely calm and accepting throughout the entire process concerning my father. He knew about our tumultuous past and he still supported my decision to contact him about three months after we got engaged. (I hadn't received congratulations of any kind from him and his new wife — after all, we hadn't spoken in nearly two years.) Building a relationship was very painful and difficult at first, but during that time, we broke through some major barriers. We eventually reached a point where my father and stepmother wanted to come to our wedding. 

The caveat: I had already asked my mother to walk me down the aisle. However, after talking to my dad, I changed my mind and I knew that I wanted to have both parents by my side. Breaking the news to them about my wish was very difficult — I had a lot of protest and anger directed towards me.

The conversation went something like this: "This is a very special day for me. I want both of you to walk me down the aisle because you are both my parents. It doesn’t mean I don’t love you any less to have someone else walking beside me. I appreciate all the love and care you’ve given me, even into adulthood. I am really stressing over this issue, on top of many others, and it would mean more than you know if you could set aside your differences for my sake, regardless of whoever else may be present."

Then I asked them to consider it for a day and after a few tries, it worked. I’m not saying this will be the fix for everyone, but consider how your parents feel, what they value, and try addressing any insecurities they may have.

bride walking down the aisle

Invitations may also be a point of contention with children of divorced parents but ours were a breeze, thankfully. We had a low-budget DIY wedding and while our parents helped, Graham and I funded our own wedding, so we didn't use traditional wording. Instead, we just included our names, our wedding website and the location. It wasn't formal by any means but we were happy with the outcome nonetheless. Find out how to word the invitation if your divorced parents are hosting ►

wedding invitation

Then came the seating. Since Mom and Dad had already compromised with me on the processional, I figured I had asked enough of them already, so I had my family sit at two separate tables. They were located front and center to reinforce that my parents were equally important. My only suggestion is that if you go this route, then advise your camera crew to avoid blocking either table when trying to film or take photos. That was our one big mistake as one table was blocked for a big portion of our first dance. 

Discuss how you want to handle family photos ahead of time, especially if your parents have significant others. Knowing what is coming ahead of time can cut down on wedding-day tension and drama. We gave our photographer and videographer a list of "must-have" moments, which made things flow a lot easier. Be very specific with them when you sit down to interview them. This way, they can direct who and when someone is in a photo. If you think your parents are the type to take over the situation, you might want to get a list of shots they would like to have with you and forward them to your photographer.

Was it tense on the day of my wedding? Yes. Did it eventually pass? Yes. I was busy enough that I hardly thought about it, once things got going. If you are just starting to plan, it might be a good idea to tell your parents what you expect or how you envision the day. If your parents threaten to boycott, then don't give into that type of behavior. Make it clear that threats won't get them anywhere. (If it works, they'll continue to do it again, right?) It's all about positive reinforcement and taking baby steps towards your goals.

I am grateful that the wedding gave Graham and I the opportunity to bond with my father and stepmother, both of whom we love very much and speak to regularly now, along with my mother and her boyfriend. Highlights from the reception included my father's toast and dancing with him to "Butterfly Kisses" towards the end (Graham and I opted not to do "official" father-daughter and mother-son dances).

family hugging

Having divorced parents made me approach marriage with a set of expectations that were quickly dissolved once I was married. After my parents' divorce, I developed an emotional wall as a defense mechanism and I believed I would never fully trust someone again. Thoughts like quitting my job and relying solely on my husband's income were terrifying for me — what if he left or something bad happened down the line?

That all changed once I was married. I found someone who I feel comfortable enough with to express my every crazy thought and worry without fear of repercussions. We have a very strong connection and we choose to meet all of life's challenges together. I never knew that I could feel so close to someone and as a result, so safe with them. It's an indescribable sense of peace when you get to that place. Many other couples have told me that marriage takes constant work, communication, and dedication — and I agree. Now I know that I'm capable of having the happy ending my parents never had.

Photos courtesy of Sarah Pritchett

— Sarah Pritchett