The whole point of a wedding is to celebrate a love that you expect to last a lifetime. Which is why having divorced parents at your wedding can be awkward. How can you fully invest in the idea that marriage is forever when there’s two people who disprove it, sitting in the front row of your ceremony?
Of course, it’s possible that your parents are amicably separated and both can come with their new spouses and everyone can laugh about it and have a good time. Maybe both can come with their new spouses and everyone can laugh about it and have a good time. But let’s say your father left your mom after 30 years of marriage for his incredibly hot 22-year-old yoga teacher, and now he wants to bring her as his date: excessive drinking and drama may ensue. Sometimes a metaphorical slap in the face can lead to a real slap in the face. Here are six suggestions to avoid tears, thrown food, and other behaviors that can ruin your big day.
In matters of delicate diplomacy, nothing should be left to the last minute. Consider ahead of time how you can skillfully navigate emotional sensitivities when it comes to seating arrangements, who will make the first toast and—if it is your fiancée’s parents who are divorced— who will walk the bride down the aisle. Remember to clue in your wedding photographer if there is bad blood between your parents so he doesn’t end up getting his expensive lens smashed. Make sure to tell the DJ that mom and dad hate each other and won’t be sharing a dance. There are no easy answers here, but it is best to think these things out beforehand
How are you going to seat your parents during the ceremony? If they are on good terms, obviously you can just seat them next to each other. But if not, the basic rules of etiquette are that your mom should be in the first row, surrounded by her immediate family and your father should be in the second row. That may sound sexist, and it is, but also your father is probably taller than your mom, so he will be able to see better from the second row. (Unless your dad is Kevin Hart, in which case, cool!)
During the reception, unless they are really on such great terms that, frankly, it’s almost weird, you should not seat your divorced parents at the same table. Whether they have dates or not, don’t make the entire meal some kind of awkward forced reunion. They deserve to relax and have fun stealing glances across the room like angry children, not sitting face to face like adults.
Rely on the Besty
If your divorced parents are still emotionally raw about their separation, recognize they will be in a state of heightened sensitivity around your wedding and try to be extra supportive. At the same time, you will have your plate full, so enlist either your siblings, an aunt or uncle, or one of your parents’ best friends to be a designated emotional crutch—especially during the ceremony and reception, but ideally also for the few days leading up to the wedding. Ask your friends to invite your parents to dance, and give them some extra attention to keep their spirits buoyant. A few small pre-emptive gestures can pay large dividends and avoid embarrassing public drama.
It’s OK to Insist on No Plus One
While we think it’s better to be inclusive, and everyone should be able to act like grown-ups, unfortunately, a happy divorce is about as common as bipartisan agreement.
One simple way to handle the issue of divorced parents is to let them know they cannot bring a date. This is, short term, a win for you: you get to have the benefit of both your parents witnessing your magical day, without having the downside of their new spouses ruining everything. Long term: you may really piss off their new spouses. This may result in a high likelihood of some low-key smoldering and vicious side-eye the next time you see them.
A wedding is not the time to settle scores, to get back at your dad for abandoning you when you were four, or your mom for bringing in that awful step-dad Harris for a few years there in the Oughts. You are starting a new family, not re-litigating the destruction of an old one. You don’t want to have a cloud of resentment and unresolved hurts hanging over your wedding, but it’s also important to realize you can’t change the past. Sometimes the only power you have is to forgive. Most importantly, don’t let your parents’ divorce overshadow your wedding. This is about your future, and it’s a celebration.
People Don’t Change
Deep down in your innocent childlike heart, you might be thinking, “This is my wedding day. Maybe my parents will bury the hatchet for a few hours and allow this to be a nice celebration for me.” No. They will not. People don’t change. If your mom has been throwing darts at your father ever since he ran off with his secretary, she will attempt to get back at him either by “accidentally” spilling hot soup in his lap or by very loudly flirting with the bartender, despite the fact that the bartender is clearly gay. Remember: you can’t control other people, but you can manage your own expectations.