The Parent Trap
The good news? You're getting married
The bad news: You mom hates your dad--and they both plan to be there...
Dear Come Correct:
Let me try to boil this down to the essentials: About five years ago, my dad had an affair with someone who worked with him. After a scorched-earth divorce, Dad married The Other Woman and mom has remained single. He and I were close before the divorce; I have managed to maintain a relationship with him and be politely friendly to his wife (not too fond of her, considering the circumstances, but I respect that this is his choice and I make the effort). It's mostly been okay since we spend a day here, a day there together. My mother is slowly rebuilding her life, but there's not a lot out there for a 50-something woman to date, so she's mostly by herself, and she doesn't complain about it.
The one thing both my folks agree on is how much they like my fiance and how much they're looking forward to seeing me walk down the aisle.
The problem: my dad wants not only wants to come to the wedding, he wants the new wife sitting right next to him, up front, and he wants to give me away! (We're in our early 30s and are paying for everything ourselves.) He suspects my mother might demand that Wife No 2 be left at home and he has been very clear that they both come or he won't be there.
My mother has put no pressure on me--but I think she would take it extremely hard if Dad walked me down the aisle.
Torn In Half
It will make you feel any better, this is a pretty common dilemma. With the American divorce rate hovering around 50%, it would be kinda odd if this didn't pop up more frequently. You're being entirely grownup about this, and you deserve a happy, drama-free day, so here's my two cents:
Tell both your parents separately that they're both invited to the wedding and will have some role in it. You'll let them know when you decide.
Tell your father your stepmother is welcome and will indeed be sitting next to him. It's quite possible they will be the first seats in the second row, directly behind your mother and someone very close to her (brother, uncle, it's usually a family member, but could be her best friend...)
Also tell him you are considering having him walk you down the aisle--but he should understand that he will be sharing that honor with your mother. She's an important part of your life, too, and in many cultures (Jewish, Carribean, for example) both parents are expected to escort the bride if they're physically able.
If you have a reception afterward, traditionally you work you way up to the bride and groom: groom's parents, bride's parents, bride and groom. In this case, since there's tension between the parents, change things up a bit: groom's parents, dad and stepmom, bride and groom, mom.
If you have a seated luncheon or dinner after the ceremony, have your parents seated at separate tables. If there is a dais for the wedding party, separate your parents the same way you did in the receiving line.
Emphasize to your folks that this is an important occasion for you and you really hope they pull together for a few hours on this one day. They may not love each other, but they love you, and they'll want to do what makes you happy.
Wishing your much luck,
Karen Grigsby Bates is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).
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