Dear Readers - Amidst the joyful summer wedding season, comes a dilemma: Where do stepparents fit?
A June 3rd question zapped a nerve: The bride asked her biological father - not her long-time, "on-site" stepfather - to escort her up the aisle. My web mail sizzled.
I, too, am a stepparent, as is my husband; we became involved with each other's children, who were teenagers and older, and also faced some awkward decisions. When weddings include remarried parents, the etiquette books can't resolve emotions.
Here's my take on the whole tangled scenario:
The goal here is harmony - not winning. I salute Dr. Phil's incisive probe: "Do you want to be right, or do you want to be happy?" At wedding time, working at harmony produces more "happy," no matter who's "right."
Divorce often leaves a bad after-taste ... maybe a child's persistent sense of loss, or a parent held back by anger, or bitterness sucking up the air between exes.
Too rarely do biological and stepparents blend equitably in raising the kids.
But what about the now-grown bride and groom? As the Big Day approaches, some infuse their memories with fantasies.
Example: Father of the Bride finally walking proudly alongside "Daddy's little girl."
I get how some of you feel:
"It's a slap in the face of a parent whose child doesn't appreciate the love and respect they've provided and insists on allowing an absentee father to take full credit for his daughter's upbringing." - Reader #1
Ideally, major wedding decisions should be discussed within the family. Of course, different circumstances will require different solutions.
"My stepdaughter had her father on one side and me on the other. We did a high-five when we handed her over to the groom!" - Reader #2
But wedding players can get confused between celebrating and celebrity. Some brides, grooms and parents envision themselves in the Big Show. Their concern for what others think muddies the family's internal scene the morning after.
Example: Anger about a stepparent's secondary role. Remember, please, that guests aren't an "audience" - they're relatives and friends who know just who drove the kids to hockey and ballet.
What about rights? If a parent and stepparent are paying the piper, aren't they permitted to call the tune?
Yes and No. Whoever's paying the wedding bills has a big financial say ... on venue, food, flowers, etc. Not on feelings.
Sure, a mature adult bride and groom will try to find honours for everyone. But even for such a thoughtful couple, the parents who gave them life may qualify.
These imminent-newlyweds are often imbued with a rosy screen on the past. They want a fresh start, combining belief in the original love at their creation with the hope of a future that proves love can last.
Consider the alternative outlook:
"The wedding will be a nightmare. Where do you suppose these parents (the mother and the stepfather who didn't escort the bride) will hang the wedding pictures?" - Reader #3
I say that's an attitude destined to foster lingering discord, no matter how understandable at first flush. Wouldn't anyone with the generosity of heart to raise another's children, see the bigger family picture, with room in the album for photos of the bridal pair with each set of "parents?"
And can't the stepparent offer a special toast or other means of expressing a "special" relationship with stepchildren?
If ALL the parents shuck off old hurts and wounded pride, I believe the deeper wedding-day success benefits the older couples plus the new one.
More readers' reactions to an absentee father escorting the bride:
Reader - "She gave herself the gift of an illusion of having a complete harmonious family that had always supported her.
"She trampled the 24/7 parents' feelings without a single thought. This poor decision-making will come back to haunt her."
(The bride's mother wrote that the decision was told to them before the wedding. That was the time for expressing feelings and suggesting a different honour for the stepdad.)
Reader - "I'm the only parent participating in my children's day-to-day life. I resent my daughter's father wanting to attend her graduation when he did nothing to encourage or support her.
"My therapist gave me the same advice you gave (see June 3 column): It isn't about me; and my kids know who's been the constant in their life. We have to let our baggage not become their issues."
Tip of the day:
Adult children's wedding-day bliss benefits all.