A local magazine recently asked me for my input on how to involve children in their parents' weddings. For those of you who weren't able to catch the article, here is the interview and my responses.
When people get married who have children, do you think it can be important to include the children in the ceremony?
The blending of two families and changes in lifestyle, living arrangements and day to day routines can be an emotional time for everyone involved, especially children. Some children, no matter what their age, may feel resentment towards their parent’s new partner for taking their time and attention away from them. If their parent was previously involved in a relationship or married to their mom or dad, the child may harbor hopes that they could have still possibly gotten back together and worked things out. If new children are going to be introduced into the family or home, children may be worried about how their space and personal items are going to be affected. Marriage can sometimes also lead to other big life changes including moving to a new home, or new town. It is important, during all of these changes, that children are reassured that they are an important part of the family and likewise, the wedding. It should be noted though, that no child should be forced into involvement in the wedding if they are feeling uncomfortable or otherwise resentful. They should only be involved as much as they wish.
What message can it send to a child who is entering a new family setting to be involved in a wedding ceremony?
Through the involvement of children in the wedding ceremony, vows and ceremonies may emphasize that the child is important to BOTH the bride and the groom. They need to know that they are not losing a parent, but gaining a new special someone. Not only will they be able to feel the love and support that their parent’s new partner is promising to give the child, but also illustrates the strength and bond that the new partner has with their parent. Kids like to feel safe and secure, this spiritual and many times religious ceremony will help to solidify the family’s bonds, as a whole.
What are some ways for the kids to be involved in a wedding?
Ceremonies such as SAND POURING CEREMONY -each family member has a vase of a different color of sand, they are all combined into one container to show the blending of each member of the family. This makes for a great keepsake, something to keep on the fireplace mantle. Even have the large glass etched or engraved with everyone’s names and the wedding date.
SALT COVENANT CEREMONY- is similar to the sand pouring ceremony, but each individual has identical collections of salt. The idea is to pour them all together in one vase and the bond of family members cannot be broken, just as the grains of salt cannot be separated back into different piles.
CANDLE LIGHTING CEREMONY- Each child and parent has their own taper candle, lit by either the officiant or maybe grandparents. Together, the family members light one big, pillar candle.
TIME CAPSULE CEREMONY- Each family member writes a letter to each other (ahead of time) and places it in locked box to be opened some time down the road, together, maybe on an anniversary.
Another way to incorporate children into the wedding ceremony is to give each child a special, sentimental GIFT. Recommendations for these gifts (typically given after the exchange of rings,) could be a ring on a chain to be worn as a necklace, a special family heirloom that has been passed down like a pocket watch, a popular Family Medallion Pendant, which has intertwined rings or a bible.
Written vows including the children are a low key way to involve the children without being too intrusive. Each parent should include a promise to love and support the child, not only the other partner. Children can be asked to write their own vows to say to the parents, or a simple “repeat after me” correspondence will suffice, especially for young children or shy children.
Are there different ways to be involved, depending on the children’s ages (ie: say, a 5 year old, vs. a 15 year old)?
Ways for children under 5 to be involved in the ceremony and reception:
They can act as the flower girl or ring bearer in the processional (and either choose to stand with their parent at the altar, or may have a seat once they get to the front.)
One of the ceremonies listed above (minus the candle lighting ceremony)
Instead of having the officiant ask at the beginning of the ceremony, “who give this woman?” and the reply being by the bride’s parents, the officiant can ask “who shares this woman?” and the kids can answer “we do.”
If the bride has a long train, small kids can act as “pages” and carry her train during the processional and recessional.
Young kids like to feel helpful. Give them duties such as passing our programs or bubbles to guests prior to the ceremony.
Have them release butterflies or help with a dove release at some point during, or after the ceremony.
Have a mini bouquet toss at the reception, but have it exclusively for the daughter to receive it.
Ways for older children to be involved in the ceremony and reception:
Sons and daughters can be part of the wedding party as bridesmaids, groomsmen or ushers.
Put older children in charge of carrying the rings.
A bride’s son may choose to walk his mother down the aisle to give her away.
Have the child read a scripture or poem during the ceremony.
If the child in musically inclined, have them perform a solo.
Again, only if they are comfortable, have the child give a toast to their parent and new step-parent at the reception (or rehearsal dinner.)
Have teens help with putting together a music playlist for the dancing portion of the reception.
Take an older young lady with to shop for a wedding dress/bridesmaid dresses. (Limit the excursion to only a few stores at a time, or it can become overwhelming, and stop for a lunch or coffee break.)
Coordinate to have a father/daughter or mother/son dance, but maybe keep the song choice more upbeat, or even choreographed with a surprise song switch half way through.
Involve kids of any age:
A professional family photo can be taken ahead of time and included in the ceremony program or in a photo mat, to be signed by guests as they arrive (in lieu of a guestbook.)
Have a custom, family cake topper made for the wedding cake.
Take the child with you to the cake tasting and allow them to choose one of the flavors for one of the tiers of the wedding cake, based on their favorite.
Wedding invitations can list each family members’ names as the ones hosting the wedding, such as “Bob Taylor, Lizzie Taylor, Janie Thomas and Curtis Thomas invite you celebrate in the wedding of Bob and Janie.”
Instead of a “head table” with the wedding party and spouses, have a “family table” with only the couple and their children at a table.
Include the children in the getting ready before the ceremony, invite them to get dressed, etc in the changing suites, take the girls to get their nails and hair done.
Also involve them in pre-wedding parties, such as a pre-wedding golf game or bridal shower.
Your honeymoon, if you are taking one, should be adult-only. It is important to have this alone time to bond as a newlywed couple. But, if possible, plan a pre or post wedding family vacation where everyone can relax and have fun together.
Are there examples of clients for whom you have planned weddings that had their children involved? And how did that work?
Yes. I have planned weddings where older sons walk their mom’s down the aisle. It is adorable and always brings tears. A wedding rehearsal is important to plan in any processional involving children or non-traditional order.
I planned a wedding with 3 young daughters who did the sand pouring ceremony. That worked well and I believe they also participated in a bread breaking ceremony as a family. The little girls loved that instead of flower girl baskets, they got to carry “magic fairy flower wands” down the aisle.
Some kids really have some impressive dance moves. I love when they are allowed to let their talents shine. I had a bride who had taken dance lessons with her son, for their choreographed, mother/son dance. The song started out slow but then changed to hip hop and break dancing by the young son. It was so fun!
I helped at a wedding last weekend with a younger son of a bride and we sent him down the aisle as a “ring bearer” but he decided to come back up the aisle, once he escorted the flower girl to her spot, to join his mom, the bride. I guess he wanted to walk his mom down the aisle, along with the bride’s dad, we just rolled with it. Kids can be unpredictable and flexibility is a must.
I, myself, along with my brother and sister, were adult children at our father’s 2nd wedding. I think that he handled things well, by asking us each to perform certain duties that we were comfortable with, including me to coordinate the vendors, finalize a menu, etc and having my brother plan (an appropriate) bachelor party.
*Photos by Ashley Davis Photography