Making Stepchildren Feel Welcome
In real life, merging two families may not always be as seamless as The Brady Bunch.
Weddings may conjure up feelings of resentment and jealousy in stepchildren, but including them in the wedding plans can ease the tension. Here, experts offer advice on how to make your stepchildren feel as loved as possible as your families unite.
Include children in the ceremony
Adult children can serve as the best man, maid or matron of honor, and younger children can be wedding party attendants, ushers and readers at the ceremony, suggests Jillian Stevens, wedding specialist at Boca Raton Resort & Club, a Waldorf Astoria Resort.
During the ceremony, the stepchildren and bride and groom can participate in a candle lighting or sand ceremony, signifying two families becoming one in front of their guests, Stevens adds.
For an extra sentimental touch, the bride and groom can add the children to their vows. “My husband and I included both of our children from previous relationships in our wedding ceremony… by writing vows to the other's child,” says Aprille Franks-Hunt, branding strategist and CEO of Women Recharged.
Some clergy provide a moment in which both families come together and forgive each other for past hurts and pledge to try to understand one another, adds Ruth Nemzoff, author of Don't Bite Your Tongue: How to Foster Rewarding Relationships with Your Adult Children.
Honor the family at the reception
Parents can also include a special dance with their children during the reception, says Randi Martin, owner of Always Fabulous Events.
Highlighting the new family tree on a mounted sign board and displaying it at the gift table is a great way to honor all family members, Stevens says. Photographs of the children could also be displayed on the place card table or gift table.
Other reception ideas include placing a personal note to the children on a printed menu card at each place or — if they are adult age — inviting them to give a toast at the rehearsal dinner.
Invite children to the cake tasting
One fun way to include stepchildren is to bring them to the actual cake tasting, says Janel Gonzalez, a Los Angeles-based wedding planner and CEO of Janel Gonzalez Events.
The family can try a variety of flavors, and the stepchildren can have a say in the design and decor of the cake. To make it even more special, the baker could design something small and special just for the stepchildren, Gonzalez says. “This could be in place of the traditional groom's cake,” she says. “A ‘family' cake is much more symbolic and fun for everyone involved.”
Enlist someone to look after the children
Lots of strong feelings arise during weddings, so parents should prepare for children to have emotional reactions.
“When dealing with my clients, I always suggest they ask someone important to the children to be in charge of them for the day, helping them to be included but also helping if they are having difficulties, so that the wedding couple can focus on each other as lovers and let go of the parenting responsibilities for a bit,” says Judy Osborne, licensed marriage and family therapist, and author of Wisdom for Separated Parents: Rearranging Around the Children to Keep Kinship Strong.
Be inclusive and listen carefully
Dr. Richard Horowitz, parenting coach and author of Family Centered Parenting, suggests parents be as inclusive as possible with their children during the wedding planning and listen to any concerns the children might have. “Often the key concern is that the children might perceive participating in the ceremony as disloyal to the biological parent that Mom or Dad has divorced,” he says.
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