A Guide for Parents: Your Wedding Etiquette Questions, Answered
Your son or daughter is tying the knot—congratulations! In the sense that there's nothing quite like being a parent, there's also nothing like being the mother or father of the bride or groom. It's a unique experience, one that both is and is not about you. Your child—your life's work!—is about to take a huge step and will likely want you by his or her side in some capacity throughout the planning process and on the wedding day itself. But it is their wedding (not yours!) and, while it might be your instinct to go into full-blown parent mode as the celebration takes shape, it's important to take a step back and realize where you stand.
To help you navigate this sometimes-tricky process, we've put together a quick, comprehensive guide to wedding etiquette for parents, complete with advice from two industry experts. Ahead, you'll find the answers to the majority of your pressing questions, which cover everything from how to (appropriately) offer and administer financial support to what to wear to the nuptials. As you read through these etiquette highlights, you'll likely realize that times really have changed. There's a solid chance that your son or daughter's wedding—from the preparation to the execution—will look and feel different than yours. If there's anything to take away from this cheat sheet, it's that embracing these changes, especially the ones that make your child happy, is a good thing.
After all, that's the point: Your child should walk down the aisle feeling happy, supported, and, most of all, loved. Heed the following tips and your son or daughter will approach this new life with the utmost reverence for their old one—the life that you gave and nurtured them through, the one that brought them to this very moment.
Traditionally, Here's Who Pays for What
Per longstanding wedding tradition, parents of the bride and groom finance different parts of the wedding. The groom's family is responsible for the marriage license and officiant's fee, the groom's attire, the bride's bouquet and rings, boutonnières and corsages, music, alcohol, the honeymoon, and (perhaps the most intuitive item on this list) the rehearsal dinner, says Anne Chertoff, the wedding expert at Beaumont Etiquette.
As for the bride's mother and father? They often carry the bulk of the bill, notes Chertoff, including her wedding dress, the ceremony venue, the flowers, photographer, videographer, catering, stationery, transportation, and the groom's rings.
Remember That Times Have Changed
In this day and age, the "traditional" division of costs is the path less traveled, notes etiquette expert Diane Gottsman. "Couples are both working with successful jobs and more often they marry later," she notes. "They can afford to pay for their own wedding—though parents still often pay, the division is more flexible."
That division is more like a three-way split—the couple and both sets of their parents contribute, in some way, to the total bill. It's becoming more common for families to take on specific segments of the celebration ("Families will offer to pay for a specific item, such as the flowers or the wedding cake," says Chertoff), as opposed to covering multiple elements.
More Money Doesn't Mean More Say
If you're paying for the majority of your son or daughter's big-day costs—especially if you're contributing more than your child or his or her fiancé's parents—it's important to remember that your contribution doesn't earn you veto power. "You can certainly request, but the ultimate decision should be the couple's, since it's their day," says Gottsman.
In order to mitigate money-related conflict, and make the planning process as smooth as possible, Gottsman recommends being up front with your child and their partner. Share your thoughts ("Make a call—not a text—and ask if you can discuss how the financial duties will be divided. Get on the same page," she says), but remember that it's not your wedding. "If there are 'strings' attached, the couple should know up front so they can decide if they want to accept your financial help," she explains.
Do Not Micromanage
Though there are plenty of things not to do when your child is planning a wedding, one of the biggest faux pas is micromanaging the process, says Gottsman: "Offer to help but don't turn into a momzilla or dadzilla."
Stepparents Should Have a Role
Navigating blended family dynamics is often one of the most stressful parts of both wedding planning and the actual big day—but it doesn't have to be. If you're a stepparent whose stepchild is tying the knot, it's important to note that your involvement isn't taboo or inappropriate ("A stepparent should not be considered an outsider if they are close to the adult child," says Gottsman). As for how today's couples are including their beloved stepfathers and stepmothers into their celebration? "Some may walk a stepchild halfway or all the way down the aisle, perform a reading at the ceremony, or share a special dance at the reception," she adds. "These decisions should be made together based on the closeness of the relationship."
Face Strained Relationships Head On
Those aforementioned family dynamics become even trickier to weed through when parents—particularly divorced parents—are not on speaking terms. Ahead of the wedding day, communication (however difficult) is critical, notes Chertoff, who advises opening an honest dialogue with your son or daughter long before major decisions (including ceremony and reception seating, special dances, and aisle escorts) are made. You do have some say in avoiding uncomfortable interactions; it's perfectly acceptable to ask to sit away from an estranged relative at all times, she adds.
"The parents of the couple should wear attire that reflects the formality of the wedding," continues Chertoff. "For example, at a formal wedding, a father can wear a tuxedo; the mother should wear a floor-length gown." If your child asks you to dress in the wedding party's color palette (a popular choice these days!), go with it—but it would also be nice if you could coordinate with your child's fiancé's parents. "In a perfect scenario, the parents could talk and discuss colors and styles, so they don't show up in the same dress," says Gottsman.
"It's important for the couple to know that you are there for them if and when they need you. Offer to help and be supportive throughout the process," advises Chertoff, who cites volunteering to pitch in with DIY projects, meeting with vendors, or fleshing out some of the couple's ideas as optimal ways to show your support.
Don't Let Your Memories Get in the Way
Your wedding was just that—your wedding. It's your job to help you child create their own dream wedding, full of moments they'll treasure always, says Gottsman. "Do your best to keep the focus on making lifelong memories," she explains. "Keep your own 'stuff' out of the equation and allow your child to create a cherished memory."
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