A few years ago I had the pleasure of attending my step-sister's beach-front wedding in Florida. She's a year younger than me, and we've always been close, even though we did not grow up together. She found (and was found by!) a great guy and was beaming all through her big day. It reminded me of the joy felt in long family ties. Knowing her since she was just a baby, hearing all of her wants and dreams over the years and now seeing her bonded to a man who will make her vision of family and commitment possible for her was truly moving.
I was also struck by her unique family dynamics and it got me thinking about the sticky situations brides and grooms sometimes find themselves in on wedding day. In this case, to put it plainly, my step-sister has two dads. She has her biological father who lives states away but has been a committed presence in her life and she has her step-father (my dad) who she lived with and formed an intense bond with over the course of her life. It's beautiful to see the connection between fathers and daughters but to see TWO connections, both powerful and important in their own ways was really special.
She could have easily favored one over the other, but she didn't do that. She had them both walk her down the aisle, kissing her and shaking hands when they got to the front. She had them both do a special dance with her that spoke to their bonds and style of affection. And, she let both of them speak, one after the other, essentially giving her away, together. Of course, it helps that the men were cordial from the start and are generally both easy going guys that wanted her to have it her way, but she deserves the credit for finding a way to honor them equally and it was clear to everyone that she had no favorite.
It can be difficult in blended family situations (especially when that shot list emerges - oy vey!) to include and recognize all the important people that contributed to your success as a human. Here are some tips for juggling the jumble!
Talk to your partner first and foremost
Get on the same page with your other about what traditions you feel comfortable with and where you might be able to fit in different loved ones through out the day. Each of you can come to the table with a list of important players, and start plugging them into the special moments you imagine. This can include roles for bridal party, speeches, officiating, rehearsal dinner toasts, readings, songs, altars, etc.
Be Honest and Sincere
Especially in sticky situations, with difficult people who may be carrying past hurts, coming in hot won't get you very far. Neither will avoidance or silence on the topic. Sitting down every person involved and explaining to them first why they are important to you and what role you want them to play will soften them to hearing about what other families members you plan to include. If it makes them upset, always return to the fact that the wedding (particularly the ceremony) is about celebrating your life and that you feel compelled to honor everyone's part in it.
Take away the stick
If there is one tradition that is really hanging over everyone's heads and jamming up the works, just eliminate that one. For instance, if my step-sister had really only wanted one dad to walk her down the aisle, but knew it would crush the other one she could have opted to have a favorite cousin or brother-in-law walk her down instead. Sometimes it's easier to be flexible if it's going to ease tensions and help create a smooth and effortless day.
Managing family relationships is often the most stressful part of wedding planning and always comes on top of what already seems like a crazy amount of negotiating, organizing, spending and thinking. Just remember, the people make the party, so it's definitely worth investing in everyone's happiness on wedding day, and of course, you'll be wise to remember those relationships will continue way beyond the day as well.