Wedding etiquette for parents used to be pretty simple. The bride's family paid for the wedding and reception; the groom's family paid for the rehearsal dinner and honeymoon; and the bride's mom directed the ceremony like a church choir, with even the bride and groom singing her tune.
But that was when the average bride was 20 years old and families generally looked like Ozzie & Harriet. Now "anything goes," says Peggy Post, etiquette expert and director of the Emily Post Foundation.
Brides and grooms, now considerably older and often independent, are paying a substantial portion of the tab and have more to say about who gets invited and how the wedding is structured. Parents, stepparents and sometimes even aunts, uncles and grandparents may (or may not) be helping with the budget. And details ranging from what’s on the invitation to who stands in the reception line are largely up for grabs.
So what is the proper role for parents in an era with so few rigid guidelines?
“The whole thing about etiquette is that it’s not about rules,” said Post. “The principles are respect, consideration and honesty. Those principles never change. The manners and traditions are fluid.”
In keeping with those principals, here are some wedding dos and don’ts for Mom and Dad.
- Do tell your child how much money you have available to help pay for the reception, ceremony, rehearsal dinner or other incidentals. That gives bride and groom the ability to adjust their expectations to the funds at hand.
- Don’t attach strings to your financial support. Your contribution should not be dependent on being able to determine where the wedding is held, who attends, or whether cousin Jimmy’s band should be hired to play at the reception. Your gentle suggestions are welcome, but the day is about the bride and groom. Defer to their wishes.
- Do make an effort to meet and include the other parents (whether the bride’s or groom’s) in your planning. Groom’s families often feel left out, Post said. Remember these other people are your child’s future in-laws, likely to be sharing (or splitting) holidays with you. Getting along now can make things easier later.
- Don’t let your personal grievances intrude on the day. Chances are you’ll have to deal with someone you don’t like, whether that’s your ex-spouse or the maid-of-honor’s tattooed biker boyfriend. Weddings are stressful enough without having your child worried about whether you’ll get into a shouting match with another guest.
- Do take your fashion cues from the bride. It’s particularly important for the bride’s mother, who has a high-profile role, to pay attention to the bride’s color scheme and wishes. It’s not a bad idea to just shop together, said Post.
- Don’t get offended if the invitations don’t specifically mention you, particularly if you had an untraditional family. An increasing number of couples are putting their own names on the invitation. (“John and Suzy Soon-to-Be-Wed, along with their families, invite you ...”) This helps accommodate the complexities of blended families, as well as the reality that many pocketbooks are being tapped to host the nuptials.
- Do agree to “rotate” in the receiving line, if the bride needs to accommodate multiple stepparents.
- Don’t pitch a fit. You can state your wishes, but if you don’t get your way, remember this is not your day. Today belongs to the couple getting married. Do your best to make it great for them.
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