While the postings I usually write are primarily for the couple planning their wedding, this post is different. I want to speak with the parents – the divorced parents – of a bride or groom. I want to share with you something of the unique perspective I’ve been given in my role as officiant.
I love weddings for many reasons, chief among them being that I love stories. As an officiant I hear a lot of stories. Stories that make me laugh, that inspire me or simply gobsmack me with their whack-a-do-ness! And then there are the heart-aching stories, many of which involve parents who happen to be divorced.
Not all “my parents are divorced” stories are tragic. In fact, I’ve met divorced parents who have somehow managed to remain friends – and who genuinely like the new spouses. Hard to believe, I know, yet true.
But then there are the other stories – stories of unhealed hurt and bitterness that propel people into saying and doing things that are astounding.
Bradley’s (all names changed) Catholic parents divorced when he was seven years old (their marriage was not annulled). His mother, who attends daily Mass, told him that if he invited his father’s wife (of ten years) she would not be able to attend the wedding.
Janet’s mother told her that if she asked her father to escort her down the aisle, she wouldn’t attend the wedding because the sight of him smiling would make her sick.
Alice asked her mom and step-dad (who had raised her) to walk her down the aisle. But her father was paying for the reception and he wanted to walk her down the aisle even though he had disappeared from her life when she was ten and only re-emerged three years ago. And, yes, he threatened to not pay for the 4-star reception if her mom and step-dad walked her down the aisle.
Just last week I met with Caryl, a bride whose parents divorced when she was ten years old. Her father remarried a year later. Caryl developed a warm relationship with her step-mom. Eventually, her father divorced her step-mom, but Caryl remained friends with her.
Caryl’s mother is now engaged and her father is again engaged – to a woman eight years older than Caryl. Caryl’s step-mom is remarried. All six people will be present at the wedding.
Caryl’s father hasn’t talked to her mother in years. Caryl’s mother and first step-mom can’t stomach her father’s fiancée and don’t want her in any family portraits. And the fiancée? Well, she’s demanding a corsage identical to the one Caryl’s mom is wearing.
Are you confused? Do you hear just how outrageous all of this is?!
When Caryl began to explain the “flow-chart” to me, she was laughing at the absurdity of it all. By the end of our conversation, she was crying. And Tony, her fiancé, whose own parents have been happily married for thirty-five years, looked on concerned and bewildered.
The pressures of dealing with it all, the pain of seeing so much hatred among people
she genuinely loves and cares for, has taken its toll on Caryl. She’s weary from the demands that each of these people is making on her.
As both an officiant and a communication coach, I offered her some tips on how to assert herself and set boundaries. But what she needs is more than “tips.”
What she needs is KINDNESS.
She needs for each of these people to be kind to her and to her fiancé. She needs them, at the very least, to be civil and sensible with each other.
And so, as you grapple with your own pain, which does need to be respected, I plead with you to not let your pain cause you to forget about your daughter or son, who is trying to be a peacemaker, who is trying to respect her or his relationship with your ex-spouse, who does not want to add to your hurt, yet who cannot bear the burden of your pain.
I’m not demeaning or dismissing your raw feelings. Trust me, my own extended family is whack-a-do enough for me to know your ex may have never offered you the kindness you deserved. Now, though, you have the opportunity, dare I say the responsibility, to offer your child all the kindness that they deserve.
I don’t know the story of your divorce – and maybe your daughter or son doesn’t even know the full story. But as an officiant, I can tell you that I am saddened from meeting brides and grooms whose hearts are torn by the flame-tossing insensitivity of their divorced parents. I know it’s not your intention to hurt your child – but you are. In more ways than you know.
It’s been said that the “truth hurts,” so here is the truth – you simply don’t have the right to douse your child and their partner with your anger and bitterness. Surely, this is not the wedding gift you want to give them?
STOP the demands. STOP the ultimatums. STOP the drama. You do have the power to stop the madness.
Your daughter or son deserves the best of who you are on their wedding celebration. How can you even think of offering them anything less? Get the support you need – and deserve. Ask your son or daughter to recognize your pain. Ask without emotionally blackmailing them. And then ask them what they need from you.
Even though I don’t know you, I am going to ask you, on behalf of your son or daughter, to do what may be the bravest thing you’ve ever done:
Bless them through your hurt and pain – and don’t let that hurt and pain cause you to hurt them on their day of hope and renewal.