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Divorced parents must consider children first
MISSISSIPPI STATE -- The flood of emotions parents face on their child's wedding day may increase exponentially if an estranged spouse is part of the day, but the bottom line always is to be willing to abide by the wishes of the bride and groom.
"Being civil, especially when divorces or separations have been ugly, may be the last thing you want to do, but parents need to remember that the wedding day is not about them; it's about their children," said Louise Davis, family and child development specialist with Mississippi State University's Extension Service. "Parents still need to act like adults and take the initiative for making it a smooth event."
Davis said modern etiquette allows much more freedom for the children of divorced parents to make decisions about the roles of people at the wedding. Stepparents may be more involved or seating arrangements may be very different from what tradition would dictate. The involvement of the stepparent often depends on how involved he or she was during the formative years and the current relationship with the stepchild.
"The stepparent's role at the wedding should be appropriate and with the permission of the couple. All the parents involved need to suppress selfish feelings," Davis said.
"Wedding couples need to consider what they want and encourage family and friends to abide with that," Davis said. "Communication beforehand is very important no matter how hard it may be to discuss. No one needs any unpleasant surprises the day of the wedding. That's just inviting trouble."
Davis emphasized that parents should not attempt any form of blackmail to get their way.
"For example, threatening not to attend or provide financial support may allow you to get your way, but the long-term cost of such manipulation probably will not be worth the price," Davis said. "You may have to forget the dreams you had for your child's wedding, but this event is not about you or your dreams. The children have to be at the heart of your attitude."
"It is not uncommon for one parent to say, `If he or she is coming, count me out,' but that is very unfair for the engaged couple," Davis said. "Their child should be ready to explain how important the wedding is and how the day will not be as happy without that parent. Stay calm and sincerely let your parent know how you want this special day to go for you."
Davis said parents should not put their engaged child in the middle of their conflicts, and in extreme circumstances, they may need help from a counselor or an unbiased third-party to mediate.
"For many parents, their child's wedding is a good opportunity to make up for grief they may have caused their child when they divorced," Davis said. "Weddings often signal the last time estranged couples have to be in the same room. If they can endure each other just that one day, it could mean the world to their child, who will be able to remember a wonderful family wedding and not another family war."