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D is for Divorced Parents, by Pickle.
Dealing with my parents was without a doubt the most difficult element of planning our wedding.
My parents married 30 years ago and divorced 4 years later; they haven’t been in touch with each other for 15+ years: they are, in short, very divorced. I got married last year and in the planning stages it became clear that neither of my parents were able to deal with the fact that the day wasn’t about them. They both did their best to monopolise my attention in the run up to the wedding and employed a range of hard-hitting emotional blackmail that left me utterly exhausted for the 4 months before our wedding. In the end only one of my parents came to our wedding; the other had an emotional breakdown that was (in their view) a direct result of the fact I was getting married and for various reasons couldn’t cope with coming.
With this experience of surviving weddings with divorced parents I hoped I might be able to come up with some advice that would be help others avoid some of the planning nightmares we faced and might even help people start to answer those thorny questions to do with guest lists, seating plans, speeches, The Aisle etc. However, when I sat down to write this piece I soon realised that the fact that my parents are divorced is only part of the story; my husband’s parents are also divorced and were nothing but helpful and supportive throughout the wedding planning process. My parents happen to be divorced but are also difficult parents.
How then would I suggest anyone with difficult divorced parents approaches wedding planning? Having a large G&T close to hand will help. Everyone’s experiences will be different because everyone has different relationships with their parents and there are different personalities involved but this is the advice I’d like to be able to go back and give to myself:
1. Realise that you are a different person to your parents and that your marriage does not have to be like theirs.
Being a child of divorced parents is not just difficult when you’re grappling with the practicalities of organising a wedding, it’s also difficult when preparing emotionally for a marriage.
In my family there aren’t many models of a happy marriage; I’m a child of bitterly divorced parents and have recently seen my mother through a second difficult divorce, there has always been a little voice in the back of my mind finding ways to tell me that since all marriages end in pain and divorce there is no point in getting married. I worried for years that I would surely ‘turn into’ either my mother or father, that I would end up with the worst bits of each of them in my character and that I was therefore surely not cut out for a long and happy relationship with anyone. It took me many years of my boy’s wonderful, steadfast support (and, if I’m honest, a bit of counselling) for me to realise that I am a very different person to either of my parents and I am not necessarily destined to repeat my parent’s patterns. Realising that was hugely important for me as part of becoming emotionally ready for marriage; my boy sensed it and proposed within months of me turning that corner.
2. Be realistic in your expectations of your parents.
My parents made planning our wedding quite exceptionally difficult for us and I think this is where I went wrong: I went in to wedding planning with hopes that while we were planning our wedding (and on the day itself) I would get on brilliantly with both my parents, that they would support us both in the build up and on the day. What I overlooked was the small fact that while I can cope with them in small doses, and sometimes I get on pretty well with one or other parent, neither of my parents have ever been very good at supporting me emotionally and there is always a certain amount of tension in my relationships with them both.
I learned the hard way that unfortunately the fact that you’re getting married won’t make the difficult bits in your relationship with your parents go away. In fact you have to be in touch with them a lot more than normal while planning a wedding, and have to discuss things that are emotionally difficult (guest lists, speeches, the aisle) as well as financial questions with them, this is likely to exacerbate underlying tensions. Had I realised this sooner I would have made a few decisions differently, most notably I might have realised that although the place we chose to get married is beautiful and allowed us the kind of wedding we wanted, it came with emotional strings attached that were difficult for me to deal with.
It also turns out that difficult relationships between your parents or within your wider family will not go away because you’re getting married. If you’re lucky your families might lay down arms for the day but if your family has a history of feuds and resentment going back as far as mine, this might not happen. Be realistic.
3. Form a united front with your partner.
Having divorced parents means you have to negotiate everything with each parent and have to have every conversation twice; as my boy’s parents are also divorced, in our case this meant any negotiations would have to be had four times over. For us the only way through this was to lead from the front: we didn’t tell anyone we were engaged until we’d had a chance to let it sink in ourselves and by that time we had some sort of joint picture for what we both wanted our wedding to be like; we made decisions as a team of two and communicated them to our families rather than asking for too many opinions. This meant that we mostly managed to avoid the dreaded scenario of ‘taking sides’ - sometimes what we wanted happened to coincide with what one rather than another of our parents wanted but it was important for my sanity to know that we were making decisions based on what we wanted rather than on what one parent or another was demanding. We spent a lot of time talking throughout our engagement to make sure we were both on the same page which helped me to be sure I was on ‘our’ side and no-one else’s.
4. However big the drama, your parents will get over it.
I’ve been AMAZED by how quickly all pre-wedding dramas were forgotten.
Although my mother and I were not on speaking terms at all during the week before the wedding, and although it seemed in the run-up to our wedding that there was a real chance that my father would never forgive me for certain decisions we made, just a few months on my relationships with both are now (more or less) back to normal.
Had I realised in the run-up to our wedding quite how quickly each of my parents would get over what at the time they were making me feel were unforgivable decisions, I might have been prepared to stick to my guns a bit more. Which brings me to…
5. Be true to yourself – do not make decisions you will regret.
I am a firm believer that weddings are about more than just the two people getting married and that families are an important part of the day but ultimately it is your day not theirs and the two of you have to be comfortable with all decisions you make.
There are one or two decisions we made about our wedding that, with hindsight, I would have made differently. In particular there are certain people I wanted to invite that each of my parents made clear weren’t welcome; I now wish we had invited those people as I think my parents ultimately would have got over our decision.