In the 21st century, divorce and remarriage have become commonplace. What once was an exception is now the ‘norm.’ Not surprisingly, a type of etiquette has evolved to deal with such issues that may arise as a result of this: ex-etiquette.
It’s difficult to say why the word etiquette has come to mean ‘correct behavior,’ but it has. My wish is that etiquette would become synonymous with kind and respectful behavior—a type of behavior that allows our lives to run smoothly and pleasantly, with as much grace as possible.
When dealing with an ex of any variety, there may exist some animosity. To express this—I believe—is always unacceptable behavior.
There is no place where ex-etiquette is more necessary than at a wedding. This is a time when the bride and groom should be at their happiest. There is no need for a mother of the bride who’s had one too many glasses of wine to lash out at her exhusband and his new wife (or “The floozy who ruined my life.”) Have a close friend watch out for both ex-partners, and when danger looks imminent, have the friend ask mom or dad for a spin on the dance floor, or maybe offer to show them the cake.
There exist proper ways to address invitations when parents of either bride or groom are divorced, or when remarriages have occurred. If you’re bewildered about these things, you have several options, including consulting a printed guidebook that deals with these issues. My suggestion, as always, is to use your wedding planner or your florist for their ideas. A good stationer is another source for advice.
During the ceremony, there exists an appropriate way to seat divorced parents, and at what point in the procession they should appear. One major concern for brides is who will escort her down the aisle when the parents are divorced and re-married. Believe me when I tell you I’ve seen every combination possible: Some have included both step-father and father escorting the bride to the altar halfway, one after the other; or having the bride’s mother walk her down the aisle. We had one bride so exasperated over the whole deal, she decided that she, like the bridesmaids, would process alone.
Again, consult a professional to guide you through these decisions. You could even play ‘good cop/bad cop.’ Just shrug your beautiful little shoulders and say, But that’s what the wedding coordinator says is the best way to handle this.
One major faux-pas I see often is the bride (or groom) wanting a picture with just her biological parents, completely disregarding the step-parent’s feelings. It is your child-of-divorce wish that your parents will somehow be together (ain’t gonna happen). So take a picture with mom and her spouse (and dad and his spouse) and call it a day. Anything other than this is disrespectful.
I was 21 before I ever knew that my older brother was my half-brother, and that my mother had been widowed before marrying my father. I remember feeling so awkward when asked about my parents, and telling others that my father had passed away (as if it was a disgrace of some sort). Thank goodness, those awkward feelings of the ’50s and ’60s have given way to a very open and gracious way to talk about our parents’ marital situations.
Ex-etiquette has given us ways to deal with inevitable facts with grace and without shame or avarice. It dispels feelings of guilt for the guiltless. Mostly, it allows life to be as pleasant and enjoyable for all.