Including children in wedding ceremony helps unite families

by Judy Stringer

When the bride and/or groom have children from a previous marriage, a wedding ceremony involves much more than two people becoming husband and wife. It is the birth of a new family, and couples can embrace a number of creative and meaningful methods of symbolizing that new unity.

Including the children in wedding vows is one of the best ways to unite two families, according to Anjelica Nelson, a Fairlawn-based marriage and family therapist with Avenues of Counseling and Mediation. Vows that reference or include the kids, she said, reinforces that the new parent will love and care for them.

Marge Dzmura, an event planner with Woodside Event Center in Broadview Heights, recalls one “touching” ceremony during which the bride and her young daughter, both dressed in white, stood with the future husband in front of the officiate.

“The groom worded his responses to include the daughter, vowing to love and honor them both,” she said. “He placed a ring on his wife’s finger and placed a heart necklace around the neck of the little girl. When the service was complete, the three of them walked hand-and-hand down the aisle.”

Event planner Janet Abbey with Cleveland-based Party 411 recounts a wedding in which a groom bought his future stepdaughters little diamond rings and placed them on their fingers as part of the ceremony.

“It was his way of saying, ‘I am not just marrying your mom, but I am marrying your whole family,’” Abbey explained.

In another memorable experience, she said, two families with children of all ages composed a mission, vision and values statement prior to the wedding day. They then signed it before the ceremony – much like a ketubah signing at a Jewish wedding – and the document was presented during the ceremony and later framed.

Couples also can invite younger kids to serve as flower girls or ring bearers or older children to be bridesmaids or groomsmen as another way to incorporate them into a ceremony, the event planners said. They’ve also seen brides and/or grooms present their future stepchildren with different types of jewelry engraved to commemorate the family unity, such as with initials or the wedding date.

Pouring colored sand together into a glass vase is a popular symbolic blending exercise as well. In this activity, children get to choose their color of sand and watch the colors meld into a beautiful keepsake.

Whatever couples choose to do at the ceremony, preparing for the family blending should start long before the big day, Nelson said. Let children be part of the wedding planning, she said, or house hunting if a move is part of the marriage. Also, discuss with each other and the children what the new roles, expectations and boundaries will be once the marriage is formalized.

But don’t just focus on rules and restrictions, Nelson suggested. Be sure to explore what special attributes, qualities or experiences each person brings to the marriage that might provide opportunities to support stepchildren.

“One parent might say, for example, I have gone through this type of trauma or I’ve gone through this type of really fun experience, so you could come and talk to me about that,” Nelson said. “Finding places where you can connect and things you have in common provides a benefit, instead of just, “Here’s some new rules and boundaries.’” ∞