Family Matters

Bride’s Family

Dear Miss SOS:

After three failed marriages, I finally met my Mr. Right a few months ago and we’ve decided to get married late summer. To say my parents are less than thrilled would be an understatement. They have only given me $500 as a gift to plan this wedding and my feelings are hurt. Am I being petty or are my parents?

Though customary for the Bride’s parents to host their daughter’s first wedding, they are not obligated to pay for her future weddings that may occur down the road. All second-time Brides (or third, or fourth, etc.) are expected to pay their own expenses.

Dear Miss SOS:

My parents are divorced. Whom should I tell first?

Miss SOS presumes you’re referring to your engagement. If so, this is one area where Miss SOS can’t help you. You know your family better than anyone else. Do what you feel most comfortable with.

Dear Miss SOS:

I recently became engaged to a Navy sailor. High school sweethearts, I moved out-of-state to live with him. Shortly after his proposal, we found out he would be receiving new orders. We told our parents, best man, and maid of honor but before we could formally announce our engagement, the Navy Command told my fiancé we had to be married in order for them to move both of us to his new station. We told our parents and they seemed to understand. We were married in the office of a city official. We have made no “big deal” about it because we still want to plan our dream wedding.

Since then, my father has been beyond rude. He makes jokes about all my plans, talks about my guests, and belittles my husband, ignoring me when I ask him to stop. He seems to think his behavior is funny. It is stressing me out. We never asked him to pay for any of it, nor do we want him to, yet he acts like he has a right to behave this way. I am afraid he will ruin my wedding day being “comical”. How can I help him realize I want him involved, but I will not deal with such a headache?

What an interesting father you have. As Miss SOS understands it, he enjoys sabotaging his daughter’s wedding and publicly insulting her husband – all in the name of comedy.

The key duties of the Bride’s parents are to:

(a) Welcome the Groom to the family, relieving his anxiety by letting him know how to address them;
(b) Gently explain the facts of life to the Bride that yes, in this day and age, people still expect prompt handwritten thank you notes;
(c) Act as hosts to the extent agreed upon in family council with the Bride (who understands that presiding may be separated from paying);
(d) Restrain temptation to use the occasion to settle old scores; and
(e) Brief the Bride on what to expect on her wedding night, if she does not have her own children to do this.

Pertaining to your father, Miss SOS advises that you limit sharing information regarding every last little wedding detail, invite the friends and family you wish in attendance, and dispense with your father’s sense of humor by smilingly dismissing his comments with “I don’t have time for your nonsense/silliness right now.”

Dear Miss SOS:

I am an old-fashioned gentleman who wishes to propose to a young woman I know and love. Would it be proper for me to ask her father for her hand-in-marriage? I want to do the right thing to continue to gain his approval.

Your instincts are charming. Miss SOS only has a few suggestions to offer. Even in the olden days when Miss SOS was a small girl, a gentleman interested in marriage made sure that the lady in question was amenable to such a match. Therefore, the proper order is (1) Ask the young woman if she will marry you; (2) Ask the young woman for her permission to ask her father for his blessing in her hand-in-marriage; and then (3) Ask her father.

Deceased Parents

Dear Miss SOS:

My parents are deceased. I would like to honor their memory at my wedding ceremony. Is there any way I could do this?

You may light a symbolic candle during the ceremony and announce its significance to those assembled, or you could have the clergy member/officiant to either mention them or include a moment of silence in the service. You could also wear or carry a memento (a strand of pearls, a handkerchief), or you could select the person’s favorite song as your processional or have a soloist sing it during the ceremony.

Dear Miss SOS:

The Mother of the Bride is deceased. The Bride has asked me to “stand in” for her. Many are asking, “What is your title?” How do we respond to this? I have assisted in purchases, planning, shower, etc. The wedding is soon. Please respond!

Though Miss SOS is delighted to learn of your close and loving relationship with the Bride, it is not necessary to give you a “title”. You already have one – as the Bride’s aunt, godmother, sister, grandmother, niece, cousin, or close friend of the family. Guests already acquainted with the Bride are aware of her loss and do not require further explanation. For those who do inquire, gently smile and respond it is your honor to step in on behalf of the Bride’s late mother.

If there is to be a Receiving Line, you may receive with the Bride’s father and act as the hostess for the occasion. The Bride’s father greets the guests first unless you are a female relative living in the Bride’s home (i.e. grandmother or aunt). If so, you take the place of the Mother of the Bride and are first in the line to welcome guests. If the father has remarried, his present wife is the hostess with him.



Dear Miss SOS:

Why is it that some people don’t want children at their wedding?

Because they have yet to learn that they will have more problems with the adult guests at their wedding than with children.

Dear Miss SOS:

Since my divorce, I have remained good friends with my former brother-in-law. I’m getting remarried and it’s OK with my fiancée and ex to invite him to the wedding. How do I introduce him to my other guests?

You are to introduce a former in-law as a “friend” rather than as an ex-brother-in-law. If you and your ex-wife have children together, then you would introduce your ex-brother-in-law as “Laurie and Ander’s uncle”.

Dear Miss SOS:

Here’s one for you. How should I let my ex-spouse know that I am getting married again?

If you have children together, your ex-spouse should not find out through the grapevine. Instead, Miss SOS recommends you personally call and share the information, but be prepared for questions about alimony payments or custody arrangements. If you don’t have children, then whether or not you tell your ex-spouse depends entirely on your relationship.


Groom’s Family

Dear Miss SOS:

My fiancé has a very young son from his previous marriage. I prefer that he not be in attendance when I marry his father. Is this OK?

It depends. If the boy is a toddler and too young to even remember the wedding, you may consider leaving him home. However, if he is older, he should be there or else he may feel excluded in your new life with his dad. You can also ask a family member (grandparents, aunt, uncle) to look after him or hire a professional sitter. Regardless, your fiancé should agree to these arrangements for his son prior to finalizing any plans.

Dear Miss SOS:

I am going to have one of my sister-in-laws be my bridesmaid but not the other one. We don’t get along and EVERYONE knows that. I’m afraid if she’s a bridesmaid she will just try and make things difficult. My fiancé says that if one sister-in-law is to be my bridesmaid then the other has to be too. What do you think?

Though Miss SOS sympathizes with your family dynamics, your fiancé is partially correct. After your wedding, you have what is called a marriage. Since you are going to keep bumping into your sister-in-law at family gatherings, it is important that you have displayed gracious manners throughout your entire wedding planning.

However, it is not necessary that you ask both sisters-in-law to be your Bridesmaids. Instead, ask the other to read a Scripture or poem at the ceremony, or ask her to take charge of the guest book and greet guests, or hand out wedding programs or birdseed packets, or to help with the refreshments. Order a small corsage to honor her, and ask her to wear the same color dress or suit as your attendants. If your sister-in-law declines, the reflection of her actions is on her, not you.

Dear Miss SOS:

It’s true that you can choose your friends but not your family. I come from a very respectable household and each of my brothers has married well. However my sister is engaged to a man whose family members are, how should I phrase this, money-grubbers and crude. My parents are hosting a very fashionable, elegant wedding. How should I treat my future brother-in-law’s family? I trust you understand what it is I am asking.

Miss SOS understands your question very well. Re-worded, you are trying to ask how to treat a guest with disdain that could pass for politeness. You are in luck, because the best way to be condescending is to be extremely polite. You are to be gracious, courteous, and enthusiastically introduce them to the other guests present. If you choose to ignore these people, you will justifiably be considered rude and probably worst in your mind, very unfashionable.

Dear Miss SOS:

My parents are both deceased and my younger sister is getting married in 6 months. She has only been engaged for 2 weeks, and the groom’s parents have stepped in and made several decisions by making verbal commitments to friends they know to perform wedding jobs (photographer, cake maker, flowers) without contacting me, or our Aunt who has basically taken on the mother role since our mom passed away in 1996. They have not offered to pay for any of these jobs. Also, the mother of the groom is asking my sister to see pictures of her wedding dress. Am I wrong to tell my sister that she should keep the look of the dress as a surprise for the wedding day, just as she will for the groom, and how do I notify the groom’s family that I feel they have overstepped their boundaries in the wedding planning process? Thank you.

Miss SOS empathizes with young families without parents. It is apparent that you are a loving, protective brother blessed with a generous, compassionate aunt. However, Miss SOS would not be so quick to negatively judge the motives of the Groom’s parents. Their actions could merely be enthusiasm over their son’s pending marriage and their desire to assist the Bride (and their future daughter-in-law) in planning the wedding in the absence of her mother.

Who is the host/hostess of the wedding? In other words, who’s paying? It would be these individuals, with the permission of the Bride, who would gently inform the Groom’s parents how honored they are to be hosting this happy occasion. While they are deeply grateful for the assistance given to date, they are looking forward to contacting numerous servicers and suppliers on their own to ensure the Bride’s wedding day is all she had ever dreamed. Regarding the vendors already contacted by the Groom’s parents, Miss SOS would not be overly concerned. Most professionals, though appreciative of leads, do not officially book or reserve the wedding day until they have met with the Bride and Groom and a contract has been signed.

There is no rule of etiquette that forbids the Bride showing her gown to the Mother of the Groom prior to the big day. In fact, many Groom’s mothers have either seen or been shown a picture of the Bride’s wedding gown. This assists them in their attire to ensure they harmonize with the overall effect of the wedding party. Ultimately, it is the Bride’s decision if she wishes her “new” mother to see the gown in advance. You should not pressure her either way. Let your sister decide for herself and trust her judgment.

Dear Miss SOS:

My son is getting married next summer, although he and his fiancée have only discussed her wishes for HER wedding with our family. I have a few questions I’d like you to clear up for my son.

His fiancée seems to think marriage is for her happiness only. My husband and I and our son feel it should be a union between the two resulting in equal happiness. Please help.

They are from different churches (Baptist and Presbyterian). Does the Groom have to join her church after they are married?Do they have to be married in her church by her minister? Who decides on the guest list? Who decides on the number of attendants? (I thought the Bride and
Groom each chose their own.) Does the rehearsal dinner have to be at a fancy expensive restaurant? Does the honeymoon have to be a week long?

My son will be in the early stages of a military career and not making much money; she will be an unemployed college student. How much are the parents of the Groom required to pay for?

Miss SOS does not intrude on the practices or teachings of any religious structure or denomination. Some churches and synagogues require couples to attend pre-martial counseling.Others require the couple to promise to raise their children in that religion.

Before your son is asked to make any commitments, Miss SOS strongly encourages him to contact the church’s ministry to discuss the matter in further detail.

The guest list should properly include the Bride and Groom’s immediate families, godparents, and the attendants and their spouses/fiancées/domestic partners.

Additional guests could include other relatives, family friends, school chums, business associates, and members of an organization, club, or activity that you are in, i.e. garden club or golf partner.

Though the Bride and Groom’s families should be offered an equal number of invitations, it does not always work that way. Many times geographical distances make it impossible for one’s family or friends to travel to a distant wedding. The considerate Bride is aware of demographics and dynamics and will work harmoniously between the two families in ensuring a balance to avoid hurt feelings.

Wedding attendants are unmarried or married friends and relatives of the Bridal Couple. Should the Bride have a brother or a Groom a sister, it is not uncommon to have that individual participate as a Groomsman or Bridesmaid, as the case may be, reflecting the importance as a family member.

Miss SOS is not aware of any rule of etiquette dictating the number of attendants (with the exception of requiring two witnesses to sign the marriage license), nor that the rehearsal dinner must be at a fancy, expensive restaurant, nor is she aware of a rule establishing the length of the honeymoon.

Though what no one can do is to assign bills to other people, traditionally the parents of the Groom host the rehearsal dinner, and pay for transportation and accommodations for themselves.The Groom is responsible for the costs of the marriage license, officiant (clergy) fee, the Bride’s bouquet, the Bride’s engagement and wedding ring, gifts for his attendants, a gift for his Bride, hotel accommodations for his attendants, and his own attire.



Dear Miss SOS:

My son is Caucasian, engaged to a woman from China. As the Groom’s parents, I know that I am to initiate contact and write a letter to her parents now that they are engaged. Do you have any suggestions for content?

A short, heartfelt, hand written letter is a perfectly lovely way to introduce yourself to your future daughter-in-law’s parents. Are her parents bilingual? If her parents do not speak English or have difficulty with the language, ask your son’s fiancée if she can help you by writing out your feelings in Chinese. Whatever the language, share the joy of your children’s love. Miss SOS recommends that you express your congratulations, letting them know how happy you are that your son has found someone like their daughter to share his life with, and that you are looking forward to welcoming their daughter into your family. If it is possible, arrange for a time to meet face to face.

Dear Miss SOS:

I am engaged to a man of a different race. My parents don’t approve and barely act cordial around him. I know they haven’t told anybody else in the family as most will be equally disapproving. To avoid any unpleasantness, my fiancé and I plan on eloping. I’m proud of my to-be-husband and wish to know how to tactfully minimize the shock when family members finally meet him.

Rather than sending formal announcements that could stun close family members by your previous silence, Miss SOS recommends that you write each one a newsy letter filled with glowing details about your husband, how long you have known each other, how wonderful he is, and how you look forward to having them meet in the future. Including a picture of the two of you would be an appropriate manner to acquaint your family with their new in-law.

Name Change

Dear Miss SOS:

I am going to be taking my fiance’s last name after we are married. Could you please advise me who should be notified of my name change?

If one or both of you will be changing your name after marriage, you should be sure to update the following: Bank accounts, Car registrations, Credit cards, Driver’s licenses, Employment records, Insurance policies, Internal Revenue Service records, Leases, Passports, Pension plan records, Post office listings, Property titles, School records or alumni listings, Social Security, Stock certificates, Utility and telephone information, Voter registrations, and Wills.

Dear Miss SOS:

I have decided to keep my maiden name after I am married. What should I do when someone incorrectly refers to me by my husband’s name?

You are not to take offense when no offense was intended. It is an assumption people commonly make unless they know otherwise. You can either let it pass or politely correct the person, depending how important the issue is to you. To avoid any awkwardness, you may wish to consider taking the initiative by introducing yourself first, saying, “Hello, I’m May Sinclair, Mike O’Brien’s wife.”


Dear Miss SOS:
Though I am engaged to be married, I don’t know if I wish, or am ready, to have that sort of long-term commitment with my fiancé. I told him this and though a bit hurt, he’s OK with my decision. He and I are now talking about having a baby and, to be candid, I would like to have his baby. What do you think?

Miss SOS is uncertain what you want her to comment upon. If it’s not marrying when you’re unsure of your feelings, then by all means hold off. However, if it’s because you don’t want a long-term commitment but still want a baby, all Miss SOS can ask is “What are you thinking? Having a child is one of the longest-term commitments that you can enter into with a partner. By Miss SOS calculations, it’s 18 years minimum and up.

Dear Miss SOS:

My fiancé and I have been planning a big wedding for over a year now. I have just found out that I am three months pregnant. I would still like to go ahead with our wedding even though I’ll be six months along and showing by then. What do you think?

Simply speaking, Miss SOS considers a wedding very appropriate for a pregnant Bride.


Step Families

Dear Miss SOS:
I am a divorced mother getting married to a man also with children. We are merging a new family with the old. Do you have any suggestions how to introduce guests to each other and to members of my new family? Also, can you suggest any ceremony roles for children?

Introductions are handled adroitly and with sensitivity to all parties involved. Introduce a former in-law as a “friend” rather than as an ex-sister-in-law. Introduce your ex-mother-in-law as “Cindy’s grandmother”. If your new husband’s children refer to you as their stepmother, introduce them the same way: “This is my stepson, Rob.” Let guests know how you met other guests. Present your “neighbor from back home” to your “co-worker”.

There are many ways to include a child in the wedding. Dependent on their age, you may ask them to be a flower girl, ring bearer, bridesmaid, usher, or honor attendant. You could also ask them to pass out hymnals or programs before the ceremony begins.

Other ideas include assigning them a special seat and having them escorted there before the seating of the Bride’s mother. You may decide to order special flowers for them to wear – a wrist corsage or boutonniere. Their names could be mentioned in a special prayer. After you have exchanged rings, have the children join you at the altar for an affirmation of the family unit. At that time you might wish to give to each child a gift – perhaps a family medallion (three raised, interlocking circles symbolizing the uniting of families) accompanied by a pledge to love and care for them. By incorporating some of these ideas in your service, don’t be surprised if your children refer to the wedding date as “the day we all got married.”

Dear Miss SOS:
My parents divorced when I was 2. Each remarried and though I lived with my mom and stepfather (whom I love dearly), my father was always active in my life and I love him and his wife (my stepmother). In fact, I feel blessed to have had 4 wonderful parents supporting and raising me. Now that I’m getting married, I don’t know who should escort me down the aisle, my dad or stepdad. Both are equally important to me. I’m stressing out and am hoping you can help.

Take a deep breath and relax. Miss SOS has various options for you to consider, each perfectly appropriate for the occasion.

If your parents are amiable, it is acceptable for both your mother and father to jointly walk you down the aisle, a Jewish tradition that is now used by member of all denominations when desired. Your stepmother and stepfather would be seated like any other guest.

Or, you could have your stepfather, with or without your mother, precede you down the aisle, you walk alone, with your father following, with or without your stepmother.

Or, your father could walk you part way down the aisle and your stepfather escort you the rest of the way. Or, your father and stepfather may jointly walk you down the aisle.

Dear Miss SOS:

My stepson is getting married this summer. My husband’s ex will be there and is a true witch. Am I required to be nice and speak pleasantly to her, even though she has made our lives miserable?

Miss SOS always requires people to be nice and to speak pleasantly to each other, including you, unless you want people to think that your husband only marries witches.

Dear Miss SOS:

My husband’s daughter is getting married next year. Though I have a warm relationship with my stepdaughter and would enjoy planning the wedding with her, I don’t wish to step on the toes of her mother (who is still living). What role exactly should I play?

When invited to do so, stepparents should be willing to step into parental roles if asked and refrain from sulking or pouting if they are not. As an example of magnanimous acceptance of their position, stepparents should also maintain a poised constancy between parental pride and deference to the birth parents, no matter how undeserving of the honor they may be.

Unwed Parents

Dear Miss SOS:

I never married even though I had a daughter. She is now 25 years old and getting married soon. She and her father have kept in touch over the years and he’s been good remembering her on birthdays and holidays. We have talked occasionally over the years and I have no feelings of resentment or hatred towards him. My daughter wants to invite her father and his wife to the wedding and have them sit in the first pew with me. It doesn’t bother me one way or the other but what will people say?

Guests will actually be more focused on the wedding that’s taking place, not the one that didn’t twenty-five years ago. There is no rule that states unmarried parents may not sit together. Enjoy your daughter’s day while guests accept the harmony among you. You will provide them an example of civilized social behavior.