Sunday, January 13, 2008

Incorporating Children into the Wedding

Allow us to cut to the chase for those of you who have been married, and have children. The diversity of situations, and with different ages, can lend itself to many chapters; but the core of the matter is that this wedding is the formation of a new family with a whole new set of dynamics.

As an Interfaith Minister and a Pastoral Counselor, I use a questionnaire to learn about a couple and their backgrounds. This generally offers an abundance of information which leads to in depth discussions.

Sometimes couples do not allow for adequate time to engage through our questionnaires, but I do not let this matter go unanswered even if our discussion is solely by phone and e-mail. The subject of children, their ages, their acceptance of the new parents and perhaps new brothers and sisters, the present role of birth parents and their acceptance of the new bondings; these are just a few of the matters which need discussion. Inattention by the couple to the feelings of children can lead to disastrous situations.

While most wedding ministers may not be fully equipped for counseling, a couple should consider a formal counseling session, if the minister has qualifications, or seek advice from a family counselor, when the wedding minister is simply hired as an officiant. The couple must allow their excitement to blatantly reach out and engulf their children. They must use the words, “This is as much about you as about me," and show that they mean it.

Children may hide their feelings, or in some cases with the very young, they are simply confused. They are often caught in a game of shuffle between parents who have arranged for weekly and monthly visitations. Many still have the expectation that there will be a return to their previous home with birth parents, and the reality of that not happening only comes forth the day of the actual wedding when a new parent is added to the mix.

I recall vividly when one very professional couple married in their lovely new home. The bride had two teen boys; the groom a teen girl and an eight year old boy. They wanted the kids involved with entry, handling rings, candle-lighting, etc. Although it was not planned, all four children remained next to each parent as full participants during the entire ceremony.

I changed the words in the ceremony and made their involvement very prominent. From the time the service began, the oldest teens – the boy from the bride and girl from the groom - both cried almost constantly. Nothing awkwardly disturbing, but quietly as if the loss of their past lives was breaking their hearts. The other two kids were just confused and held on to their older siblings.

The couple was totally surprised by these reactions. They had not anticipated or prepared for this emotional scene. Indeed, it was learned from one of the grandparents that the distraught boy had been told by his Father that he would never marry again, giving the child hope of reuniting with his Mother. However, the Father had broken that promise and married someone else, and now the final blow was his Mother's wedding.

I spent some time privately speaking to the kids. Each set of kids liked the new parent and appreciated the new friendships. They were just not as prepared as the couple for celebrating the wedding. I gave each child my phone number and asked each to call me if they needed to talk. Their parents had consented to this involvement and the kids sensed that I had an understanding of their feelings.

I remember another couple, the groom without children, and the bride with three little ones, all boys. The wedding was in a small home with family, and the boys were so excited to have a Father. I asked the couple if the children could participate for they had not discussed it. Once the boys were asked, they became very excited and the couple realized how important this wedding really was to the children.

I devised simple little things, even if it meant coming up and holding hands, and placing hands all together over rings. During the ceremony the youngest boy grabbed my leg with both arms and just held on, as we continued. He was all smiles, and when it came time to hug and kiss,everyone wanted in on this special action. The words, “You may now kiss!” will forever have such heartfelt meaning for that family.

The conversation, the ceremony, the rituals, the mention of new and extended grandparents, uncles, aunts, cousins, and a special invitation for all to come forward after the ceremony and greet the kids with their new titles, is such a marvelous opportunity to reach out and touch.

The opportunities for inclusion are many. Use the ceremony to make each child feel special. Once again, the magic word is “inclusion!”

Ideas for the Inclusion of Children:

1. First and most prominent is for the couple, separately and then as a couple,to initiate conversation with the children and the couple's desire for the children to be involved in the wedding. Suggest that until consultation with the minister exactly what this may entail is open for discussion. Listen to their feedback.

2. During procession, children could escort Mother down the isle. Children may accompany Father during his entry also. Children may remain with couple during the ceremony. In one wedding a teenage son escorted his Mother to the minister and was asked, "Who presents this bride?" The boy said, "My brothers and I." Just sharing.

3. Children may take the lead in the procession, preceeding the Maid of Honor/ Groomsmen and stand with them during the ceremony. Children can replace Maid of Honor and Groomsmen and stand with their parents. It may have merit to consider how to involve the children first and then fill in with other participants.

4. Children can be given a special gift during the ceremony, i.e. a special necklace or bracelet (something intimate) with a date/notation engraved, accompanied by, as desired, a special message or statement by the couple. Sometimes this is a most emotional moment, and simply a hug and "I love you," is quite powerful.

5. Children can be involved in a candlelight ceremony. They can light, or be assisted in lighting, smaller candles, which in turn lead to a unity candle concept. Bridesmaids and groomsmen can be designated to assist smaller children.

6. Children may wish to speak to the couple during the ceremony with a prepared message or reading or poem. This is not an infrequent occurance when teens are involved. Perhaps this idea is best offered as an option for consideration by the minister to children. One of the most moving two minutes in a ceremony in my experience was delivered by a 12-year old girl, an only
child, who wanted to express her happiness for having the bride as a Mother. It was after this message that the couple presented her with a gift.

7. Children can be integral in a presentation of a rose to each parent, who can then present each rose to their new spouse. This exchange of roses, which can take place following the pronouncement, would then represent the first gift from one spouse to the other as husband and wife, and the children's participation is tied to this first gift.

8. Children can be involved in the ring ceremony in a variety of ways, serving as holders of the rings, and presenters.

9. Children can participate in a ritual which can be originated around a blessing of the hands of the couple. Sometimes a hand-binding ritual, which can involve a stoll or ceremonial band, is wrapped around the couples' clasped hands, and then the parents of the couple will place their hands on top as the minister offers a blessing. This can also include the children, or remain
relegated to the children. Sometimes...the more the merrier!

10. The above are generally known ways to include children; however, there are so many imaginative innovations. Your wedding will set the tone for this new and vibrant family's future.