Get A Grip: It’s All Relative
By Margaret Littman - CTW Features | posted on January 21, 2012 at 7:00am
Brothers and sisters and in-laws, oh my! It’s not easy planning a wedding – especially when you’re trying to make every family member a part of the celebration. Here’s how to get everyone involved – or not – without any discord
When Michelle Dietzler started to plan her “very traditional” 2009 wedding, she made one decision quickly: She decided not to have her brother, sister-in-law, sister or brother-in-law in the wedding party. Dietzler, 28, was a bridesmaid in her brother’s and sister’s weddings and considers herself close to them. Her choice was not intended as a slight.
“I decided not to include them in the bridal party because I wanted them to enjoy the evening without obligations. I felt it was unfair to put my 30-year-old sister and sister-in-law in matching bridesmaid dresses,” she says. Her thinking was that her friends, who were bridesmaids, didn’t know many of the more than 300 people in attendance at her wedding, but her siblings did. “They should be able to spend time speaking with guests and sitting with relatives who have traveled so far to share the day with us, not doing bridesmaid stuff.”
Dietzler’s siblings had other roles at the wedding, from readings to escorting the young ring barrier down the aisle. In some families Dietzler’s approach might ruffle some feathers. But, perhaps because of the way she handled it, her family felt valued.
“Being in my wedding party or not was not a testament to how close we were,” she adds.
Today’s brides- (and grooms-) to-be have more choices of whom to include in their wedding party. That’s due in part to the fact that women are getting married a bit later (the average age of a bride is 27.6 years old according to the Brides.com American Wedding Study) and have larger networks of friends (thanks, Facebook). In addition, with divorce and remarriage rates being what they are, families become more complex, with siblings and step-siblings and nieces and nephews and sisters-in-law. In some cases, that can feel like pressure to include everyone. But experts say there are ways, as Dietzler did, to make everyone feel significant and make your wedding meaningful without having a wedding party of 20.
“Many couples choose to keep their bridal parties small (or eliminate them altogether) to prevent hurt feelings, political tussles and the extra expense of having numerous people on each side. Wrangling a bridal party of 14 is not everyone’s idea of a perfect wedding day,” says Celia Milton, a New Jersey wedding officiant.
Marta Segal Block, a wedding planning expert at OneWed.com, agrees that you don’t need to have all your loved ones gathered ’round you at the altar: “It’s a wedding, not an open-mic night.”
While choosing whether or not to have family in your wedding party is a hard decision, Milton reminds brides-to-be that they only have to make it once, and there are many ways to otherwise have family as part of the ceremony. Some women, as Dietzler notes, might not be excited about the prospect of wearing (and paying for) a standard-issue matching bridesmaid’s dress. In fact, Milton remembers declining when her own sister-in-law asked her to stand up for her wedding. “I knew every Saturday I would be working and wouldn’t be able to go to the dress fittings and the showers,” she say. “Sometimes ‘no’ is the most gracious thing to say.”
In those cases, selecting a reading, the opportunity to be a witness to sign the traditional Jewish ketubah or other marriage certificate, present rings or otherwise participate in the ceremony, may be a welcome request. Milton has suggested readings, from books such as Dr. Seuss’ “Oh, the Places You’ll Go,” as alternatives for young family members who want to participate. At one recent wedding, Milton had the mothers of the bride and groom each present the rings to their offspring for exchange to their new spouse. “It was really moving.”
Breaking With Tradition
Rachel Rule, 33, has lots of younger cousins with whom she is close. “I’m more like their aunt,” she says of her younger relatives. As a result, when she married five years ago she wanted them involved – but couldn’t see having them all in the traditional wedding party. Instead, she developed new ideas. For example, one 4-year-old was a designated bell ringer, an exciting task for him. Rule also played with traditions. Rule’s brother stood on her side of the wedding party, because he is closer to her than he was to the groom. Her husband has a female cousin who stood on his side of the altar.
“The only tricky thing was the photographer,” Rule remembers. The photographer was used to traditional roles, and had to be reminded that some folks were in non-traditional positions.
That said, Gerald Fierst, a marriage officiant based in Montclair, N.J., cautions that if you have a large family and want to include them all in the wedding party, you shouldn’t feel like you can’t. Fierst has officiated at a wedding with as many as 28 people in the wedding party – and said no one cringed.
People say, “I have eight brothers, it is going to take so long if they all are up there. It only takes five minutes, if that’s what you want,” he says.
In fact, there is no limit to the ways people can be involved in the ceremony, just stay away from having them speak unscripted. That’s a toast, and that’s for the reception, Milton says.
Adds Fierst: “The whole concept of the wedding ceremony is to say words in front of your family. Once you have made the decision not to get married by Elvis, then you have to start thinking about what roles you want your family to have.”