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Families evolve and so does the list of concerns that can pop up as you count down to the big day. Since there are no traditional rules regarding how to involve your stepmother or stepfather—from the moment you say yes to the moment you take your last spin on the reception dance floor—start from a place of respect, says Emily Bouchard, a family therapist, coach, and founder of Blended Families. “Never base your decisions on liking or disliking someone,” she explains. Here, more advice for navigating through the entire celebration.
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If your stepmother has expressed interest in being involved in the wedding-planning process, but that could step on your mother’s toes, one option is to invite her to host the engagement party, bridal shower, or rehearsal dinner. The bridal shower could even be in addition to one thrown by your mother, with different sides of the family on the guest list. Just remember to invite your bridesmaids to both celebrations.
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Your mom and stepmom may not necessarily get along, but they both want to join you when you begin searching for your bridal gown. If you feel strongly about having them both present, go ahead and invite them. Give each a heads-up that the other is coming, and mention that you hope there won’t be any drama on such a special occasion. These are grown women, and what’s more, this day is about one person and one person only: you. To make it less stressful for you, bring your maid of honor along. Clue her in to the strained relationship beforehand, and ask her to act as a buffer in case someone starts a fight. And remember, no matter how strained your mother and stepmother’s relationship may be, the one thing they have in common is that they love you—hopefully that fact alone will encourage them to act civilly and maturely.
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Though traditional invitation etiquette leaves stepparents off the invitation completely, today’s expectations side with including them, even if you aren’t particularly close. If they are helping pay for the event, include their names on the invites—Mom and her spouse come first, then dad and his.
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The Wedding Programs
If you list family members on your wedding programs, be sure to highlight your stepparents alongside everyone else. One firm rule of etiquette is that couples that are a “social unit” (married, engaged, living together) must be treated as such. Disregarding this rule at a wedding could create some bad karma—and some hurt feelings.
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It would probably be best to buy parents and stepparents corsages or boutonnieres. It’s perfectly appropriate to give your birth parent’s new partners a less flashy corsage or boutonniere (as long as they’re not the only ones getting them).
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If you’d like to include your stepfather in your walk down the aisle, one common solution is for your father to walk you partway down the aisle and then hand you off to your stepfather for the rest. Other brides have asked both men to escort her. Another way of including a stepparent in the ceremony is asking them to do a reading or act as an usher.
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The Receiving Line
The father of the bride normally welcomes guests to the reception, which is his role as host. Unless the stepfather’s hosting role is primary, he should be willing to take a back seat here.
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The Reception Seating
It’s quite common nowadays for each household (father and stepmother; mother and stepfather) to “host” their own table; this spreads the family attention around to many guests, and it reduces possible tensions between them. You can arrange them near one another or farther away, depending on the emotions involved.
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The Father-Daughter Dance
If you’re close with your dad and stepdad, take a spin with each of them! It’s most accepted that you dance with your biological dad first. But keep in mind that guests might get a little bored watching several “performance” numbers in a row. For a nice compromise, split a single dance between your two dads: Choose two songs, and have your DJ play a couple minutes of each. Another option? Postpone your stepdad’s dance until later to give him his own moment. Whatever you decide, let them both know your decision beforehand, so their expectations are in line with your plans.
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Most important? If you and your new spouse are planning on giving a toast at your wedding reception, don’t forget to include your stepparents when thanking your family for their love and support.