Whether you've lost a parent or have an estranged relationship with one, you might not be planning on a father-daughter or mother-son dance for your big day. And we're here to tell you that's perfectly fine—even if it doesn't feel good—and to help you figure out what to do. According to Beth Bernstein, owner and wedding planner of SQN Events in Chicago, many couples face this uncomfortable situation. "I've been [here] several times," she says, "and regardless of the circumstances, the overwhelming feeling is sadness. Even if they've made peace with it, they don't want to make guests uncomfortable by bringing attention to it."
First, here's a bit of good news: The tradition of the father-daughter came developed as a way to give away the bride—and the mother-son dance soon followed. "But those days are long gone in most cases, with the dance now seen as a tender and sweet moment instead of a business transaction"—one that can be experienced in many other ways, says Bernstein. Valarie Falvey, owner of Kirkbrides Wedding Planning & Design in Cleveland, agrees: "The proper etiquette in this situation is to design your own wedding around your own life," she says. "There are no hard-and-fast rules saying that everyone has to find a way to do this." Instead, "it's best to come up with an acceptable, agreeable alternative and stick with it."
Here are some other alternatives, then, for brides and grooms who won't be having parent dances.
Dance with another relative.
"A dance with the other parent in attendance—if the parent traditionally involved in the dance has passed away—or even a sibling, grandparent, or step-parent" is a great option for brides and grooms who still want to hit the dance floor with a loved one, Falvey says. "This alternative really can open the door for a happy, emotional moment and typically goes off very well," adding that "we have even had a groom dance with his father because his mother had passed away, and you can imagine how sweet that was."
Invite everyone to the dance floor in the parent's honor.
If your parent has passed away, you may want to choose an upbeat, happy song—one that has special meaning to you or your parent—and invite your guests onto the dance floor to celebrate the life of your loved one, Bernstein suggests. "I had one groom whose mom was a huge Elton John fan, and he invited his mother's sisters and closest friends to the dance floor to sing and dance along to 'Crocodile Rock,'" Bernstein recalls. "It took what could have been a very solemn situation and turned into one of the highlights of the night."
Skip the tradition all together.
Both Falvey and Bernstein say this is a very common—and perfectly acceptable—option. Couples who "prefer to keep the mood light and happy, and who feel that focusing on this moment will bring them down" might be inclined to skip the dances, says Falvey—while Bernstein adds that to make this work, both partners must skip their respective dances.