Dealing with Family Dynamics

This was a bit of a challenging post to write, but I think it’s something that affects enough people that maybe sharing my experience would be beneficial. I tried to be really careful in writing it, so I hope nobody takes offense—this is just my opinion, and my experience.

So. Weddings can be difficult for all families, right? Whether you have divorced parents, step-parents, small families, big families, awesome in-laws, outlaw in-laws, whatever—put a whole bunch of people into one big emotionally fraught situation, add in a lot of expectations for perfection, and you have some nerve-racking dynamics to deal with, no matter what.

A lot of the time, weddings can bring out the worst in people. We’ve all heard stories of overbearing parents inviting half the world to their kids’ weddings, or evil in-laws not wanting to give up their son or daughter. We didn’t have any of those problems (my in-laws are awesome and so are my parents!), but we did have something.

Both my parents and Mr. Dragon’s parents are no longer together, and both of our fathers have since found new partners, meaning we collectively had two dads, two moms, a step-mom, and my dad’s girlfriend at the wedding.

All of our parents are generally amicable, so we weren’t expecting any major drama, but I think there is bound to be some inherent awkwardness with that many ex-somethings in the same place at the same time, even if I was the only one feeling it.

The night before our rehearsal, I realized Mom Dragon thought she was walking me down the aisle with Dad Dragon, whereas I had planned to do it the traditional way with just my father. A lot of our family members have divorced/split-up parents, so many people have been doing the dad/mom/bride thing. It was an honest miscommunication, but with people questioning my choice, Mr. Dragon trying to stay out of it, and me feeling emotional already, I ended up in tears.

Fun, right? Well, thing is, my mom and I have had our fair share of issues over the last few years. When my parents split up, things went haywire and our relationship turned a bit sour. The wedding, believe it or not, was a healing thing, for both of us, because it gave us a common ground to stand on, something to work together for, and a chance to start making inroads to friendship again. Is it a perfect relationship now? No. But I think we understand each other a lot better.

The “who is walking you down the aisle” conversation turned into a much larger conversation between my mother and me, with forgiveness and understanding and all of that good stuff coming out of the woodwork. And, in the end, she was thrilled to walk down the aisle with Mr. Dragon and his mom (once he got them going!).

It doesn’t end there, though, not that easily. Because with that many parents you have to wonder, who do we thank first in the speeches? How do we not leave anyone out? Who gets gifts? How do we address everyone in our programs?

We went overboard with the thank yous in our speech, just in case. I thanked every parent and every partner, then Mr. Dragon turned around and thanked them again. We had free-for-all seating during the ceremony and dinner so that everyone could figure out who they wanted to sit with and who they didn’t want to sit with, without us having the headache of sorting it out.

Guess what? It all worked out. They ate together, they sat together, they took photos together, some of ”˜em even danced together, and they all laughed together and enjoyed the day.


Isn’t this a lovely photo? Ashley snapped it while nobody was looking. It’s Mr. Dragon’s grandma, his dad, his step-mom, and his mom, right after the wedding.

What I’m about to say, I suppose, doesn’t apply to everyone dealing with less-than-nuclear family situations. We’re lucky that, as I said, all of our parents are friendly, and I know that not everyone is that fortunate. We have the gift of parents who have been through a handful of funerals, weddings, family vacations, grandkids, and all kinds of other uniting things, regardless of relationship status.

But—my advice, having seen it all work out for us: remember that everyone is coming from a place of love. Love for you, and love for your partner (and love for your partnership).

Maybe it’s messy, maybe it’s awkward, but if you’re running into clashing parents, it might be because they all want to know that YOU love THEM, that they are an important part of your day. Nobody will get mad at you if you choose to have one parent, or both parents, walk you down the aisle. Nobody will get mad at you if you choose to thank your mom first, then your dad, or your step-mom, or your grandma. If they do, they will get over it (maybe not now, maybe not for a long time, but I think they eventually will).

And, know that parents are grownups, too. While they might be grinning and bearing it through situations they wouldn’t really prefer to be in, they’re doing it because they’re adults and they want you to have a good day. Trust them to be grownups, and they just might pull it off.

Did you have any sticky family situations during your wedding planning or the wedding? How did you deal with it?


Mrs. Dragon

Sioux Lookout/Brockville, ON
Wedding Date:
September 2012
Miss Genie Takes a Turn Down the Aisle

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  1. camel Member
    camel 703 posts, Busy bee @ 2:40 pm

    I think I needed to read this today. Thank you for posting it. Both Mr. C and my parents are split and things are not amicable on either side. In fact, it’s so bad that I am really dreading the wedding a little and any possible drama. People keep telling me that everything will be fine and people will put aside their differences for us on our wedding day. I want to believe that, I really do, but my family doesn’t necessarily have the history of “putting aside differences” for anyone, ever.

  2. panda Member
    Mrs. Panda 1359 posts, Bumble bee @ 2:45 pm

    This was beautifully written. We are fortunate not to have any family drama (that I know of…) but it is always a great reminder that life and relationships are not always as clean cut as you would hope for.

  3. Member
    MissSpark 180 posts, Blushing bee @ 2:52 pm

    I’m with Miss Camel, I really needed this today. Thanks! It’s nice to know that other people are going through these same things too. We’ve got four sets of parents, part of me thinks things are going to get messy, but we’re hoping for the best!

  4. Member
    Bias 98 posts, Worker bee @ 2:57 pm

    I needed this post too. Our wedding was last May, but I’m now dealing with the fallout that resulted from tensions with one of my bridesmaids (best friend) that didn’t come out on the weekend of the wedding out of her respect for me. (Which is nice, of course, but the ensuing conflict sucks.) The funny/strange thing is that we had a family member with a history of causing a scene at family events who was perfectly behaved at our wedding. I suppose that sometimes you just don’t know where the drama might come from, or if there really will be any. However, I do think a lot of brides fear the possibility of family drama on their special day/week/weekend and it helps to read things like this. Thanks for posting!

  5. mstreasure Member
    mstreasure 1655 posts, Bumble bee @ 3:17 pm

    This is a great post, Dragon. Family drama is (I think) the hardest part of planning a wedding, but no one ever talks about it. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Member
    kbiceling 298 posts, Helper bee @ 4:55 pm

    Thanks for this post! I actually was speaking to my future in-laws (who have zero drama) about how stressed I am about the possible drama in my family. Posts like these are always helpful because they are a reassurance that things will work out.

  7. coyote Member
    coyote 1963 posts, Buzzing bee @ 5:21 pm

    This is a great post D. Mr. C and I very blessed with both sets of parents still together, but that certainly didn’t stop other cray-cray family drama from raising its ugly head during our wedding planning. We were very worried how things would pan out, but thankfully everyone acted like adults for this one night and everything turned out fine!

  8. Guest Icon Guest
    Daio, Guest @ 5:35 pm

    You are really lucky to have such mature and loving parents and stepparents on both sides! Unfortunately, I can say from experience that it only takes ONE narcissistic loon to ruin a special occasion–even if everyone else is behaving with grace and dignity. :/

  9. Member
    mpine 47 posts, Newbee @ 6:00 pm

    Before our wedding, I had the theory that all the divorced parents would be adults for one day and not mess up our wedding. That unfortunately was not the case. In hindsight, I wish we would have sat each one of them down and gone over behavior expectations etc (my husband’s mom apparently thought his dad wouldn’t even be at the wedding- wtf). My MIL basically made it so her entire side of the family did not have fun at our wedding until she left the reception. I’m still having a hard time spending time with her since I know how immature she is

  10. msdragon Member
    Mrs. Dragon 814 posts, Busy bee @ 6:03 pm

    To everyone who is worried about their family at their weddings, I really really hope it all turns out. And for everyone who had to face family drama, I’m sorry. :( It’s hard to figure out, isn’t it?

  11. Member
    blonde17jess 1290 posts, Bumble bee @ 6:09 pm

    Thanks for posting this, and it’s good timing because fiance and I were just discussing the potential for drama with his parents seeing each other for the first time in 19 years at our wedding. It’s going to be stressful but I hope keeping the families separate will help diffuse the situation. Only time will tell!

  12. castle Member
    castle 1191 posts, Bumble bee @ 6:47 pm

    Great post. I have written a bit about my family drama and plan to write more. I can say from my experience the wedding day was great. My parents pretty much just avoided each other, but hey that was fine with me! It was everything before and after the wedding that was a pain.

  13. mspony Member
    mspony 9265 posts, Buzzing Beekeeper @ 7:11 pm

    Such a great post, Dragon. We had our fair share of family drama before the wedding and I seriously feared what our wedding day would be like. You’re right that in the end they love you and want to support you, but it’s nice if they can do it without causing the couple any issues along the way too.

  14. graywolf Member
    graywolf 725 posts, Busy bee @ 7:38 pm

    well said, mrs. d. it’s always nice to be reminded that adults can act in a mature way – especially on such an “adult occasion” as a wedding!

  15. painauchocolat Member
    painauchocolat 2298 posts, Buzzing bee @ 7:51 pm

    Two great pieces of advice: trust them to be grown-ups and everyone is coming from a place of love. So true! People will surprise you. :)

  16. Member
    halolover 247 posts, Helper bee @ 9:54 pm

    I agree with the post above about how it only takes one narcissistic loon to ruin a special occasion…or at least make you nervous because you know they are capable of it. My husband has four kids yet to be married and I know they will be fraught with tension. The birth of his first grandbaby proved that…we showed up at the hospital and his ex pitched the worst, ugliest scene ever. I can be adult and act like one…but that woman and her crazy behavior makes her a loose cannon. If I was one of her kids I’d elope.

    I’m glad you day had no unseemly drama. If only all adults could stop acting like idiots after the divorce and just move on with their lives…..

  17. Guest Icon Guest
    Christina, Guest @ 10:04 pm

    I also really needed this. We have 2 sets of divorced parents who are not amicable. My parents haven’t even seen each other since they got divorced. I am dreading the potential drama at the wedding.

  18. Guest Icon Guest
    Kara, Guest @ 11:25 pm

    I am in tears of relief hearing your story. Though my situation is a little different. (I’m having my step-dad walk me down isle and my father will be there watching). This really made me feel like everything will be ok. Thank you for sharing.

  19. msdragon Member
    Mrs. Dragon 814 posts, Busy bee @ 5:44 am

    @Mrs. Castle: Yeah, I think the day itself was perfect, but we did have to slog through some not fun stuff before.
    @halolover: I’m sorry that you had to go through that. :( It’s especially tough if you’re being a good person and other people aren’t playing along.

  20. Guest Icon Guest
    Lone Star, Guest @ 11:47 am

    These things are definitely hard. DH’s mother and dad do not speak. Well, it’s more like his mom does not speak to his dad. They haven’t spoken in about 10 years, and didn’t speak at all at our wedding. But, we put them at pews behind each other and refused to do a seating plan, and it all worked out. Separate family photos, too.

    I will say though, there were some things where I probably should have taken the position that if a family member thought getting their own way was more important than coming to our wedding, then they could just stay home. I was so terrified about certain family members not coming that I tried to bend over backwards to make everyone happy. It led to some sleepless nights. I’ve settled on a rule: sometimes, people will just be mad at you, and you have to accept it. If what you want is reasonable (like, no children at a wedding), then it’s okay to draw the line. If certain people don’t come, that isn’t your fault.

  21. Guest Icon Guest
    MissSass, Guest @ 4:06 pm

    Wow, this post really struck home with me and my sister. We are both engaged and are planning our weddings at the same time, but we also have our mother’s new husband and family to contend with. I have issues with my step brother, who is just not a nice person, and seems to want to let everyone know it with an I your face unpleasant attitude, and my sister has issues with our step dad, who decideds to railroad her at every point(and has done for most of her life). I don’t want my step brother at my wedding. But my mum does…and she’s paying for all the booze and food… I have no idea how to tell her he’s not welcome. And when I have tried to do it politely, she comes back with something equally polite, and he’s suddenly going. Anyone else had this issue?

  22. Guest Icon Guest
    Heather, Guest @ 1:10 am

    @MissSass – I have a similar situation, though not identical, and I’ve been stressing about it a lot. My sister is where my trouble is coming from. Lately she has made every family function all about her and if we don’t do things exactly her way then my mother and I are blamed for ruining everything. I am of the opinion that if she doesn’t want to act like a member of the family and wants to cause drama then why should she be invited? Especially on my big day, that’s the last thing I feel I should have to stress about. My parents both insist I should invite her and my fiancé agrees. Like they told me, be the better person and invite them. If they don’t come fine. If they do and try to cause problems make them leave but don’t let them ruin your day or make you stress over the planning. This day is for you and your husband enjoy it with or without them :)

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