This article in The New York Times illustrates the lifelong effects an acrimonious divorce has on parents and children.
Divorce Whisperer? Mediating With Parents Isn’t Easy
For some couples, deciding where to seat narcoleptic Uncle Reginald is the least of their wedding planning worries. Those with divorced parents are assured of having quite a few more hours of anxiety as they engage in additional negotiations with them.
“There are all kinds of minefields, from where does everyone sit to the receiving line,” said the etiquette expert Peggy Post, a director of the Emily Post Institute. “It’s particularly tricky when estranged parents do not want to be in the vicinity of each other.”
For the future bride Shannon Sweeney, 28, a chilly chasm between her mother and father, who were divorced a decade ago, has required her to consult each parent separately and delicately on each issue. This confounds her fiancé, Tyson Seely.
“He has no idea what I mean when I say, ‘I will talk to my mom and then I will talk to my dad.’ My parents won’t get on the phone together and they both want to be asked everything first,” said Ms. Sweeney, a researcher and Ph.D. candidate in planning and public policy at Rutgers.
The couple’s wedding will take place in late September at the home of the groom’s great-aunt in Woodstock, Vt. Ms. Sweeney, whose parents are currently single, said: “I get questions from my father like, ‘How many people is your mother inviting? How many people can I invite?’ ”
To avoid any strife over seating, Ms. Sweeney convinced Mr. Seely that they should opt for a cocktail-style reception with food stations and unassigned tables. “It could become dramatic if we didn’t come up with solutions,” she said. She will forgo the customary walk down the aisle with either parent; the groom, an M.B.A. student at Dartmouth, will escort her.
Rebecca Dolgin, the editor in chief of The Knot, said, “It comes up on a daily basis on the message boards, whether it’s how to word the wedding invitation or who will walk the bride down the aisle — her biological father or stepfather.”
Often, old wounds reopen over money, which becomes a psychological hot button. “If the mother was jilted or feels like she was shortchanged in any way, there is a push to make the father pay for everything,” said Renée Strauss, a bridal stylist who, until recently, owned a wedding gown boutique for 30 years in Los Angeles. “She sees it as a way for him to make up for whatever he lacked in the marriage.” When tempers flared among exes in her salon, Ms. Strauss would serve Champagne, put on soothing music and try to direct the focus back to the bride.
Couples contending with contentious exes might appreciate the new film that opened this weekend, “The Big Wedding.” In it, Robert De Niro and Diane Keaton, who are divorced, toss verbal grenades at each other over a weekend of festivities surrounding their son’s wedding.
Not surprisingly, a recent split among parents means more intense emotions and calls for extra diplomacy. Amanda Riedinger, 26, experienced that when Kyle Riedinger, 27, her fiancé at the time, had proposed on a vacation in 2011, just two months after her stepfather abruptly left her mother.
“I thought: ‘Oh my God. How am I going to tell my mom because this is the most exciting time in my life and she’s dealing with that?’” said Ms. Riedinger, whose wedding was last October in Wilkes-Barre, Pa. During the planning, she found herself exercising self-censorship. “I tried to be sensitive and not bombard her with daily updates, but never once did she get upset or negative.”
Not all parents put their egos first. Zinzi Edmundson, a keyboard player who in September plans to marry Jesse Kivel, her band mate in a Los Angeles group called Kisses, was initially a little nervous when she told her biological father that her stepfather would marry the couple.
“In essence, my dad, who does not wear his heart on his sleeve, said that he appreciated that my stepdad had been there for me for all those years,” said Ms. Edmundson, 27, whose wedding is scheduled to be held in her family’s summer home in Small Point, Me. “He even offered that they co-walk me down the aisle. I didn’t anticipate that at all and it was such a sweet gesture.”
Yifat Oren, an event designer who has planned high-profile weddings for clients like Drew Barrymore and Anne Hathaway, estimates that about half her wedding clients have one set of divorced parents to please or to offend. “It can get super petty,” she said. “One bride wouldn’t let her stepmom have her hair and makeup done with the rest of the bridal party. I have seen divorced parents who refuse to stand in the same picture.” Incidentally, according to Ms. Post, who also writes the online Well-Mannered Wedding column for The New York Times, divorced parents shouldn’t stand together in pictures because it can be confusing. Guidelines for how couples with divorced parents should navigate potentially sticky situations like receiving lines, seating and invitations can be found on the Emily Post Institute’s Web site.
But perhaps one of the toughest hurdles for all for these couple is besting crummy statistics. Studies show that children of divorce may be twice as likely to perpetuate the cycle. Ms. Riedinger, a pharmacist, and her new husband, a graphic designer, whose parents are also divorced, aren’t taking any chances. “It’s an important ongoing discussion for us,” she said. “We talk so much about communicating. Kyle makes fun of me because I always say, ‘We need to acknowledge our feelings.’”
In the “The Big Wedding,” Mr. De Niro’s character suggests to his children a different approach: “Stay single as long as you can.”
Information provided by K.O. Herston: Knoxville, Tennessee Divorce, Matrimonial and Family Law Attorney.