Q: I have a question about weddings. My fiance has two daughters, ages 5 and 7. Do they have to come to our wedding? I really want to start fresh, and besides no kids are invited. What's good ex-etiquette?
A: You're kidding, right? If not, please don't marry this man. You are not right for each other. Any woman he marries must understand it's not just he and she marrying, but the two of them making a commitment to combine their families. She must be invested in his children's welfare, attend their extra-curricular events, and be a trusted confidant, if necessary. She must realize that his children will be half-siblings to any child they have. They will be family. The fact that you hold the attitude that you do tells me that you have not done your homework and both you and dad have not devoted enough time to integrating the children into the life you and he share. The kids could very easily perceive your presence as interference – you're taking their daddy away – and if you don't do an about face fast, there will be trouble ahead.
That said, I see a major red flag. Rather than not invite the kids to the wedding, research tells us that children who are included in the preparation and the wedding ceremony adjust more easily to the new union. That means it's time to have a conversation about how they might participate. At the most, they should stand right up there with you and dad. At the least, they should sit in the front row and be referenced during the ceremony. While there, you might allow them to light a candle or offer them a flower from your bouquet as a symbol of unity and acceptance.
There are lots of other ways to include children in the wedding ceremony, as well. With an adult's assistance, they might help greet the guests as they enter the venue or older children might oversee the guest book. They could sing a song or help pass out the wedding programs. I'm sure if you brainstorm with dad and the kids you will come up with your own special way to include them in your ceremony. They will love being consulted and it will reinforce enthusiasm for the upcoming event. Our kids joined us when the vows were exchanged – and special vows were said to them along with presenting them with small gold rings as a symbol of family unity. They were just as much part of the planning as anyone else and shopping for their dresses, plus a tux for a four-year-old was a welcomed distraction from the stress of wedding planning.
Finally, the concept of "starting fresh" is a little different when one or both partners already has children. Your "fresh" is not the conventional one. You have a ready-made family. My suggestion is to sit down with your fiance and have a serious heart-to-heart about the family you are creating and together discuss the future you envision. What will you do to foster a positive relationship with your fiance's children? How can he support you? Have an action plan. That's good ex-etiquette.
(Dr. Jann Blackstone is the author of "Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation," and the founder of Bonus Families, www.bonusfamilies.com. Email her at the Ex-Etiquette website www.exetiquette.com at firstname.lastname@example.org.)