Get Ready for Your Big Kid's Wedding (no matter how old your kids are)

In the middle of a snowy winter, the sun broke through the clouds for just one day - my baby daughter's wedding day.

Ryan, our youngest daughter, and Morgan, her high school sweetheart, got married almost two months ago and I have been trying to take it all into my heart ever since. Their wedding got me thinking about all kinds of things related to weddings and marriage and in-laws.

Having three weddings in our family so far, we've learned a few things we never knew when we were the ones getting married. Weddings make you reflect on your own wedding day, none more intensely than the wedding of your own child.

These lessons have helped me and Mike become better in-laws both with each other's parents and the parents of our kids' spouses. In practicing these principles I think you'll find a beautiful pattern of grace rippling across families like a pebble skipped across a pond.

Surrender to the stretch and squeeze of time.

Time is a strange and loopy thing like a fairgrounds roller coaster. Sometimes it pulls and drags on with whole lifetimes stretched out in each tiny tick-tock of the track gears, while other times it takes on breathless speed leaving your stomach at the top of the hill or throwing its contents from your body in the upside-down loop.

When your feet are finally back on the ground, you wonder how you survived the stretch and squeeze of the ride. You will actually wait for your stomach to return from your throat and your heart to return to your ribcage.

That is how I felt when our each of our kids got married, and this is sobering, perhaps how your parents felt when you got married.

Time at a crossroads gets warped and loopy and tearful and scary. It can make your hands get that bony, white-knuckled death grip. It doesn't seem to matter that it took forever to get here. I suddenly wished I'd had more time with my children. Whether it was leaving by driving away in a car for the first time, heading to college, or certainly, getting married,

The thing that surprised me was I was at home with my eyeball on each of our kids every single day of their lives and still, I marvel at the swift arrival of their wedding day.

I ask with Dr. Seuss,

"How did it get so late, so soon?"

When did my cape-clad boy with his underwear on the outside for the Superman effect become a promise-keeping man? When did my little girl in tutu and magic wand become the woman in curve-hugging lace?

After the weddings of three of our kids, I may have finally caught a glimpse into the mysterious verse, "a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years are like a day".

At Ryan and Morgan's wedding, Mike and I leaned in close and grateful, we rejoiced in the day, we danced and toasted and rang them out into the night with frosty jingle bells.

It was time.
It was good.
We are still letting our souls catch up to our bodies.

Photos by Olivia Strohm

You'll want to pray for readiness.

Through the years, we prayed for each of our children to become the unique persons God created them to be, doing good in the world. We also prayed for the people they might marry one day - for wisdom in choosing a good match, for starry-eyed wonder, and for gritty faithfulness to grow between them. Back then, when we were rocking babies, watching games from the sidelines and closing the door on messy rooms, it all seemed to be so far into the misty future. We soon realized that while it takes its time to reach the tip-top, that day comes roaring down the mountainside.

We had been praying for Ryan’s little man since she was in the fifth or sixth grade. Only 1” high, her little man came from a youth group activity about dating and marriage. He stood in a white tuxedo like that dapper guy in the Mystery Date game. We found him in various places around her room as a reminder to pray for the boy she might one day marry.

Ryan and Morgan met when they were fourteen and for seven years, they only had eyes for each other. With seven years, you might think Mike and I would feel ready.

We love each of our daughter and sons-in-law to the point that I count them among my own children. You will hear me say I have seven kids now. And I mean it with all of my heart.

But because of the tricks of time, I'm still not sure you ever feel ready. Just remember, feelings are only one part of your heart. Thinking (theology and thoughtfulness) and actions (habits and generosity) are equal parts of a healthy heart.

We may have to begin with thinking and actions and let our feelings come along and catch up. But however we begin and wherever we might get stuck, let's pray for readiness; not only for our children but for our own hearts.

We aren't fully formed when we say, "I do". Mike and I sure weren't and neither will our children be.

Photos by Terri Conlin

There is an art to joining a family.

This year, at Christmastime, I hung twelve ivory stockings all in a row. It was a sight to behold. A dozen quilted velvet socks marching down our stair rail to the newel post like our hearts waiting to be filled. Mike pointed to the first two and said, “Terri, can you believe we began with just these two?”.

Photo by Terri Conlin

Of course, we were already a family as newlyweds, even before the Whippersnappers. And we will be again when they all fly the nest.

No one really tells you that there is an art to joining a family, to combining people, traditions, schedules, and hearts. But there is. There is listening, learning and re-arranging to do.

We and our stockings all had to scooch over to make room for Morgan as we did for each son or daughter-in-law and the Wonders who came after. We did so with happy hearts, but still, it took stretching and scooching.

We've spent these last seven years slowly and surely adding Morgan and his family to ours - and the better part of this year of engagement being very intentional about it. Morgan started by asking both Mike and me for our blessing in asking Ryan to marry him. (It’s a new world people, Mama gets a say.)

Both families knew the secret of when he would pop the question. The day they headed to the beach, we were all texting and chattering with excitement behind Ryan's back. It was a sweet conspiracy.

When you see a wedding heading your way, there are at least three ways to practice the art of joining two families:

  • Stop and think of whole families coming together.

Being married is two people becoming one. Still, it involves separate families joining together, not only the new couple. Ideally, planning a wedding is two whole families coming together in celebration and transition, in some way including your other children.

When our oldest son, Sean, popped the question to Monica, her parents invited us to dinner along with the starry-eyed couple to openly chat about expectations of size, style, substance, and finances related to the wedding. We had an honest discussion of how we wanted to divide or share responsibilities. That worked so well as a way to kick off wedding plans, that we have done it ever since.

From there we went on to take or create opportunities that included siblings. Remember the movie Sixteen Candles? Ginny is marrying the "Oily Bo-hunk" and everyone is so wrapped up in the wedding that younger sister Sam, feels invisible. Siblings can have complicated feelings when one of their own gets married. Depending on the child and their relationship to the one getting married, they might feel invaded for adding a new member to the family or a sense of loss as their brother or sister leaves for a new life or a bit of both.

Our family watched lots of wedding movies leading up to the wedding days of our kiddos. It was fun, hilarious (Steve Martin in Father of the Bride never gets old. "Release!"), and led to good conversations about all the changes ahead for all of us.

Here are some we watched:
Father of the Bride
The Wedding Planner
Bride Wars
Runaway Bride

  • Invite and include both families whenever possible.

This does not mean they have to be invited into every single detail, but at some point, think of ways to include them in the planning.

Ask yourself and your son or daughter a few simple questions. Where can we invite someone from the in-law family into the process even if it's our area of responsibility? Could they be included in tasting catered food or wedding cake options, going wedding dress shopping, visiting a florist, seeing a venue or making a video?

When we found the barn venue that Kate and Zeke fell in love with, Zeke called his mom and they sent a phone video before we signed the contract. Even though she was in another state, we all wanted her to feel close and included in their excitement.

  • Hold celebrating birthdays and holidays on exact dates with your newly married son or daughter with an open hand and graceful heart.

This year Ryan spent her birthday on her honeymoon. Boy, that was a hard one for her Daddy to hear.

It can be hard to suddenly share the holiday traditions you have so lovingly created over the years, but you don't want your child torn between families. Make it as easy as possible to find a new rhythm for celebrations. This will take some patience, flexibility, and loads of grace along the way. Remember, you are all learning a new way to love and share and celebrate, both together and apart.

We have gotten creative in our celebrations. We have had to. We have alternated the bigger holidays of Thanksgiving and Christmas, shared some celebrations as one bigger family, and practiced give-and-take around others. Some of your celebrations might be smaller now and arrive with a mixed sense of joy and sadness.

As our holidays changed with each wedding, our younger kids liked knowing what kind of celebration to expect. They came to call these smaller get-togethers "little fam" celebrations. We still prefer all being together, but we have also found joy in the quieter, more restful celebrations.

This one grace of holding celebrations with an open hand and a graceful heart will serve you and your relationship with your newly marrieds for a long time to come. Not only that, but it is a healthy and biblical idea to "leave and cleave". Somehow we all started this leaving and cleaving when we married.
We may have done it clumsily or gracefully. Only now we might realize how we did it.

Now, our child will learn to leave well and we promise to do our part in letting go.

In the wise words of George Banks, "Release!".

Photos by Olivia Strohm