Children have long participated in wedding ceremonies as ring bearers and flower girls – positions of service to couples on their Special Day. What if we make something more of our children during the rites and traditions of our weddings? It seems only fitting, given the fact that our community has striven so long to achieve marriage and family recognition ourselves, to fully honor the place of our children in our lives during the ceremony that represents our formalized union.
Instead of just presenting our sons and daughters in cute (and often itchy) garb as window dressing for a wedding, holy union, or handfasting, children of queer couples tying the knot can be included in something more lasting and important. A segment of the nuptial ceremony can include commitment of the adults to the children – a ritual acknowledgement of the full family-to-be.
Happily, there are many ways blessing the child’s part in the relationship can be included in the wedding, from a simple statement of inclusion or commitment, to a candle-lighting ceremony added to that symbolizing unity of the wedding pair. The children can be present, or not: the important element is that both individuals state their commitment to the youngsters.
Preparing for a child’s inclusion in the wedding can provide opportunities for the adults and children to bond over what the child’s piece will be. If the child is still an infant or toddler, a simple presentation and blessing may be enough, accompanied by an item symbolizing the event (A little silver cup, engraveable, is one possibility which will be a keepsake for the child in later years.)
Older children can participate in more direct ways. The nuptial candle used in many ceremonies can allow for additional lighting from candles brought forward by the children of the immediate family, or the children can light their own candles from the nuptial candle, and place them in nearby holders. The holders, suitably engraved, later can be presented to the children as keepsakes.
A child acting as ring bearer could also put the rings on the couple’s hands during that part of the wedding ceremony, expanding his/her status in the rite. Couples using communion liturgy can include children, according to the practices of their beliefs (UFMCC, for example, welcomes children to the communion table as part of its regular ceremony, and some Protestant denominations include children or young teens.)
Another method of acknowledging the mingling of the family is the braiding of multi-colored ribbons. The couple, along with the children, can then have their hands symbolically joined by the rope of braided colors as led by the ceremony officiant: a simple yet meaningful show that the individuals are this day forever blended into one new family. Later, the ribbons can be arranged in a special place on a personal altar or family corner at home.
Statements of commitment and welcome can be worked out together by parents and youngsters, providing the adults an opportunity to re-state love and loyalty to their children, as well as offering the children a chance to say what they need to about the new family configuration. Since most gay and lesbian households have already been in existence before a wedding is performed, both parents and children have had opportunities to think about and observe, firsthand, what they need from each other.
When partners Kerry and Katy married, they chose to actively include Kerry’s biological sons, ages three and nine, in their wedding. “Katy wanted to write a few lines to say to them,” Kerry says, “she wanted it to be something along the lines of how she promises to love and take care of them no matter what, that they are what makes our family whole and they will always be first.”
Kerry and Katy also planned to have an inclusive candle-lighting ceremony. “We wanted them to feel like it was OUR wedding as a whole, not just Katy’s and mine,” and “...of course, we will each dance with them at the reception!”
Dancing is a good method of bonding parents and children at the wedding celebration. In addition to ballroom dancing, folk or ethnic dances indigenous to either partner can naturally be included. Group line dances, like the Macarena, are also fun and fairly easy, yet just as symbolic.
When partners Melissa and Amanda married, they exchanged rings in a traditional rite, but also chose to give a ring to their teen daughter Sarah. As a couple they exchanged vows, and as parents they spoke promises to Sarah, ensuring that she felt included in the formalized recognition of their bond as a family.
The parent/child ritual, the ‘Saying of Promises,’ can be performed at any time during the celebration, either at the ceremony itself or during the reception. It’s always best to resist forcing a child to participate, but by inviting her/his input on what promises will be made, the rite becomes that much more meaningful and sincere. Encourage a supportive person outside the immediate family to help the child who wants to write her/his promises or statement of welcome. There should be no pressure on the child, only encouragement and a sense of appreciation for her/his participation in the ritual.
An example of what the new parent might wish to say:
“I promise, in the name of all I hold sacred, to do my best to be a good parent to you. I promise to listen when you need to be heard, to comfort you in times of sorrow, and to celebrate with you in times of joy.
I promise to love you as a parent loves a child, to help guide your steps as you grow to adulthood, to never mistreat you nor betray your trust. You were not born a child of my body, but today you are reborn as a child of my heart.”
The child’s words should come from her/his own manner of speech. Don’t put adult words in the child’s mouth. Let her/him decide what’s important to say on this special occasion.
Symbols of commitment might include a number of items: rings are possible, or other jewelry. A piece of clothing, like a scarf or tie, possibly embroidered or otherwise marked with the child’s name and date of the ceremony might be appropriate, as well as culturally significant symbols, if the child is old enough to appreciate them. A small flag, with a representation of the family, or hand-drawn new ‘family crest’ might be ideally suitable for many children, boys and girls alike.
Whatever choices are made, the care and respect that is put forth in finding a place for your child/ren in your marriage celebration will have a lasting impact. Well into the months and years ahead, your children will carry that message within, knowing that you and your partner believed utterly in the importance of including them in your future together. They will be reassured that yes, there is a unique and special place for them too, within the ongoing circle of the family.
Patricia L. MacAodha is a freelance writer based in Oregon.