Children & Remarriage: The Family Wedding
by Roger Colemon
You've found the man of your dreams and you've set the date. There is, however, one nagging dilemma: the children (both yours and his). How can the traditional wedding, which focuses exclusively on the bride and groom, be reconfigured to recognize the critical role that children play in the remarriage relationship?
That question plagued mother and bride-to-be Laura Clemmer, who spent months scouring wedding magazines. "My fiancé Paul (Kotz) and I wanted to do something concrete during our wedding to show my children—2-year-old Allison and 5-year-old Nathan—that we were creating a new family," she says.
Laura and Paul were discouraged when the initial search for a family-oriented wedding ceremony proved fruitless. They were concerned that Nathan, who had early on been enthusiastic about his mom's marriage plans, began expressing some doubts. "Will you and Paul get divorced?" asked the preschooler, who still remembered the pain of his parents' divorce several years earlier.
The Greensboro, N.C., couple was grappling with a problem experienced by most of the more than 1 million single parents who remarry in the United States each year: What can be done to ease the concerns of children who feel, on a conscious or unconscious level, that their secure place in the family is threatened by the pending marriage of a parent?
After much research, Laura found a simple and emotionally satisfying answer in the form of a family-oriented wedding service that gives children a meaningful role. This 5-minute ceremony—called the Family Medallion service—can be integrated into any religious or civil wedding ceremony. It differs from the traditional wedding in only one respect: After the newlyweds exchange rings, their children join them for a special service focusing on the family nature of remarriage. Each child is given a gold or silver medal (Family Medallion) with three interlocking circles, a symbol that represents family love in much the same way the wedding ring signifies conjugal love. (The medallion is available in the form of a pendant, ring or lapel pin.)
The Kotzes say they will never forget the moment during their wedding when Nathan and Allison were summoned to their sides to participate in the family wedding service. While the minister recited the words of the ceremony—a pledge to love and care for all the children either spouse brings to the marriage—Laura and Paul presented Nathan and Allison with Family Medallions. Then the hugging started.
"I don't mean to be trite, but it was really a bonding experience," recalls stepdad Paul. "I especially wanted Nathan, who was old enough to understand what was going on, to know that I wasn't just marrying Laura; I was making a commitment to be there for him and his sister. I could see from the way his eyes lit up that he understood. I will never forget it."
Laura Kotz says her family-oriented wedding was everything she had hoped it would be. "I could not have found a better way to communicate to my kids that, by marrying Paul, we were all coming together as a family," she adds.
Most of the guests attending the Clemmer/Kotz wedding were touched to tears by the family ceremony. "People later told us how wonderful it was that we did something so special for the children," Laura recalls.
The family wedding concept is an idea whose time has come since at least one-third of all new marriages in the United States involve divorced or widowed parents with children under 18 living in the home, according to the Stepfamily Association of America. But finding family-oriented ceremonies is no easy task. "Although I have many books on wedding ceremonies, not one of them contains a wedding ritual that recognizes children from previous marriages," says Dr. C. Fred Werhan, the Baptist minister who officiated at the Clemmer-Kotz wedding. "That was okay 35 years ago, when practically every wedding involved people who had never been married before. But things have changed dramatically since then. Today, in half the couples that I marry, at least one spouse has been married before."
Werhan says he was very excited when he read about a family wedding service developed by a Kansas City minister. "There's nothing else like it that I know about," he adds. "Now I tell many of the couples that I marry about it.
The family service—along with the Family Medallion—was developed more than 15 years ago by Dr. Roger Coleman, chaplain of Pilgrim Chapel in Kansas City. "A marriage with children is a lot more than simply the union of a man and a woman," he says. "It is a merging of families. Every day I see how divorce creates a sense of failure and hopelessness in people. The family ceremony is a sign of hope and an important step in rebuilding the devastation of the family."
Today, more than 15,000 couples a year—primarily in the United States, Canada and Europe—use the Family Medallion ceremony to help cement the bond between parents, stepparents and children. "It really works," says Dr. Werhan, who has adapted Coleman's family service for many weddings. "A family-oriented wedding that includes giving youngsters a tangible symbol of love like the Family Medallion is a great way to make children entering a blended family feel secure."
Sharon Stober Barry, the editorial director of Your Stepfamily magazine, agrees. In fact, she used the Family Medallion service to acknowledge her son and stepdaughter when she remarried in 2000. "The family-oriented wedding is much more than just a nice thing to do," she insists. "You are pledging to your kids and his kids that you are going to accompany them on their journey through life."
Nathan Clemmer, now a kindergartner, knows a lot more about little league than about life journeys. But he treasures the Family Medallion lapel pin his step-dad gave him when Laura and Paul Kotz married last year. His mother says that Nathan sometimes climbs atop his chest of drawers to snatch the lapel pin from the box where it is stored for safekeeping. "I like to wear it," he announces proudly. "It means I'm part of this family."