When a couple has children, either from their relationship or from previous relationships, I ask how they envision including the children in the ceremony. Sometimes they consider a traditional wedding party role, though more often than not, they have limited ideas for how to involve their children.
If the ceremony is celebrating the blending of a family through marriage, it's not only a nice idea to include the children, it's essential that everyone in the family feels as though they will become a part of a new chapter in life - not just the couple getting married. It can be very healing for children coming into a blended family to feel recognised as an essential part of the new family framework.
Children get anxious when they don't know the bigger picture, and that can manifest in hurt feelings, or acted out in behaviours on the day. When we involve children in a wedding ceremony, we help them to segue into the new relationship which will change their lives as well.
A rather subtle ritual that I have offered families is a Certificate which allows not just the couple to sign, but also for the couple's children to appear on the Certificate. I create a space in the ceremony where the children can sign or make their 'mark' on the document. Photographers love this because it's an opportunity to capture the entire family in the photo, not just the grown-ups. For the children, they love feeling important and special on the day and they treasure the memories they collect about that time when they got to 'sign the document' with their parents on the big day.
Children of any age can be attendants in a ceremony, from flower girl or page boy to best men or best women. I often suggest that a couple's child escort their mum/dad down the aisle, either on their own or along with another adult. This can work with just about any age from the time a child is walking.
Teenagers may feel awkward in certain roles, so consider their comfort level when assuming they'd love to be a bride's maid or usher. You might consider giving a teenager the task of taking photos during the ceremony either with a phone or a disposable camera. Or put them in charge of special aspects such as a Ring Warming, or handing out the confetti for photos after the ceremony.
For younger children, generally, the task of holding the rings or the bouquet is enough for them to feel a sense of purpose in the ceremony. For some children, it is enough just to be mentioned in the ceremony, so that may be a comfortable option.
This is something that a Celebrant can do beautifully and with great meaning and care. If a prayer is included, it's an idea to include each child's name as a beneficiary of the prayer as well.
Mentioning a child's name during a ceremony, and several times, reassures them that they are a significant part of the family and the occasion, and they don't have to do anything in the ceremony to earn that honour. With so much attention going to the grown-up couple, mentioning the children helps them feel particularly important.
In the case of a blended family, some children may be struggling with the idea of their parent marrying another person, so it can be comforting for them to hear that the day is about 'all of the family' and not just the grown-ups.
If the parents are exchanging rings, it may be an idea to give each child a special gift at the same time, perhaps with specially written promises to the children that are spoken when presenting each gift. You might consider giving children their own rings, a necklace, a medallion or a special token.
Can I use symbolism of some type to acknowledge children and families in wedding ceremonies?
Celebrant-led weddings are known for their creativity and use of symbolic gestures to support the significant aspects of the ceremony; a symbolic gesture often takes place just before or just after the recital of Vows, and occasionally at the end of the ceremony, to symbolise the promises that have been made. This can be a superb time to include children, perhaps with some of the following ideas.
This is a lovely and colourful gesture that can take place anywhere in the ceremony, though it could be nicely placed at the beginning, or saved for after the couple recite their vows. A relative drapes a flower lei around the shoulders of couple and this can be extended to include children. In tradition, the lei can be placed in a figure 8, for infinity, and a number that is often associated with good luck and prosperity in many cultures. This act of draping the leis over each member of the family represents the family's unity.
This is a lovely symbolic gesture of East Asian tradition, originating from a Chinese legend; according to myth, an invisible red cord/string is tied around the ankles of those who are destined to meet and support each other in life. One way to facilitate this with children is to have lengths of red ribbon or cord, fairly thin. Gently tie a bow with a ribbon around the little finger of each person's hand, taking it in turns to help each other. The premise of this gesture is the belief that the red string may stretch, but never break - a lovely way to include children with the message that they are bound in love to the family, forever.
Based on the Tibetan Prayer Flags, a banner of flags can be prepared (using material that can easily be written on with indelible ink pens), one flag for each member of the family. Each person takes it in turn to write their hope, prayer, dream, wish for the family in the future. The banner can serve as lovely visual display back in the home, and it contains the heart's wishes of each family member.
During the ceremony, each member of the family can place an item in the capsule, something meaningful to them, and alternatively, each family member can write a note about their hopes and dreams for the future, or about what it means to be a member of the family. These can be opened on a date agreed by the family.
If the couple is sealing a Marriage Box, where they store a bottle of their favourite celebration beverage, two glasses and a love letter to each other, notes from children in the family can be included as well. An older child can be tasked with locking the box for safekeeping.
Sometimes a couple wish to use fine grains of coloured or natural sand to symbolise the blending of their lives together ('Just as the blended coloured grains of sand form a unique pattern, the blending of two souls in marriage creates a new masterpiece that can neither be replicated nor separated'). Couples often include family members in this symbolic gesture; parents, children, close friends etc.
What child is not fascinated with candles and flames? Involving them in a symbolic candle lighting can be a good way to include them. You can do this any number of ways. If the children are small the couple can light small candles for each of them and they can light the centre candle with help from the grown ups. If the children are older each child can light their own candle, and then light the centre candle together as a family. It may seem a small task, but to a child, this is an amazing opportunity.
If the couple are choosing this ancient gesture to symbolise their marriage, the process can be expanded to include children in the family. Traditionally, the cloth that was used to bind the hands of a betrothed couple was usually one that represented the clan or the family group, so this is an ideal choice for including children. It may not be possible for the couple to walk back down the aisle with their hands fastened together, but the children will thoroughly enjoy being 'tied to' their parents for a brief time in the ceremony.
These are just some ideas, though the possibilities are a vast. A wedding is such a meaningful event and it is meant to be shared with the most important people in our lives, and that includes the children in the marriage. At the heart of the occasion a new family is 'being born', as well as a marriage being created. Naming and/or involving each child in some way in the ceremony is a lovely way to cement their place in the family being celebrated.
Ellen brings a treasure of inspiration and knowledge, and we are super excited to have her on this fantastic team! She's an infinitely creative spirit, which complements her ritual-loving enthusiasm about life.
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