Manners & Misdemeanors
Rules of Estrangement: Should You Invite Your Parents' Second Families To Your Wedding?
How does one acknowledge second relationships in the generally intolerant Philippine setting? Let us count some ways.
IMAGE Tim Dorr / Flickr
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I love weddings. Something about them reminds me of spring. I guess it’s the promise they hold, the hope they inspire. Anyway, I usually get very positive vibes at weddings, thus predisposed to feel lucky for the principals. In fact, at a recent one, I was even brought to happy tears, even if it was a wedding I just happened upon.

As I always do after a regular visit to my mother’s niche at the Santuario de San Antonio in Forbes Park, I entered the church just after the wedding ceremony and in time for the picture-taking. The newlyweds were now facing the congregation and at some point, obliging a self-conscious repeat of a kiss upon the direction of the photographer. Some guests were growing restless but could not leave just yet, not until, as good form demanded, the couple had marched out. Some of the older ones, however, probably feeling exempt from such rules, began to leave quietly, presumably for the reception. Some of those who had dutifully stayed moved toward the aisle for a closer view of the couple marching out.

Meantime, I heard the coordinator calling out groups according to the customary sequence of picture taking with the couple—sponsors, members of the entourage, family, and so on. Then came the surprising yet resonant call for the bride’s father’s second family—him, his wife and their children, the bride’s step-siblings—and, next, the bride’s mom’s own second family. My eyeglasses began to mist, and I just had to leave, or else I’d break into sobs.

That a wedding so accommodating, so inclusive, so welcoming happened at all in our society is a definite breakthrough. To me, it inspired visions of what could have been at two weddings in my life—as mom at my daughter’s and, more recently, as stepmom at my stepson’s.

But we shouldn’t have to wait for the end to finally be magnanimous to our exes and more welcoming to the expanded cast of new relatives that our separation and eventual recoupling bring.

In the absence of any rules and with much bitterness still in the air, my only daughter may have been spared an incident when her father and his new partner refused to be part of it and left my eldest son to give her away. (An uncle of mine had in fact been overextended in that role, not only because he had four daughters to give away but also because he had to do it repeatedly for one of them—the most gorgeous, most often remarried Elizabeth Taylor of the family.)

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For most young couples, however, the problem brought about by their parents’ estrangement begins with wedding invitations. But precisely for this reason, some are now being worded in such a way as to make it seem it is the young couple themselves doing the announcing and inviting, and the betrothed’s parents getting only second billing, their names appearing only to identify immediate lineage. At the same time, for reasons known only to them or perhaps to simplify things, some children marrying in such circumstances, like my stepson, keep to the traditional form for invitations, so that theirs read as though their parents were not separated, much less remarried.

Some parents, usually the mother, despite the fact that their exes have remarried, choose still to march down with them, their marrying children, whether bride or groom, sandwiched between them as a potential buffer. If you ask me, that’s one character too many in one scene. The bride, as is sometimes the case elsewhere, should be left marching alone in her long, trained gown, the better to savor her singular moment; marching with the father to give her away, as is our tradition, is not so bad—the father takes away nothing; he does not inspire comparison.

“Tonight,” he said bluntly, “isn’t about you.”

In Western countries, legitimated stepmothers and stepfathers are identified in invitations, precisely to assign their places in the potentially delicate scheme of things, thus minimizing, if not altogether eliminating, risks of unnecessary misunderstanding or misrepresentation. Or maybe, in such a situation, there’s just no way not to ruffle someone’s feathers.

To be sure, some estranged couples take great pains to find that ounce of prevention. A friend who’s a stickler for delicadeza thought she had done a good enough job by keeping not only the communication lines open with her ex-husband but also the communication itself, to avoid arousing any suspicions and discomfort in his second wife; furthermore, the communication was limited to matters concerning their daughter. Each time she called, for instance, she first asked to speak to the new wife and had her relay to the husband whatever message she had for him, implicitly, considerately, leaving it up to her to decide whether to let them speak with each other directly. It was precisely such prudence that had kept the multilateral relationships—between the exes, their daughter and his new wife—cordial through the years.

Well, until these were put through the test of weddings.

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Possibly owing purely to excessive enthusiasm, the stepmom, a CEO and rather a perfectionist, overstepped her role: she ran her stepdaughter’s show as if the girl were her own daughter, sidelining the real mom. The relationships have not been the same since, little repaired even with the arrival of grandchildren.

But don’t get me wrong, there are weddings that live up to their promises.

How I wished at that very moment that it had been the case at my stepson’s wedding. Probably because I had developed some affection for him, having been exposed to him more than to his sisters. I felt quite hurt being left out completely. Although I had accepted it in my mind to be the best arrangement, still my heart was in some kind of pain.

On the night of the wedding, I called up a confidant and asked to be taken out to dinner. A busy and sharp psychologist, he refused to indulge me in my self-pity.

“Tonight,” he said bluntly, “isn’t about you.” And to reassure me, he added, “It’s only one night; there’s the rest of your lives.” As it turned out, it was a short night, too. My husband came home earlier than expected, and the rest of our lives quickly began.

To be sure, there’s one place in which we seem predisposed to acknowledge second relationships—the obituaries. The accommodation lies in the concessionary phrase “loving companion,” which takes nothing away from the original spouse and parent who hopefully has found by then her own loving companion for her eventual obituary.

But we shouldn’t have to wait for the end to finally be magnanimous to our exes and more welcoming to the expanded cast of new relatives that our separation and eventual recoupling bring. I don’t mean a day-to-day, in-your-face kind of relationship, but an occasional one. We can start with children’s weddings, and maybe expand to birthday parties of grandchildren, their first communions, their graduations, and, yes, their weddings. That way nobody is left a stranger.

I know one separated couple who, through the years, have continued to draw the line, his and hers, when it comes to family celebrations, but curiously enough, have been able to keep their one final promise to never to speak ill of each other, particularly to their children. This promise, I fully agree, should be required of all estranged couples to replace the first one they couldn’t keep. But then such a display of mature love and Solomonic wisdom is rare.

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But don’t get me wrong, there are weddings that live up to their promises. And, like spring, they continue to inspire hope and go on to the next season and the next, in fact, for a lifetime.

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