President's Message #11, Summer 2000
by Dr. Marjorie Engel
"You want to hear about our wedding?" Miriam laughed out loud. "This was the third marriage for each of us. We don't have any children. Matt and I walked down the aisle together while the organ played, 'I have often walked down this street before...'" (Speaking of music choices, the symbolism is bad in Wagner's Lohengrin from which we have taken that overworked favorite, "Here Comes the Bride." Hasn't anyone else noticed that Lohengrin leaves Elsa in the third act?)
Although the percentage of people who remarry has been on the decline in recent years, about 75% of divorced men and women are continuing to do so. And in about 65% of those remarriages, unlike Miriam and Matt, at least one of the partners brings a child or children from a previous relationship and a stepfamily is formed. Unwed mothers whose first marriage is to a man who is not her child's biological father and remarrying parents who are widows and widowers also create stepfamilies. More than half of Americans today have been, are now, or will eventually be in one or more step situations. Clearly, we are an important type of family in our society.
And society continues to sit up and take notice. I knew we had crossed an important visibility line when Boston Magazine's Elegant Wedding asked me to write about encore weddings based on my book, "Weddings A Family Affair: The new etiquette for second marriages and couples with divorced parents." And Hallmark has created cards that can be used for the occasion in its new TiesThatBind line that can be found in their stores throughout the country.
Last spring, editor Beth Reed Ramirez produced her first quarterly edition of Bride Again, the only magazine designed for encore brides. Of course, it contains the requisite columns about rings, honeymoon locations and the like. It is also chock full of meaty articles (several of them by SAA board members) about things such as preparing children for your remarriage, deciding what your stepchildren might call you, potential changes in child support and visitation schedules, the government's role in your remarriage contract, and remarriage ceremonies that include children. In fact, many of the articles are relevant to stepfamilies during their first few years of togetherness so it's a "keeper" magazine and not a throw-away. I think it's a great idea and format — just wish more of the models in wedding gowns were larger than a reed-thin size 6-8 and older than 20-something.
In addition to our own web site at www.stepfam.org, SAA is the content provider for stepfamily information on the web at www.lifescape.com. One of the topics requested was a discussion about stepfamily weddings. And when NHK, Japan's public television station, was filming a documentary about stepfamilies in the United States, they wanted to tape stepfamily weddings.
The Japanese producer was particularly interested in the Family Medallion. This gold, sterling silver, or pewter medallion has three raised circles on its face. Two represent the marriage union while the third symbolizes the importance of children in the marriage. It represents family love in the same way the wedding ring symbolizes conjugal love. You'll find it in our catalog of resources.
"I noticed that children often experienced anticipation and excitement before the wedding started, but afterwards, they were confused and felt left out," says Dr. Roger Coleman, a Christian church minister and SAA board member. To help remedy the problem, he created the Family Medallion and wrote "Celebrating the New Family," a ceremony booklet for including children in the wedding service when parents remarry.
During the ceremony, a Family Medallion is given to each child — symbolizing the new family. A reading on the importance of children is then given, followed by a prayer for the children. Through this gesture the bride and groom are saying, "We care for you and you have a special place in our lives."
From the viewpoint of family and friends, "What do we give to a couple who probably already have two of everything?" is a logical question when the encore wedding announcement is made. While most of them probably privately conclude that the big gift they selected for your first wedding should be your quota, they usually do chose to send a small token because it serves as a symbol that they approve of the new union.
These gifts are often of the creative variety such as tickets to sports events, theater productions, or movies; a special bottle of wine; perennials for your garden; a restaurant gift certificate; exercise equipment; or a coupon for an evening of free child care — typically nothing monogrammed. One encore couple reported, "Our guests gave the children wedding gifts instead of giving them to us." Whatever gift you select for an encore wedding, be sure to include the new couple's first year membership in the Stepfamily Association of America.
I've noticed that encore weddings often have an element of humor and fun attached to them along with a serious commitment to the new stepfamily. All newlyweds should have a wedding cake. This is the time to cater to special style and flavor whims. Ellen said that she and Clifford made a joint decision about the cake. "I chose a chocolate cake with chocolate frosting. Cliff got to choose the top decoration. He picked Superman and Wonder Woman!"
And, don't we all know at least one encore couple who could have sent this invitation:
The Vishers and the Clarks have probably been married longer than any other SAA couple. You might get a quote from each of them and note the years married.