Ah divorce. For those who've been through it, the memory is like a rare strain of bacteria living in your gut -- most of the time, you feel fine, but whenever you eat slightly old cheese, it flares into a dysenteric mess. Consider your child's wedding a jumbo serving of expired Brie.
I've become an expert on the topic of divorced parents during weddings, for two reasons: 1) I'm getting married in 3 weeks; and 2) I'm the child of a textbook ugly-divorce complete with custody battles, parental Cold Wars, and Vesuvius-level eruptions. (Note: We've all grown up a lot since then, and both parents have been paragons of restraint and grace throughout my wedding process -- with a few booze-fueled exceptions). Still, it has become patently clear that wedding-planning (already a Cambodian minefield) is its own hell for divorced families. Why? Because weddings provide the perfect setting to reenact and relive the details of your own failed marriage -- particularly when your child's the one getting married.
So here are 5 guidelines to maintain decorum (and sanity) and ensure that your kid still speaks to you after the wedding.
1) Be responsible for your own crazy.
I'll be honest: I don't know you from Adam. You could be in the 90th percentile of well-adjusted humans. But I can guarantee that you will be emotionally triggered to the brink of delirium at least once (more likely, once an hour) during your kid's wedding process. All the old wounds will be dug out of storage and whipped into a Semifreddo of emotional mousse.
Here's the thing: As agonizing as these old wounds may be, they are no one's problem but yours. These scars are not your ex's problem, and they're certainly not your child's problem. So accept your responsibility, and own your post-divorce cicatrice.
Figure out what your triggers are - i.e. what's going to set you into a frenzy of hysteria - and develop strategies to cope with them in advance. If your ex tries to back out of paying the florist, are you liable to dissolve into screechy sobs because he "always was a cheap bastard"? Will the mere sight of your ex-mother-in-law send you sprinting to the bathroom with a handle of tequila? If so, no judgments here -- maybe she's the utter dregs of humanity -- just be honest with yourself about what you can and cannot handle. While you may have meltdowns, you are not entitled to meltdowns. If necessary, do some work (therapy, meditation, vodka shots, whatever works for you) to complete the incomplete - you know what I'm talking about, those proverbial thorns puncturing your side whenever your ex's name is mentioned. Write all your triggers down on a piece of paper, then tear it up. Or carve them all into a tree trunk and then chainsaw the damn thing down. Do whatever you feel is necessary -- just make sure it gets done.
At the end of the day, remember that the object or your ire is the other parent of your child. And this is his child's wedding, as well as yours. Regardless of whether he bitched and moaned over every child support check, or banged her way through half your golf buddies. Your kid's wedding is neutral territory -- an emotional Switzerland if you will.
2) Give up guilt -- it's a slimy way to avoid discussing things in a useful way.
Let's be honest: "Oh, I feel so guilty!" is basically a way of saying "I feel bad about something I did, but not bad enough to actually do anything about it, so I'm just gonna announce my bad feeling so I can feel better." This is nice, and tragically unhelpful. If you're doing something that you know you should feel guilty about, here's an option: Stop doing it!
Once all that boring guilt is purged, you can use all that time and energy you no longer have to spend feeling guilty, and spend it on more useful pursuits. If you feel that your child is going through a lot during this time, say so. Have an open conversation. Ask if there's anything he/she needs to say to complete the past before entering his/her own marriage. Be honest about how different (or similar) things were for you. Hell, be generous -- let your child know that you're proud of him/her for taking on such a huge commitment, particularly after they've witnessed what can happen when marriages fall apart. And most of all, be helpful -- offer to handle the myriad extra burdens that divorced-family weddings require (strategic seating charts, tricky wording for invitations, the list goes on).
Bonus round: Be understanding if the bride/groom (aka, your offspring) has a meltdown or two - they're trudging through the same emotional muck you are.
3) Give up the idea that your past experiences have anything to do with your son/daughter's relationship.
Here's the thing: Your marriage was whatever it was. And now it's over. You played your card. And as much as you may fervently believe you've learned every lesson and made every mistake and can now see with perfect clairvoyance into your child's future, you can't. This person may have emerged from your loins and been raised in your image, but she is now an autonomous being, and her marriage is just that: HER marriage. I always say that no one really knows what's going on in a relationship except the people in it (and sometimes not even they do). You may be absolutely convinced that your daughter is marrying a carbon copy of your ex -- the equivalent of marching straight into a viper pit naked and slathered with mouse guts. But the truth is that you simply don't know (and even if you wind up being right, you don't know that now).
Like it or not, this wedding is not your redo. Life offers no do-overs, and any attempts to nab one come with a price. As hard as that may be to accept, you simply must accept it. Because no matter how wise your advice may be, no matter how loaded with perspicacity your viewpoint may be, the fact is that we (your children) have no intention of listening to you. I like to think that there's an evolutionary reason for this -- if everyone listened to her mother's misgivings about her chosen groom, no one would ever get married, and reproduction could grind to a halt (in theory, anyway).
So don't take it personally -- it's Darwin! (And yes, we do understand that buried beneath the neuroses, you only want the best for us.)
4) If you slip (and you will, assuming you're a human being), it's all good - just clean it up.
The good news is that we're all participants in the experiment called Humanity, and the one constant in that experiment is mistakes. So you'll make some! It's a given. Get into a screaming match with your ex at the cake tasting? Well, ok, that sucks -- but it happened. Now clean up the damage quickly and efficiently. This will require doing a whole host of things that you have no desire to do -- such as apologizing to your ex, as well as your child. But apologize you must -- otherwise you're essentially dooming yourself to a miserable time (and a seat in Siberia) at your son's wedding. Which is just about the saddest thing I've heard in the past 20 minutes (I spend a lot of time on the Internet - causes for depression are always a click away).
If that's not enough to motivate you to clean up your mess, consider this: If you take the apology road, you get to emotionally one-up your ex. And the only thing sweeter than buttercream-swathed chocolate ganache is moral high-ground.
5) Whatever it takes to appreciate and enjoy the day without your divorce creeping in, do it.
What do you require in order to maintain a perfect state of Mahāyāna? A week in an ashram? Xanax? Copious amounts of vodka?
Whatever you need, procure it. Because nothing spoils the Big Day more for your child (and everyone else) than his/her parent crumbling into dysfunctional soot. Transform yourself into a one-parent peace-keeping force for the day, and cloak yourself in impenetrable Zen.
And whatever you do, keep that champagne buzz going as long as humanly possible.