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How to Keep Your Crazy Family in Line at the Wedding

28 Jun 2019, Posted by P.J. Oswald in Wedding Planning
Crazy family at a wedding reception

No doubt about it: humans are the most unpredictable and surprising elements of your wedding day.

I just love photographing those candid human moments where the flower girl refuses to walk the aisle, where cousin Donny does the worm on the dance floor, or when the groom turns on the waterworks while catching a first glimpse of his bride. These surprises are absolutely unscripted, and they make for incredible images.

However, you’ve just finished your guestlist, and now you’re anxious about seeing your oh, so human family attend your wedding. You’re worried that your mom will deputize herself the wedding coordinator, or that Uncle Bob will play wedding photographer despite not being asked. Or maybe you’re concerned about the fallout from your parents’ recent divorce.

Family dynamics are no joke. Just remember that every family has got them. With a little planning and a some loving boundaries, you can enjoy an entirely well-behaved family on your wedding day.

Here’s how:

1. Give ‘Em a Job to Do

Family (especially immediate family) are more emotionally invested in you than anyone. They grew up with you, paid your way through college, or helped you survive to adulthood. So of course they’re excited for your wedding. When they’ve been so involved in your life, it’s hard to take a back seat when it comes to the wedding day. And so with all that nervous energy, they may look for ways to make themselves useful…in ways you’d rather they not.

Instead of letting them dream up ways to be useful, why not put them to work on something you could legitimately use help with. So before the wedding day, invite them to play a role—like this:

“Dad, can you introduce the wedding coordinator to the various family members?”

“Mom, can you make sure the unity sand is pre-poured and in the right place?”

“Grandpa, can you make sure the yard games are all set up for the guests?”

“Auntie, can you arrange the photos and mementos on the memory table?”

Trust me, this will work far better than simply asking your loved ones to relax. Relaxing is nearly impossible for them on the wedding day.

French Bulldogs are dressed with flower collars in preparation for a wedding ceremony.
Flower Dogs don’t exactly take care of themselves, do they? Ask dad to watch them during the day.

2. Put All The Right People in All the Right Places

Any first grader knows that mixing baking soda and vinegar makes a tiny volcanic eruption. But mix the wrong family members together at the wedding, and you’re likely to see a real eruption. Fortunately, you can diffuse any potential drama by keeping these folks apart and enjoying themselves during various times of the day.

Photograph of a rustic wedding reception seating map
A reception seating board reinforces your wedding theme while gently directing guests to the people they’ll most enjoy.

Let’s start with your ceremony. If you’ve got ushers, give them a little briefing to ask that they seat family members you’re concerned about with some distance between them. However, if your parents are divorced, let them know that you’d love it if they each sit in the front row—a place of honor typically reserved for parents. Only if they refuse should you try to seat them apart in any other locations.

Your wedding day will probably include some time to photograph family portraits with this once-in-a-lifetime gathering of loved ones. I ask my couples to put together a family portrait list for me in advance so I will know which family members should be in each photo. They know far better than I which family mix well—both by relation and circumstances. Not only will this prevent unneeded conflict, it will keep you moving quickly through this part of the day and back to your reception.

Speaking of receptions, you’ll also want to use some strategy when drafting seating assignments. Not only can you place feuding family at different tables, you can seat them at tables across the room from each other. And again, if your parents are divorced, ask them in advance if they are willing to sit at the same table, and only separate them if they are not. And of course, do all your guests the kindness of seating good friends nearby so they can have a wonderful night.

Photograph of a bride and groom toasting as their guests drink on happily
Seating everyone in the right spot keeps everyone happy.

3. Schedule Special Wedding Day Moments With Your Parents

Maybe you’re the type who wants to get ceremony-ready with your mom in the room. Then again, maybe you’d like a little space. It will be far easier to ask your parents for space if they know that you’ve scheduled some time in your special day just for them.

-Ask your mom to help you put on your wedding dress and veil

-Give your dad an exclusive sneak peek at you in your dress, even before your fiance

-Take a few minutes to deliver wedding-day gifts to thank your mom and dad

-Share a drink with your stepdad

-Plan a father-daughter dance at your reception

-Make time for a few minutes of photos with just you and your mom

Photograph of a father seeing his daughter in her wedding dress for the first time, overcome by emotion.
Make time for the ones you love, so they don’t force themselves into your schedule.

Your parents will likely be feeling a bittersweet cocktail of emotion at your wedding. They’re watching their baby take a decisive step into adulthood and fly out of the nest. Just imagine how you’ll feel when you’re in their shoes! So however you plan to include your parents in your wedding day, make sure to communicate those plans before the wedding day. This will help avoid hurting their potentially fragile feelings while honoring all that they mean to you.

4. Choose Vendors With Emotional Intelligence

Since your family’s emotions will be running high at the wedding, you’ll want to avoid hiring divas or drama kings on your vendor team. The last thing you need is for the bombastic personality of a talented vendor setting off the wonderful, lovable, strong personality of your own kinfolk. You want someone who add calm to any situation. You need a team with emotional intelligence. So how do you find vendors like these?

Start with this: meet up with your vendors before hiring them. As in, spend time sitting across from them.

When you do, see if they can listen well and articulate what they’ve heard from you. Determine if they can describe not only their strengths but their weaknesses. Explore if they come across as authentic, or simply put you through a marketing presentation. Ask about how they’ve had to cope with changes or curve balls in scheduling at past weddings. And pay attention to whether or not they think before speaking.

Your wedding photographer, for instance, will probably spend 8-10 hours photographing your wedding. That’s why we invite our couples to get to know us over coffee long before the wedding. We want to be a blessing to them on the wedding day, so that they are grateful for our presence before they’ve even seen their photos.

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So take care to identify the team who will serve you (and your family) at the wedding. The peace and excellence they bring with them will keep everyone having a great time.

Photograph of a vendor team relaxing at the end of a wedding.
A couple with their vendors. Note the lack of black eyes and frowns.

Wrapping Up

Your wedding day is most definitely your day: a time specifically to celebrate your marriage. And by inviting the special people in your life to share in the celebration, you’re opening up the door to unpredictability. Sure, there’s potential for a bit of crazy to find its way in, but by treating your family and guests with some love and forethought, your wedding day will be unforgettable for all the right reasons.

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