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Giving Children a Role in Remarriage Ceremony Strengthens Family Bond

(ARA) - Holly Powers was in love and preparing to marry Paul Bousquet. But the 45-year-old registered nurse/midwife didn't want a traditional wedding, one that focused exclusively on the bride and groom and their new life together. "We were not a traditional couple," she explains. "I have two teenage children from my first marriage who were going to be part of our lives from day one."

Holly told Paul she wanted to do something special during the wedding to assure her children -- 18-year-old Emily and 16-year-old Michael -- that they were not being abandoned by her remarriage. "Even though I had been divorced for four years, my son Michael had never quite accepted that his father and I would never be together again. I wanted to find a way to tell my children during the wedding ceremony that my marriage to Paul was the first step in building a strong family."

The Ann Arbor, Mich., couple grappled with a problem experienced by most of the more than one million single parents who remarry in the United States each year: What can be done to ease the concerns of children who feel, on a conscious or unconscious level, that their secure place in the family is threatened by the pending remarriage of a parent?

Holly eventually found a simple and emotionally satisfying answer in the form of a family-oriented wedding service that gives children a meaningful role in the wedding nuptials. This five-minute ceremony -- known as the Family Medallion service -- can easily be integrated into any religious or civil wedding ceremony. It differs from the traditional wedding in only one respect: After the newlyweds exchange rings, their children join them for a special service focusing on the family nature of remarriage. Each child is given a gold or silver Family Medallion with three interlocking circles, a symbol that represents family love in much the same way the wedding ring signifies conjugal love. (The medallion is available in the form of a pendant, ring, key ring or lapel pin.)

Holly especially liked the family symbolism of the medallion, with the three interlocking circles representing the husband, wife and children. She also appreciated the fact that the Family Medallion service could be used as is or adapted to any couple's unique situation. Holly chose to adapt the service, expanding the ceremony beyond the formal commitment to love and protect all the children either spouse brought to the marriage.

"We used language that emphasized the challenges of building a life together," Holly adds. This included acknowledging that it would take time to adjust to the new family unit and that to succeed they must constantly communicate and foster trust and intimacy by doing things together as a family.

Holly says that she and Paul will never forget the moment during their August 2005 wedding when Emily and Michael were summoned to their sides to participate in the family wedding service. While the justice of the peace recited the words of the ceremony that Holly had so carefully crafted, Holly and Paul placed the Family Medallions around the necks of Emily and Michael. Emily -- and most of the guests at the wedding -- were moved to tears.

During the reception, many of the guests spoke enthusiastically about the "family" aspect of the Powers/Bousquet wedding. They were impressed that the couple had focused on Holly's children in such an extraordinary way. "A lot of people told me it was one of the most beautiful ceremonies that they had ever seen," Holly recalls.

The family wedding concept is an idea whose time has come. At least one-third of all new marriages in the U.S. involve divorced or widowed parents with children under 18 living in the home, according to the Stepfamily Association of America.

But finding family-oriented wedding resources is no easy task. That's because virtually no religious or civil wedding ceremony recognizes the existence of youngsters. And all the wedding products in bridal stores and magazines are geared toward first-time brides -- and not toward women and men with pre-existing families.

This void frustrated Dr. Roger Coleman, chaplain of Pilgrim Chapel in Kansas City, Mo., who developed the Family Medallion and the family ceremony that goes with it. "A marriage involving children is a lot more than simply the union of a man and a woman," he says. "It is a merging of two separate families. Every day of my ministry I see how divorce creates a sense of failure and hopelessness in people. The family ceremony is a sign of hope and an important step in rebuilding broken families."

Today, more than 15,000 couples a year -- primarily in the United States, Canada and Europe -- use the Family Medallion ceremony to help cement the bond between parents, stepparents and children.

Family therapists and marriage counselors say there is a price to be paid when children feel pushed aside rather than embraced by the remarriage of a parent. "When kids aren't included in the wedding in a significant way, they feel disenfranchised," explains Father Christopher Vender, director of Catholic Ministries of California in Thousand Oaks, who has used the Family Medallion wedding service on several occasions. Father Vender knows all too well the pain children experience when they are merely observers at the wedding of a parent.

"When I was 11 years old, my mother remarried," he recalls. "I remember watching the nuptials from the second pew of the church. Everybody acted like the wedding was about my mom and her boyfriend; it had nothing to do with me. I felt left out and unloved.

"Ignoring the vital role that children play in remarriage is a setup for a dysfunctional family situation and possibly even a second divorce," he says.

Holly and Paul believe that their decision to recognize and honor Emily and Michael during their wedding will permanently strengthen their family bond, even with Michael, her reluctant son. "It's taking time, but he's already begun to ease into a good relationship with Paul," Holly explains. "And both Michael and Emily will always have the medallions as a tangible symbol of our family love."

Additional information about the Family Medallion Wedding Service may be found online at www.familymedallion.com or by calling Clergy Services, Inc. at (800) 237-1922 or by writing to PO Box 32333, Kansas City, Mo., 64171.

Courtesy of ARA Content


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