IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Coping with weirdness when parents remarry

As an adult, seeing your parents remarry can be awkward. Joel Stein looks back at the uncomfortable, but ultimately joyful, experience of attending their weddings.
/ Source:

The first thing I need to make clear is that I love my parents. And that I like the people that they’ve remarried and am thrilled that those nice people make them happy, in no small part because I have no interest in taking care of them myself. The second thing I need to explain is that there’s no way at this point in their lives they’re reading magazines with either the word modern or bride in it. So don’t worry about their feelings.

My parents both got married for the second time in the late 1990s, when I was in my 20s and disinclined to turn down any event that included a free meal. So I hadn’t given a lot of thought to how I was supposed to act. It was clear that my parents hadn’t, either.

My dad got married first, in a pretty impressive blowout at Windows on the World in New York, which I assume required a lot of planning. Planning you’d think would have included telling your son sometime before he arrived that during the ceremony he’s going to stand next to you and hold the wedding ring. I believe that this request is traditionally expressed by “Would you be my best man?” instead of “Take this and stand there.”

There’s a certain sadness to second weddings, not just because all the symbolism is designed for the young (I’m not entirely sure the bride’s 80-year-old dad knew what he was giving away, for instance), but because all that talk of “soul mates” and “never being happier” implies the first marriage didn’t exist. Which made me feel a little like Michael J. Fox in "Back to the Future," when he was starting to disappear because his parents didn’t meet. Also I may have felt like him because I may have drunk a little too much and demanded to play guitar with the band. And I don’t know how to play guitar.

But, to my shock, it was a really fun wedding. When a person you’ve known since birth gets married, you tend to know a lot of the people there. The food was great, the views were amazing, and I may have even danced. And most of all it was nice to see my dad happy again, after seeing him so sad.

About a year later, my mom got married. Unlike my dad, she asked me a few months in advance if I’d read a poem at the ceremony. She also asked if I’d chip in for the hot tub she and her fiancé had registered for. Apparently what she was really telling me was that she was getting married in the 1970s.

My mom’s wedding, at a beautiful, old, stone-faced restaurant in New Jersey, was a little mellower and more intimate than my dad’s. They were married by a Unitarian minister, which they thought was really hip and irreverent. I think they may have actually believed they were getting married in the 1970s.

By then I had learned the basic etiquette of being at a parent’s wedding. You can’t get really drunk and hook up with guests, because of the preponderance of cousins. And I was better at feeling my way through awkward situations. When I noticed that my mom’s wedding dress was backless, I simply made sure to be in front of her at all times. At the brunch the next day, when I was asked to speak after a very long slide show, I refrained from commenting about how the old photos of my mom—with my dad cropped out—showed a lack of knowledge about Photoshop or even decent scissor skills.

Still, as weird as it all was, it’s really nice to have gone to your parents’ weddings. Having your parents divorce is hard, and being able to see them getting remarried is one of the only pluses. Most kids don’t get to see their parents on such a happy day. Those 50th anniversary parties are never as good. Mostly because the kids pay for them.

This content originally appeared in Modern Bride magazine.