Moms offer advice to Hoda and Joel on including kids in wedding ceremony

"When kids feel like they are a part of the day, it makes it easier for everyone."

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/ Source: TODAY
By Terri Peters

There's a wedding on the way for TODAY co-anchor Hoda Kotb and her longtime boyfriend, Joel Schiffman!

Hoda announced the happy news on Monday, saying Joel proposed this weekend during a vacation. The couple has been together for six years, and have adopted two children together, 2-year-old Haley Joy and Hope Catherine, a baby girl who joined their family in April.

"How am I going to explain (to the girls) your parents are going to get married?" Hoda joked during the announcement. "We're still trying to figure out that part."

We asked parents who have found sweet ways to include their own kids in their ceremonies for some suggestions on how to make little ones a part of the big day.

Kristy Ray, a Presbyterian minister who lives in Melbourne, Florida, says it was important to her that her husband, Anthony Mobley's, son, James, knew she wasn't just marrying his dad.

"We were becoming a family that day," Ray told TODAY Parents, explaining how she added a special sand ceremony into their 2015 wedding ceremony so the then eight year old would have a physical representation of the commitment she was making to him that day.

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Kristy Ray and her husband, Anthony, wanted to include Anthony's then 8-year-old son, James, in their wedding ceremony, so the couple planned a sand ceremony to signify their joining together as one family.Kristy Ray

"I had three glass cylinders each with our favorite color — blue, red and green — and one jar that we poured into," said Ray. "In the ceremony, we came together in a circle and I told him how special we each are but that together, we create something even more special — that we need each other to grow as a family and we are in this life together."

When Sarah Edwards' husband, Jeff, decided to propose to her, he included his then 10-year-old daughter, Kaidence, in helping to choose her engagement ring. Once the question was popped, Edwards enlisted Kaidence to help with planning their wedding ceremony.

Sarah Edwards says she included her husband's daughter in wedding planning, and asked her to serve as junior bridesmaid, so that she felt the day was about her as well as her parents.Sarah Edwards

"I think she was more excited about planning than I was," Edwards, who lives in Glen Burnie, Maryland, recalled, adding that she asked Kaidence to be her junior bridesmaid and had her help with making flower arrangements and picking out dresses. "I wanted Kaidence to feel like this was her day just as much as it was mine. We were becoming a family together, so we planned the entire thing as a family."

Rachel Sobel, who blogs at Whine and Cheez(Its), had a 6-year-old daughter when she married her second husband. Sobel says that like Edwards, she included her daughter, Ava, in wedding planning and preparations. The Boca Raton, Florida, mom broke away from tradition and had Ava walk her down the aisle during the wedding ceremony.

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"I didn't want her sitting on the sidelines during a moment that was changing all of our lives," Sobel explained. "The three of us were now a 'we' and I wanted it to feel that way."

Rachel Sobel had her then 6-year-old daughter, Ava, give her away at her wedding ceremony.Devon McNanama

Shanna Niehaus was living in Hawaii when she and her husband were married in 2013. Niehaus and her husband included his 6-year-old daughter, Lauren, and her 2-year-old son, Kai, in their wedding, and gave them special roles on the big day.

"Kai walked me down the aisle and served as ring bearer, Niehaus said. "Lauren served as flower girl."

"I wanted to make sure the children knew our wedding was about our family, and that the wedding included all of us, not just my husband and I," Niehaus said, adding they they also gave each child a special keepsake gift.

Shanna Niehaus and her husband included each other's children in their 2013 wedding ceremony by giving them roles to play and gifting them with special items to signify their family coming together.Weddings by Willy and Meghan

"My husband chose a vintage pocket watch for Kai, and I chose a Ni'ihau shell bracelet to give my stepdaughter... While I hold on to both gifts for the time being, they always serve as a reminder to each of our kids that our blended family is about all of us, together."

So what advice to these moms have for Hoda and Joel as they plan their own wedding ceremony?

"If you're getting married and kids are involved, I think it's OK to do things differently and make everyone feel invested and involved in a way that works for you," said Sobel. "There's no right or wrong, and everyone should be able to celebrate their new family dynamic in a way that feels good to them."

"I would suggest to involve your kids as much as you can," said Edwards. "To see their faces light up each step of the way is the best feeling in the world. And, once the day finally comes, remember to keep them occupied: Give them easy tasks to help you like setting up the place cards or your guestbook. The more they are occupied the less stress on you, and there will be stress on your wedding day. But when kids feel like they are a part of the day, it makes it easier for everyone."