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Parents’ wedding roles: do I keep it traditional or freestyle it?

by | 6 September 2014 | Couple

Traditions are weird. In England, the majority of weddings still begin with the father of the bride ‘giving away’ his daughter. Even though the phrase ‘give away’ is mostly used for clothes that don’t fit us anymore and Christmas gifts from obscure relatives who don’t truly know us.

It’s not logical – most traditions aren’t. As we know, the ultimate goal of any wedding planner is to carry off a ceremony and reception without offending any relatives. So how do we decide where to place our parents on the tradition-o-meter? The bride’s father ‘traditionally’ pays for the entire thing, so this is a financial question as well as a diplomatic one.

You know your parents better than anyone else. After the big announcement, just sit your parents down and ask ‘how do you want to be involved?’. Here are the topics you’ll need to cover:

Cash: let’s not tiptoe around it

Money is a huge factor in any wedding, but the discussion is never as daunting as it seems. The most difficult questions are the ones to which you already kind of know the answers. Even if you don’t know the decimal points, you have a rough idea how much money your parents have. You also have a rough idea of how much they would want to contribute to your wedding. And that’s if you even need help at all.

The only thing that stands to cause a complication is our good friend ‘tradition’, which says the bride’s father should pay for the whole thing. Is this really a problem though? Firstly, only the most quaint of couples still have the husband as the designated money man, so ‘bride’s father’ mostly just means ‘bride’s parents’.

And if the groom’s father is the type to put his foot down and say ‘nope, I get a free pass, as tradition dictates’, then you know what he’s like and you’d see it coming a mile off.

How many couples’ parents actually fall out over wedding costs? Very few. Just tackle the money question early, so everyone knows where they stand.

Speeches: terrific fun, or fundamentally terrifying?

When it comes to speeches, one size does not fit all. Some people treasure the opportunity to have a whole room of people hanging on their every word – some people lie awake at night, terrified by the thought.

Traditionally, the bride’s father gives a speech, along with the best man and a few others. But who’s going to be offended if you break with tradition here? For the bride, there’s a chance here to do your dear old dad a favour. Take the time to ask ‘do you want to do a speech? If so, what kind?’.

Whether your dad wants to do a quick, sheepish toast, a full-on PowerPoint presentation or no speech at all, he’ll appreciate being given the choice. What if the bride’s father is petrified of public speaking, but the groom’s father (or mother) is a professional standup comic? You don’t have to cling to tradition when there are better alternatives.

Does your mother want to give a speech? Your auntie? Your dog? Go for it. There are a lot of brides’ fathers who would happily dispense with the burden.

Giving away the bride

The tradition of the father giving away the bride harks back to when a wedding was basically a business transaction. In most Western cultures, daughters aren’t considered a father’s ‘property’ anymore, so this tradition is built on sand. Yet so many still do it.

There’s nothing wrong with that. It can be a moment that father and daughter will treasure for ever. But there are many awful, despicable people in this world, and many of them are men who have daughters. If there’s someone else in your life who is more deserving of that unforgettable moment with you, then tradition shouldn’t prevent either of you from having it.

What do you actually risk by dispensing with this tradition? Is the world going to implode if your mother or brother walks you down the aisle?

The worst that’s going to happen is a few guests might think ‘huh, that’s unusual’. Most people won’t give a damn whether your father gives you away or Rick Astley gives you up – if they do then they probably shouldn’t be at your wedding anyway.

Other parental stuff to consider

Tradition says the bride and her father should travel in the same car and be the last to arrive at the wedding. We say fine, but if your life and your wedding present you with a reason to do otherwise, why shouldn’t you?

There is also the question of what to do if parents want extra involvement. A good solution to this one is to have them as witnesses. It’s an officially recorded role in the ceremony, it makes them part of the signing and, let’s be honest, no one can screw that up.

So, to answer our own question:

It’s entirely up to you whether you stick with tradition or freestyle it like Bomfunk MC’s. What you shouldn’t do though, is default your parents to the traditional roles without taking the time to question whether it’s what you, or they, really want.

Most people take the totally traditional wedding as the starting point and only deviate from that format when there is a specific reason to. We think it should be the other way around: plan your wedding from the ground up based on what you want most, and only include the traditional bits that you specifically want for a specific reason.

This is especially true when it comes to your parents. Instead of asking what tradition says, ask them what they say. They’ll appreciate it.

About the author

Matt Phil Carver

Matt’s a copywriter and blogger from West Sussex, England. He spends his days helping people simplify their writing and give their words more punch and personality. At weddings, Matt’s always quick to get up and dance, even when the vicar’s telling him to wait for the reception.


Couple Parents’ wedding roles: do I keep it traditional or freestyle it?