Wedding Rituals for Parents

Experiencing a child's wedding from a parent's perspective.

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Generations ago, Jewish parents were at the helm of organizing their children's weddings, from the initial steps of arranging a match and establishing a dowry to hosting the wedding festivities and helping the couple set up their new home. In those days, the young hatan and kallah (groom and bride) may have barely known one another before their nuptials and needed to trust that their parents would create the best possible match for them. 

As customs and traditions began to change for much of the Jewish world, especially in America, young men and women started to reject arranged marriages and look for spouses on their own. Still, when it came to making arrangements for the wedding itself, much of the work continued to fall on the parents, in particular the bride's mother. Since it was usual for the bride's parents to pay for the wedding, they often took charge of planning the occasion according to their taste and budget. The young couple might be consulted for their opinions (certainly more the bride than the groom), but it was more often the parents who had the final word.

role of parents in weddingNot so with families today. Statistics show that Jewish people in the United States are marrying later than their non-Jewish counterparts. This means that engaged couples are often financially independent, having lived on their own and established both personal and professional communities (often located far away from parents) by the time they decide to tie the knot. With this independence may come the desire on the part of the couple to make their own choices about where and when to wed, how big a wedding to have, who will officiate, and how many guests to invite. Parents may be consulted and included in the planning, but it is no longer assumed that the bride's family will pay for the affair. The couple may receive support from both sides or choose to pay for the wedding themselves. This break from traditional roles and parental expectations can leave many parents feeling lost and wondering what their role in their child's big day is.

Two Rituals in One

Whether or not parents are playing a key role in organizing and planning their children's nuptials, the wedding of a child is still one of the most significant lifecycle moments that a parent will experience. It is a profound moment of letting go, acknowledging that one's son or daughter is no longer a child and is ready to commit to an adult partnership. This moment can include feelings of great joy and celebration, but also sadness and loss, as well.

Often parents don't have a formal opportunity to think about the ways in which their child's wedding is also a ritual moment for them. Fortunately, some new rituals are being created and some traditional rituals are being revisited which can give parents the opportunity to experience their children's weddings on two levels: as the embracing of their child's new union and as a rite of passage for them as parents, allowing them to acknowledge their children as adults.

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Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer

Gabrielle Kaplan-Mayer is a freelance writer and educator based in Philadelphia. She is the author of two books of plays for children: The Magic Tanach and Other Short Plays and Extraordinary Jews: Staging Their Lives as well as The Creative Jewish Wedding Book.