Book Reviews

Weddings: A Family Affair

by Margorie Engel
Review by Patricia Schiff Estess

I can say with great authority, having been bride and parent at my own remarriage 22 years ago and the parent or stepparent at three children's marriages - that marriages involving children of divorced parents or people marrying for the second time, no matter how sweet, are not necessarily sugar-rose events. At my own remarriage, for instance, the tears of onlookers frequently associated with the exchange of marriage vows were not of joy; the children cried because this event signaled, for certain, the death of their parental "reunion" wishes. And at the marriages of my children and stepson, the planning had to be excruciatingly tactful with everyone on edge right through the reception because "the other side" might act up.

So it was with more than a little skepticism that I perused Weddings: A Family Affair (Wilshire Publications, 1998, $17.95) with its tag line "The new etiquette for second marriages and couples with divorced parents." I had in mind that if it turned out to be some "do-what's- right," "get-everybody-to-love-everybody," "15- steps-to-a-perfect-wedding" book (as the flowers on the cover seemed to indicate), I'd skip the review and focus on a book of real worth (which are sent to reviewers by publishers all the time). Margorie Engel, the author and current president of the Stepfamily Association of America, would understand. I could use the excuse that it would seem like nepotism reviewing the president's book in the organization's newsletter.

But it didn't happen that way. The book is right on target, even if the tag line to the title isn't. It isn't an etiquette book at all, if the dictionary definition of the word ("Conduct or procedure required by good breeding or prescribed by authority") is correct. It's a problem-solving book, rife with wisdom, common sense, ideas, and encouragement. I think it should be re-tagged to read "Creative problem-solving techniques for second marriages and couples with divorced parents" because there are no right answers when it comes to this milestone event. But perhaps most reassuring to those who will be using this book is that with marriages involving "re's" or those in which former partners must join together to celebrate a child's nuptials, the day can be joyful if you lay as much groundwork as possible and have the flexibility (and maybe even sense of humor) to expect the unexpected.

In the section directed to couples with divorced parents. (a group that is given short shrift in most marriage guides, even though their numbers are huge), Engel warns that probably the parents aren't grown up - even years after the divorce. She explains their feelings toward each other can range anywhere from "not a jealous bone ... to psychosclerosis (hardening of the attitudes)." In the extreme cases, the marrying kids have to help parents through the difficult task of overlooking offensive behaviors of their former spouses, and they even may have to enlist the help of friends or relatives to achieve simple civility at the event. Engel rightly stays away from "shoulds" and "shouldn'ts" because everything about these situations is untraditional, unfamiliar and complicated. Instead, what you find in the pages is a potpourri of creative ideas on everything from how showers can be handled to payment ideas to how invitations can read to who's in the wedding party to who can be in the photos, and what to do with dad's or mom's "friend."

Little attention is given to how to include young children in the ceremony in the second segment of the book which is directed to couples who are planning to remarry. Maybe that's because it's been written about extensively by others. Concentration instead is on teen and adult children's roles, elderly parents' roles, and the role of religion in the wedding. And that's good; rarely are those issues even mentioned, much less tackled. (For some reason, there are segments in this section on financial considerations of remarriage - not weddings - and prenuptial agreements. For a book entitled Weddings: A Family Affair that puzzles me. Financial talk and planning is essential; no one doubts that. Just seems like it's out of place along side of invitations, receiving lines, and what to wear!)

That aside, this is a wonderful wedding book - especially for anyone whose children or stepchildren are getting married. If you make it one of "the something new" gifts, buy it at least three months before the planned wedding (better if even earlier). But before giving it to children or stepchildren, read it yourself. Its pull-out quotes are encouraging; its insights invaluable; its myriad examples especially useful.

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