Should You Invite Estranged Family Members to Your Wedding?

Weddings can be challenging events for those experiencing family estrangement.

Posted May 14, 2018

baranq/Shutterstock
Source: baranq/Shutterstock

Media coverage of the recent British royal wedding examined every detail of the day, from the dress to the flowers to the page boys. One aspect of the day that generated a great deal of discussion and debate was the guest list — specifically, the fact that some of bride Meghan Markle’s apparently estranged family members were not invited.

The decision whether to invite certain family members to important events is one that many people could relate to, especially those who have a distant relationship with a relative in terms of contact, communication and/or emotional closeness. In a report by the charity Stand Alone, which explored the experience of 807 individuals who were estranged from a family member, 66% reported that weddings were a time when the experience of estrangement was particularly challenging or difficult.

Weddings might be particularly challenging because they are events at which there is an assumption that family members will be front and center. Depending on the country and culture, tradition might influence the role of family members in numerous aspects of the ceremony and reception, from the wording of the wedding invitations to the order of speeches.

Surprisingly little research has explored how individuals negotiate such family occasions, although there are poignant advice columns on the topic. What we do know is this: Weddings have the potential to be awkward or stressful for the bride and groom sending the invitations, the guests who receive them, or those who find themselves uninvited.

To avoid potentially difficult interactions, sons and daughters who have initiated estrangement from a parent sometimes choose not to attend family obligations and interactions altogether, avoiding contact with nuclear and/or extended family members (Agllias, 2017; Scharp & Thomas, 2016). And when they are invited to events, disagreements and conflict on the day itself have the potential to be “a final straw," cementing or confirming a decision to maintain distance (Scharp 2016).

For parents estranged from an adult child, family occasions such as weddings have been found to be stressful, and for some, a potential source of hope for contact or reconnection with their adult children, which can then lead to disappointment (Agllias 2013).

Family weddings are stressful not only for those estranged from a parent or adult child. In a study of adult children whose parents had been divorced for at least 20 years and who had a conflictual or hostile relationship, family events were described as distressing and confusing (Ahrons, 2006). The men and women in this study took different approaches in response, from not inviting parents to events, inviting one parent but not the other, or inviting both, instructing parents to be civil, and hoping that they would not spoil the occasion.

Weddings can be a potential source of joy and connection, and an opportunity for family members and friends to come together. Yet they also have the potential to create debate, tension, and disagreement. Challenging choices as to whether to invite certain family members to weddings are experienced by many, although few of us will have to do so under the glare of the media from around the world as Meghan Markle just did.

References

 Agllias K. (2017). Missing family: the adult child’s experience of parental estrangement. Journal of Social Work Practice, 533: 1–15.

Scharp K.M., Thomas L.J. (2016). Family “Bonds ”: making meaning of parent–child relationships in estrangement narratives. Journal of Family Communication, 7431: 32–50.

Scharp K.M. 2016. Parent-child estrangement: conditions for disclosure and perceived social network member reactions. Family Relations, 65(5):688–700.

Ahrons CR. 2006. Family ties after divorce: long-term implications for children. Family Process. 46(1):53–66.

Source: By Belinda (Dreamday Invitations) CC BY 2.5, via Wikimedia Commons