Wedding & Engagement Etiquette for Parents of the Bride and Groom

All the Ps and Qs parents are required to mind.

Modern weddings can take from tradition while still authentically representing the state of modern families: complex, loving, and honestly portrayed. Read Anna Post of The Emily Post Institute's etiquette tips on modern-day etiquette for parents of the couple.

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Photo: Max & Friends

The royal weddings of the Prince and Princess of Wales – William and Kate – as well as Prince Harry and Meghan Markle showed us that modern weddings can take from tradition (who better than the Brits to show us that?) while still authentically representing the state of modern families: complex, loving, and honestly portrayed. The take away for parents of the bride and groom as they help the couple to the altar is to be open and flexible as your child brings their spouse-to-be, and their family, into yours. Discover wedding and engagement etiquette for parents of the couple, below:

Reaching Out

Traditionally, engagement etiquette dictates that once the couple has told their respective parents of an engagement announcement, the groom’s mother calls the bride’s family to express happiness about the engagement and arrange to get together.

Nowadays, it really doesn’t matter who makes the call announcing engagement and congratulating the in laws, but it’s a good idea for the parents of the bride to wait a few days to give the groom’s family the opportunity to honor tradition since they may want to do so. However, if they don't reach out, then the bride’s mother should go ahead and call. If the mothers aren’t living or a part of couple’s lives, then a father or a step-mother would make the call to the respective people instead.

The important thing is that contact be made before any engagement parties, and that parents act with spontaneity and in the spirit of friendship, regardless of who calls whom first. If no one is taking initiative, then the bride and groom should take the reigns and make plans for everyone to meet and celebrate the news. In fact, as couples are generally more independent when marrying these days, it wouldn’t be unusual for them to arrange a first meeting – usually a dinner – between the two families. Again, it’s more important that the families are introduced and welcome one another than to stand on protocol.

Money Matters

Traditionally, the bride’s parents paid for an engagement party, all costs of the wedding ceremony and the reception (including invitations, flowers, music, and food), along with the bride’s dress, bridesmaids’ flowers, and groom’s ring. The groom’s parents paid for the rehearsal dinner, the bride’s engagement and wedding rings, the marriage license, and officiant’s fee, accommodations for the groomsmen, and the flowers (boutonnieres for the groomsmen, the bride’s going-away corsage, and in some regions, the bride’s bouquet).

Today, finances can be divided however best suits the couple and their parents. It’s best to talk about who can or would like to contribute what before wedding planning truly begins. Any conversation about money should be respectful and candid – and given with notice. Even though many families are willing to share the cost of a wedding, it should never be assumed that they are expected to do so.

When parents are willing to contribute, the bride and groom should consider the range of possibilities ahead of time and be sure they agree on what they would prefer before they sit down with their parents to discuss the costs related while wedding planning. If the couple wants financial help, they need to be willing to compromise on some of their wishes and the guest list, and if family members offer help, they need to remember that in the end, it’s the couple’s day, and they can’t hold the couple hostage with their checkbook.

Lines of Communication

While some sticky questions may need to be communicated through the bride and groom, couples should encourage parents to communicate directly whenever possible, either via phone or email, or even Facebook! This is made easier if they have already met in person.

Proper Attire

Ideally, the mother of the groom checks in with the mother of the bride to see what she plans to wear. Although both mothers should choose their outfits based on their personal taste and colors that flatter them best, it’s traditional for the bride’s mother to choose first. It’s a plus if the mothers try to complement (but not match) each other’s look for the event. (Get ideas for mothers' gowns in our photo gallery from real weddings!)

Role Play on the Big Day

On the day of the wedding, parents of the couple act as hosts, either literally or figuratively, so make sure they are prepared for their roles at the wedding. All parents are part of the processional, with the father or stepfather of the bride walking her down the aisle traditionally. The parents participate in the receiving line, if there is one (hint: more than 75 guests and it’s a good idea), and they also take part in any father-daughter or mother-son dances that have been arranged at the party.

Parents of both the bride and the groom (especially fathers, though by no means excluding mothers) should plan whether they will make a wedding toast, and agree in advance on when and in what order. Finally, make sure they enjoy themselves! The stress and expense of planning can distract from the joy of the big day, so encourage them to take a deep breath, have a sip of Champagne, a bite of cake, and hit that dance floor! They’ve earned it!

Opening photo by Max & Friends; Bridal Salon: Mark Ingram Atelier; Planning & Design by Beth Helmstetter Events; From Real Wedding: Outdoor Destination Wedding with a European, Garden Party Feel in California