In my wedding ceremony planning session with the wedding couple, I always ask, “Which parents will be attending the wedding?” (This is how I phrase it to allow for disinvited, estranged, or deceased parents to be omitted without too much discomfort for the couple.)
Almost always, there will be at least one parent at the wedding. What do we do with the wedding couple’s parent or parents?
In a traditional wedding ceremony, it used to be a no-brainer: Dad walked daughter down the aisle. And even if we are taking that more traditional route, what about the other parent – or other three parents? Between the two people getting married, there can be anywhere from one to four parents, to several step-parents as well.
How do we give the parents recognition and seat them in the wedding ceremony? And how and when do they make their entrance?
As I always say on this blog, there are probably in the neighbourhood of 1,638 different ways we can get the parents to the front. But we’re not going to be unnecessarily exhaustive here. I’m going to give you the few simple options I lay out for my couples. The wedding couple are not interested in the Encyclopaedia-Britannica-length version of how they might get their parents down the aisle. They want a few options that work.
Here are a few straightforward ways we might get the wedding couple’s parents down the aisle and either to their seats or standing at the front along with the rest of the wedding party.
A word on parents standing or sitting
In a traditional “Christian”-style wedding (whether it has religious elements or not), it’s customary for the parents to sit in the very front row at the aisle.
In a traditional “Jewish”-style wedding (again, whether we’re including religious Jewish elements or not), the parents typically stand with the wedding couple and the officiant during the ceremony under the chuppah.
So it’s up to your couple whether they want their parents to stand or sit. With that decided, let’s turn to how and when we get them down the aisle and to the front.
Option 1: Parents can walk the bride and/or groom down the aisle
The first question we want to ask our wedding couple is, “Who is walking you down the aisle?” This will pretty much determine where all the other chips fall and what decisions are left to be made in terms of the parents.
For example, if our wedding couple’s Partner 2* says, “Both my parents will be walking me down the aisle,” then all we have to do now is present options for how Partner 1’s parents can get to the front. *[I will be using Partner 2 in place of “bride” and Partner 1 in place of “groom” throughout this article for gender/same-sex-couple inclusiveness.]
So the first option is that one or both of the wedding couple’s parents can walk him/her down the aisle.
Sometimes this will just mean Partner 2 at the very end of the processional making his/her entrance with Dad beside. Sometimes it will be both parents walking with Partner 1 before the ceremony starts. But what this variation always has in common is that one or both of the wedding couple’s parents are walking in with their son or daughter – the groom or bride.
Now, how should they arrange themselves to walk down?
Well, if it’s just one parent walking a Partner down the aisle, then it’s pretty self-explanatory: the parent and Partner walk side-by-side arm-in-arm.
What if it’s two parents, though?
When it’s two parents walking one of their children (Partner 1 or 2) down the aisle, we have two options.
First, they can walk three-across. Sometimes that’s the groom or bride in the middle of both parents. Sometimes that’s Dad between groom or bride and Mom. All we have to do is ask the wedding couple which they prefer.
Second, they can walk with Mom on the arm, and Dad behind. This is the more traditional way for Mom and Dad, but some couples don’t like the idea of Dad being literally the odd-man-out behind Partner and Mom. Again, all we have to do is ask what the couple prefer.
So with parents coming in with Partner 1 and/or 2, the other option to discuss is when they come in. Here’s when that might happen and what it might look like.
If Partner 2’s dad is walking Partner 2 down the aisle at the end of the processional, there might be three other parents remaining to get to the front somehow. Now, the odd parent (say, the mother of Partner 2) might be escorted to her seat by a groomsman or by Partner 2’s sibling. But we won’t cover that now; that’s for Option 4 below.
As for Partner 1’s parents, they may want to walk Partner 1 down arm-in-arm, three-across as we discussed above. Or maybe Partner 1 has just one parent making an entrance, and Dad is absent or already in his seat (Option 2 below). Whether walking with one or with both parents, Partner 1 can escort Partner 1’s parents down the aisle either A) before the ceremony begins, or B) as part of the processional.
Here’s what I mean:
A) Before the ceremony begins
If parents or grandparents are seated before the officiant’s opening remarks and are not officially part of the processional, this is called “honourary seating.” I’ve written a full article on how we officiants might take the front, and I explain honourary seating for the parents there in detail.
If the wedding couple are not including some of the parents in the processional, then the best time to have them seated by Partner 1 honourarily: just after the officiant takes the front, but before the officiant welcomes everyone and delivers opening remarks.
Here’s an example:
The officiant takes the front either with Partner 1’s wedding party or alone, turns to the guests at front and centre, and says nothing. But all the guests will hush. Immediately, Partner 1 enters with Partner 1’s parents, takes them to their place at the front, and joins the officiant. Then the officiant welcomes everyone, makes the pre-ceremony opening remarks, and cues the processional with, “With that, let’s begin.”
B) As part of the processional
Sometimes the wedding couple will both want to be in the processional escorted along with their parents. When this is the case, it’s just a matter of asking the couple when they’d like to appear in the order. Don’t worry – anything goes!
Partner 1 can enter with one or both parents at the very front of the processional before the wedding party, then Partner 2 with parents at the end. Or the wedding parties, ring boys, and flower girls can all process out first, with Partner 1 and parents entering next, then Partner 2 and parents entering last. Be creative, and choose an order that works best for the wedding couple.
Option 2: Parents can be already in their seats
Even if Partner 2 has one or both parents walking Partner 2 down the aisle in the processional, the wedding couple may want to forego any further escorting-the-parents-down-the-aisle.
The second option is that the parents can already be in their seats.
So if the couple don’t want to do honourary seating and they don’t want their parents in the processional, then the parents will be just already in their seats when the officiant takes the front.
As officiants, we just want to make sure the parents are in their seats before we walk down the aisle and get the ceremony underway.
Option 3: Parents can walk themselves down the aisle
Typically, this is an option only when the parents are together. A solo parent will almost always be escorted (to be discussed below).
Sometimes, the wedding couple would rather have Partner 1 walk in with Partner 1’s party rather than with the parents. In that case, the parents can walk together down the aisle without an escort.
So the third option is that the parents can walk in and to the front together without an escort.
Parents can walk in as a couple together unescorted either a) as part of the honourary seating before the officiant says the welcome and opening remarks, or b) as part of the processional. If they’re part of the processional, it’s customary to have them come out first at the start of the line. But as we said for Option 1, don’t be restricted by protocol! Do what feels best. We might offer that they come in after Partner 1’s party or right before Partner 2.
Option 4: Parents can be escorted down the aisle by a wedding party/family member
Opposite to the option above where the parents are together, this option is best for when one of the parents is solo for whatever reason – maybe the other parent is deceased, separated, or already walking Partner 2 down the aisle. When this is the case, it’s best to have a solo (especially female) parent escorted down the aisle.
But the groom or bride may not be available to do the walking. He or she may already be walking with another parent, coming in alone, or maybe even walking in with his/or partner.
The fourth option is to assign someone to escort the parents down the aisle.
And so, we recruit someone else to serve as aisle escort. This can be anyone, but it’s most often a person who will be standing at the front (aka a member of the wedding party like the Best Man) or someone who will be sitting with the parent in the front row (aka a son or daughter).
As with the other options, the solo parent can be accompanied down the aisle either a) in the honourary fashion after the officiant takes the front and before the opening remarks, or b) as part of the processional.
There you go! Wedding officiants, we leave no parent behind – not on our watch!
So… how again? Our wedding couple may want to 1) walk down the aisle with Mom and Dad or with Mom or Dad, 2) have their parents walk together and seat themselves, 3) already be sitting when things get started, or 4) have someone else escort them down the aisle.
And… when again? Basically, the couple may want their parents to come in before our officiant opening remarks honourarily, or they may want them to come in as part of the processional.
There are really just 4 main options, with a couple of variations for each one.
So say goodbye to parent-seating overwhelm! Now you know the way to guide your wedding couple through how and when their parents might come in for the wedding ceremony.