Wedding Etiquette for Widowed Parents

wedding celebration image by Warren Millar from

To honor and include widowed parents in wedding planning and the big day, follow a few simple rules of etiquette and discuss your ideas with them. Consider their changed situations when determining your budget and deciding on the roles they'll play during your ceremony and reception. Your wedding day will go smoothly and your parents will be happy with their part in making it a success

Invitations and Announcements

When a parent of the bride or groom is widowed, use the surviving parent's name on the invitation or announcement. If she hasn't remarried, a widow uses her married name, just as she did when her husband was living. For example, Mrs. John Smith is still Mrs.John Smith, not Mrs. Mary Smith. If a widow has remarried, she has the option of using her first husband's name along with her current husband's name. For example, if Mrs. John Smith marries Mr. Robert Jones, she may call herself Mrs. Robert Jones or Mrs. Smith Jones.

Ceremony Planning

When a parent is widowed, the role that the spouse would have played in the ceremony can be conferred on a close relative. For example, if the bride's father is deceased, she might ask a brother, uncle or cousin to escort her. If the widowed parent has remarried or has a significant other with whom you have a close relationship, honor him with a role in your ceremony.

Ceremony Seating

Traditionally, the groom's parents and the bride's mother are seated after everyone else. The groom's parents take their seats in the first row to the right of the aisle. The bride's mother is then escorted by an usher or groomsman to her seat in the first row to the left of the aisle. If the groom's mother is widowed, she should be escorted to her seat by an usher or groomsman. If the groom's father is a widower, he may walk to his seat unescorted.

Sometimes the bride asks both parents to walk down the aisle with her. If her father is deceased, she may ask her mother to escort her. In that case, the bride's mother would walk with her and then take her seat in the first row.


The reception usually features a first dance led by the bride and groom, followed by the bride dancing with her father, the groom with his mother, then the parents of both the bride and groom dancing together. If a parent is widowed, hasn't remarried and isn't in a relationship, ask what he or she would prefer to do in this situation. The widowed parent might prefer to sit out the dance entirely, or to dance with the person who stood in for her deceased spouse during the ceremony.

Financial Details

In the past, the parents of the bride were expected to pay for most of the wedding expenses. The groom's parents were responsible for the rehearsal dinner, and the groom paid the officiant and picked up the tab for the groomsmen's incidental expenses.

Today, many couples pay at least part of their own wedding expenses and, depending on their financial health and their parents' situations, might pay for all of the costs of their wedding. If you're depending on your parents for help with expenses, be sensitive to the altered financial situation of a widowed parent. Although he might want to help, it could be a strain to do so. Don't insist on following outdated rules if they don't make sense for those involved. Discuss the wedding budget with all of the parents and work out a plan that's fair for everyone.