Redefining Your Wedding: Surrogate Parents and Chosen Family

Dear Thriving Bride,

A few weeks ago, I had a gathering with my Surrogate Parents. It was a beautiful afternoon and we sat down to lunch with my fiance’s mom and my two sets of surrogate parents.  Along with many friends that I’ve know over the years, they are my chosen family.

Hanging out with my Fairy God Mother (FGM)

It feels so natural and right to have them in my life and in my wedding. We are modern women who are redefining our weddings according to our own ideas of happiness, so who says you can’t redefine what family means for you? There are all kinds of people ready to love us in our lives, we just have to let them, and not be so attached to the descriptions we put before the names we give them. I am a realizing that anyone committed to going through a process (giving birth, adoption both formally and informally and just showing up)  with me that involves a commitment to my long-term growth and happiness, while being able to have the perspective of my parent’s generation, is someone that I am more likely to consider as a chosen parent. I am sharing all of this with you because I want to give you another way to think about family as you get ready for your wedding day.

Everyone (whether you know it or not) has different kinds of parents.  You have your stable parents and your discerning parents and your understanding parents.  You also have your absent parents and your inappropriate parents and your self-absorbed parents, and then finally we have the hot button words: the biological parents.  So many of us would like to believe that biology does not matter because it’s about the relationship you have with someone and not what you call them.  Right?   Well, biology does matter and so does my relationship to the people in my life.  For some, biology is where we start out, and it is often our first memories of what family is and should be.

But focusing so much on biology when it comes to parenting can be very harmful.  I see the harm done when I read the paper and hear about another child returned to his or her biological family after living in foster care, and I cringe every time those kids don’t survive because their blood families decided to harm them once again.  Actually, that pisses me off.  It matters to everyone, and it should matter, but it cannot be the only consideration when one’s family of origin has miserably failed them.

What I call someone, and what they represent in my life are both equally important.

So, what happens if we take out the words to describe our parents?  Let’s see! What if my parents were not my biological parents and were just my parents.  As soon as I tell you this, each of you will understand this according to how you were taught to define parents.  To some people it’s the folks who always have your back and look after you no matter what.  To other people, parents can only be the people who share blood with you.

We also know that someone can become a parent through adoption.  I am not going to pretend to understand what it is like to be adopted or to understand the challenges both parents and children face in the adoption process, but I can say that this type of parenting happens because a child needs a loving and caring family and there are adults on the other end who hopefully need the love of that child.  And when these situations align, there is a legal process to allow for both people to find each other and become a family.

I am a woman who needs people who can be there for me in a loving and supporting way during my wedding.  I have my Fairy God Parents, who have been those people in my life for the past two years. We had a pretty instant connection and I needed them as much as I believe they needed me.  I have another set of Surrogate Parents who are always happy to have me around and will be there to support me as well.  We do not share blood or DNA, but we do share a process.  We did not sign papers or show bank statements, but we did share a meal and experiences and I let them know why they were important to me.   Every parent to be needs to go through a process (also known as a rite of passage) to become one.  My biological parents went through the process of giving birth to me.  I respect them for that.  My Surrogate Parents went through the process of seeing and accepting me for who I am, and continuing to do so on this journey.  They also agreed to be by family and stand for me on my wedding day.  For me, this sealed the deal because it is what I needed to feel safe enough to surrender to all the possibilities of the love they have to give me.

Attention Brides: It might be time to think about who you want to stand for you as your parents, and to decide what process you need to go through with them to get there.  It does not happen overnight!

The lunch we had was our process, rite of passage, ritual or whatever else you want to call it.   This may sound strange to some, but this is what is true  for me.  I am so grateful that I have an understanding mother-in-law who welcomed them into her home, prepared lunch and gave me the space to introduce her to some of the members of my family.  My sister and her family will join me at the wedding, and she will also be there to join the community of loving people that I call family.

My Surrogate moms are hosting my bridal shower!  They wanted to know what they can do to support me and so I told them.  Do you want to know the best way to find you surrogate parents?  I can only give you the advice my fairy god mother gave to me:

When we all get together, it would be very helpful for you  to tell everyone why they are there. 

I agreed with her and that was our ceremony, our ritual, our process.  We all sat at that table and I told them why I loved them, what they had meant to me and why they were there.

My Fairy God Parents were there because they represent unconditional support in my life, plus they add a little bit of Texan sass to the mix as well.

My other Surrogate Parents were there because they too represent unconditional support in my life, but also because they  are often willing to do whatever it takes to support me, and let me reiterate the words “whatever it takes.”  My Surrogate Dad was willing to form a “find love for Uchechi” committee shortly before I met Peter.  Like I said, these folks aren’t shy when it comes to having my best interest in mind.

The real reason both couples are in my life is because they always have refrigerators stocked full of food.  Okay, this sounds funny, but I like that feeling of going to their homes and feeling at home.  I can take off my shoes, sit back and relax and know that they will be supported and provided for.   I never relaxed at my parent’s home.  Now I also have PJ’s mom and  three houses to go to.  I am a lucky girl!

The other day, I received an email that I have always wanted to receive from my parent.  My surrogate dad said that I could call him whatever I wanted, but that what mattered most was that he loved me and would be my “safety-net.”  I breathed long and hard that day.    Words can harm, and I know what that feels like from my blood family.  Words can also heal.  Thank you Surrogate Parents for using your words to heal.

So, finding your surrogate parents is about a process and a need. You need them and they most likely need you and it is important for you to figure out some act that you can all do to bring them into your life in a formal way that let’s them understand the role you want them to play in your life.   Some people say that the difference between blood family and chosen family is that we choose the people we want.  That’s one side of it.  We often forget that they choose us as well.  We are no longer the child that feels unwanted and abandoned, but instead we get to be the adults who choose love and get to be chosen as loved ones by our partners, parents and family.