children, remarriage, family-oriented wedding, blended family

Orange County, CA

A Family-Oriented Wedding For A Blended Family

(ARA) -

I'm going to marry Robin. Those five words spoken by Jim Pignatti sent a wave of anxiety through 11-year-old Corina Pignatti and her seven-year-old brother, Nicky. Like other children of divorce confronted with the remarriage of a parent, the youngsters were plagued by real and imagined fears. "I was afraid that when dad married Robin, I might not be considered part of the family anymore," Corina confided. Nicky was more blunt. "I figured if they had a baby, they wouldn't have much time for me."

It didn't matter that both children liked Robin, a vivacious, affectionate woman who showered the youngsters with attention. In Nicky and Corina's minds, bringing Robin into the family would somehow disturb the delicate bond they had with a father whom they saw -- due to a shared custody arrangement -- primarily on weekends.

These and other misgivings -- some spoken, some only implied -- worried Jim and Robin. Although they didn't realize it at the time, they were grappling with a problem experienced by most of the nearly one million single parents who remarry in the U. S. each year: What can be done to ease the concerns of young children who feel, on a conscious or unconscious level, that their secure place in the family is threatened by the pending marriage of a parent?

"We talked to the kids a lot prior to the wedding," Jim says. "We kept telling them that they were going to be part of our lives. They said they understood but...I wanted to do something out of the ordinary during the wedding to show Corina and Nicky how important they were to us."

The Syracuse, New York, couple found a simple and emotionally satisfying answer to their dilemma in the form of a family-oriented wedding service that gives children a meaningful role in the wedding nuptials. This five-minute ceremony -- known as the Family Medallion service -- can easily be integrated into any religious or civil wedding ceremony. It differs from the traditional wedding in only one respect: after the newlyweds exchange rings, their children join them for a special service focusing on the family nature of marriage. Each child is given a gold or silver medal with three interlocking circles, a symbol that represents family love in much the same way the wedding ring signifies conjugal love.

The Pignattis say they will never forget the moment during their wedding when Corina and Nicky were summoned to the altar to participate in the family wedding service. While the priest recited the words of the ceremony -- a pledge to love and care for all the children either spouse brings to the marriage -- Jim and Robin placed a Family Medallion around the necks of Corina and Nicky. "We were all moved to tears," Robin says. "It's like the ceremony was making it official that we were a family. I was marrying Jim, but I had plenty of room in my heart for the kids."

Nicky and Corina responded with hugs and kisses. "I could tell that Robin really loved me," recalls Corina. "And the way my dad looked at me, well I knew he was going to keep on taking care of me just like the priest said."

Most of the guests attending the Pignatti/Landers wedding reported that they had been both awed and touched by the family ceremony. "People told me it was the most beautiful wedding they had ever seen," Robin adds.

With approximately one in four U.S. marriages involving divorced or widowed parents with young children, the family wedding concept is an idea whose time has come. It was developed by Dr. Roger Coleman, Chaplain at Pilgrim Chapel in Kansas City, Missouri.

"I was frustrated that virtually every traditional wedding ceremony focused entirely on the bride and groom," Dr. Coleman explains. "A marriage with children is a lot more than simply the union of a man and a woman. It's a merging of two separate families. Every day of my ministry I see how divorce creates a sense of failure and hopelessness in people. The family ceremony is a sign of hope and an important step in rebuilding families."

Today, more than 10,000 couples a year -- primarily in the U.S., Canada and Europe -- use the Family Medallion ceremony to help cement the bond between parents, stepparents and children. "I was surprised that such a simple ceremony could be so affirming for children," says Father Alfred E. Nortz, pastor of St. Vincent DePaul Catholic Church in Syracuse, New York. Father Nortz officiated at the Pignatti wedding. "I could see how proud the kids were to be publicly recognized by Robin and Jim. And it was easy to incorporate the Family Medallion service into the Catholic wedding liturgy. I've already recommended the family service to another couple with children from a previous marriage."

Family therapists say there is a price to be paid when children feel pushed aside rather than embraced by the remarriage of a parent. Consider, for example, the situation of Carly, a Texas teenager with divorced parents. "One day my dad just announced he was going to get married," she recalls. "He didn't seem to care how I felt about it or how I was going to fit into his new relationship. It was like I wasn't very important to him. But when mom decided to remarry, she spent a lot of time talking to me. Then during the wedding, she and my step-dad John had a special family ceremony for all of us kids. It made me trust that my mom and John would be there for me."

Jim and Robin Pignatti believe that their family wedding will have long-term benefits. "If Corina and Nicky don't yet fully realize the implications of the formal commitment we made to them during our wedding, I know they will in years to come," Robin says. "And they'll always have the Family Medallion as a symbol of our love."

Nicky, now eight, doesn't worry anymore about his place in the Pignatti family. "It's ok if dad and Robin have a baby," he says. "If it's a boy, I'll let my new little brother play with my toys."

Additional information about the Family Medallion Wedding Service and the names of couples in your community who have used this service are available from Clergy Services, Inc., 701 Westport Road, Kansas City, Missouri 64111, (800) 237-1922.

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