The act of including your children in the special events of your life is something they will remember forever. If you’re a stepparent like me, you know this meaning goes even deeper.
For me, it meant including my future stepdaughter in our wedding — in a big way.
Just last July, I married the man I’d been dating for a little over a year. As my fiancé Matt and I stood next to each other sharing vows, his daughter Bella was right by his side — dressed in a tie just like her daddy. That’s because she was my husband’s Best Man.
Let me take a step back to explain.
Most children of divorce require a wholehearted effort of love, inclusion, and trust-building to bridge the delicate path of blending one family into two, or more. For my 11-year-old stepdaughter Bella this process has been incredibly vulnerable.
Several months into dating Matt, I became pregnant with our daughter, and about a year later, we decided to get married (technically I proposed to him, and then he proposed to me). Bella had responded beautifully to the addition of her new sister, and the two of us began to grow very close. So, just after Matt and I discussed our plans for a summer wedding, we decided to share the big news with Bella.
Despite the big smile plastered across her face, there were tears welling up in her eyes. Something was going on inside of my stepdaughter — a whole world of mixed emotions. Matt and I needed to investigate what was going on.
Having already learned how to navigate these tricky emotional times, we knew the next step to take with Bella. They’d have an emergency daddy-daughter date over hoagies to talk candidly about our wedding. We knew she needed to be alone with him in that moment.
So, off they went.
Matt and Bella’s conversation triggered some conflicting feelings inside of her. While on the surface, she had seemed fairly comfortable with my new presence in her life, she was internally struggling with letting go of the old life with just her dad. Despite almost four years of learning to accept that her parents were no longer getting back together, Bella was also still holding on to a past that comforted her immensely.
In the years after her parents’ divorce, Bella enjoyed precious one-on-one quality time with her dad every time she stayed at his apartment. When I came along, Bella realized that she’d have to share her dad with me. This was a tough truth to swallow after feeling so strongly connected to him and only him. But with every transition, Bella managed to welcome me into her family with surprisingly open arms.
The more Bella and I got to know each other, the more I fell head-over-heels in love with this strong, sweet, and immensely thoughtful young person. And as a child of divorce myself, I deeply empathized with this kid’s journey.
With all that was unresolved in Bella’s heart, Matt needed to find a way to make her feel like a vital and meaningful part of our wedding. And it couldn’t just be throwing flower petals down the aisle and sitting down to watch us wed. Bella had to feel that she was as much a part of our choice to marry as we were.
So over hoagies, my husband got the idea to ask Bella to be his Best Man.
Bella, without a single hesitation, said yes.
First off, it was absolutely essential for my stepdaughter to have full control over whatever she wanted to wear for the big day. Her biggest fashion priority? Dressing in a shirt and tie — just like her daddy. We made sure to have them go wedding shopping together, and did not rest until both father and daughter found exactly what they were looking for. It was a day I will never forget — watching both Matt and Bella slip into countless combinations of ties and button-down shirts, laughing the entire time.
Next on the priority list: the rings. We wanted to make sure Bella had plenty of practice holding the boxes containing them, because she would be in charge of the rings that day. Bella took this job very seriously. She knew there were no copies of these rings, which left her completely responsible for their well-being.
We also wanted to make sure Bella had a big role in the reception. For this, we had her and my niece perform the Beatles’ song, “In My Life,” to a happy, tearful audience. Bella, a passionate cook, also had a big hand in helping our caterers set up for the wedding buffet.
But one of my favorite moments with Bella happened just moments before the ceremony. She went to pick up our rings, which were tucked away in my mother-in-law’s bedroom. I was standing in the room next door, dressed in my wedding gown and almost done getting ready. As she passed by me in the hallway, Bella stopped and smiled.
“Lindsay, you look so beautiful!” she exclaimed.
I teared up as I hugged my stepdaughter. I could just see the pure excitement on her face, mixed with a sincere focus to remember all of her important jobs for the day. This moment with Bella gave me every assurance in the world that she would definitely be able to make this transition with us.
As we said our vows during the ceremony, Bella kept herself glued to Matt’s side. We were making our promises to each other for a lifetime of marriage, but I couldn’t help but watch Bella react to it all. She looked nervous, but so hopeful, as she squeezed her dad’s hand tight.
As my stepdaughter handed us our rings, I realized something very special. My vows were not only for my husband, they were for his daughter, too. By promising her daddy I’d always take care of him and love him, I was also promising that to her.
At the end of the ceremony, Bella looked over at me with a sly smile. We had a secret surprise for her dad. See, Star Wars is one of Matt and Bella’s favorite movies. So in that moment, our wedding officiant and family friend Doug quickly handed us three giant lightsabers. Our families burst into laughter as soon as they saw the sabers.
What happened next might have been the most moving part of all. My brother, our wedding DJ, was supposed to play “The Imperial March” as we ran up the aisle with our sabers. But he accidentally played a much different song — “Somebody Loved” by The Weepies. I’ll end with some of the lyrics, because they remind me of how much I love my stepdaughter, and even more, how much my wedding with her and her daddy will always remind me of that.
“Rain turns the sand into mud,
Wind turns the trees into bone,
Stars turning high up above,
You turn me into somebody loved.”