When Angelina Jolie wed Brad Pitt in one of the most publicized nuptials of the 21st century, she wore a jaw-dropping silk and satin gown designed by Donatella Versace. Embroidered on her floor-length veil were colorful drawings by the couple's six children. One even read "Buttock Fatock."
Eldest sons Maddox and Pax walked Jolie down the aisle, daughters Zahara and Vivienne tossed flower petals, and daughter Shiloh and son Knox were ring-bearers. Pax baked the wedding cake.
It all sounds very Hollywood. But it's not just Brangelina.
Many brides and grooms have children from previous relationships, and are going beyond the traditional to find ways to incorporate them into their weddings.
Yes, the kids add cuteness. But it's often more about blending families.
"The need to create a family bond early is vital to stepparents' success," says Stacey James Wheeler, a California-based family dynamics researcher and author, whose wife had two daughters when they married more than 12 years ago. "Involving the children in our marriage was a great way to do that."
The girls were flower girls, and received an engraved locket and a verbal commitment from Wheeler after he proposed to their mother.
"I let them know I was committing to be there as a parent and to raise them as my own," he says.
Like Jolie and Pitt's brood, many children take part in the ceremony as flower girls, ring bearers and readers, while others walk their mother down the aisle.
Children also can help light a "unity candle" or participate in what's become known as a "sand ceremony," in which the bride, groom and children pour different-colored sand into a container to symbolize a new union.
San Francisco physician Kyra Bobinet and her fiancé, Josh Leichter, designed wedding bands with a diamond for each of their four children.
"Our kids will be our only bridesmaids and groomsmen, setting them apart as special attendants to the wedding," Bobinet says. "We're inviting them to offer words of support for our partnership . so it gives them a voice and a choice in the matter."
Instead of having a traditional processional, event planner Sandy Sloane and her husband, Bob Czworka, danced down the aisle with their four children to the song "Love is Strange." All four kids stood with them under the Jewish chupah, or canopy, during their ceremony in Sunrise, Florida, and at the reception sang a song written by two of them.
"I gave my daughter and two 'bonus daughters' necklaces that said 'daughter,' and my son a commemorative keepsake box," Sloane says.
Chicago-area event planner Amanda Morris created a semi-sweetheart table for a newly married couple and their 4-year-old daughter. The little girl sat between her mom and dad at the reception, and each sat in a chair with signs that read, "I'm his," ''I'm hers" or "I'm theirs."
Morris also created a "favorite things" station instead of a traditional dessert table. "What was cute is that it even had items like mini Heinz ketchup packets and Starbucks pink cake pops because their daughter loved both," she says.
Cupcake stations are another kid-friendly dessert idea. The children of the bride and groom can play "host" and help other kids decorate cupcakes during the reception.
And then there's the first dance. Not between bride and groom, but between each of them and their children and/or stepchildren.
"Make sure to bring the tissues," says wedding planner Stephany Allongo in Palm Beach, Florida. "This is usually a tearjerker."