It’s time to tie the knot, and it’s all about the bride and groom. But for many couples nowadays, they also want to include their children in their special day. This is especially common for second marriages, but it is increasingly likely that many couples or women have had children outside of wedlock.

According to a 2013 study conducted at the University of Virginia, unmarried women in their 20s account for 48% of all first births in the US. Popularised by celebrities like Susan Sarandon and Angelina Jolie, marriage outside of wedlock is not the stigma or source of social shame it once was. With more and more couples having kids before marriage, including your children in your wedding is becoming ever more prevalent.

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But what are the best ways to make sure everyone feels included, while still making sure it’s a special day for you and your partner? There’s a myriad of ways to involve the whole family before and during the wedding.

Before the Wedding

Help choose the ring | Naturally, choosing an engagement ring is a pricey decision that requires a lot of care and consideration, but that doesn’t mean that children can’t play an important role in this process. Even if you go with your gut in the end, including them in the process will help them feel they’ve had valuable input from the word go. What’s more children are more perceptive about their mother’s taste in jewellery than you might expect. You may be able to find the perfect ring with their help.

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Include their art skills in the wedding prep | Depending on their age, a wedding is a wonderful opportunity to have your children share their artistic side with your guests. Pinterest is full of great DIY craft ideas that children could create to be a part of the lead-up to the ceremony. Have them draw a picture and include those designs in the wedding invitation or have them write the place cards for the tables.

Create something for the Ceremony | Extending their artistic involvement even further, have your children make something that you can wear or display during the ceremony. Angelina Jolie famously wore a unique veil covered in her children’s drawings for her marriage to Brad Pitt. If this is too extreme, have them make you a piece of jewelry or a hair accessory, so you can display their work during the wedding.

During the Wedding

Make them Ring-Bearers/Bridesmaids/Groomsmen | Most couples want a wedding party anyway, so what better way to include your children than to make them a part of it. For older children, they would fit in as bridesmaids or groomsmen. If your kids skew younger, you may prefer to have them act as ring-bearers or flower girls. They will feel a central part of the ceremony, and your guests won’t be able to resist the cuteness they inject into the ceremony in their miniature gowns and tuxes.

Have them give you away | A bride’s father traditionally gives her away, but moms might consider their children an even more integral part of their lives. Who better than your kids then to make a gesture of inclusion at this point in the ceremony? This is an especially good option for adults with deceased parents.

Capture the day with a craft | Martha Stewart recommends that families provide art supplies for children at a wedding, as a way to keep them entertained or create an opportunity for them to make a special momento. The kids will have something to distract them and through a drawing or craft may even create something that will be cherished in your family for years to come.

Include them in your vows | If you’re getting married and you already have kids, you’re not only merging lives, but uniting families as well. Demonstrate the significance of this moment by including your kids in your vows. OffBeat Bride shares many suggestions for writing unique blended family vows.

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At the Reception

Be introduced as a family | Following on the idea of unified vows, consider not only being introduced as a new Mr. and Mrs., but as a new, merged family. This will make sure that your children are recognized as part of this important life occasion.

Give them a moment to shine | Make sure children can be featured as part of the wedding. This can be accomplished in a myriad of ways — more outgoing children may wish to plan a performance or speech to express their support of your union and love. A slightly less showy option is to plan a special dance for your children–keep your first-dance for you and your new partner, but add a second first dance for new mother/father and children.

Beyond the Wedding Day

Give them a unique wedding gift | Many brides and grooms give their wedding parties special gifts to commemorate their involvement and support throughout. This is a great option for your children as well–give them a piece of jewellery, perhaps a necklace, earrings, or cufflinks, that they can keep as a memento of your union.

Engrave their initials in your ring | Show your kids how central they are to both of your lives by keeping them close–engrave their initials on the inside of the wedding band as a symbol of the union of your family.

There are countless ways to include your children in your wedding, from their physical presence to honouring their input and suggestions. Take these ideas and more to ensure your entire family plays a noticed role in your nuptials.

Guest Writer Shannon Lochwood