Seeing your child get married is a huge, huge moment for any parent. You’re proud to see them start a life with their love, excited to gain new family members, and SO SO READY to get your celebration on with them! But what happens when your child tells you they’re planning to have an elopement, instead of a traditional wedding like you pictured?
This can be an especially confusing reveal, so first and foremost, don’t feel bad about having questions, or doubts, or for not immediately reacting positively to the news. Eloping, as we historically know it, is an event where your child sneaks away and gets married without your knowledge. But…they just told you about it, so what exactly does this mean?
Take a big deep breath! Elopements have come to mean many, MANY different things over the last few years. Planning an elopement usually no longer involves an informal courthouse ceremony done behind closed doors without anyone knowing about it.
Honestly, elopements are some of the most beautiful wedding ceremonies I have ever had the honor to witness (and to photograph!).
So I’m thrilled to be walking you through what elopement planning might look like for your child, how to navigate your feelings about it, and how to protect the relationship you have with your child and their partner above all else. These conversations can be tough, but fortunately, you aren’t alone in going through this unfamiliar experience!
After photographing John and Umi’s mountainside, rock-climbing adventure elopement (as seen in the images directly below!), I sat down with John’s parents (Beth and John Jr.) and Umi’s mom (Suzy) over video chat.
Our goal? To make real what you don’t normally see and hear when talking about elopements–the view of parents!
They spoke openly about their experiences as parents in supporting John and Umi’s elopement planning, the feelings they worked through, how involved they were in the day, and all the unexpected little things that came up along the way.
Here’s what they had to say about the elopement, and the advice they have for YOU as you help with planning an unconventional wedding day with your own child:
What initial thoughts or feelings came up when John and Umi told you they were planning an elopement?
Suzy: I thought she was crazy, that was the first thing I told her. “Are you crazy?” Why would you want to have a wedding like that? If it was something like just having a wedding with a mountain view in a park somewhere, I would have agreed. But then she told me, “I’m going to have a wedding dress and go rock climbing.” I’m like, are you serious? What if you get hurt with all those skirts? I was just more concerned for their safety.
As a mom, I had so many things. How are you going to do this, or that? But you know, of course, it’s her wedding. I do honor her decisions. The way she planned it out and let me know about it, I thought, oh, okay, maybe it’s something for this day’s generation to do. And of course, during that time we were in the middle of COVID, and I didn’t want her to delay her wedding so long. So I said, okay, if you have everything planned out, and you think it’s gonna work, it’s your wedding! Who’s gonna stop you?
John Jr.: I remember they used the term “adventure wedding” instead of “elope.” Because eloping is like, no one in the family knows or participates. So this felt like a compromise between “everybody’s invited” and “nobody’s invited.” I was excited for them. It’s their wedding. And whatever choice they made, I supported fully.
Beth: My first thought was family reaction. And “this is perfect.” It’s COVID. It makes it super easy to explain. And then I was sad. My brother wouldn’t be there, just because he loves Johnny and Umi so much. So all the normal thoughts and emotions you would go through. And I went into logistics mode right away. Like, what do you need, where are we going to stay? Where’s this place? Is it close to this or that? I just snapped right into the logistics.
Was there anything that gave you pause about the elopement, or any anxieties about the day?
Suzy: In Korean culture, there’s a different way that a wedding should be. And Umi kicked it all off. You know, she’s Americanized and a younger generation. The place they did their ceremony was plain. We didn’t have the time to do all the flowers and the decoration in that place. Umi is my first daughter, and the first daughter I have prepared a wedding for. I wanted to have a little more of the pretty things, you know.
John Jr.: It was their event, and our role was to be supportive in any way. An adventure wedding really is informal, it wasn’t a whole lot of worrying about being in a certain place or the choreography of it. It was a lot more relaxed. And I’m so happy that they were able to do it on their terms.
Beth: COVID took pressure off the decision. Couples were making all kinds of non-traditional decisions. If COVID had not been in play, I probably would have felt protective, because our family does a lot of big, traditional, weekend-long weddings. But that would have been so challenging, and I didn’t want them to have to feel that stress. So I can see where parents would struggle with that. Even now, it’s a little emotional, but for them to be married in a way that was meaningful to them, the way they wanted it. It was just a mother’s dream.
What conversations did you have about the planning stages of the elopement? Did you feel you had a role in helping them prepare?
Suzy: Yeah, I think I did. I discussed with her how they were going to handle catering. I was also thinking, you know, don’t you want beautiful decorations? Umi spoke with her sister and did a lot of it too. She told me that Johnny’s parents were doing some of the food and I said, okay, I will prepare this Korean shortbread too. And, of course, kimbap and everything. I asked them, “if you guys leave for the adventure part early in the morning, what are you gonna eat for breakfast?” And Umi told me nothing, and I was like, “Are you kidding?” So I said, “I’ll prepare this kimbap for you. You have to have a breakfast prepared for you.” Basically, place and food. I think Umi and Johnny and you (Kate) did a great job. I loved it.
John Jr.: We realized it was not a traditional wedding, so we played it by ear and took cues from Johnny and Umi on what to do and what to expect. It really never is the parent’s job to dictate how things are going to happen, more so when it’s an adventure wedding and with Kate being the planner. It was a wonderful event, but we didn’t really know what to expect. And it turned out wonderful.
Beth: I just wanted to make it as easy as I could. It was just like, “what can we do?” Maybe two days before he (Johnny) called me about dinner and that gave me a whole new thing to focus on. So that was cool.
After all that planning was over, and the day of the elopement was upon you, what is one feeling or thing you remember the most as the standout of the day?
Suzy: Overall I thought, “my daughter is getting married and now she can overcome anything.” That was my most exciting moment. And a proud moment. That particular feeling that my little girl is getting married overrides everything. As a mom, who am I to say no, you can’t have that kind of marriage day? She’s getting married, and she’s in the white dress, and she’s happy.
John Jr.: The view was spectacular. The setting couldn’t have been better. That’s probably the ultimate adventure wedding venue, where you can look over the rail and see God’s country, basically. So yeah, walking out onto that deck was surreal.
Beth: For me, it’s the smiles. I just remember they both had the biggest smiles and were just giddy and really happy. The view was amazing, it was so peaceful. It was as godly a place as you can imagine. Their smiles were just joy.
If you were to give any advice to other parents who have just learned about the elopement plans, what would you want them to know to help them through it? And, what advice would you have for couples who are breaking the elopement news to their parents?
Suzy: Have faith in your child and respect their decision, you know, stand by them. It wasn’t just an adventure for Umi and Johnny. It was also an adventure for me and our family too. It’s unique. I’ve never been to a wedding like this and I never thought it would be this fun. But it was really fun! And for couples, talk to your parents! In the beginning they might not be open-minded but they’re showing you how it’s going to happen, and a parent respects their child’s decisions. You may not agree with them as a parent but you want to stand by them.
John Jr.: This is your kid’s wedding, not yours. Support them, and honor them by facilitating it in any way that they need. And I would tell parents that “this is a decision that my partner and I have made and hope you honor it.” If you don’t tell them that the decision’s already been made, you’re probably going to be engaged in a battle to win them over.
But if you are firm and help them understand this is how it’s going to be, there really isn’t any room for negotiation at that point. I don’t think every set of parents are going to be as supportive as Beth and I. Some are probably going to be more insistent on a traditional wedding. I would just encourage people who have already made the decision to stand firm and make sure the parents understand that that’s the decision that they have already made.
Beth: I would encourage them [the parents] to focus on the love and the healthy relationship. That’s what exchanging vows is all about. In this case, we knew how much this meant to Johnny and Umi. So it was very easy for me to understand their why without any explanation.
But if you are sharing with parents who maybe wouldn’t know that, I think I would lead with why this is meaningful and try to share that story to kind of get them emotionally attach, or invest in it. I think, for a mother, who had been planning her daughter’s wedding since she was out of the womb, it could be a rougher landing. So as a couple, maybe you’re trying to help them understand the why. And then at the end of the day, to say, I really love you, we want you to be there with us. We hope that you can come to terms with that.
How can you as a parent prepare for YOUR child’s elopement?
As I said earlier, an elopement can be one of the most beautiful and important experiences for a couple!
Listening to Umi’s mom and John’s parents navigate the uncertainty of this new thing really highlighted for me how much they wanted their kids to be happy, and in that, chose to follow them with trust. In the end, this trust and support gave them as loved ones a big role in working with them to create something truly meaningful for the elopement. I hope that hearing other parents’ perspectives gave you a different view too!
But even still, know it is ok to feel like this whole elopement thing is hard.
Support in the face of unfamiliarity can be tricky, especially if you’ve been dreaming about a version of this day that isn’t coming to life. What can you do?
…Be open to hearing their stories and ideas for their adventure.
…If they don’t ask for your help to prep, know it’s not personal–elopements are purposefully focused, so many traditional wedding “tasks” that need family help can be less of a factor here! If they do ask for your help in prepping or planning items for their elopement, use that chance to support the vision they’ve created for experience.
…TRUST. While you may not understand all of the reasons, trust that your couple has evaluated their options and believe with their hearts that this is what is right for them. 😊
…And ask questions! If there’s something you are wondering about, ask your couple what they know or how it will work. And if they aren’t sure, they know that I’m just a text, email or phone call away! I’ve been planning and photographing adventure elopements since back in 2018, and would be happy to help talk you and your couple through all those worries!
Mindsets matter when elopement planning
Above all else, the relationship you have with your child is the priority, even if they do want to do something “crazy” like rock climbing or muddy, dirty hiking in a wedding dress! As tough as it could seem in the moment, this choice to elope is not a message or a deliberate slight to anyone your couple loves.
At the end of the day, remember — your child is choosing to elope because they and their partner are intentionally choosing to strip away much of the extra “stuff” of traditional weddings to focus their wedding on their love for each other.
So, know that this is a beautiful and brave choice that is happening because their love for each other is so strong that they don’t feel they need to “put on a show” in the day. The two of them together, happy, carefree, doing what they love is all the fanfare needed ❤️ And truly, that joy is what we as parents want for our kids. So, congrats to YOU and your couple on this awesome occasion. 🤗
Looking for more information on elopement planning?
So much can come up for both parents and couples when elopement plans are revealed — questions like, “will my family be mad that we want to elope?” “How can I still involve the people I love in the celebration?” “I can I show my support for my child choosing to elope?”
For ideas on how to deal with objections to your elopement, go here. (pssst — parents! You can use these same ideas to support your couple when talking with others who disagree with their decision!)
To learn about some elopement myths, and their real counterparts, go here.
For all other questions and elopement planning and photography-related inquiries, reach out to me here!
Woot!!!! You’ve got this! 🤗💪❤️