When my fiancé and I are engaged, who is responsible for beginning communication between the two families?

Traditionally, the responsibility to make “first contact” falls to the groom’s family. It is their duty to telephone or write to the bride’s family and, if possible, to invite the bride’s family to meet them. With families spread out across thousands of miles, an in-person meeting may not be possible, but the families should at least make an effort to exchange a few letters or have a few long phone calls before the wedding day.

Now, the fact that something is traditional doesn’t mean everyone knows about it. Your future in-laws may be the sweetest, nicest people in the world, but may neglect to pick up the phone and call your parents. Perhaps they’re shy. Perhaps they don’t know that making contact is their responsibility. What can you do to help?

If you’re comfortable with making a direct suggestion, go ahead and say, after they’ve given their blessing to the engagement, “My parents are looking forward to meeting with you-they’ll probably be thrilled to talk about the wedding. Here’s their address and phone number.”

What if weeks go by without contact being made? It’s okay for your parents to make the first move. If your future in-laws don’t know the “rule,” they may be wondering why your parents haven’t called them! So rather than worrying about who might take offense, ask your parents to move ahead with calling or writing.

You can also pre-empt the whole problem by introducing both sets of parents yourself. If everyone lives in the same area, invite both families to join you for a simple meal (or even just dessert) so they can get to know one another. They may actually feel more comfortable with you and your fiancé present than if they had to face the “stranger family” alone. If the families live far apart, see if your phone system will support three-way calling. It’s a fairly common feature that would allow you to have a telephone conversation with both sets of parents at once. Or, if you want to be a bit more indirect, send each mother a card with the other mother’s address and a few facts about her, so they feel they aren’t entirely writing to a stranger.

It’s important to stress that the first “meeting” between the parents doesn’t have to be long or formal. This isn’t the time to discuss who will pay for what portions of the wedding. It’s the time to get to know each other, share embarrassing stories about your childhoods, and develop some comfort level with each other. Let the parents build a cordial relationship before they have to discuss tension-inducing issues like money, guest lists, and whose church you’ll be married in.

If it happens that the parents don’t meet until the rehearsal dinner, this isn’t necessarily disastrous. Actually, it’s increasingly common! It’s a problem only if both sets of parents expect to be intimately involved in planning the wedding-and you end up running interference because they won’t speak to each other. When my husband and I got married, our parents came from opposite coasts for the wedding and had never shown any interest in meeting beforehand. The rehearsal dinner had a few stilted moments-but it would have anyway, as our parents didn’t know our friends. I can’t say that the parents fell into each others’ arms like long-lost brothers, but they got along well enough. My husband claims that our fathers spent part of the reception having a long chat-probably about how boring this wedding stuff was and what a dull city we live in.

It’s a measure of how obscurity and disuse of the “groom’s parents make the first move” rule that it isn’t covered in the Frequently Asked Questions for any of the wedding newsgroups, and I can’t find a single personal Web page that mentions parents being introduced to each other in advance. It’s still a charming custom, with practical benefits! Try to be relaxed in encouraging the parents to get together… who makes the first move is less important than getting them together at all.