Dear Parents planning a wedding, "It's not About You!": Tips for Brides, Grooms, and their Parents
Can I give a speech at the wedding? Can I walk you down the aisle with your dad? How about fans for each guest since it will be so hot? Can so-and-so be one of your guests?
Yup, I have 3 daughters and those were just a few of the things I asked along the way during their wedding planning. All declined, feelings got hurt (theirs and mine), and yet, the sky didn't fall when my desires were met with resistance (understandable resistance!). I learn as I go. I wasn't attuned to what was driving my wants, and am now. Now that the wedding days of each of them have passed, I've asked myself, 'Did my requests (based on MY desires) really matter in the big scheme of things? Did it take away from my enjoyment of their day or impact my involvement? And what the heck, it isn't even about me!"
As I reflect back on the sting I felt from the "no, Mom," I also felt a sense of pride. I have raised some pretty strong, healthily-boundaried ladies. They were kind, polite, and firm.
The NY Times in May of 2022 (https://www.nytimes.com/2022/02/04/fashion/weddings/wedding-boom-year.html) deemed 2022 a "wedding boom year" and according to one of my daughters who attended 13 weddings in 2023, while planning her own, So how do you go about supporting your adult child as they marry? Let me help you avoid some of the most common mistakes parents make when wanting to help.
FOR THE PARENTS/CAREGIVERS OF THE BRIDE & GROOM (or any combo within: groom-groom, bride-bride)
PAY DOES NOT EQUAL SAY: If you've decided to help the bride and groom (or any combination of bride-bride or groom-groom) pay for the wedding, this does not mean you get to choose any detail involved, unless they ask you to choose. While many brides and grooms pay for their own weddings, some parents wish to help financially. Let your child know up front what you have budgeted for them so they know what they are working with. Treat your financial contribution as a gift--no strings attached to the outcome. Historically, it was the bride's family who paid for the wedding, but times have changed as well as what paying for the wedding means. Using your financial gift as a way to manipulate what you want for their wedding is frankly wrong. Remember, your adult child is marrying the love of their life. Financially contributing doesn't make that love more or less. But your insistence on getting what you want may get in the way of a future relationship with them and their spouse.
IT'S NOT ABOUT YOU: I hear from so many clients that parents can be a nightmare around wedding planning and it increases the anxiety the bride and groom feel, as well as reduces the joy and specialness of the day. This is THEIR day and THEIR joy. Support them making the decisions and managing their budget for the day. Your kids want you to have a good time and want you to be involved, but not so involved that your needs trump theirs. Step back and ask them at the get go, "How can I support you in this process of planning, the day of and anything else?" And listen to their answers. See #3 below for the bride & groom. Do you want your children's marriage to begin with relational stress around the in-laws (either side)? No!!
IF YOU MUST SUGGEST, BE WILLING TO PUT IT TO REST. Do not be attached to the outcome of your suggestion. Politely share suggestions with your child around what you have seen or found useful, but let your adult child choose for themselves. This will keep the relationship communication open and make for a happier couple. Do not insist on vendors, details, decor, food, entertainment. Instead, share and let it go. When parents insist, it creates a defensiveness in the hearts of the bride and groom. They could stop including you in the details and fun because it becomes so stressful. If you find yourself insisting on something for the day, ask yourself, "why is this important to me?" Is it the image I want the idea/item to portray? Is it traditional in my family? Is it worth hurting the relationship I have with my child and their soon-to-be-spouse? Examine why you are pushing, and step back and see how you can get those needs filled yourself outside of the day the bride and groom want.
YOUR GUEST= BRIDE & GROOM STRESS: This is always the hardest to navigate with parents. Everyone wants to share in the special day and we want our nearest and dearest to come. Budget and the bride & groom's desires come first. It is the day THEY will remember. I encourage parents to consider that demanding which guests come because their feelings will get hurt, or because you want them to be there, is selfish. This day is not about you! Times have changed (from when I got married in the '80s, where my parents demanded that people I didn't even know come to my special day). I chose to be the buffer for my kids, and if needed, defended and supported their guest list decisions to those who were upset or had their feelings hurt from not being included. I suggested names but let them decide.
FOR THE BRIDE AND GROOM
Start setting boundaries early: Wedding planner, Cris Engstrand, suggests to the bride and groom to sit down with all the parents/caregivers involved in the beginning and ask, "What are the 3 most important things you want included in our wedding?" Take them into consideration and choose which ones will fit your budget and which ones you can hold space for. If none of them are what you want, be gentle with your parents/caregivers in setting firm, but compassionate boundaries, "That sounds like such a fun idea, but we have decided to go in this direction instead..."
Guest list: Ask your parents with compassion and curiosity, "who are the most important people you would like to have at the wedding?" Of those, who are the 10, 20, 30 (depending your budget) that you want to have included? Consider their answers and gently let them know that you need their support in making this list smaller. They might be frustrated and share that frustration but you don't have to engage with the frustration or respond to it. Simply say, "I know you wanted so-and-so to come, and we did some considering and, at the end of the day, it would mean not including some very special people to us." Perhaps include those people at a shower pre-wedding (see #3 below). Perhaps consider contributing more to the wedding financially if you want more guests than the original budget allows.
Showers: There is a growing trend of having special people come to your shower when you cannot include them in your wedding day. This may not follow etiquette historically, but more and more, brides and grooms are finding very creative ways to include special people they cannot on the wedding day. It's not about the gifts, it's about including people you may not be able to on wedding day.
Difficult, rigid parents: Premarital counseling for you and your fiancé can help you both learn how to navigate rigid and frustrating parent relationships with EACH OTHER, rather than cause rifts between the two of you. You can learn how to set boundaries and support EACH OTHER in approaching parents who are less attuned to you and your wants. Remember, your parents most likely love you and want you to have your day to shine. Suggestions are coming from a loving place, but don't have to be executed. Be gentle and polite in your response (similar to #1 above), "thanks, we will take that into consideration." (whether you actually are going to or not!). "I understand this is important to you, and we have decided to go in a different direction for that."
Parents non-involvement: When parents don't seem interested and helpful and you are needing more involvement, get curious with them about their choice not to be involved. You may find that they are being respectful of your decisions and don't know what you need/want help. In addition, ask, "I could really use your help with the flowers, decor, setting tables, etc." Should they choose not to be involved, recruit others who have been a part of your life journey/relationship journey. Generally, people love to help.
Conversation starters around all things wedding:
For the parents to ask the bride & groom: How can we help? How would you like us to support you during this time? How involved do you want us/I to be? How would you like to talk about the finances and budget for the wedding? We have $_______to contribute (this is always uncomfortable). Clear communication around finances is a must so that the couple getting married doesn't have to wonder or assume.
For the bride & groom to ask parents: What are the 3 most important things about our day that you would like us to consider? Don't assume your parents will, or will not, be contributing. Have this convo early on so there are no missed expectations or assumptions on either end. It's uncomfortable, no doubt, but will be much more comfortable when everyone in the room knows exactly what's happening and it will allow you to plan accordingly.
When things get difficult, how to respond:
:~Your negative view of our decision is noted. (when a parent doesn't like your choices and continues to make judgment)
~Thank you for your input, we will consider it for our special day.
~Thank you for your suggestion, but we have decided to go in a different direction.
~This is a special day for us and we would like you to be involved! It would be so meaningful if you _________________. (don't beat around the bush, be direct with how they can help).
~We are so appreciative of the financial support you are providing, however, the conditions attached to them are difficult and getting in the way of the vision we have for our day, as well as our relationship. Would you consider__________instead?
Hope this is helpful for all involved to set you up for a wonderful day of love and fun as you marry the love of your life!
The musings, views, and opinions are solely based on the the author's professional & personal experiences, and not intended to be generalized to every specific situation. Kimberly McNary is a Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist located in San Diego, CA. Kimberly has worked with couples, families & individuals for almost two decades, while raising her own family, helping clients navigate their most important relationships with self and others. You can find Kimberly McNary here.