5 tips to figure out your role and get peace of mind, too
The other day my friend Carol was telling me about her middle daughter’s upcoming wedding in Israel. There will be about 400 guests. Carol said she and her husband will know fewer than 50.
“Israelis aren’t so formal about invitations,” she explained. “You go into your office and hand them out to everyone you work with. So it’s mostly Alon’s parents’ friends, colleagues, family and people Alon grew up with.” (Alon is her future son-in-law.)
In fact, aside from helping her daughter choose a gown, Carol had hardly been involved in any of the wedding planning. Gila, her daughter, and Alon have been living and working in the U.S. for the past two years and they left most of the details up to the wedding planner at the hotel. “Alon’s parents are covering half of the costs. All we need to do is write a check for the other half,” Carol said wryly.
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My friend Kyra is contending with a similar situation: Her son and daughter-in-law-to-be, who are financing their wedding entirely, haven’t asked for input from parents on either side.
And then there’s Patty, who I know from the gym. She and her husband offered to pay half of the wedding costs for their son and his fiancee. Then Patty was cc’d by mistake on an email from the bride’s mom: “Where does Patty come off trying to have some say about my [yup, she referred to her daughter’s wedding as “my”] wedding. As if I’d let that controlling b**** buy her way into making any decisions about my wedding.”
Patty’s daughter-in-law (who may not have known about the email) graciously asked Patty’s opinion about flowers, table cloth swatches and veil lengths. “I let go of the hurt … but wow did I feel extraneous,” Patty told me.
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Modern Weddings, New Rules
Not so long ago, when a couple got married (and most often that couple was a young man and a young woman), the bride’s family footed the bill and the mom, her daughter and perhaps a wedding coordinator hashed out the day’s details, says Tracie Domino, a wedding consultant who works with celebrities (and non-celebrities, too).
Then it became customary — maybe because weddings were getting so expensive — for the groom’s family to pitch in for the liquor and flowers (as well as the rehearsal dinner) and be more involved in the planning.
These days, the “rules” covering who should pay for what and who has a say about where the wedding is held or how the food should be served are no longer so clear cut.
People are getting married later, and “non-traditional” couples have given rise to circumstances that Emily Post would never have imagined. My neighbors, Dana and Charles, who hosted a wedding for their son and his boyfriend last summer, ended up paying for and planning everything, since the boyfriend’s parents refused to recognize the union.
Domino identifies two other recent changes that have reduced the kind of help brides and grooms often sought from their parents: Pinterest and reality TV shows. Engaged couples now know plenty about what others are doing; in fact, they probably know more about wedding possibilities than their moms and dads.
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“I also see couples paying for their own weddings when they have larger incomes than their parents,” says Domino. “Most often, brides and their moms are the major involved players, but there’s so much variation these days. I see parents and in-laws who feel hurt and left out, because the bride and groom don’t consult them.”
Finding Your Place in the Plans
Ideally, parents should feel that they have an important role in their child’s special day. These five tips may help you feel involved and valued — even if you aren’t shelling out the bucks or are taking a back seat to your child’s wishes:
1. Talk about the money. After your child announces his or her engagement, don’t wait to discuss finances. Be upfront about what you can pay for — and even what you will pay for.
Domino believes that if the parents are writing the checks, they can be staunch about their preferences “as long as they don’t lose sight of what will make their child happy.”
She recently dealt with a client who, with her daughter, sailed happily through a meeting about wedding décor, agreeing to a plan. “The next morning, the mother called to say she wanted everything different. I knew the bride would be unhappy. But my contract was with the mother, the one who was paying the bills. I had to use all my diplomatic skills to get things right,” Domino recounts.
If the couple is planning to pay for everything — and indeed sometimes this makes a lot of sense, especially if the bride and groom are over, say, 30 and have remunerative jobs — it’s not out of line to offer to cover one of the smaller expenses, such as the flowers.
2. Discuss their vision. That huge church wedding with 150 guests, the kind of wedding you had, the kind of wedding your friends are throwing for their children, the kind of wedding your extended family may expect because it’s part of your cultural heritage — it may not be what the couple wants. They might prefer, for example, a ceremony on the beach in Cabo with only 35 of their closest friends and immediate family attending.
“One thing I know today’s couples don’t want: a wedding where all the guests are friends of their parents and they are on show,” says Domino. “Generally, unless it’s a really small wedding, they’ll be happy to put their parents' good friends on the guest list, but expect that at least half of those who receive invites are people in their social world.”
3. Be upfront about your expectations. Even if the “kids” are financing the whole shebang, they need to take parental needs into account. For instance, the bride and groom don’t get to pick a mid-April wedding date if any parent happens to be an accountant.
Remind your adult child about what’s important to you, such as a cousin you had hoped would be a bridal attendant. Your child may not accede to your wishes. Still, the couple can’t be accommodating if they haven’t even been asked. Give them (and yourself) a chance.
4. Consider creative alternatives. If the parents would prefer a big wedding, but the couple has their heart set on something intimate, Domino suggests mom and dad throw a party a few weeks after the nuptials. Similarly, for couples eschewing a religious ceremony, parents can suggest readings from their raditions that address love without infusing religious doctrine.
“As long as parents and children continue to value one another, they can often come up with win/win solutions,” says Domino.
5. Offer “no strings” assistance. Inquire whether you can be there when your child, or his or her intended, chooses the flowers, samples the menus or (for the bride-to-be) looks for a gown. Then, remember that your job is to enjoy yourself and give an opinion only when asked.
My friend Carol has decided to be big-hearted about paying half the expense for a wedding she’s hardly been involved with.
“It makes sense, considering the location of the wedding and the expense of the flights, to leave most things up to the on-site planner,” she told me. And then she added, “Besides, if I’m not responsible for all the details, it means I can have fun at the wedding and not worry a bit about anything. I guess that’s what I’m buying: a really good time.”
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