Before my son, Will, 28, married his lovely, longtime girlfriend last summer, the only wedding I’d helped plan was my own, some 30-odd years before. Compared to my son’s full-on festivities, ours was a pleasantly simple affair—100 guests, a short outdoor ceremony with two attendants (my sister, my husband’s brother), lunch, dancing and everyone home by 5 p.m. And if memory serves, my mother made most of the decisions.
But today, with young people marrying later than generations past, weddings, when they do happen, have become a bigger deal than ever. The median marriage age has jumped from 20 for women and 22 for men in 1960 to 27 and 29 today, and among those with college degrees, 30 for women and 31 or 32 for men. This postponement has helped turn many of today’s wedding celebrations into mega-sized, big-budget events. And when the engaged duo is older and more experienced, they understandably want plenty of say in decision-making.
If some part of the wedding is especially meaningful to you, speak up about what’s most important and hold your tongue about the rest.
According to a 2015 survey by the online wedding marketplace, The Knot, the average wedding cost upwards of $32,000 (compared to an average of $11,000 in 1980). Among the almost 18,000 couples surveyed, the average number of guests was about 140, and a typical wedding party included five bridesmaids and five groomsmen. With all these moving parts, wedding planning gets more complicated, and the potential for headaches and disagreements bumps up as well. To keep things mellow on the way to the altar, consider these tips:
1. Make Your Own Son or Daughter Your Point Person
Planning can quickly get messy if too many voices are involved. Keep the channels open between you and your grown child, and let him or her continue the discussion with their partner and in-laws. Guest list numbers, the brand of champagne, what kind of wedding attire — share your opinions only with your own member of the wedding party rather than emailing them widely.
2. Have the Money Talk Sooner Not Later
Communicate early and tactfully about what you’re willing and able to spend on the nuptials and discuss how costs may be shared. Some families still follow the old rules where the bride’s family takes care of the main wedding costs, but there are a variety of alternatives these days as well. In The Knot’s Wedding Survey, on average, the bride’s parents contributed 44 percent of the overall wedding budget, the bride and groom contributed 43 percent, and the groom’s parents contributed 12 percent. As young people are marrying later, it makes sense that more and more couples who have lived together and shared household expenses for years choose to plan and pay for their own weddings and receptions, with minimal family help. More power to them!
3. Pick Your Battles Before They Become Battles
If some part of the wedding is especially meaningful to you, speak up about what’s most important and hold your tongue about the rest. Perhaps you hope the couple sends out a printed invitation even in these days of all things digital. Or you’d like a clergy person to perform the ceremony. Share your opinions honestly, knowing (and accepting) that you might be overruled.
4. Pitch in Where You’re Wanted
Some couples want to make all the arrangements their own special way; others are happy for your help. Take on the tasks you’re assigned or offer to do what you’re most comfortable with — from booking hotel rooms for out-of-town guests to tracking down names of caterers, wedding cake bakers or shoes that complement the bridesmaids’ gowns.
5. In Families of Divorce, Serve Discretion with the Wedding Supper
Make arrangements ahead of time to minimize any stress between exes or new spouses. Stay flexible about who walks the bride down the aisle — perhaps it will be her father, or her stepfather, or both mother and father with the bride as a buffer in between — or the wedding couple may choose to glide down the aisle together. At the reception, instead of having a set of divorced parents seated awkwardly at the newlyweds’ table, consider a separate, special table for each parent with a new partner, if any, and an array of appropriate guests. Keep in mind that a grown child’s wedding is probably not the best place to introduce a brand-new significant other to the extended family. Make sure the spotlight stays shining on the blissful new pair.
6. Don’t Drink Before You Toast
Before you raise your glass and speak your heartfelt words to the new couple, keep your head clear. You’ll avoid maudlin rambles or forgetting an important name. And give yourself a week or two ahead of the appointed hour to plan what you’ll say. A parent’s toast is too special to speak off the cuff.
7. Expect the Unexpected
The officiant will get stuck in traffic and be an hour late. The wedding canopy will collapse in the wind. The frosting on the wedding cake will melt in the heat. You’ll laugh about every mishap in the years to come. For now, let them all go and focus on your mission: to beam love on the loving couple.