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How to Be the Perfect Mother of the Bride

9 rules to keep from turning into the dreaded “Momzilla”

By Linda Bernstein

My daughter, Ariel, a 26-year-old assistant district attorney in upstate New York, is getting married next September, and I’ve found that among the many usual requirements for being a mother of the bride, there are a few surprises. Like being expected by everyone and their plumber to tune in to a ton of wedding-oriented TV shows.

“What shows are you watching?” my hairdresser asked after she saw Ariel’s engagement “announced” on Facebook.

“You have to see My Big Fat American Gypsy Wedding,” a neighbor informed me. “It’s a hoot.”

Even Ariel expected me to be fascinated by her personal favorite, Say Yes to the Dress.

If you’re not familiar with this genre of what passes for entertainment these days, I’ll break it down for you. Some shows focus on the cake or the venue, but most feature the brides-to-be themselves. These are not warm and cuddly women. There’s an entire subset of television programming that focuses on them: Some are too young (Engaged and Underage), others too fat (Bulging Brides). Then there’s that special breed of brides who are petty, self-centered, controlling witches.

I was so shocked by the preponderance of this that I did an Internet search. From what I can tell, Bridezillas are a global cottage industry. There are fan clubs, a phone app … I’ve even heard rumors of a board game.

Perhaps the biggest revelation to me has been that even worse than the witches-in-white are their over-the-top moms. On one episode of Say Yes to the Dress, the mother of the bride, or MOB, said in front of a camera and who knows how many viewers, “You look like you have clown lips.” A different bleached-blonde harridan let it be known that a particular gown made her daughter’s bottom look, and I quote, “bigger than Beyoncé’s.”

(MORE: The 6 Things You Shouldn't Say to Your Adult Child)

Here’s what I want to know: Who talks this way to a beloved child planning for the biggest day of her life, one she’s probably been dreaming about since she was a little girl? I’m not naïve: I know these nasty moments make for good theater (and high ratings). Still: How do mothers and daughters ever get over this stuff?

9 Ways to Fight Your Inner Momzilla

I’m old enough to know myself pretty well by now, and I know I can be pretty bossy. (Or, as Sheryl Sandberg might say, I’m a leader.) Yet my love for my daughter trumps everything, and the last thing I want to do is fight with her over wedding details and cause a rift that would bring us both heartbreak. So I made myself some rules that you might find helpful.

(MORE: How to Heal a Rift With Your Adult Child)

1. Don’t let money kill the fun. Weddings — even down-home affairs where people drink out of jelly glasses — run into what most of us consider big bucks. If cost isn’t a concern, bless you. But at some point, the price tag is likely to become an issue. Ariel and her fiancé had an unrealistically low estimate of the final tally, so they’re suffering from a case of sticker shock worse than her father and I.

From the beginning, though, he and I had a budget. We said we have $X total and could spend $X on the caterer, $X on flowers, $X on the music, etc. The number I told Ariel was actually a little less than what we can afford, but being honest, we’d rather they use any “extra” money for a down payment on a house. Knowing we have wiggle room makes me a little less stressed when presented with bills.

2. Accept that her taste rules. Ariel’s colors are dark emerald and champagne. Personally, I would never pick green. And I certainly wouldn’t have gone with green hydrangeas for the bouquet. Of course, she thinks it’s crazy that I got married in a (dressy) three-piece suit with flowers in my hair, didn’t have any bridesmaids and that my flower girls weren’t wearing matching dresses. Fortunately, we agree on the most important thing: Her gown is gorgeous, and she looks stunning in it.


3. Meld your planning styles. Ariel and her friends have this image of an MOB stashing her important materials in a three-ring binder. (Like they do on Say Yes to the Dress.) I have seen such planners online, and a friend whose daughter got married last year used one. Being a bit of a minimalist geek, however, I prefer sending everything to my Evernote, a digital notebook that syncs between my desktop, laptop, iPad and iPhone and which Ariel can also log in to.

4. Be available. Technology makes this pretty easy. If Ariel texts me saying she needs a photo of the gown ASAP (she keeps no photos on her phone so there’s no chance her fiancé will catch a glimpse), I can zip off any of the several pictures I have on my phone. When she sends an instant message with links to pictures of dresses she’s considering for the flower girls (or for me), I click on them and comment. Images of ties for her groom arrive by email. She lives 150 miles away, so I can’t “be there,” but she knows that a few keystrokes will have me by her side.

5. Do as much as she needs (but nothing more). Because we are not using a wedding planner, I’ve been given the task of overseeing a number of details. I found the caterers and arranged meetings and tastings. Her dad and I inspected motels and blocked out rooms for guests. She’ll never even know about some of the more mundane things I’m doing. For instance, since the wedding is at our house, we need extra liability insurance, which of course, we’ve taken out. What not to do? Attempt to veto major decisions, like the music or wedding party members.

6. Turn chores into parties. With one of the caterers under consideration (one we ended up not using — a little sleuthing uncovered horror stories), I arranged for the “tasting” to be a small dinner party that included her future machatonim (Yiddish for your child’s parents-in-law). The food wasn’t so great, but we had fun. Up next an even more exciting evening: the wine tasting.

7. Include the machatonim. My daughter is becoming a part of another family. She loves and respects her future in-laws and wants them to play a significant role in her special day. It’s the groom’s day too, and besides, I need all the help I can get — aside from the traditional family-of-the-groom set pieces, like hosting the rehearsal dinner. If Susan and Ed have suggestions for seating charts or where to pitch the outdoor tent or set up the bar, I’m all ears.

8. Put on “bridal vision” glasses. Being in MOB mode means that I’m always scoping out wedding-related ideas Ariel might like. Most brides these days have online registries, but I found something even cooler than making a list, let’s say, on Crate and Barrel. Luvocracy, a new shopping site, allows users to indicate desired objects they want from outside sources. They can craft personalized wish lists with items they’ve found on almost any Internet e-commerce site. So on Luvocracy Ariel could create a de facto registry that includes, say, linens from Pottery Barn, knives from Williams Sonoma and vases from Bloomingdale's all in one place. As a bonus: Whenever someone purchases a gift for her through Luvocracy, Ariel receives credits she can use to buy more things on the site.

9. Remember: Even if you’re not a Momzilla, you’re still her mother. One day last winter Ariel had arranged a day of dress shopping at a famous New York shop. But the city got slammed by a blizzard, and the shop canceled her appointment. So we activated Plan B, and wound up finding her dream dress in — no, not an elegant, serene, upscale shop — a large, hectic place that keeps all the gowns (covered by plastic) on racks right on the showroom floor.

Ecstasy turned to agony a couple of days later when Ariel learned the store couldn’t accommodate her for fittings. Suddenly my level-headed daughter was having a total meltdown. My little girl needed her mommy to make this OK. Luckily I knew how to find a good seamstress — although I did have to make an emotional appeal in person to convince a dressmaker to alter a gown she had not made.

So how hard has it been for bossy-old-me to not get all "my way or the highway” on Ariel? Truth be told: not so hard. The most important thing in the world is that my daughter stay ecstatic and excited, and I’ve come to realize that sometimes that simply means getting out of her way.

Linda Bernstein has written hundreds of articles for dozens of magazines and newspapers, writes the blog GenerationBsquared and teaches journalism at Long Island University, Brooklyn. Read More
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