Sep 10, 2009
Traditions & Etiquette
When my friends “Clifford” and “Odile” got married, they were both in grad school and thus both pretty money-conscious. They wanted small and they wanted simple. Odile’s mom? Not so much the small and simple type.
She offered to kick in money to pay for a chocolate fountain at the reception. The fountain seemed like a ridiculous waste of money to Clifford and Odile. They said thanks but no thanks as politely as they could.
Odile’s mom kept pushing the fountain. Clifford and Odile explained the scaled-down style that they and their friends were used to. She pushed the fountain. Clifford and Odile rather more firmly explained why they found spending money on a chocolate fountain wasteful. Odile’s mom explained why she wouldn’t dream of having her friends and family at a reception without one.
Finally, Odile and Clifford asked as delicately as possible if, since they were both struggling grad students, they might apply the money for a chocolate fountain to other, more basic wedding expenses. No dice. It was the chocolate fountain or nothing.
Clifford and Odile chose nothing and had a small, fun, simple reception.
And as a wedding present, Odile’s mom gave them a miniature chocolate fountain.
Obviously not every family has epic control issues like that going on, but having your parents kick in for your wedding may bring a few up that you didn’t know were there.
A few rare parental souls may be able to hand you a check and then check out, but most will think – quite reasonably – that if they’re paying or helping to pay, they should have some say in making the arrangements. And that’s where things get sticky, if not outright covered in chocolate. Here are a few tips to help you let your parents help you.
Delegate with admiration.
The cleverest bride and groom I know were able to head too-many-planners problems off at the pass by sitting down and deciding which major parts of the wedding they least cared about. They were both pretty bored by flowers and table arrangements, for example, and realized that they were happy to pass that off. They also listed what they thought were their parents’ best skills. They genuinely did both like his mom’s eye and taste, and her mom’s fierceness as a negotiator. They also realized that his dad’s love of car shows could be put to good use.
When the offers of financial help came, the bride and groom swung their plan into action. They asked his mom if she’d be able to use her designer’s eye to help find flowers to match their theme. The mother of the bride was called in to help with negotiating contracts with vendors, and the groom’s father was asked to find cool transportation from the ceremony to the reception.
Everybody involved felt needed and useful, and like each was able to put his or her stamp on the wedding, which meant the bride and groom had a much freer hand in planning the parts they most cared about. Not to mention the fact that the flowers looked great, the wedding party got chauffeured to the reception in cool classic convertibles, and the bride’s mom saved them a ton of cash.
Your relatives may not have skills that match up so beautifully with your wedding needs, but they probably do want to be involved. Asking them for their expertise in the areas you’re most willing to bend on can keep everyone feeling good about the planning.
Present a unified front.
This is where you two officially become a team, so it’s time to start practicing. Decide which parts of the ceremony and reception you absolutely can’t bend on: A nondenominational ceremony? A strict 25-guest head count? Dressing up like pirates? Whatever it is, agree to stand firm as a unit under parental pressure. There’s no need to get defensive or even get involved in explanations. Just practice smiling your most charming smile and saying “Oh, I’m sorry – we’ve already decided that.”
Make a no-help budget.
Even if you’re pretty sure your family will offer to help financially (and won’t offer to help too much), it’s a good idea to figure out what you can and can’t afford completely on your own. That way if someone really does pull his or her check after a fight over the corgi release, you won’t be at a loss.
Feel the love.
If there is conflict, the first thing to do is to take a deep breath and remember that any conflict is coming from the fact that everyone involved wants you to have a beautiful wedding. It’s just that you may not have matching concepts of what that is. Taking a step back to see everyone’s good intentions can go a long way in helping you…
Talk about it.
Yes, you’re going to have to. Even though your wedding is no longer the moment that marks your adulthood, it definitely changes your relationship with your parents. There’s no better time to establish both your autonomy and good communication. Practicing working things out with both sets of parents in a calm and positive way is one of the best investments you can make in your marriage.
Unless you really, really want those pirate outfits.