How to best deal with and/or avoid estranged parents at a wedding?
July 2, 2013 8:42 AM   Subscribe

I went "no contact" with my birth family years ago, but I will have to see and likely interact with all of them for the first time since then at my sister's wedding, which is happening soon. How can I make sure that I can ably address whatever might come up with ease and clarity? I am not looking to re-establish any sort of regular communication with them at all, I am just trying to figure out how to gracefully handle encountering them at a single event.

In the beginning, I chose to become estranged from my parents but was gradually forced to become estranged from my entire family. When I was in more frequent contact with my other relatives, my mother would grill them for any information that she could use to find me; I chose to stop speaking to everyone altogether just so they wouldn't be forced to run interference or feel like they had to choose between me and my mother. All of this happened in the now-distant past, but I am still very sure that permanent estrangement is the best option if I'm going to have any hope at pursuing health and happiness.

My sister and I recently reunited after she sent me a wedding invitation (!!). I called her to accept, apologizing for my prolonged absence, and we have been spending time together occasionally in the intervening months. I love and admire her more than words could say, and she fully respects my decisions with regard to familial estrangement.
However, my mother perceives my continuing silence as a profound betrayal of a mother-child bond that has literally never existed between us, and views my escape as a feeble attempt at disobedience that must be either crushed outright or gradually worn away. She has shown up on several of my residential doorsteps screaming, even though I never tell her I've moved; she is highly volatile, manipulative, prone to public outbursts, extremely confrontational, and knowledgeable enough about the internet, court case, educational, and other public records systems that she always seems to find a way to track me down, online and off. Although it makes me feel unbelievably pathetic and childish to admit as much, I am still scared of her because she has always been and continues to be incredibly unpredictable. My father has not attempted to contact me in any way, although I would not be surprised if he tried to approach me at the wedding; I am still scared of him, too, for similar reasons. I try hard not to hold grudges against anyone in life, but struggle mightily with even the thought of having to interact with people who have been adamantly and unapologetically abusive. It makes my blood run cold.

Particularly since I am in the bridal party, I know I need to do whatever I need to do to help make my sister's wedding the happiest day of her life; it comes with the territory. She's been looking forward to having a wedding like this since she was a little girl, she is marrying a wonderfully supportive partner, and I am beyond thrilled for them... but I am very afraid that I will not be able to readily handle whatever my parents might be moved to do or say to me throughout the course of the run-up (showers, rehearsals, etc. -- the "pregame" events span the entire week before the wedding), not to mention on the big day itself.

I do not have a romantic partner or any friends who are close enough that I could reasonably ask them to attend these events with me, although my sister has been so kind as to tell me that I can bring anyone I'd like. There will be hundreds of people in attendance; it will be a deeply religious, elaborate, and very formal event. If my mother starts screaming at me, which is likely enough that my sister and I have already specifically discussed it, what on earth am I supposed to do? Would it be better to try to gently take her by the arm and attempt to lead her out of the room, remain completely passive and silent, or just turn on my heel and walk away? What if she tries to chase or grab me, or just screams louder? How can we work out seating arrangements? If I am going to be confronted, I am hoping to figure out a way to make the entire to-do completely imperceptible to the rest of the wedding party and guests.

My anxiety is usually fairly manageable but this renewed sense of imminent doom has encouraged it to become severe enough that it has started impacting my daily activities. If I don't consciously stop myself from doing so, my body will start making itself small, curling up my shoulders, ducking my head down, and crossing my arms over my head like I did when I was a child and trying to avoid being hit in the face. It has been both shocking and humbling to have been forced to face the fact that I am still living in fear of my parents even though I've been 100% financially and emotionally independent since I was a teenager. But regardless of how I feel inside, I absolutely must be able to keep it together externally for the duration of the wedding ceremony and reception.

Have you completely cut contact with your abusive parents and then had to deal with them at a large, public-facing event years later? Can you offer any words of advice, practical suggestions, or cultural perspectives on familial estrangement and subsequent forced encounters? (I am not religious at all, and this will be my first religious wedding; I know my sister's religion/culture is highly reverent of filial bonds even when there has been abuse.) Beside deepening my meditation practice and temporarily seeing my therapist more often, are there any concrete, meaningful steps I can take to prepare or deal with this?

From the bottom of my heart, thank you for any help or words of advice you might have.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (50 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
Have you considered anti-anxiety medication?
posted by aramaic at 8:55 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Would it be better to try to gently take her by the arm and attempt to lead her out of the room, remain completely passive and silent, or just turn on my heel and walk away?

I think that these and the other, related questions are a good thing to discuss with your sister. She may have a preference for how you handle it, and since it's her party, I think it would be good to get her input. Plus, since she presumably knows your mother better (or at least, more recently) than you do, she might have some really helpful ideas.

But beyond that, you have the right to do what you need to do to be safe, both physically and emotionally. In general, I'd say try not to be alone with her, and if you do end up alone with her, go someplace where there are lots of other people around. Prepare in advance to be able to do some breathing exercises or other physical things that will allow you to remain calm if things start to go wrong. And be prepared to just leave the event if it becomes unsafe for you to be there. You have the right to do that.

I realize that you likely feel bad about the prospect of disrupting your sister's wedding. Try to keep in mind that you're not the one doing that; if anything disruptive happens, that's your mother ruining the day, not you. If you were, for example, attacked by a wild animal during the wedding, no one would say it was your fault for having to leave to get medical attention. This is just like that; if your mother attacks you, you do what you have to do to protect yourself, and none of it is your fault.

(My family has been through something similar to this. I'm happy to talk privately about how family members handled it. Also, if the wedding happens to be in the DC area, I'd be happy to be your plus-one! I love weddings, and I'm pretty good at playing defense. :-) Stay safe.)
posted by decathecting at 8:59 AM on July 2, 2013 [8 favorites]

What your sister's religion is, has no impact on you. What other people expect, has no impact on you.

I would take your sister up on her offer of having someone come with you, this person will run interference for you. This person will have no ties to your family, so they won't give a fuck if they go all crazy pants. This person will quickly tell any drama llamas in your family, "Now is not the time, this is not the place. Please go away. This is SISTER'S day and your behavior is ruining a lovely event."

You do not need to speak to your family AT ALL. Ignore them if they approach you, try to avoid them if you can.

You, and your sister need to plan for the probable drama and appoint certain people as 'security' so that neither of you is distressed or has to hassle with this ugliness.

Are there any friends at the wedding that you can deputize to act as ad hoc security?

You should also have an escape hatch. Your rental car, a private room reserved only for the wedding party members, a hotel room. If things get too intense, you can remove yourself for a while until things calm down.

Do not engage any family member who wants to cause drama and upset. Be very superficial with anyone who is polite to you, but with whom you do not want to engage. "Why yes, I'm doing well. Oh! I'm needed, nice seeing you!" Then go to the punch bowl, the ladies room or some other place away from the person.

Your sister has an obligation to keep you safe. Discuss all the contingencies with her so that you are both on the same page.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:01 AM on July 2, 2013 [13 favorites]

Aside from anti-anxiety medication for yourself, and some mental preparation, what about your sister?

Is she aware of your mother's behavior, and is she ready to deal with it as well? Or a third party, such as her matron/maid of honor (best man!) who is well briefed on the situation and can provide an escort out for the parents? Or who can be that strong person you are 'there' with? Or even to the extent of hiring security for a quick escort out of anyone who requests it or who needs to be "bounced"?

I'm a very big practicer of shut downs, and move ons. "I'm sorry to hear that. Best of luck." (Turn to next person) "So, how are you? I'm Anon, sister of the bride. Wasn't that a lovely ceremony? How do you know the bride and groom?"
posted by tilde at 9:01 AM on July 2, 2013

I am very sorry you are going through this.
I would suggest that you and your sister try and find someone who can run interference with your mother (and father ?)and escort her away if she starts screaming at you. You need to have a solid plan in place for this as there's very little way to keep this imperceptible to the rest of the guests, so minimizing the impact is your only hope.
Seconding anti-anxiety medication.
posted by Snazzy67 at 9:01 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

Can the bride and groom have a talk with the entire bridal party beforehand, letting them know there might be a problem with the bride's mother? I've been in weddings in the past where the bridal party was made aware someone might become belligerent. Just having everyone on the same page and acting sort of like "security" helped the bride feel a lot less anxious. If there are other bridesmaids/groomsmen in attendance, they could know to step in and help walk your mom out without too much drama. I think you are best, as you mentioned, to say nothing and walk out of the room, yourself, if your mother does start yelling at you or harassing you in any way. Having other, neutral parties deal with her at such a moment would create the least drama. Best of luck to you.
posted by marimeko at 9:04 AM on July 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

"This is Sister's wedding and I am not going to disrupt it. If you want to discuss this I will contact you next week." Repeat as necessary.

Congratulations on maintaining a good relationship with your sister!
posted by BibiRose at 9:07 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

In light of what you wrote, which is raw and moving, and in light of what stands a reasonable chance of happening, it's challenging to see how your best interests are served by attending any part of this.

It sure seems like your sister would be thoroughly understanding and supportive of that choice.
posted by ambient2 at 9:09 AM on July 2, 2013 [30 favorites]

Oh, also, even though you're in the wedding party, talk to your sister about the possibility of skipping or drastically limiting your attendance at showers, dinners, and other pre-wedding activities to which your mother is invited. It may be best to just skip a lot of those things so that your mother doesn't build up the drama over several days and then explode at the actual wedding. Or perhaps arrange to come for an hour or so to a few of the events, which may be easier to manage logistically than multiple, multi-hour events. Talk with your sister about how to best balance your desire to be present and her desire to have you there against the possibility that your mother may make a scene.
posted by decathecting at 9:10 AM on July 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

My extended family have had this at a wedding.

In this instance, it was a divorced couple, one of whose daughters was getting married. The divorce was not amicable, and the wedding promised to throw up fireworks, emotions and drama that had lain dormant for more than a decade.

Despite not having seen one another for more than 15 years, the divorced couple met for a coffee before the wedding, with their spouses in tow for support. It was cool, but civil, and removed the drama from the day itself. I don't want to underplay how brave a step this was for them to finally talk after everything that had passed. But as a result, the wedding was still challenging but manageable. And enjoyabale.

I would consider, notwithstanding that you have no desire to rekindle a relationship with your parents and do not want to see them, that you might want to meet them beforehand in a mediated and controlled fashion with your sister or someone else in support. I'm not suggesting this is a good option. I'm suggesting that it might be the least worst option for your dilemma. Everything you've said suggests that your parents are unable to control their emotions - if they're going to make a scene then take it somewhere controlled. If you're going to spend the whole day looking over your shoulder to flee this hugely emotional encounter then what kind of day will you have? It will also help you: you can then move on and enjoy the day more because you're not having to build up to the day as a thing to dread.

Otherwise, your best other option besides not going is to avoid your parents at the event itself, obviously. But it's your call whether that is feasible, even with precautions, and whether a combustible meeting at your sister's wedding is what you want to risk.

Also: absolutely bring someone. There are lots of reasons why this is a good idea - support, running interference, extra eyes and ears.
posted by MuffinMan at 9:14 AM on July 2, 2013 [8 favorites]

Kudos to you for being willing to do this. Sorry your mom is, well, a psycho. Agree with anything your family starts is on their shoulders. Keeping yourself in a crowd and being able to politely respond to politeness are good. As are escape plans and safe people. Actual security might not be a bad idea.

Also, it is entirely normal to have the mm... kinda flashback reactions to events from your child hood, and the reactions, are not that uncommon. Moving on and doing healing does happen, but this kind of specific, face to face confrontation is really triggering. As woo-woo as it may sound, hugging your inner child and assuring her that you are there, you will take care of it, and you can and will deal with your mother and won't leave her alone can really, really help.

Also, this provides very good fodder for the next few therapy sessions :)
posted by Jacen at 9:15 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry to read about this -- I could have written this letter about family estrangement, so I know where you're coming from. Based on my experience, I'd ask your sister to HIRE SECURITY FOR THE EVENT.

If it's a large, formal affair, this is a good idea anyway:
- the venue or local regulations may require it if the event is of a certain size.
- there are probably a lot of other potential drama going on that you may not be aware of, like old uncle Ralph who gets drunk and starts hitting on his nieces, who will need protection.
- if there is an emergency, things can get out of hand with large groups without someone of authority to guide them to safety

If it's an expensive event, an extra couple hundred for someone trained to provide security for a day will not affect the budget too much.

Once she hires someone for the event, prearrange with them what you will do if your mother causes a scene. They should be trained in how to remove her quietly from the event and redirect her attention. They can also talk to your mother beforehand as a neutral party and tell her how to avoid disruption, gauge her likely reactions, frame it as a public safety issue, etc.

In my view, this is your SISTER'S responsibility for her event NOT YOURS.

If your sister won't do this, then I think your responsibility to make the event go smoothly is much lower. It's typical of we abused children to try to make everyone else comfortable when we're the ones bleeding to death.

I would make your priority your own feelings and comfort.

- Feel free to leave the event at any time, for a short period or permanently.
- Bring a car with you and drive alone so you have no other responsibilities.
- Bring things with you that you enjoy (food, books, a pillow, etc.) so you can calm yourself and come back later.
- Bring anti-anxiety meds.
- Stay in a place away from everyone else if you want to, in a room alone, and feel free to do other things you enjoy -- see a movie, sight-see, etc.

If your mother approaches you, tell her "I DON'T WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT." Just say that over and over. There is not magic phrase that will make her do anything -- good or bad. It doesn't have to be brilliant or clever. What she does is not your problem. Just say that over and over.


I know what this is like. Here's a big hug.
posted by 3491again at 9:30 AM on July 2, 2013 [14 favorites]

Does your sister have the clout to threaten your parents well in advance with ostracization, loss of future contact with her, death, dismemberment, loss of library card, etc., if they dare disrupt her wonderful event in any way? I also like the advice that you keep a low profile, staying in a crowd and making no eye contact with the whackos.
posted by Lornalulu at 9:30 AM on July 2, 2013

The OP made it pretty clear that she doesn't have anyone close enough to ask to attend a wedding possibly replete with drama and fireworks, and I imagine only a very close and understsanding friend would be remotely interested in assuming this role. That said, maybe the bride has such a friend, or group of friends, who would be willing to run interference for the OP. I believe they're called the wedding party. The other people in the wedding party should be willing to help keep the drama to a minimum. Ask your sister to clue them in and enlist their help.
posted by Dolley at 9:31 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

If I were you I would not be in the bridal party. To minimize the chance of a huge blow up, you need to reduce the role you're playing in her wedding. Go as a guest only. That removes the expectation for you to be there for all the pre-game stuff, and you won't have the rehersal or the "getting ready all together" thing the morning of the wedding. By being a guest you are allowing yourself much more distance from your family. You are still there, you are still happy for her, you still love her. You and she know you would be in the bridal party if you could be, but it just isn't possible with things being as they are. Be a guest, attend the ceremony. You can play it by ear to see if attending the reception is wise, but allow for the option to NOT go to the reception if things are likely to go in a bad direction.

I'm so sorry you're having to deal with this.
posted by PuppetMcSockerson at 9:34 AM on July 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

I think your sister has to carefully consider whether it's best to have your mother there at all, if she's that likely to ruin things. Being a bride is pretty stressful in and of itself without having to worry about teh crazy. I would have stopped my own wedding ceremony and skewered any drama queens/kings with a fork if they tried to disrupt it.

If she's unwilling to revoke the invitation, then I agree with hired security. My stepsister went through something similar when her father brought his mistress to her wedding. She had large cousins who escorted dear old Dad from the room when he got drunk and started yelling. If you do not have anyone who can escort you or play tough guy (how about friends of the groom?), someone should be hired to keep the peace.
posted by desjardins at 9:39 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

My family is like yours and I am similarly estranged from them.

Your mother is going to ruin this wedding if you show up, or worse, are flaunting your attendance by being in the wedding party.

You and your sister are not living in reality. This is you or them. I strongly suggest you take the high road and skip the wedding.

I'm SHOCKED you thought this was a good idea on any level. It has zero chance of not blowing up if you attend. It would be nice if your mother and father were shunned, and never even knew a wedding was occurring (this was how my brother got married) but they do know about this event, and your participation in it is therefore: Dramazs.

C'mon. You know better than this.
posted by jbenben at 9:40 AM on July 2, 2013 [22 favorites]

If your mother yells at you in public, do NOT touch her and lead her out of the room like you were suggesting. Touch, even a gentle leading by the arm, can only escalate this. Do not engage her. Turn the other way and say nothing. Let her yell. Don't attempt the shout her down. You have zero control over her and can only control what you do. She will be the one ruining things, not you, if she chooses to do this. Again, you are not responsible for her actions.
posted by inturnaround at 9:42 AM on July 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

I agree with jbenben.

I too have a very similarly crazy mother.

I haven't spoken to mine since I was 16. The last time I saw her she showed up at my work after finding out where it was. I fled to the back room and had a panic attack and nearly called the police, as she refused to leave.

I would literally never attend an event, no matter what it was, in which she would be there. I would seriously avoid funerals, weddings, birthday parties, etc. (I am also not super close with that side of the family for similar reasons.) I know you love your sister, but that's asking a lot of a person and it will definitely cause drama at her wedding. Also note I don't have a sister, but if I did I would hope that she understood the dynamic.

If you are 100% going, and nothing can change your mind -other than knowing that behavior and telling you it will be a total mess - then here's what I would suggest. (Although it's not what I would do, as I would completely avoid the wedding, but I guess it's what I would do if she showed up somewhere that I was.)

-Talk with your sister about seating and what she wants you to do BECAUSE:

-If your mother approaches you, walk out. Just don't say anything and walk the hell out of there.
-If she follows you, keep walking until you are a decent distance from the wedding to not cause a scene.
-If she keeps following you, tell her to go away or you will call the police.
-If she still follows you or talks to you, call the police. I'm serous here.

That is why you need to talk to your sister, because your bottom line needs to be that you will leave the wedding and/or call the police on your mother. I also wouldn't trust that your mother won't follow you home after the event so you may need to drive around to make sure they aren't following you, and if they are - you know what I'm going to say - call the police.

If you are determined to go to this wedding, know that the police may show up, and is that really what you want? Don't settle for being abused by someone just for your sister's wedding. She isn't being fair to you in asking you to attend with someone who is abusive in attendance.
posted by Crystalinne at 10:02 AM on July 2, 2013 [10 favorites]

I think if you do go it needs to be as a guest only. As a guest you have much less attention on you and more flexibility in where you're going to be, what you need to do... you can duck out a door if you see a scene you want to avoid, you can leave for half an hour (or entirely), etc. Think about it. What if your mom decides to go crazy right before group photo time? Now you have a conflict. Otherwise you could just duck out without worry.

If you do go, insist your sister hire a security person (good idea anyway at a big wedding, people can and do get stupid drunk and need to be dealt with) whom you brief ahead of time.

I personally would take a big valium before this event, but if you do that make sure you cab to and from.
posted by fingersandtoes at 10:06 AM on July 2, 2013

I agree in general with Jbenben and Crystalinne, but I'd add that it sounds like you really want to go to the wedding FOR YOURSELF. Because you love your sister and you want to feel a part of the family and you want to be honored as part of a special day.

I don't think you should have to miss out on something you want to do because of your mother. That's probably happened way way too much in your life. I know how it feels to add insult to injury by her making this crappy for you too.

I think other people should manage your mother's problem. If your mother can't manage herself, your sister can manage the event. You shouldn't have to do anything but enjoy it.
posted by 3491again at 10:07 AM on July 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

I am getting married soon, and my estranged parent is not invited. I have this back of my head nightmare that Parent will somehow find out and decide to show up uninvited (I really doubt this will happen). And I am 100% ready to call the police if they do.

Will your sister be willing to tell your parents to GTFO or she's calling the cops? Will she really disrupt her wedding, in front of everyone, with all the social and religious pressure to "be the bigger person?" Will she want to deal with the backlash of people thinking she's horrible for kicking her own parents out of her wedding?

My advice to you, if you must go, is to not speak to them at all and walk right past them like they don't exist. Because they basically don't exist to you, if they are permanently cut off. This will probably enrage them, but honestly, it sounds like they are not capable of being calm or rational.

Please continue discussing worst-case scenarios with your sister, and state your intentions and boundaries clearly. I would not be surprised at all if other relatives try to impose some kind of reconciliation on you while you're in the same room.
posted by nakedmolerats at 10:08 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

You need to have a much more in-depth conversation with your sister about this. How is your sister's relationship with your mother? I presume she is still in regular contact with her, is her opinion similar to yours? I feel awful saying this, but is there any danger that your sister is using the wedding to get you back into the family, and that actually she is not 100% on your side in this?

I also caution you about going as a member of the wedding party, because that makes it MUCH harder to walk out if need be, and forces you into more contact with the other members of your family. If you go, I think you absolutely need to bring someone with you, even if you hire a complete stranger, like a trained security person to be your +1.
posted by Joh at 10:26 AM on July 2, 2013 [6 favorites]

Is there a cousin, aunt, uncle or other person who can run interference? This person could be acutely aware of your Mom's behavior, and divert a massive scene. Scene avoidance includes keeping her busy with family and friends, especially those who have traveled, and who will engage her in lively conversation, distracting her from you. This person could even text you if Mom looks like she's headed for you with that glint in the eye.

Since you won't have a date with you, ask your sister to detail a friend, member of the wedding party, somebody, to stick with you. That person's job is to body-block your Mom if she gets physically out of control. If your Mom starts a scene, quietly say Sister's wedding isn't a good time for a scene, so I'm going to take a walk to give you time to calm down. The above person who's sticking to your Mom says a similar thing, and encourages Mom to go talk to the religious officiant, Cousin John who drove from Cleveland, an adorable grandchild, etc., and you take a walk to the bathroom, or outside.

Your Mom may be bipolar or have some other mental disorder that causes her to have such volatile, intense and frightening emotional outbursts (I typo-ed fightening, which is actually quite appropriate). Your attitude towards her can be compassionate, calm avoidance. My Mom was diagnosed by her children as bipolar and alcoholic. Developing an attitude of compassion helped me deal with her manipulative crap. I coped with my Mom by 1st moving 1,000 miles away, learning to tell her No (quite a feat), and by either hanging up the phone or leaving her presence if she was mean, drinking, etc. Over time, we had an okay relationship. Even at the end of her life she tried to manipulate me, and could be really unkind, but I recognized it as the illness. I still wouldn't stay around her if she got mean or nasty.

If my mother starts screaming at me, which is likely enough that my sister and I have already specifically discussed it, what on earth am I supposed to do? Calmly, quietly, walk away quickly, others intervene with her.
Would it be better to try to gently take her by the arm That could be considered assault. I wouldn't touch her, other than quietly returning a hug if one is offered.
What if she tries to chase or grab me, or just screams louder? You walk away, others intervene with her.
How can we work out seating arrangements? Depends on seating arrangements, but seated as far from her as can be arranged without causing weirdness.
If I am going to be confronted, I am hoping to figure out a way to make the entire to-do completely imperceptible to the rest of the wedding party and guests. This is incredibly kind of you. Perhaps an arranged time before the rehearsal dinner or before the wedding, with people present to intervene if things get crazy.

If she comes to your hotel room and yells at the door, call the front desk. If she finds and confronts you when you're alone, tell her you don't have time to talk, and get yourself to a safe place like your car, so you can drive away, the hotel room where you can lock the door, or a family group who can distract her. If she is violent or threatening, call the police.

My Mom's volatility was made a lot worse by alcohol. Weddings, with the intensity of preparations and heightened emotions were guaranteed to generate a scene, but she never wanted outsiders to see the crazy, so it tended to happen the night or morning before, or afterwards. I would leave the reception early. You have my sympathy and admiration. This takes strength and patience.
posted by theora55 at 10:29 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think you have two choices here:

A) Reconcile with your immediate family in advance of the wedding. Get together beforehand. Let them get the yelling out of their systems. Go along to get along. At the wedding, be as meek and silent as possible, to the point of being a doormat about all of it. Just avoid the drama at all costs. Don't talk it over with extended family or other members of the bridal party, either. Pretend you were all reconciled years ago and nothing is amiss. After the wedding, the choice is yours whether to re-estrange yourself or what. (Personally I feel like having zero contact permanently with some members of your immediate family while having a close relationship with others just isn't sustainable, but it's your call.)


B) Back out of the bridal party aspect. As others above have said, how are you going to deal with the "everyone getting ready together" stuff? There are also a lot of other events that are going to maximize contact between you and your mom, just because of the relationship between Mother Of The Bride and the bridal party. Not to mention the photos, of course. You will not be able to avoid your parents, as a member of the bridal party, so don't even try.
posted by Sara C. at 10:43 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Hiring a security guard, especially as your date, is a GREAT idea.

I reiterate though that needing security to attend this event, and you DO need security, is a certain sign that attending is a bad bad idea.
posted by jbenben at 10:52 AM on July 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Cutting off ties with toxic family members, unfortunately, requires a TON of sacrifice on the part of the person who is cutting themselves off. It may be better for you, for your sister, and for everyone else attending the wedding for you to back out of the wedding entirely.

It's a terrible choice, but sometimes no contact needs to be NO CONTACT, PERIOD.
posted by xingcat at 11:06 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

We had not one but two people running interference for the various interpersonal conflicts we knew of at our wedding of < 50... and a (small) dog with anger management issues*. It would be nice if your sister could ask everyone in the bridal party to share any possible interpersonal conflicts, makes sure the groom's party does the same, and share them with each other. Running interference is just one of the duties in my book. At least that would give you something to depend on throughout the event, and because there are likely to be others, you could focus on other people's concerns. Clog the 'targets' up with fake conversations and feigned interest basically. Having tall and/or large people around helps too.

* Impromptu decision from one of the people running interference, and absolutely genius. No one wants to get bit. Shoot, manufacture a story if you have to. Everyone knows the small dogs are bite happy. :-) There was a little complaining as a result, but far less than what would have happened otherwise.
posted by jwells at 11:07 AM on July 2, 2013

Upon reading jbenben's answers, I have some additional thoughts.

Are you reluctant to back out more because you want to be there for your sister's wedding, or more because you're afraid of disappointing your sister?

If it's the former, consider bowing out of the wedding proper and making other plans to see her and her new husband. You're not into the big fancy religious ceremony anyway. It's a (presumably) once-in-a-lifetime event for her, but it's not as if it's your only chance to see her.

If it's the latter, consider whether your sister would rather risk a big scene or have a drama-free wedding. Which would be more disappointing? Sometimes trying to make someone happy is the wrong choice for you and the other person.
posted by desjardins at 11:19 AM on July 2, 2013 [3 favorites]

Argh, one more. Since your parents are religious, can the officiant run some interference? Have a chat with them beforehand so that they know what's expected of them? If not the officiant, then some other church-type person they're likely to respect? It doesn't matter that you don't buy into the religion; if they do, it should be in your toolbox.
posted by desjardins at 11:21 AM on July 2, 2013

My goodness, the only appropriate thing here is for your sister to disinvite your parents. From what you've told us, there's no way this wedding is going to escape being a drama fest worthy of a Jerry Springer episode. Why would your sister knowingly invite someone who is *guaranteed* to ruin her wedding?

But if that's how it's going to play out, then I'd suggest hiring a bouncer from a nightclub to be your date. And let that person deal with your mother while you walk away.
posted by MexicanYenta at 11:26 AM on July 2, 2013

The exact scenario you fear actually happened to me, more than once.

I could write the book on this.

Basically my crazy, unpredictable, mother who I had had been estranged from for half a decade went publicly crazy at me at my sister's wedding. It then happened again at another two related events.

My well tested method:

1) First the easy advice: you need to have a rehearsed saying that you will repeat any time your mother or father tries to talk to you. Rehearsing is very important, I suggest that you say your chosen statement over and over again in the mirror until it's second nature. Mine was "I'm sorry, I have to go." The second that they try to talk to you, you say your statement and leave. Don't give them a chance to finish their sentence or in any way indicate that you are listening to them.

2) Here is the single most important thing I learned about my mother's crazy: she believed that as my mother she was completely entitled to my attention and obedience, and furthermore, that everyone else would agree and rally behind her. This is why she was constantly creating large public scenes. Somewhere in her narcissistic mind, she thought that her beliefs were so justified that any injustice against them would cause the family to rise up beside her. To her, her screaming was completely rational, correct, and something that everyone obviously agreed with. And since she lacked empathy, she couldn't see how it was inappropriate to disrupt the wedding because her persecution complex happened to need feeding.

Therefore, if she starts screaming, you need to temporarily leave the wedding. The minute that you get away, the show is over. You can't be convinced if you're not there to listen. She may continue one for a few minutes due to adrenaline and momentum, but it will subside much faster than if her target was still right in front of her.

Do not try to lead her away from the group, she wants the group there to "back her up," and will get even worse if she thinks that you are trying to take her away from her Greek chorus.

Do not try to have someone else run interference, she will just evade them and seek you out with renewed vigour. She is on a crusade to Correct The Injustice, and if she is smart enough to hunt you down online and off, she is definitely smart enough to evade anyone that stands between her and you.

If she starts to act up when you try to walk away, get in a car or lock yourself in a hotel room for an hour. Repeat as necessary.

3) If she refuses to let you leave, blocks you, or grabs you: call for help. Literally say "help me someone! Please help me!" Hopefully someone from the family will pry her off or stop her, or the staff of the establishment will step in. At that point it's vital that you don't talk to her, look at her, answer her, or direct any attention to her tirade. Just look around and call for help. Once help arrives and you are free, leave for an hour. Repeat as necessary.

Understand that you and your sister can't stop someone who believes that they are entitled to justice from fighting for it to the loud bitter end. Short of uninviting her from the wedding, you can't control your mother, all you can do is try to make the tirade as short as possible. You do this by refusing to let her play out the gallant heroic scenario in her head where she rallies the mob and verbally storms the castle. You aren't Marie Antoinette, don't let her get away with the execution. Remove yourself from the audience and let her revolution die a quick death. That's the very best that you can do.

Please feel free to MeMail me. My heart goes out to you, I know how it feels, God do I know.

All the best to you, and good luck!
posted by Shouraku at 11:28 AM on July 2, 2013 [30 favorites]

I agree with everyone suggesting that you go as a guest rather than as a member of the bridal party if you attend, but if you DO decide to go as a bridesmaid, you still don't need to let that trap you if things go bad. Your top priority should be good self-care no matter what, and if that means you have to leave the reception early, pass on bridal party photographs, or heck, even step out of line while you're up at the altar because your mother is there screaming at you, then so be it. Your sister will still be just as married, and YOU won't be at fault for making a scene - your mother will be.

Whatever happens, don't prioritize your mother's wishes or a fear of causing a stir over your own well-being, you deserve better than that.
posted by DingoMutt at 11:34 AM on July 2, 2013

I agree with above advice on "how to handle the mother" -- it should be directed by your sister, and should involve some person whose sole dedicated job is mother-wrangling.

You asked about how you should approach the situation, though. One piece of advice I've gotten that's been incredibly invaluable is to think of the other person, in this case your mother, as an alien whose behavior is completely, well, from another planet.

Then your response is generated from a distant curiosity, that of a visitor from a land far, far away. Anthropological, but not personal. Kind of "Hmm, isn't that interesting?" distant. You're visiting a zoo, observing animals from the other side of a glass wall, and you'll go back to your very nicely constructed life after this is over.

Best wishes.
posted by Dashy at 11:35 AM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

If your sister has invited you to be in the bridal party, she has done so knowing what the family dynamics are. It's time for both of you to have a detailed conversation about how to manage your mother.

Just because you are the likely target of your mother's terrible and abusive behavior doesn't mean that you are the one who has to figure out how to handle her on your own. This is one of the few times when managing an interpersonal relationship (or lack thereof) is a group project.
posted by quince at 11:59 AM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry to say this, but I agree with Joh. I can't help feeling highly suspicious of your sister's agenda. In my opinion, asking you to be in the wedding party is not loving--it's crazy and/or devious. Your sister is deliberately creating a disastrous scenario--for you; for her mother, whom she also says she loves, and for her own wedding--why? The best interpretation is that she is out of touch with reality as concerns your mother. Even so--I'm afraid you are going to be finding yourself at the center of something very bad.

You have the right to protect yourself--emotionally, physically--and who else there is going to protect you? It is true you won't be the one creating the scene(s), but honestly, will that idea really keep you from suffering? I would tell your sister that you want her wedding day to be the happiest of her life, and for that reason, you will not be attending her wedding.
posted by uans at 12:15 PM on July 2, 2013 [9 favorites]

I think if you want to be in the wedding party you should be, period.

Now, as to your mother: You and your sister could talk to the officiant. Depending on how large the church is, they may already have congregants who act as security. (Mine does!) Whether or not you do hire security (I sure would) you and your sister need to figure out a strategy for each stage of the wedding. If mom opens her mouth during the ceremony, she should be escorted out, for instance.

Regardless, this is something your sister could and should take responsibility for. She wants you there, you want to be there, don't let this situation rob you. Sis knew what asking you to be part of the wedding party entailed; let her help you.
posted by St. Alia of the Bunnies at 12:17 PM on July 2, 2013

Based on what you've written here, if Mom is absolutely coming and if Sister doesn't think it will be a big enough problem to hire security, then I think you should definitely bring a security guard / bodyguard as your "date." If the bride isn't willing to agree to a scenario where either Mom gets ejected or you leave, I would seriously reconsider coming to this wedding.
posted by KathrynT at 12:39 PM on July 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

As I rule I believe it is wrong to lie, I would make an exception here and if mother approaches for any reason just keep repeating the phrase 'this is sister's day, you and I will talk about everything tomorrow' then leave town before tomorrow comes.
posted by InkaLomax at 12:51 PM on July 2, 2013

I am so sorry you're facing this situation. It must be so difficult.

I have to agree with jbenben and crystalline, here. And I'm afraid my thoughts went down the same road as joh's. I can't help but wonder if having you in the wedding is a misguided attempt by your sister to help you and the rest of the family reconcile. Your sister must know how awful it's been between your mom and you; I don't think she's being particularly

Your presence at the wedding will set your mother off. Your presence in the wedding party may actually set her off as you walk down the aisle with the rest of the bridesmaids. If I were in your shoes, there is no way in hell I would attend the wedding in any capacity--not as a guest keeping an eye on the exit the entire time, and sure as shit not as a member of the wedding party.

If your mother is anywhere near as stalker-y as you describe, then attending the wedding will undo all the work you've done to remove her from your life. She will make a scene. She will write down your license plate number as you drive away. She will follow you home, that's what it takes.

If you insist on being in this wedding, then you and your sister need to have a very detailed and honest conversation about what your sister--not you!--is prepared to do to keep your mom under control. If your sister is not willing, at a bare minimum, to eject your mom from the venue the nano-second she starts up, then you need to hug her, thank her for her consideration, and bow out of the wedding while she still has time to find another bridesmaid to replace you.
posted by magstheaxe at 1:45 PM on July 2, 2013 [13 favorites]

Yeah, I think you need to not go to the wedding at all, or else the stalking WILL start up again, no question.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:34 PM on July 2, 2013 [2 favorites]

I think some of the advice offered here, particularly about enlisting someone whose job it is to be ON your mother all day long, could work if you were a guest at the wedding. It's hard to see how they will work if you are in the wedding party.

The thing is, the parents of the couple are also, de facto, in the wedding party. As in, Mother of the Bride is a title like Maid of Honour, you know? You will be thrown together a lot during the day. If nothing else, you will likely have to spend an hour or more with them doing wedding photos. That's a terrible scenario, because it's really unstructured and there's nothing to do while the couple are being photographed, but you still have to hang around for the few photos you are in. And a well-meaning photographer is likely going to say, "OK how about one with mom and her two daughters?"

If you want to be in the wedding party (I tend to agree that it's a bad idea) you should go over every single moment of the wedding day with your sister and plan out how she is going to make sure you are safe during the entire event, start to finish. Who is going to be spotting your mother in the church, what is going to be said to the officiant about the situation, how will the photographer be prepped to not create terrible drama during the photo session, who will be escorting you home after and making sure your mom doesn't follow and assault you?

You need a detailed security plan like you would if a head of state were attending and that's not something you can or should be responsible for handling. Your sister and her future husband will have to make hard decisions about what will happen if your mother gets out of hand. Will they have her removed from the wedding? Will they be willing to have her arrested?
posted by looli at 9:51 AM on July 3, 2013 [2 favorites]

I feel a lot of sadness and understanding for your predicament. I have a family member who is like your mother. Her anger and unpredictability terrified me and I ended up cutting all contact with her as an adult. Like you, I also felt I had to cut off contact with other family members because I didn't want them to feel they had to choose between us. Now I'm upfront with some of my relatives and let them know we're not in contact. That's taken away one of her tactics, which was to misrepresent me. And it's taught me to take charge of that more.

Do you tend toward the 'flight response' when you feel anxious or in danger? I do, so when I still went to family gatherings that this relative attended I tried to ensure I had an escape route to a place where I felt safe. I recommend making sure there's a place you can escape to (a car or a private room) that can guarantee you a feeling of safety if your mother goes off. For me that was the best palliative for the anxiety that overcame me. Even knowing it was there helped.

Keep in mind that you'll have a lot more responsibility as a member of the wedding and that may add to your anxiety so, as others have said, keep that to a minimum. Consider if being in the wedding is more important to you and your sister than the potential fallout because you could also attend as a guest.

I don't agree you should not go if you and your sister are okay with the potential consequences. It could even help you by making you feel stronger, assuaging your fear of them (though I wouldn't go if sis is leaning in that direction since this isn't about you). When I wanted to go to a cousin's wedding I knew my relative would be at, my therapist advised me not to, didn't think I was ready. I went anyway and that made me feel stronger.

Meeting your parents beforehand seems like a great preemptive measure. And if your mother is as vengeful as my relative (which is what caused me the most fear), think about how she may retaliate and plan for it.

Good luck!
posted by lillian.elmtree at 11:36 AM on July 5, 2013

OP here. I wanted to thank everyone for their generous, thoughtful, and experienced answers, and also follow up to note that I will not be attending the wedding in any capacity.

To my horror, everyone who suggested that my sister had only asked me to be in the bridal party in order to wrest me back under my mother's thumb ended up being absolutely correct. I am embarrassed, humiliated, and devastated to admit that the notion had not even crossed my mind. It seems I wanted to have something like a "sister" more than I knew. Over the past few months, it had gradually become invisible to me that I was giving her the benefit of the doubt to a degree that was, in retrospect, utterly undeserved.

My mother told my sister that I had to be disinvited from the wedding unless I agreed to meet with my parents in advance of the ceremony to apologize and re-establish a relationship with them. After my sister relayed this request to me, I declined, apologizing and saying that I would not be able to attend if those were the conditions. She went fully silent for a few days, then replied via email this morning: "Sounds good!"

Hilariously, all of this took place weeks after I shelled out more than a month's mortgage payment to order personalized, individually hand-crafted wedding desserts for the entire event, which I had intended to be my gift to the new couple.
My sister's email went on to acknowledge the fact that I have been disinvited to a degree that specifically excludes being 'allowed' to drop off the catering order, presenting me with another dilemma: take the financial hit outright and let someone else pick up and deliver everything, or pick it up myself and find a way to make sure the hundreds of desserts and wedding cake I've paid for will not go to waste. So... cupcake party at my house? Tomorrow's my birthday, let's do the damn thing.

Let this be an object lesson: If you are estranged from your family, and one of them approaches you, no matter what they're talking about, even if they are otherwise seemingly well-adjusted adults, do not trust a single word they say. Just don't. You should know better.

Thanks again to everyone who answered.
posted by divined by radio at 9:40 AM on July 22, 2013 [7 favorites]

Holy Shit, divined by radio, that's so awful. I would definitely not let those desserts get to the wedding, even if it meant I had to donate them to a soup kitchen. I am so sorry that this is happening to you. What horrible people.
posted by KathrynT at 11:49 AM on July 22, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh, I'm so sorry. Don't feel bad that you didn't guess. Your mind doesn't work that way, because YOU are a decent person.

So... cupcake party at my house? Tomorrow's my birthday, let's do the damn thing.

Hell yeah!
posted by BibiRose at 12:20 PM on July 22, 2013 [3 favorites]

Good lord. I'm so, so sorry to hear this, particularly your sister's complicity and... what the hell is her problem? She seriously didn't immediately offer to pay you for the cakes? For her own wedding?

Ugh. Well, better money spent than more time and emotional investment, I guess. And, if it makes you feel any better: your sister's life is not an easy road. Imagine still being under your parents' thumb to this degree. Imagine starting your own marriage under this specter.

Hope you have some good friends to enjoy those cupcakes with.
posted by fingersandtoes at 6:23 AM on July 23, 2013 [1 favorite]

I know that this probably doesn't help, but:

better money spent than more time and emotional investment very true.

Additional thought: if you donate the food somewhere, you may be able to get at least some of the expense back via tax deductions. I am not sure of this, so definitely check with local charities, but it may at least help a bit?
posted by aramaic at 8:45 AM on July 23, 2013 [2 favorites]

I would definitely start calling charities. Homeless shelters and battered women's shelters are the obvious choices, but also think about local schools (over the summer, many schools serve meals because otherwise, kids who get free lunch during the school year just wouldn't eat when school is out of session), drop-in centers (for example, my city has a drop-in center for people with HIV/AIDS that might like some delicious, high-quality food for people whose medical conditions mean that they sometimes have trouble getting enough calories), senior centers, meals on wheels, etc. You might even ask the bakery if they have a place they donate to (lots of food service businesses have relationships with charities that they can donate day-old or abandoned food to), that they could send the order to directly without you having to pick it up and deliver it someplace.

But definitely, take a couple dozen cupcakes for yourself out of the order before you give the rest away, throw a party for your "chosen family" of friends and loved ones who have been awesome and have not been awful to you for no reason.

(I'm a terrible person and sometimes not terribly smart, so I'd probably take a photo of the party and send it to my sister with a caption like, "Me eating your wedding cake with people who aren't total assholes." But that's just me, and that's not necessarily advice I'd recommend you actually follow. But having an awesome time with people you actually like instead of having to go to her stupid wedding full of nasty people is probably enough.)
posted by decathecting at 10:59 AM on July 23, 2013 [4 favorites]

Oh boy, I am so sorry to read your update. If you can't cancel the cake order at this point, then I think that a donation and/or cake party is a wonderful idea. Your cruel sister and horrible mother don't deserve even a whiff of gorgeous cake aroma.

My mind is overrun with vengeful cake-based fantasies, so I'll leave it be. I hope that you enjoy those cakes and go on to have a wonderful life without those beastly people.

Happy birthday!
posted by quince at 5:14 PM on July 24, 2013

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