How do I tell my mom I'm getting married?
August 1, 2013 5:13 PM   Subscribe

I got engaged about a week and a half ago. This is terrific, except now I have to tell my mom about it and she is almost certainly NOT going to be kind. I want her to hear from me, but I need to do it in a way that minimizes her ability to be emotionally abusive. Help?

(this is kind of long and you can skip to the bottom if you'd like)

I am a lady and I am getting married to another lady. I've been out to my parents for almost ten years. My girlfriend (R) and I have been together for six years. My parents know that I am dating her. My mom has been in the same room as R on two occasions and it was, at best, uncomfortable (it was, at worst, one of the most horrible experiences of my life). I have attempted to get them in the same place more than this, but it has always failed (because of my mom - R is more than willing to spend time with her). My dad has spent much more time with R and I, so while he's not thrilled about our engagement, he has only been kind.

For several years after I came out, my mom was emotionally abusive to me. My dad worked overseas for a large chunk of this time, so he wasn't around to keep her from calling me names and insulting me (almost always while she was drunk). Eventually I got fed up and didn't speak to her for several months and then made sure that she and I never spoke alone. My relationship with her is almost nonexistent (right now we talk 4-5 times a year and I see her about once a year). I am very, very close with my younger sister (my only sibling) and my dad and I have a cordial relationship. My dad wishes we were closer, but I wish he would understand that my mom treated me very poorly and I keep my distance from them out of self-preservation.

My dad insists that my mom wants to have a relationship with me, but I am totally unconvinced. Her drinking is under control now (through sheer force of will - my mom has definitely not seen a therapist or attended any kind of meeting), so that is less of a concern. My sister is firmly on my side, but I know that our family dynamic wears on her and she is only now beginning to understand that my parents insistence that I am somehow to blame for a large share of our family's issues is bullshit.

So, I am thinking that the best course of action is to send her an email. Is this disrespectful? Unkind? Unfair? If I do this, how do I word it? If what my dad says is true about her desire to have a relationship, I think that this is actually a good plan since it gives her time to craft an appropriate response that doesn't permanently shut the door on any real future.

TL;DR - Is an email an OK way of announcing my engagement to my emotionally abusive mom? If so, how in the world do I phrase it? If not, what would you suggest? (I need to tell her. I really do. I am so stressed about it and will feel so much better once she knows.)

posted by vakker to Human Relations (31 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I might even suggest a paper letter, as that totally removes the option of an easy click-to-kneejerk-reply. It doesn't seem disrespectful at all, if anything you're helping her out by making it harder for her to do something she might some day regret.
posted by jacalata at 5:16 PM on August 1, 2013 [40 favorites]

Also, you can make a paper letter a really nice formal announcement style, which can bypass all the 'what should I say' stuff.
posted by jacalata at 5:17 PM on August 1, 2013 [11 favorites]

What's wrong with an email?

If your mom were a decent mom, then a phone call would be in order, but she's not, and under the circumstances an email is more than she deserves.

If you want to be kind, and really give her a chance to be decent, make it a kind email. I'd include your dad, so that hopefully he will R-all first and set a nice tone that she will imitate. "Hi mom and dad, I have news that makes me very happy and I hope you'll be happy for me. R and I are getting married. Now that we are going to be family, I hope you'll get to know R better and come to love her as another daughter. Would love your help with wedding planning -- call me if you'd like to discuss!"

Otherwise, a simple "thought you'd like to know R and I are getting married" would do it.
posted by fingersandtoes at 5:17 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'd do an email. If the response isn't going to be a squeal of delight and an offer to help pick out wedding clothes, fuck it.

You're too old and too evolved to play games with an abusive parent.
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 5:19 PM on August 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

Are you inviting your mother and/or father to the wedding? Because you need to be really clear on that before you, yes, email an announcement.
posted by DarlingBri at 5:22 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Another vote for paper letter (or mailed announcement -- you can buy like 10 announcements from or something and send them to a) people who you care about and want to have them and b) your mother and then c) keep one or two for yourself as a memento). jacalata is right that it makes it much harder to do a quick flip response, and is So Formal and polite that you don't need to worry about wording and whatnot.
posted by brainmouse at 5:22 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've been through this exact experience, except I had been out for years and my parents were "okay with it", at least until I told them I was getting married. It was uniquely painful.

Send a physical letter. You'll have done your duty without having to put up with whatever she is going to say about it.
posted by zug at 5:22 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Contact her however you prefer. Email is totally fine. You owe her nothing and do not need to read or entertain her response if it's not civil. She is not entitled to any more information than what you choose to tell her. Period.

Also, CONGRATULATIONS! Don't let your Mom's bad behavior soil any of the happiness you and your future wife are feeling about your wedding and marriage.
posted by quince at 5:36 PM on August 1, 2013 [8 favorites]

Yes, dear gods yes, minimise your mother's opportunities to hurt you.

I agree with the physical letter proposal - it's way too easy for an angry person to click 'reply' on an email - although I think a formal announcement card would leave her even less material to use to be cruel to you.

If you do send an email, consider filtering or blocking her so you don't have to read her response.

Congrats on your engagement, by the way! And good luck with all this.
posted by His thoughts were red thoughts at 5:40 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm so happy that you and R can get married! And so sad that your mother isn't going to be a good mom about it. That sucks.

Can you call your father, tell him over the phone, and ask him to pass the news along after you end the call? That way you wouldn't even have to address her directly and your father, who believes that she wants a relationship with you, would be the one to field her commentary and perhaps talk some damn sense into her.

And you have my absolute permission to not invite her to your wedding. I did not invite my father to my wedding and I have never regretted it. I regret getting married, but that's a different story.
posted by janey47 at 5:44 PM on August 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

I like the idea of a paper letter, for the reasons already mentioned, but also: handwriting a letter is very personal and while your mother may not have a great response to this news, I think it's very "being the bigger person" and old-school respectful to do it this way. Killing them with kindness, I suppose.

In terms of wording, I think you should word it the same way as one words these things when they aren't in a same-sex relationship and/or dealing with an abusive/unsupportive parent. Frankly, I wouldn't give her the power of being able to consider your relationship "different."

posted by sm1tten at 5:54 PM on August 1, 2013 [6 favorites]

Marriage is awesome, and congrats on yours. Under the circumstances, anything is an okay / acceptable way of letting your mom know; you should flip through thread suggestions and decide what's gonna make you the most comfortable, or the least uncomfortable.

One other option I think you have: let your dad tell her. As your other parent, he has some obligation here to reintroduce some civility in your relationship with your mom.

I'm firmly of the opinion that the best response to a dysfunctional family is making yourself an awesome one; it sounds like you're doing / have been doing that.
posted by Apropos of Something at 5:54 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

So her drinking is under control and she is just begining to realize that you being who you are isn't the thing that destroyed the family. And yet, she has not apologized and you still only talk a handful of times a year.

Sorry, your dad out of love and hopefully guilt is trying to make her out better than she is. She hasn't budged an inch on this. Telling her in any capacity is way more than she deserves. Tell your father. If your mom then reaches out to you to make peace and wish you well, awesome. If not, she doesn't deserve to have you in her life.
posted by munchingzombie at 6:01 PM on August 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Do whatever you need to do in order to protect yourself.

This news, and your relationship, is not about your mother. Please don't feel like you need to open yourself up to abuse as a courtesy to your mother. In this situation, it is entirely appropriate to take care of yourself in whatever way you need.

(Also, congratulations!!! And I'm sorry you're having to deal with your mother's shittiness during what should be an awesome joyful giddy time.)
posted by jaguar at 6:02 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I would suggest doing it as normally as possible. Whatever way you would want your child to do it, or whatever way you think your mom would like. The more formal or weird you make it, the more "excuse" she has to be ignorant about it. You should do this with everyone, but especially the more difficult people in our lives. What I mean is, give these people all the rope they need. If you behave in a way that you believe to be 100% correct, polite and normal, their negativity has less room to sneak into your subconscious. If you do it in a way that is somehow unnatural, you might feel slightly guilty, which will only be made worse by any negativity they throw out there.

Remember too, that you are sharing your good news. Do it how you want to. Pretend you have a better relationship than you do with your mother, if that helps. Your happiness has *some* chance of being infective. But if you are hesitant and uncomfortable about it, there is very little chance of her reacting any other way.

I have to go with the Dear Abby or Ann Landers advice- people can only be emotionally abusive to the extent you allow their words to have meaning. This is way easier said than done, of course, but it is the only way to go long term.

Just be nice and cheerfully end the conversation when it veers into negativity. Negative people *like* negativity. They want you to get mad. They aren't evil, usually, they just don't know how to communicate any other way.
posted by gjc at 6:05 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I have to go with the Dear Abby or Ann Landers advice- people can only be emotionally abusive to the extent you allow their words to have meaning.

I think this may be intended as an empowering message, but it's rather victim-blaming. She's your mother; her opinion is going to matter to you, even if you don't want it to, and that's ok. You don't have to believe her words for her attitude to be hurtful, and it's ok to protect and defend yourself as much as you need to.
posted by jaguar at 6:09 PM on August 1, 2013 [19 favorites]

Congrats. Why tell her at all? Let some other person in the family tell her. Please don't let her ruin this special time in your life.
posted by cairnoflore at 6:14 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

Yes, seriously, if she is that unwelcoming to your future spouse, why give her that in to your world? Tell her just before the wedding. Or after. Or never.
posted by computech_apolloniajames at 6:25 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I need to tell her. I really do. I am so stressed about it and will feel so much better once she knows.

God damn do i have mixed feelings about this.

I mean, i think a lot of the ways people approach questions like this that are in the "how do i interact with my parent who is shitty and or can be a huge asshole?" category get really loaded in the sense that they start drifting in to "Why would you put your foot in the bear trap? don't do the obviously bad thing" with a big hint of "if you do that you're kinda doing it to yourself and i'm going to have less sympathy for you". It's not weird to want to try and tiptoe around this and do it in the way that still engages your parent as a parent while also trying to protect your neck, so to speak.

At the same time, when something like this builds up to a HUGE stressball i almost always just want to call the person and go "Hey, this is going on, this is whats up" and just let them be however stupid they're going to be. Hang up the phone, get upset, but you ripped the bandaid off and it's over with.

Whose to say she won't just call to "speak her mind" when she gets the email or paper letter anyways? This isn't really a situation in which you can avoid her attempting to engage you in some immediate response "talk to you not send you a monodirectional message" type of communication unless she doesn't have your phone number. I try and just live by getting the stress out of the way quickly, rather than trying to navigate around the edges of it constantly worrying it's going to crash in to me for days/weeks/etc.
posted by emptythought at 6:39 PM on August 1, 2013 [8 favorites]

emptythought's excellent comment reminds me that I also meant to say: Do what you need to do to feel comfortable, and then let go of the outcome. No matter how perfect your phrasing, how perfect your medium, how perfect your timing... your mother has issues that are not your fault, and if she responds shittily, that has nothing to do with you. So don't take on the responsibility for managing her response.
posted by jaguar at 6:49 PM on August 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I'm kinda in your shoes, except I haven't spoken to my abusive mom in years, and my white Republican father stopped talking to me five years ago after I eloped with my husband who is Egyptian and a non-religious Muslim. (I guess he thought I was marrying a terrorist or something??)

Your nuptials are not going to be entirely welcome news to your sister and dad because it means extreme drama for them via your mom. I'll help you with that, but first this from munchingzombie:

"So her drinking is under control and she is just begining to realize that you being who you are isn't the thing that destroyed the family. And yet, she has not apologized and you still only talk a handful of times a year.

Sorry, your dad out of love and hopefully guilt is trying to make her out better than she is. She hasn't budged an inch on this. Telling her in any capacity is way more than she deserves. Tell your father. If your mom then reaches out to you to make peace and wish you well, awesome. If not, she doesn't deserve to have you in her life."

Emphasis mine, wisdom by munchingzombie.


You are starting your own family. (CONGRATULATIONS, BTW!!!)

I think you should quit with the facade and face facts: your mother is abusive and she's not getting real help, so you must grieve this relationship (at least here in the present) and move on with your life. This is painful, I know. I'm sorry.

- The #1 thing you must do is stop talking to your sister AND your father about your mom.

If they bring her up, make some polite noise and change the subject. If you need to talk about the situation with your mother, try therapy, look for a support group or process group, read self-help books. Whatever you do about it, don't include your dad or sister. Officially separate them out of the conflict.

Your family dynamic is not fucked up because of you, your family dynamic is fucked up because your mother likely has a mental illness, she certainly self-medicated with alcohol, and she's absolutely abusive. Cease debating this truth with anyone (including yourself!!) accept reality (or get into the process of accepting this) and embrace your new life.

To this end, call your dad and your sister with your happy news! Tell them you're going to be sending a formal announcement, and that includes sending one to your mom. Acknowledge that you know your mother disapproves, and although you don't want your dad or sister to stick up for you, of course you'll be inviting your mom to the wedding. Tell them if your mother is unhappy for you and won't come, that you'll understand and they should not get in the middle. Then, follow up with formal announcements, including one sent to your mom and dad.

Make this about your happy relationship, deflate the drama by accepting your mom's choices. Decline to speak ill of your mother or let others complain of her to you.

Focus on your wife, let the rest sort themselves out on their own.

posted by jbenben at 7:07 PM on August 1, 2013 [7 favorites]

Send her a "Save the Date" card?
posted by Thorzdad at 7:52 PM on August 1, 2013

(Whoopsy. That first sentence in my answer reads as offensive - it's meant as a comment on my dad's attitudes. It is not meant as a comment on any particular religion or non-religious practice

Sorry for any misunderstanding.)
posted by jbenben at 7:58 PM on August 1, 2013

No email, send a letter or card addressed to Mr. and Mrs. Mom&Dad.

Do it up nicely, best handwriting or fancy print, make it elegant and beautiful, because you're happy and proud to announce your upcoming nuptials to your beloved.

An email is a cheap and quick, but for this I think you need to make a statement.

You can't control her reaction to this. She may tear it up, attempt to call you and dis on you, whatever. That's her problem. You've made a statement that this is a big deal, and she can take it or leave it. If she attempts any negativity, ignore her.

Your Dad may be happy to get a nice announcement.
posted by BlueHorse at 8:11 PM on August 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

Clarification, please? From your post, it seems as if 1) your parents are married/together and 2) your father knows about your engagement? If both of these are true, then I would imagine that he would have told her already, and thus the ball is in her court?

If either of these assumptions is incorrect, I apologize and agree with the suggestions of a handwritten note or a printed announcement.

Congratulations on your engagement!
posted by Lulu's Pink Converse at 9:08 PM on August 1, 2013

You owe her nothing. If you intend to have her at the wedding, she can get an invite then. If not, she can go to hell.

(Of course, I also invited my aunt and one cousin- her daughter - while leaving two other cousins - her sons - via explicit addressing in our invites. They all lived at the same address. Since that time, both of those uninvited cousins have taken that slight as an invitation to be more decent and have indeed become more decent.)
posted by notsnot at 10:30 PM on August 1, 2013

Ah, yes, as clarification: my dad already knows. I called him a few days after R and I got engaged because I knew he would handle the news with grace (which he did). My parents are married, but they do not live together the majority of the time because of my dad's job. He has not told her (as far as I know) because he wants me to do it - he will tell her if I want him to, but I don't really want that (obviously what I want is for them to be supportive, but that's not happening).

And since I wasn't clear: my sister also knows and is so, so thrilled (she cried! from happiness!). So, I am not without support and love. R's parents and siblings are similarly excited. Our friends are terrific. My amazing therapist was delighted. It's just my mom (and kind of my dad).

Thank y'all so much for your kind words and thoughtful responses. I super, super appreciate it. I have worked hard to build a life that makes me happy and isn't ruled by what my parents say, but I am sometimes confronted with issues like this and I'm still working on understanding what it looks like for me to deal in a way that keeps me safe and happy.

Again, thank you all.
posted by vakker at 5:57 AM on August 2, 2013 [1 favorite]

Congratulations! What happy news for you.

I actually told my parents (and entire family) that Mr. Meat and I were getting married in an email. This was because I couldn't handle the emotional overwhelm and screeching that would come after telling them. After the wedding itself, everybody else (extended family/friends/coworkers) were told via a paper announcement. So I also support an email/paper announcement. Or, hell, pass it off on your dad. Whatever you choose to do, it is OK.

If you would like the email, I'd be happy to share via memail.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 6:14 AM on August 2, 2013

First of all, CONGRATULATIONS!!!

Second of all, you may wish to familiarize yourself with another wedding tradition: the marriage announcement. To wit,

Ms. Vakker Smith and Ms. Vakker-Wife Jones are pleased to announce that they were united in marriage on {Day of the Week}, {Month} {Day#}, {year} at {time spelled out - "half past four o'clock"} in the {morning/afternoon/evening} at {ceremony venue name} in {City}, {State}. The ceremony was officiated by {officiant name - including "the Reverend" for ministers}.

Miss Smith is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. {Dad's First and Last Name} of {City}, {State}. She is the granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. {Maternal Grandfather's First and Last Name} of {City}, {State} and Mr. and Mrs. {Paternal Grandfather's First and Last Name} of {City, State}. Miss Jones is the daughter of Mr. and Mrs. {Dad's First and Last Name} of {City}, {State}. She is the granddaughter of Mr. and Mrs. {Maternal Grandfather's First and Last Name} of {City}, {State} and the late (use "the late" if any of these people have passed away) Mr. and Mrs. {Paternal Grandfather's First and Last Name} of {City}, {State}

Miss Smith is a graduate of {high school name} High School in {City, State}. She graduated {cum laude/magna cum laude/summa cum laude if necessary} from {name of university} with a Bachelor of {Arts/Science} in {Major(s)}, and now works/attends school at {name of employer/school} in {City}. Miss Jones is a graduate of {high school name} High School in {City, State}. She graduated {cum laude/magna cum laude/summa cum laude if necessary} from {name of university} with a Bachelor of {Arts/Science} in {Major(s)} and now works/attends school at {name of employer/school} in {City}, {State}.

After a short honeymoon in the Bahamas, the Smith-Jones will begin a new life together in their residence:

Vakker and Vakker-Wife Smith-Jones
1234 Main Street
New York, New York 12345

In wedding etiquette, the marriage announcement lets people know that you've married and the ceremony has already happened. It's usually placed in your local newspapers, and sometimes will be mailed to friends, family, etc. who are unable to attend--or aren’t invited to--the wedding ceremony.

I have known people who, for various reasons, chose to limit the involvement of a parent or parents in their lives. They found that much heartache was avoided by choosing to announce their wedding after it had taken place, rather than risk drama and tears beforehand.

I just want to point out that this is an option available to you if you don't wish to have your mother present and the nuptials, or are uncomfortable with her knowing that you're getting married at all.

Otherwise, I second jbenben's advice.
posted by magstheaxe at 9:46 AM on August 2, 2013

I am a Mom, so let me be your surrogate Mom here for just a second and say what needs to be said.

CONGRATULATIONS! Yay! am SO happy and excited for you! For both of you! Please tell your fiancee congrats too, okay?

Okay. :)

So, tempting as it is, I don't see how you can just do a wedding announcement after the fact now, since Dad knows. I don't think that this can go under the radar. And your sister knows, too. Mom would just have more of an excuse to be upset if everyone knew except her, and you don't want to put your Dad in the middle of all that. It might have worked better to tell them together, with your Dad as a buffer. Could he maybe act as if he doesn't know, and still do that, to set the right tone if you decide to tell her in person? Like you and your fiancee have dinner with Mom and Dad,preferably somewhere public, and tell "them" the news then?

If not, I think an email would be fine for you to do if it is what makes you feel the most comfortable. I also think that snail mail is an even better way to announce your engagement. You could even have an engagement party, and if you invite Mom and she chooses not to come, that's her problem! You will have made it all official, and done the "correct" thing, without having to deal with unpleasantness from Mom. Because Yuck. You shouldn't have to deal with that crap.

I wonder, have you asked your partner's opinion on all this? It is her wedding, too, and she might be better placed than we are to know how to handle broaching your Mom about your engagement.
posted by misha at 11:26 AM on August 2, 2013

Email, and forward any response to a trusted friend who will summarize your mom's response ("bitchy" or "acceptable", e.g.). She's reaping what she's sown.
posted by disconnect at 3:17 AM on August 3, 2013 [1 favorite]

« Older US passport woes   |   Moving boxes: Paper or Plastic? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.