Navigating Parent Wedding Politics
July 8, 2015 9:54 AM   Subscribe

My mother is super-excited about my upcoming wedding. She is driving me crazy. Special snowflake details inside.

The short version: I am not a wedding person at all. I want to BE married, but the wedding itself is incidental to me. We are planning a small, immediate-family-only wedding, and have told anyone who asks that the hotel we have booked it at can only accomodate 50 people.

My concession to my super-excited mother was to allow her to buy me the dress. I didn't want anything huge and fancy, and she agrees to this but said she really wanted to buy it. So I said okay, but now it is escalating. We have to get shoes now. And accessories. And she wants to have some veto control over the menu because people in her family have food sensitivities.

Two special snowflake details :) Firstly, my mother-in-law-to-be and my stepmother have both indicated to me that they want to be involved as well. My stepmom, who has been in my life since I was five years old, was very careful to say she does not want to step on my mother's toes. But she would like to do something. She suggested she could buy the shoes. My mother does not approve of this and flat-out said no, she is doing that, and my stepmother can do 'something else.'

Secondly, I also have a Beloved who was married previously, and who has complained before that last time, his mother-in-law took over the whole thing and made everyone super-uncomfortable. I think he is listening to my mother's little demands and fearing a repeat. I want very much to avoid that. He has had trouble warming up to my mother. They are okay now, I think, but I am cognizant of what a delicate balance that is and if she goes Momzilla on us about the wedding, that will not help things.

I am trying to see things from my mother's point of view. I am her daughter, and she always fantasized about getting her daughter ready for her wedding. I get that, and I have put myself out in ways that made me uncomfortable (I don't care at all about the wedding and would be happy to go to city hall with him by myself) for the sake of her and her family. I let her take me to bridal stores and get me a dress.

But I also feel like she should be proud that she raised me to do the right thing. I think my stepmom deserves to be included. She has not always been perfect, nor had my dad. But she has been in my life since I was a tiny child. She truly does love me and care about me. I think my mother should let her buy the shoes.

Can I put my foot down about this? Or should I just find something else for my stepmom to do? I feel like this is putting me into an uncomfortable situation. My stepmom will be hurt if I don't include her. My half-siblings will be angry if I shut their mother out. But my mom has made her wishes on this very clear, and I am afraid that if I put my foot down on this I will both hurt her, and compromise the efforts my fiance has made to come to peace with her.
posted by JoannaC to Human Relations (24 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Put your foot down. Your Mom had her chance to plan her own wedding, one assumes, when she got married herself. With the best of intentions, you are bending over backwards to accomodate everyone. It is NOT too late to decide you're going to elope. Tell your closest family you're eloping and, if you choose, invite them along. Mom chooses the dress, step Mom buys the shoes, no accessories, your new mother-in-law chooses the restaurant where you will all go afterwards to celebrate, your Beloved selects an activity for all the immediate family to do together (zoo? movie? hike?), done.

It is not too late - and of most importance here is not only are you already uncomfortable, OP, but your Beloved is already feeling the strain on this. This event should be a positive (or at least neutral) event for you and your Beloved - focus on that.

Good luck!
posted by arnicae at 10:02 AM on July 8, 2015 [5 favorites]

Put your foot down. I think YOU should let stepmom buy the shoes.

Then gently but very firmly explain to your mother that she is not the only person who is important in this wedding, and it's not her wedding to make rules around. That you as a couple, are having a wedding that is about your (as a couple) world, and while she is important, she is a planet, not the sun.
posted by Dashy at 10:04 AM on July 8, 2015 [15 favorites]

I would base your decision on the specifics of the individuals involved - who do you think is likely to listen to reason here, your mother or your stepmother? From the way you're describing things, it sounds like your stepmother is the more likely candidate. I would be honest with her and tell her everything you said here about what she means to you, but that your mom is freaking out and you're going to let her buy the shoes in order to keep the peace. Then come to an agreement together about something else she can do to contribute. And finally, and most importantly, tell your mom she can buy the shoes along with the dress but the rest of the wedding decisions belong to you and you alone. And stick to it!
posted by something something at 10:04 AM on July 8, 2015

I agree. Put your foot down. When I got married it seemed like everyone wanted to "help", and that snowballed and neither of us were really all that comfortable with what we got as a result. I definitely regret not being selfish enough to get what I and we wanted.
posted by tremspeed at 10:05 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

I speak from experience; the threat of eloping can be strategically used to shut that stuff down pretty damn quick.
posted by furnace.heart at 10:07 AM on July 8, 2015 [15 favorites]

Put your foot down now - you can already see the iceberg up ahead, of which this is just the tip. Be firm and unrelenting, while still polite and grateful for her help. You're the bride, you get to decide what happens. She's not.

It's hard. People get really weird about weddings.

Good luck, and congrats!
posted by Fig at 10:10 AM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Happy story: a friend of mine got married and her mother got terribly, seemingly inconsolably upset because they decided not to hold the wedding at her house. They held their ground. She totally got over it, was embarrassed to have made such a fuss, and had a wonderful time at the wedding.

Another happy story: another friend of mine got married, and her father made a speech in which he actually thanked her stepdad (who he does not have a close relationship with) for his part in helping to bring up this wonderful woman. People can be really big at weddings. They can bring out the best in people.

Not so great story: a friend of a friend is getting married, and stated to her husband-to-be that she "would put her foot down with her mother, but wouldn't make her cry as she couldn't bear that". Mother now cries at everything. She is dictating every detail of their wedding and the tears now flow at the slightest airing of their wants.

Moral of all stories: have your wedding how you want it. People will get over themselves. And set boundaries as soon as you can!
posted by greenish at 10:12 AM on July 8, 2015 [9 favorites]

I second talking to the one who will listen to reason, your step-mother. If she can't buy the shoes, could she buy you a little necklace or other jewelry to wear? Your mother then gets to buy the outfit, but your step-mom still gets to be a part of it.

For your mom and future husband, you will have to calmly talk to your mom about notgetting to crazy about this, and state that both you and your husband feel this way. It'll be kinda uncomfortable, but if you stick to your guns, she'll back down. I phrased it as, Mom, don't stress so much, let me take the lead on this, I know what I want. She just wants to make it a special day for you, even if she's gone a little crazy about it
posted by Attackpanda at 10:20 AM on July 8, 2015

Put your foot down. I had the wedding my mother wanted me to have, even though I would have been happy to have gone to the courthouse (much like you). I regret it to this day, 20 years later. Not, like, every moment of every day, but when I look at the photos, I don't feel good about them. I feel great about the *marriage*, don't get me wrong. But that wedding wasn't a reflection of mine and my beloved's life. At all.
posted by cooker girl at 10:25 AM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]

With the caveat that I'm very much not a wedding person and in fact eloped myself: I would try to find something non-apparel related for your step-mom and (separately) for your MIL, not so much to appease your mother but because symbolically it seems a bit sad to have your step-mom's involvement be so similar and yet at the same time so much smaller than your mother's. Culturally, wedding dress shopping with your daughter is A Thing and a very visible contribution to the wedding; shoes are... kind of something that goes along with the dress, or an afterthought. Even with a small wedding, I assume there are a few other totally non-apparel-related things your step-mom could help with that would be firmly different enough to not so obviously rank her place in your life vis-a-vis your mom. For instance, could your step-mom help you pick (and maybe buy for you if the monetary contribution piece is important to her):

*The bouquet you'll hold walking down the aisle
*The invitations to the wedding
*The guest book for people to sign (maybe also with a role of making sure everyone very important to you knows where the guest book is and has a chance to write you a note during the reception)

All of those seem like contributions to the core pieces of a wedding ceremony or reception, while also different enough that no one is stepping on someone else's toes.

I'd let your mom buy your shoes, just because it does honestly seem like one of the few situations where everything you wear is a part of a single outfit (I mean, do you think you'd ever wear those shoes outside of the wedding?). I'd push back quite hard on her involvement in the food and any other non-wedding-apparel-related aspect though, that seems much more to me like edging into a host role for the wedding that sounds like it's not in line with her actual role.
posted by iminurmefi at 10:28 AM on July 8, 2015 [26 favorites]

I so feel you on this. Wedding madness. Grit your teeth, you will get through it and then be married to somebody great.

The wedding industry is premised around the bride having Strong Opinions and being willing to say "this is My Day and we're having green napkins (etc), and that's final." For a person who doesn't give a shit about napkin color, this is an awkward spot to be in. But -- as you're seeing -- trying to be accommodating and let other people drive the bus just leads to worse madness. This kind of angling will just metastasize into the other hundred million insignificant decisions, too. Like it or not, you're the general, the person who everybody has to listen to, and if you can stomach just issuing some declarations, it will make things go more smoothly overall. (Plus you can couch stuff as "this role that I'm asking you to play is super important, it means a lot to me to have you choose the ____", it can allay some of their perceptions about what counts as a major vs minor role.)

I agree with iminurmefi about the shoes being smaller and a sort of natural combo with the dress, such that it makes sense to find a different role for stepmom. Some possibilities:
-something borrowed, blue, old, new?
-hair/veil stuff like barrettes or whatever
-flowers (bouquet/s, corsages, centerpieces, whatever)
-ritual items (candles, ketubah, whatever)
-invitations or guest book, yes
-picking/making the favors with you (if you're doing that)
-the cake (if you're doing that)
-salon costs for your/attendants' hair, nails, etc the day-of
-rehearsal dinner, reception dinner, next-day family brunch or that type of event
-other event costs -- open bar, photographer, limo, whatever...
-honeymoon costs -- flight, hotel, special dinner, special fun thing like helicopter tour

Plus of course you can think of a small role for each of them in the actual ceremony - somebody holds the rings, somebody reads a short poem, somebody lights a candle or witnesses the marriage certificate etc. I think this is why there's such a proliferation of little sub-events at weddings, to meet this need to let every loved one have their own special role.
posted by LobsterMitten at 10:51 AM on July 8, 2015 [5 favorites]

Put. Your. Foot. Down. Early.

Weddings make even perfectly sane parents crazy because you're disrupting and breaking apart their Platonic ideal of "the family" in order to make your new family. This causes them to totally lose their shit. Be kind. Be polite. But define a boundary and give your firm polite response when they cross it. Do this at the first sally over the boundary line and respond with equal force to every subsequent one. This isn't just about the wedding this is also about re-defining the inter-family interaction pattern moving forward.

ALSO CONGRATULATIONS! Don't let the family grind you down.
posted by edbles at 10:59 AM on July 8, 2015 [4 favorites]

"Mum, I love you, and I am grateful that you want to help so much. And this is my wedding, it is my day, and that means I get to pick and choose who does what and when and how. I need you to be 100% on board with that so my day with my soon-to-be-husband is the way I want it. You've raised me to be a strong, independent woman who decides how her life is going to be, and I need you to respect that you did a really good job doing that."
posted by feckless fecal fear mongering at 11:26 AM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

The advice above is all great. Just chiming in since I've been there. First and foremost, find ways that everyone who's most important to you can contribute, whether it's financial, ritual, symbolic, etc. I think it's fair for your mom to have ownership over dress/shoe shopping with you. There's probably a lot of emotion tied up in that for her, but it's such a small sliver of even the most basic wedding plan that I'm sure you can come up with some other way to honor your relationship with your stepmom (and others who are really close to you). Designate readings and special roles -- being a witness, walking you down the aisle, first dance, even officiating if that's something that might fit someone's personality.

But at the same time, you gotta enforce boundaries. My husband and I were firm from the start that we wanted the wedding to be simple, we could only invite X number of guests, and we only wanted to spend Y amount of money total. I think it was helpful not only because we made these things known from the get-go, but also because we presented as a united front. My mom kept her excitement in check for most of the planning process but started to get a little batty about inconsequential details in the home stretch. For example, we had a huge argument about napkin colors, because she cared SO MUCH about it and my husband and I didn't. She also kept trying to add things that really weren't necessary. I kind of had to pick my battles with that one. I gave in to some things (backdrop for the ceremony wall, which actually turned out to be a great decision that I'm thankful she pushed for) and say "no, absolutely not" to others (noisemakers, because they're wasteful and NOISY, hello).

It's also worth noting that these conflicts didn't start cropping up until after my mom had visited the venue. I think she felt more ownership after that, could visualize the day better, and it started an "everything must be perfect" feedback loop. If a takeover is a big concern, do what you can to limit motherly involvement. Don't share vendor names and contact info, and if they try to pry about details, say something like "oh, we appreciate the concern, but that's already booked/handled/paid for/bought," and steer the subject towards something else. I know that's easier said than done, though.
posted by darkchocolatepyramid at 11:33 AM on July 8, 2015

Please, please listen to your Beloved. He already had a runaway train of a MIL and it clearly hurt him that he had such an important day hijacked by someone else. And, he already has a tricky relationship with your mother. For his sake, and yours, you'll have to put some restraints on your mom's enthusiasm. YOU get to decide who gets to buy what. She got first dibs and gets to buy the dress. The rest will be not her domain. Period. End of story. No veto powers, no steamrolling over other relationships, no hijacking the wedding. If she gets hurt a bit by hearing this, too bad. The cost to you and your other relationships is too high to indulge her every wedding fantasy.

Have dedicated time to speak with your step-mother and future MIL. Plan special mother-daughter things with each of them so that you have some special bonding time. Maybe ask each for a small memento that you can stitch into the interior of your dress. My sister stitched a couple of little, special pendants from family members into the interior crinolines of her dress. It was a secret signal to special people in her life that they were symbolically included in the ceremony. She counted those items as her "something old" and "something borrowed". The most important thing for everyone to hear is that it's your wedding and also that you treasure your relationships with them. Congratulations!
posted by quince at 11:34 AM on July 8, 2015 [3 favorites]


This is exactly the scenario that caused my dear husband and I to elope 16 years ago. As an adult, you need to decide what it is YOU want and make sure that this is what happens. Not what your mother wants, not what makes everyone else happy, but what you want.

If she gets her way, she is going to expect to keep getting her way. Put your foot down as tactfully but as firmly as possible.
posted by Sophie1 at 11:39 AM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just more anecdata: a friend of mine and her fiance' wanted a small, close-family-only wedding. Her parents pushed and pushed and pushed, and the plans blew up into this big extravaganza with her dad inviting about fifty of his coworkers/business connections neither the bride nor the groom knew, while her mother went totally momzilla with ridiculous add-ons like demanding the bridesmaids all have their hair dyed the same color! Meanwhile the groom's parents were also going batshit insane, and adding their own extra guests and useless extra touches.

It got so bad they ended up eloping about 18 hours before the overblown giant wedding was supposed to happen: they drove to another state, got married by a justice of the peace, then they phoned home to say what they'd done (but not where they were!), and didn't return until five days later.

The moral: it's your wedding, not your mom's or stepmom's or soon-to-be-MIL's: put your foot down now, and keep it down.
posted by easily confused at 12:04 PM on July 8, 2015 [14 favorites]

My concession to my super-excited mother was to allow her to buy me the dress. I didn't want anything huge and fancy, and she agrees to this but said she really wanted to buy it. So I said okay, but now it is escalating. We have to get shoes now. And accessories. And she wants to have some veto control over the menu because people in her family have food sensitivities.

It might help you to conceptualize these offers this way: these are not gifts. She is not gifting you a dress, she is not gifting you shoes. They are not "free." She is buying influence. Imagine you and your partner's relationship/this wedding is a company: she is buying stock. The more she buys, she more influence she will claim in your decisions, and the more angry she will feel when her interests are not represented.

Thinking of it this way may make it easier to turn down her offers. Don't give her a controlling stake in your wedding.
posted by almostmanda at 12:33 PM on July 8, 2015 [12 favorites]

I wanted to incorporate the
"something old, something new..." tradition into my ensemble. I asked my stepmother to participate by loaning me ("something borrowed") a handkerchief, which I tucked into my bouquet just in case I or my groom started getting teary while we were standing at the alter. She lent me a beautiful hand-embroidered one that had belonged to her mother, who had also been lovely to me. She was touched to have been able to participate that way.
posted by vignettist at 12:40 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

It's unclear here: did you already buy the dress? During the shopping, was there even a whiff of "well I'm buying it so you better get what I want??" If so then WARNING DEFINITELY DISENGAGE RIGHT NOW.

Question 2: Did you agree to let her buy the shoes and other stuff, or just the dress? Did you explicitly say "OK, you can buy Other Stuff too?" or did she just assume? If you didn't say it, shut it down now.

Your mom is already throwing off signs that she wants to interfere with stepmom's involvement in your wedding, which is not cool.

Personally I think the path of least drama here is to not let anyone else buy you stuff. "Thanks so much, but we've already got X covered". You may get hit with "are you letting Other Person buy you X??!" And then you say, "the budget details are only for Fiance and me, don't worry about it, how about that weather"?

And finally: listen to your fiance. He will be the co-dealer of all your wedding drama and of course, is the person you're marrying. The wedding is yours and his, no one else's. If he's telling you he wants to avoid impending drama, listen to him first and foremost. It could do major damage to his future relationship with your mom if his memories of the wedding are of her being difficult.
posted by nakedmolerats at 12:48 PM on July 8, 2015 [2 favorites]

Maybe I am reading this wrong but is this about whether your mom can buy the shoes? Who cares about shoes. I would ask your step mom to go for a pedicure and manicure with you and tell her you appreciate how great and understanding she is.
Don't tell your mom (she doesn't get to know everything since she's being a bit unreasonable). Tell her to buy your shoes.

If you really don't care about the wedding let her do it. I didn't care too much about mine and it was really freeing to let my mom have at it. Even though we paid ourselves it made her happy to invite her friends and participate.
I don't think she was happy at either of her weddings so it seemed like a great gift to give her to make her happy at mine.
posted by ReluctantViking at 1:58 PM on July 8, 2015

I made all sorts of concessions to my Mom's desire to participate in my wedding. She declined to do a reading or walk me down the aisle. She complained bitterly to my siblings that I ignored her entirely. sigh.

Things include - going for a manicure and/or pedicure, getting hair cut/ done, choosing a wedding gift for your Beloved, choosing some flowers that you will carry, helping you choose some music for the milling around beforehand, and the afterwards, maybe wedding music, helping you find an appropriate reading or 2, and doing a reading, going to or providing breakfast on the day of.

Ask your StepMom to do a Thing. StepMom, I want you to feel included. I love and care about you. You are an important person in my life. The best gift you can give me is to help me keep this event low-key.

Ask your m-i-l to do a Thing. Mother-in-law, I'm so happy to be joining your family. We really want to keep things low-key.

Mom, I want you to be a part of what is a special day for us, but it's already getting more elaborate than we are comfortable with. Please let me know what the food requests are; we can discuss the menu. It's important to us that the wedding be low-key. I am choosing to include StepMom and M-I-L, because they are important in our lives.

I'm in support of having good boundaries, and being firm, but I'd do my best to keep it from being a Big Deal, because that just adds fuel. Be sweet, keep your goal in mind, and be unwavering.
posted by theora55 at 2:07 PM on July 8, 2015

I didn't put my foot down and it is one of my greatest regrets.
posted by harrietthespy at 2:51 PM on July 8, 2015 [1 favorite]

It's hard to tell what's going on without more context. If your mom isn't ordinarily controlling and a boundary pusher, and you don't care anyway, then let her get the shoes. Ask your stepmother to participate in something else (flowers are an excellent suggestion). Ask your mother in law to host the rehearsal dinner (that's traditional anyway?)

Weddings make some people temporarily crazy. It'll pass.
posted by snickerdoodle at 5:17 PM on July 8, 2015

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