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Carolyn Hax: Wedding couple must ignore his control freak mom

Sun., Feb. 27, 2011

Dear Carolyn: My 34-year-old daughter is engaged to a wonderful man, 40. They plan to be married in her hometown (his family is from out of state), but that is all they can agree upon in regard to the wedding. Her fiance would like to have his family there, but knows it will be a disaster if he does. His mother has spoiled his siblings’ weddings, and his brother has been cruel to him. (His father is deceased.) His mother is apparently a major control freak who will do anything either to sabotage, control or load on the guilt.

They know his mother will have issues with everything from their not being married in a Catholic church by her priest brother to leaving out one of her 11 siblings or some of his 35 first cousins. He has tried to talk to her about these issues, but gets nowhere.

He says if he doesn’t invite his family, then he will feel strange with all her family at the wedding while he doesn’t have anyone there. He has suggested they elope. My daughter feels sympathetic, but doesn’t feel she should be penalized by not having her family at her wedding.

On all other issues, they are very compatible. What would you suggest? – Anonymous

That they both realize the mother is already sabotaging/controlling their wedding, just by existing.

These krazy kids, meanwhile, average to 37 years old. Surely they can figure out the wedding they want to have, create a budget for it, and pull together a proportionate guest list that accurately reflects who is closest to them? And make arrangements themselves, and send out invitations as the date approaches?

In other words: There is absolutely no point in this process where they need to discuss with his mother – or with anyone but each other, their officiant and their vendors – anything about their plans, choices, guest list, philosophies, or their adherence to/departures from faith, tradition or anyone else’s expectations.

A true control freak will harp no matter what, so the couple might as well skip trying to please (or dodge) Mama and go straight to ignoring her.

When the inevitable criticism comes, the groom is free to say he’s 40 years old and quite capable of deciding what suits him. Otherwise, the best plan is for the couple to expect trouble and build it into their plans.

If the couple envisions a perfect wedding as one where his mom doesn’t act up, then they’re setting themselves up for disappointment of one form or another. In this case, the perfect wedding is one where the mother acts up and nobody cares. Call it Operation Tree Falling in Forest.

That said, the groom can try to save his mom from herself by tipping off the officiant in advance to her tendencies, and enlisting a diplomatic friend/sib to be her “body man.” There’s no shame in taking a pragmatic approach to emotionally charged problems.

Speaking of: Since I’m talking to you and not to the couple directly, I realize it’s possible you have a horse of your own in this race. If so, walk him back to the barn. I’m not saying you have an agenda – just that if you do have one besides a happy marriage for your daughter, then you, too, need to admit that and get out of the way.

E-mail Carolyn at, follow her on Facebook at carolyn.hax.

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