Dear Carolyn: We’re planning our wedding and my fiancee’s mother is making life miserable. My fiancee and I know what we want, and it’s simple since she and I are paying for it. We live in D.C.; her mom lives in California. The wedding is in D.C.
Her mom keeps suggesting that we’re doing things wrong, and that she’s not included enough, and that it’s her daughter’s fault for not including her. This in turn makes my fiancee depressed and angry, but she doesn’t speak up because she doesn’t want to hurt her mother’s feelings, even though hers are hurt on a weekly basis.
Is this one of those times where I need to step up and ask the future mother-in-law to please restrain herself more? – Planning
This is one of those times where you need to back your fiancee in a way that makes her life easier – enduringly so.
The mother’s complaints expose her as someone who feels powerless, superfluous, left out. If you take it upon yourself to give Mother the stiff-arm, then she’s likely to feel even more left out and increase the pressure versus dialing it back.
So try this instead:
(1) Remind Fiancee that you two are happy with these plans and that’s what counts.
(2) Float the idea that Mother is acting like this because she feels distant and excluded. Say it to explain, not excuse, since there are actual, grown-up ways to handle this that don’t involve criticizing and guilt-tripping.
(3) Ask Fiancee whether openness might calm her mother: “Mom, you’re far away and feel left out. I get that. How would you like to be involved? I want you to feel welcome.” Giving Mother a low-stress corner of the wedding to control, particularly one that suits her expertise, can be transformative. If not, oh well – then:
(4) Preach the gospel of owning one’s choices. You and Fiancee are having a simple D.C. wedding on your dime because that’s what makes sense for you – not because of or in defiance of or anything-else-of her mother.
So, she (and you) can walk that walk without apology, to Mother or anyone else: “Mom, this is what works for us; it’s not personal.” And, “Hm, I hadn’t thought of that. (Change subject.)” And, “Thanks for the suggestion. (Change subject.)”
The fault-finding is Mother’s choice, but the “depressed and angry” is Fiancee’s choice. This is as good a time as any for Fiancee, and you, to adopt a more empowered response.
Dear Carolyn: My favorite niece is planning a very small wedding in a restaurant and the only relatives she is inviting are her mother and father and me.
Another aunt who lives near the bride (I do not) may not be invited, neither will my son, to whom she is also close. I feel guilty that my sister and son cannot be included. Do I attend and not tell them? Do I not go? – Aunt With a Dilemma
Individual exclusions from big weddings are a dilemma; mass exclusions from tiny weddings are not. Go, enjoy, promise to take good pictures.