Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Q & A: Funding the Rehearsal Dinner

Reader Question: Hi Sara! So I wish I was writing to you, to check up on the book, see how life was going, and all of that. Instead I am writing you an email because I am not sure what to do at this point in my life, with the relationships I have with my parents, and my future mother-in-law.

To give you a back story that will take all of three seconds to read (I am assuming you read fast): my parents are divorced, mom is re-married, and Ma-in-law is a new widow. Husband died while working on his dream car before we were engaged. (You might remember this because you already helped me make a big decision about the wedding ring. Which we are taking care of this weekend, with a friend connection jeweler! =) )

Back to the matter at hand....I thought we had all of the loose ends tied in. The wedding is planned. Ready to go, and I THOUGHT we got through it with only minor emotional scrapes......

I forgot that parents have these ideas about what our wedding would be like.

My Mom pictured me as a pretty-pretty-princess on a perfect day.
His Mom kind of felt like my mom; except it was Handsome prince instead of princess.
My Dad thought we should elope. But since we aren't, he thinks there should be homemade beer (I'm cool with that)

We just want to get married and have a good time afterward.

So now that I laid all of the priorities on the table I will tell you the issue. The issue at hand here is where the dollar signs lie. I hate to say that but it is the case. My fiance's Ma makes pretty good money. Plus she has a retirement fund from her recently deceased husband. My dad also makes a pretty good penny. My Mom makes absolutely nothing, and what she does make goes towards her fiance's divorce settlement (I do not blame new hubby for this, his ex is Satan incarnate). I do NOT care about all of that. This is what I DO care about.

I understand parents play a role in the wedding planning, and they want to contribute. I felt I already did my compromising with the women folk by making tissue paper flowers (so that there would be flowers at the wedding. According to the two mothers it isn't a wedding without flowers). What I have a problem with is the unspoken competition that my mom is creating without realizing. She is equating her value to me in a dollar sign. AND she is trying to prove it by INSISTING on paying for a fancy rehearsal dinner with her EX husband (who just wants to have a camp out). Ma-in-law was really looking forward to having a BBQ at her house on her. Dad is wanting to get everyone drunk on his homemade beer. Now all of a sudden it's going to be a dinner that puts Mom and new hubby in the poor house?! And I am apparently not allowed a say?! Oh HEAALLL no. Think not. But how do I take the reigns back without breaking her heart? She was just sobbing at me for 45 minutes?? I know you don't have all the answers, but you definitely have the sass plus heart that I need to do this eloquently. I tend to be a little blunt and manly when it gets to matters of the heart....


You've already pinpointed the issue! Your mom wants to contribute in a meaningful and memorable way to your wedding in order to show you how much she loves you. And I agree that it doesn't make any sense for her to stretch herself financially thin in order to host a fancy rehearsal dinner when a) that's not what you really want and b) it makes more sense for your mother-in-law to host and pay for it.

The trick is going to be figuring out how she can contribute in a meaningful and memorable way that doesn't break the bank. So much in our society equates money with love (look at the engagement ring industry, for crying out loud!). I can understand why your mom feels like she has to do something big that involves a lot of money in order to prove to you and everyone else how much she loves you and what a good mother she is.

I'm also imagining that part of her emotion stems from making "absolutely nothing" and putting what she does make toward someone else's divorce settlement. She's also going through a major life transition as she prepares to share her daughter with another family. I say this because it can be helpful to remember that people's responses to situations are not always about us but also about other issues that they bring to the situation.

If I were in your shoes, I would first do everything I could to make my mom feel valued and appreciated. A random heartfelt card in the mail? More frequent phone calls? A surprise visit? She's going through a rough time right now, and the more secure she feels about your love for her, the less insistent she's likely to be.

Then I would brainstorm all the ways that your mom could contribute in a significant way to the wedding. For example, she and your mother-in-law could co-host the rehearsal dinner. Does she like to cook? She could cater some sides or desserts to serve at the rehearsal dinner. She could help with the set-up and clean-up. She could make decorations, etc.

Then I would have an earnest conversation with her. I would explain how much I love her and how much I do want her to be an integral part of the wedding but how I don't want her to waste her money on something that can be taken care of in another way that makes more sense. I would explain that money does not equal love and that she doesn't need to spend a lot of money to prove anything to anyone. Then I would share some of my ideas about how she could be more involved and let her add to the list.

My heart goes out to you! Planning a wedding can be an emotionally taxing time for many, many reasons. It sounds like you're handling well, and I wish you the very best!

2000dollarwedding kindred spirits, what advice do you have?

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miss fancy pants (the bride) said...

We're going through something similar as each set of parents is constantly competing with one another. Because they're paying for many of the costs, they both want to know how much money is getting spent and which set of parents get to pay for what. It sounds nice in theory to have people in competition to pay for stuff, but it's annoying.

I think Sara's advice will work well. There has to be another way that your mom can contribute without breaking the bank. But most importantly, I think you should definitely have a conversation with her about all of this or you run the risk of a) having this happen again with something else b) leaving feelings go unresolved before the wedding, which is never good. Whatever you chose to do, try to keep in mind that while your parents are important, it's still going to be your day.

Planner in FL said...

I wonder if there isn't an opportunity for your mom to host an intimate, inexpensive gathering for a few special ladies in your life. Sort of a bridesmaids' tea, wine tasting, "stich n bitch" kind of event that requires a smaller, simpler menu for less people. You could say that you want a chance to spend some quality time with a select group of women who have been influential in your life and that she is chief among them. Tell her you want it to be simple but personal

You could have a VERY simple menu (tea, cake, fruit tray OR wine, cheese, grapes OR etc) and only invite a special few. Your mom could feel like she is doing something important that will bless you and the bank is not broken.

I'm not advocating you adding an even you don't want to have, but if there is room in your life for it and it doesn't make you crazy, it might go a long way toward easing your mom's anxiety. I wish you the very best and I appreciate the way you want to love your mom and be yourself at the same time.

Sarah said...

I agree-- she wants to help. If you don't want the rehearsal dinner, guide her help in a way that would be good for both you and her.

Tamar said...

Sara has great ideas. What if your mom hosted a simple bridal shower (or pre-wedding "couple celebration") for a few of your nearest and dearest - just a simple bbq. Or what if she got involved in some of the wedding DIY projects if you have those going on... have her come over and help you with those while talking about all that fun girly stuff. One of my friends and I just go to the bookstore and thumb through bridal magazines and laugh over them (since they're very different than the wedding I'm planning)which is both fun and helpful and a bonding experience.

Jennie said...

I'm in a very similar situation with my mom. What I've done to make sure she feels like a major contributor to the wedding is to involve her in a lot of the DIY tasks as well as some of the day of coordination. Yes, I can make the invitations and decorations myself (and it may even be easier than involving someone else), but I know how much she wants to be able to say she did something for the wedding, so I involve her in the process. This way she's happy and I get the projects done in half the time!

Stephanova said...

I agree with all of the above-- find a way to make your mom feel special. You people are brilliant. If you need an extra bit of persuasion, you could point your mom toward the tradition of the "groom's" family hosting the rehearsal dinner.

liz @ chic on the cheap said...

my parents were heartbroken that they couldn't help in the big ways they had planned to all of my life.

when i sat down and laid out what my exact expectations were for the rehearsal dinner (1. everyone needs to be able to relax, 2. everyone who helped with the wedding set-up should be invited...) my mom was much more comfortable with a cheesesteak dinner than she was at the outset.

chances are, your mom transposes her hopes and dreams onto you. she assumes you want a fancy dinner, because she wants to give you the best. when you explain to her that "the best" doesn't exactly mean spending a ton, she may be perfectly happy helping you in other (less expensive) ways.

i'm sure you want your mom to have a meaningful part of the wedding, as much as she wants to. think about what this means to you, and where her talents fit into this picture. maybe this means lending you her old veil. or baking the cake. if you tell her where and why she can help in the most meaningful way, she may not be hung up on the dollar signs (or lack thereof).

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