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

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Q & A: Fighting with Parents over the Guest List

Reader Question: I read your article about your wedding day and how you needed to cut the guest list shorter. I just got proposed to two weeks ago and I am already having a hard time minimizing my list. We have about 200 people on the list and I want to cut it down to about 150. I am a Pastor's daughter so my parents want to invite the whole flippin' church and I don't want the whole church!!! I am not close to certain people there. I don't know what to do! I do need some wisdom. Can you help?

Dearest Reader,

Whenever I was faced with a wedding dilemma, I pushed myself to go back to the purpose of a wedding.

A wedding--in my opinion--is:
  1. An opportunity to publicly declare your commitment and your love to one another, immersed in the support of your closest friends and family.
  2. An occasion to reunite friends and family in one place.
  3. A chance to bring two disparate sides together to form new friendships and connections.
  4. An opportunity to have a relaxed, enjoyable, memorable, and fun(!) experience.
  5. A chance to showcase and share your values and commitments to the world.
When I look at those criteria, I am not convinced that parents should have license to invite their friends. If your parents want to reunite with their friends or their extended family, they should plan their own reunion or party.

Seriously! I understand when people argue that weddings are about family (see #1, #2, and #3). But why does that mean you should be forced to invite people you are not close to?

Matt and I predicted that the bigger our wedding got, the less connected we would feel to individual people because our wedding would turn into a "meet and greet." You know what I'm talking about. While everyone else eats a sit-down dinner, the bride and groom make an appearance at each table, with the photographer trailing behind. There are so many people to smile at and engage in small talk with that the wedding ends up passing by in a blur. When it's over, you're left to truly live the experience through the photographs.

Additionally, I personally felt that the bigger my wedding got, the more nervous and stressed I would feel. But that could just be me. I'm an introvert, and I don't necessarily enjoy being the center of everyone's attention.

Matt's family is very social and they are very connected to the people in their town. We purposefully avoided having the wedding in Matt's hometown (Bloomington, IN) or my hometown (Tampa, FL and San Diego, CA) because we didn't want our wedding to be dominated by one set of friends/family. Since we happened to be living in Colorado, we had the wedding there. It was a good middle ground.

Matt's family definitely had a ton more people that could've been invited to the wedding. Instead of haggling too much over the guest list, someone suggested that we have a second reception in Matt's home town several months after the actual reception. That way, Matt's parents can invite all of their friends and family. Matt and I are not involved with the planning at all. It's just like a big party that we're invited to.

My family also had people they would have liked to invite. Just the other day (more than a month after the wedding), my mom said, "You know, Cathy was upset that she wasn't invited." Well, the fact is, I haven't seen Cathy since I was 10 years-old.

I understand that we all have to make political choices now and then. There may be a few people whom you really are obligated to invite. But, for the most part, if you apologize and say, "I'm so sorry. We had to cut the guest list way back." the majority of people will get over it. Several of my colleagues are still my friend, even though they weren't invited. My mom's cousin will still be my friend the next time we run into each other.

And, no matter how many tiffs you and your parents get into while a planning a wedding, they are still going to love you after the wedding is over, even if you've made your own choices. Sometimes it's hard to imagine. But it's true. Your relationship with your family is bigger than a one-day event.

Trust me when I say that I understand how difficult the guest list piece is. No one wants to hurt other people's feelings. But at the end of the day, it's your wedding. Your parents--more than anyone else--need to recognize and understand this fact. They need to deprioritize their preferences/tastes/styles and remember that your wedding should be the fullest expression of you and your partner-to-be.

Most of the time I want to vomit when I hear the Wedding Industrial Complex say, "It's your day!" Really, they're just saying, "Go ahead and spend more money. You can justify it because a wedding only happens once in a lifetime."

But in the case of making major decisions that affect the ultimate quality of your wedding and the kind of experience you create for yourself, it is your day. Put your foot down!

E-mail your questions to: saracotner@yahoo.com

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Mrs. Andi said...

I 100% agree with you & I (somewhat) feel the pain of the reader who sent the question! I can just imagine my mom & all her friends she'll want to invite! I know we'll have to eventually sit her down & explain that I don't know who half of those people are & if they want something, we'll send them a photo collage postcard.

Meg said...

I'm going to stick my neck out here and say I don't totally agree with you. There are ways I do agree with you, to whit: You should absolutely be able to have a small wedding. You should be able to cut down your guest list if you need to. You DO NOT want to have your wedding feel like a meet and greet. You want to be surrounded by love and support at your wedding.

However, I totally disagree with the idea that parents shouldn't be able to invite guests to a wedding. It's something I hear more and more around the Indie wedding world. Here is my point of view: Your wedding day is really your parents day as much as its your day... in fact, they've probably dreamed and hoped for a loving marriage for you since they first held you in their arms. Your parents may well have personal friends, or even close family that you don't know well if at all (our parents do!) It's important for your parents to feel really included in this celebration - to feel like they share it with you, not that it's just yours.

So... those are the reasons that I think that it is really important to allow your parents to invite people to your wedding. Yes, it's good to set limits, yes, there are times when you'll need to say no. But in the end, I want it to be a day about us and about our families... not just a day about us. You can think of a wedding as a day to meet new people who are important in your parents lives. So my advice would be, set a wedding limit. Assign a number of geusts to each couple, and make people stick to it… or talk to your parents to only inviting friends they hold close to their hearts, not social friends and busness associates… and keep the same rules for yourself.

So that's my thoughts! :) Its tough however you do it, but I did want to speak up!

miss michelle said...

Invitation lists are a sticky point, for sure. In most cases, money talks - if parents are paying, then they should have more say in the guest list. We're paying for most of our wedding and have tried to limit obligatory parental invites. Meg is correct in that weddings are a celebration for parents as well, that doesn't necessarily mean they get to invite all their friends (though if they are paying, some compromises need to be made).

To me, a wedding is an opportunity to bring together those that are close to you to celebrate. Family is a huge part of it, but that's why you invite family - inviting parental friends you don't know shouldn't be lumped in. Parents are important and we all love keeping the parents happy, but most parental friends should understand, especially if it is a small ceremony.

lauren said...

I'm mystified about the inviting parents' business associates, etc. that the couple doesn't know or hardly knows at all. Do those people really want to go to a wedding of someone they hardly know? I know I wouldn't, so it's remarkable to me that other people would. Is it the free food?

I recently went to the wedding of my boyfriend's friend who I have hung out with a handful of times, and I was bored.

As for extended family, I completely understand that tension. I have a huge Italian family and the list of second cousins goes on and on. I spent a lot time with those people when I was little, but now, not so much. When I get married, I will have to carefully balance that part of the list.

Good thing my SO's entire family is fewer than 10 people!

Great blog
--A fellow TFA alum

Anonymous said...

today i confronted my fiance's mother about wanting a small wedding. i told her that it's really important to us both to be surrounded by people we know and care about and that care about us. she had put 14 people on her family's list that aren't family at all. i've always wanted a small intimate wedding. long traumatic story short, she is really pissed off, won't talk to me, and i've been crying all night because we had such a good relationship before. i guess my advice would be, it's not about money, quantity, or putting someone else before you and your partner, but trying to strategize a way to bring it up to parents where it'll seem more as if you understand where they're coming from might help. wish me luck, gotta get back to crying now.(p.s. they are helping us finance the wedding and that was something she definitely used as fire ammo. i however, think it's a low blow especially when i had originally wanted to get a wedding loan to pay for it ourselves and she insisted greatly on "helping us out with no worries", DON'T TRUST THAT!)

Anonymous said...

i feel your pain. my mom is forcing me to invite my extended-extended family, as in inviting all the kids that have NEVER met me as i live in a different state now. first, i didn't want kids at my wedding because i remember HATING weddings when i was little. what a snooze fest for kids. all i wanted to do was go straight home. HATED weddings.

now, it is fine for her to want everyone there, but WE are paying for the wedding, not my parents. so how is it fair??!! and then when i said i wanted all my friends there, she was like "oh" i thought it was just family. OH i see. i can pay for the entire family to be at MY wedding, but i can't pay to have my friends, that are my REAL family?? i am the first of 3 daughters to get married and also the youngest. i think if my sisters had gotten married before it would've been okay.

i was never close with my family. my mom was never the greatest mom. i raised myself with my friend and therefore, my friends are my family. my friends do WAY more for me than my family has EVER. no one in my family is helping me with anything, while all my friends are dying to help me do even the little nothings. hence my issue with inviting the entire family.

ARGH. this kind of makes me want to elope.

gosh that felt good to vent.

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