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

Thursday, March 19, 2009

When Momzilla Rears Her Ugly Head

I don't mean to be the Debbie Downer of wedding planning blogs. It's just that I'm compelled to share sad stories with you in case they resonate and give you insight about how to make your own life choices.

Before Matt and I even got engaged, we witnessed many of our friends struggling with their families over wedding decisions.

For example, one of our friend's mothers is extremely loving and supportive. She was immensely helpful in the planning process (both financially and logistically), but she also pushed her daughter to do a few things her way--like hire a religious officiant. Originally, my friend asked me to be the officiant (since she and her partner are not religious). But her religious mom wasn't having any of that. They ended up compromising on a "spiritual" officiant. It worked out in the end (it was a huge relief that I didn't have the stress of running the whole ceremony!) but it did feel a little out of place to bow our heads frequently throughout the ceremony, even though the couple wasn't the bowing type.

Another one of our friends ended up hating the wedding planning process and dreading her own wedding because of her mom's involvement. She would show up at our house with red, puffy eyes and we would know that she had had another fight with her mom. In the weeks leading up to her wedding, she confessed, "I just want the wedding to be over so we can go on the honeymoon."

Matt and I love our families. We really do. My mom is the kind of person who says, "Oh, you want to take a year off and travel to India, an intentional community, and Folk Art School? Go for it. You should do it."

Matt's mom is the kind of person who started buying me birthday presents when Matt and I were dating. Amazing ones! Matt's dad is on the other end of e-mail whenever we have a question about refinancing or getting a loan. They always insist on paying for our dinner (because that's what their parents did).

We are lucky. We really are.

But we still wanted to retain financial control over our wedding (despite generous offers from Matt's parents). We definitely wanted to turn to our families for input and advice (which we did frequently throughout the process), but ultimately, we wanted the wedding to truly represent us. Our parents already had their chance to plan a wedding that represents them.

It's not that we thought anything awful would happen; we just didn't want to take any chances. As an American studies major in college, I learned all about the ways in which money equals power.

Of course there are tons of examples of people accepting financial support from their families and truly enjoying the process. Meg over at A Practical Wedding is one of them. A friend of mine who is busy planning her October wedding is another example.

As with any decision, it's something that couples have to decide for themselves. There's not just one way to have a wedding. We all have to figure out what makes sense of us, given our values and our situations.

It's a decision, however, that shouldn't be made lightly. Just as the most sane and rational person can take on moments of bridezilla-ness (for me it was about photo stamps), sane and rationale parents (usually mothers) can morph into momzillas.

See this cautionary tale from a 2000dollar kindred spirit:
My fiance asked me to marry him last May...Before I knew it my mother had a choke hold on my wedding day.

It started out with her lovely and seemingly innocent offer to help pay for 1/3 of the wedding. My father and my fiance's father would be taking the other 2/3. It seemed innocent enough but then after a few months passed she began using sentences like: "Well, I'm paying for___ and so it needs to be a certain way!", "What do you mean you want to make your own bouquet!? No! I'm not having that!"

There were a lot of statements about how I needed to sacrifice certain things for her or for the greater good of my guests and before I knew it, my colors were changed, my favor ideas were being shot down, I couldn't have certain guests at the reception, I wasn't allowed to have the cake flavor (carrot) that I wanted, and she even tried to change my date!

Currently, I still have the date I wanted and luckily the dress I picked out and the invitations and favors. Everything else? Well, she's choosen it or manipulated me into picking it.

I wish I would have found your blog sooner because maybe I wouldn't be in this situation. I don't want to paint my mother out to be some horrible woman but honestly, I feel like this day is more about her than my finance and I. I am grateful that my parents and my fiance's father are paying for all the expenses because we are young, 22, and going to grad school this summer. We couldn't afford a wedding like the one they are giving us but even then I think I would have still been happy with a small ceremony in the backyard with 30 or so people. Instead I'm having a ceremony with 60+ people in a church (I always dreamed of an outside wedding) and my reception with 60 guests in a lake house. Where did my dreams go? The one where I had cake and champange? I dunno.

The more and more things are being finalized for this May wedding, the more I wish I could start over.

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Sarah said...

For us, having our parents pay wouldn't work. My parents split up a few years ago. My boyfriend and I combined probably make more than my mother does. My father is not happy with the wedding at all, so he's probably not going to chip in. On my boyfriend's side (whose parents are still together), his dad got laid off a few months ago. They're doing fine, but a wedding is not in the budget I would imagine. Soo whether we want it or not, we're paying.

Though you're right about money = power. Even if we did get offers to pay for our wedding, we'd probably refuse them. It's our wedding day and we want it how we want it, and the best way to do it is to pay for it ourselves.

-Sarah H.

Sarah said...

And to add, I'm glad I research EVERYTHING online before I do anything. That often means that I drag my feet, but hopefully I'm able to avoid situations like the letterwriter. But that sucks :( Everyone has their own vision for a wedding, and I'm sorry your mom's doesn't reflect yours.

Eco Yogini said...

Oh my goodness. I love my mom, but she has been surprisingly difficult. I thought she knew i was a bit wonky at that our wedding would reflect that. Not quite- she is very traditional about what a wedding should look like. So finally- I just started to ask her 'why'- Why do the bridesmaids HAVE to carry flowers? Why do my colours need to match? and I told her 'because that's the way it is' wasn't a good enough answer.
Last night I had a MAJOR breakthrough- she actually agreed with me that my Maid of Honour could wear anything she wanted. Cuz our wedding wasn't about colour coordination, it was about love. I almost peed my pants.
Ultimately Andrew and I chose to give our parents specific things we were ok with them paying for- my dress and photography. And we kindly declined all other help (which was offered).
Also- I stopped talking to family/friends about weddings, it got way too stressful to keep getting 'really??? you want to do WHAT?' or 'I really like THIS dress better'.

ps- I like these posts about wedding planning can be stressful and it not be about choosing the right colours, but about money/stress/family. It has been a wonderful reality check on what is important for our wedding- Thank you!

Becca said...

We're starting to plan this summer, after we move and can focus a bit more. Since we started talking about getting married awhile back, my normally laid back mother has become incredibly rigid and traditional about the wedding. I also know she has a lot saved to help us and a lot invested in helping us. I think our solution will be that parents can pay for the specific things we can take or leave - photography, maybe a bus to the site, rehearsal dinner, etc. Anything about the wedding or reception itself is ours so, if we have disagreements with parents, we can walk away from their choices (emotionally or otherwise) and still have the wedding we want. I still hope my mom helps with flowers, invitations, anything else really, because I want her involvement. I just don't want her control. So I've been saving like crazy over the past year to make sure we can actually pay for manage our own wedding vision.

Anonymous said...

Sara- please! You are not the Debbie Downer of wedding blogs! You're more like the....Sara Saviour???
Yours is the one wedding blog that I can always read and know I will never feel guilty, resentful, angry or stressed about wedding planning.
You offer such great advce and you keep to the topic on hand- weddings. Granted you do give great advice on cheap eco friendly options for flowers, food, etc but you never steer too far off course- weddings are about getting married- not about flowers, favors, signature cocktails, color coordinated earrings or whatever. (Although those are fun too)

Keep up the great blogging!!! You are truly so helpful to so many of us in engagedland (which is not always as fun as it sounds)


elizabeth said...

A perfectly timed post! My mom is coming to visit, from across the country, today. We haven't talked much about wedding planning ever since I told her (a minister) that we were having a non-religious ceremony on a beach. Clearly, not her vision. She graciously accepted my decision, and has stayed out of wedding planning since.

Anonymous said...

my MIL and FIL are paying for the majority of our wedding and they are AMAZING. they stay out of the wedding planning as long as we update them on where their money is going (which the latest DIl did NOT do). they haven't done anything but refuse to let me have an october wedding (it's hurricane season and last yr their other son's wedding site got destroyed by Ike)...other than that, it's been relatively smooth sailing. my parent's already told me they can't contribute, so they don't get a say...in this case, money does= power, plus i'm pretty independent anyway.

i wish the letter-writer would have told her mom that if she insists on it being that way,then maybe her dad or FIL would pay for that portion...not all 3 can have the same opposite opinion. it hurts my heart that some people can't have the wedding of their dreams when that's anything anyone ever asks for. :(

Meg said...

Thank you for posting my story! I never would have thought my email would end up on here!

Honestly, I shouldn't be surprised with the way my mom is reacting to my wedding. She is very opinionated.

I have tried to tell her what I wanted and be considerate of other traditions and things but it never works out in my favor, only in theirs. While I know my wedding will be beautiful and magical, I just wish it was because of what I decided and that the process there was smooth or at lease not as bumpy!

Thanks for sharing my story Sara!

Meg said...

A Practical Wedding Meg here, to chime in and say money does not always equal power, for sure. Our parents don't have nan more or any less power helping out then they would if they were not helping out. And, just for the record, we are paying for A LOT of our wedding ourselves, but everyone did chip in some. It worked for us, it can work for you, I think it just depends on your family. Weddings are bumpy though for sure.

Kaitlin Wainwright said...

Can I echo this blog and add that it's not just the momzillas, but the dadzillas....?

Kate Wells said...

Yikes - I'm sorry to hear that what should be a gift is turning into a burden! One thing that seems to have worked well for us is that we've really tried to be transparent about why we're making certain decisions. Also, we've tried to be as inclusive as possible when working out details. For example, we're not going to bend on having absolutely no religious bent in our ceremony - however, I'm willing to have a moment of silence where people who want to can pray.

Also, emphasizing somebody's strengths can go a long way to getting them bought into your process. Like "Mom, you're so artistic - I'd love your help with my floral arrangements" or "You're so organized, it would be a big help if you could track down party rental vendors" and while she's distracted with something you trust her with you plan the stuff you really care about doing your own way.

Emily SW said...

My situation is also interesting. My mom is generally one who gets stressed about things, but she has been incredibly low-key. She only talks about the wedding when I talk about it (no random grilling sessions), and keeps telling me, "No matter what, you two are getting married." This little phrase has been keeping me sane. My fiance's mother is the one that seems to get stressed and have all the questions (part of this is that she doesn't get as many details as my mom does and partly b/c she only has sons, and this is her last one to marry). But it's such a contrast to most other people's situations!

Unknown said...

To the 2000Dollar Kindred Spirit:

You still have time to make the wedding yours. It will be a risky move, for sure, and something you'll really have to brave yourself up for, but two months is enough time to cancel some vendors, return some things, and minimalize the damage to your parents' wallets.

You have the chance to explain to your parents (your mother in particular, it sounds like) that you feel that the wedding that should represent your own hopes and dreams has gotten out of control. You do not have to name names persay, but you can say to your closest few that it is a very hard decision, but you and your fiance need to take the reigns of your wedding to exhibit full control. It may be smaller; it may be pushed back a bit (aren't fall weddings the perfect setting for intimacy?), and might even be a bit more casual (though you can still do formal on a limited budget), but that there are certain imperatives (like having it outdoors) that belong at the wedding of YOU and YOUR FIANCE, even if it means turning down any further financial assistance.

2000 Dollar Wedding Part Deux, anyone?

By the way... I don't want my previous comment to be taken to mean that Sara and Matt's creative and meaninful wedding could be duplicated, or that this reader's wedding should mimick another, but that the principles behind the 2000 Dollar Wedding-- Sense of community, Eco-friendly design, importance of the experience, rather than the aesthetics, and the control staying in the hands of the betrothed-- are sure to bring happiness to any reasonable bride and groom who choose it.

I'm in the beginning planning stages of a low-budget wedding that will be primarily DIY (save the equipment rentals and the photographer, an old high school friend who started a low-cost photography business) and held on a Saturday afternoon in a local city park one year from today. (Woo Hoo!) A daunting task for sure, but thrilling nonetheless!

Anonymous said...

Neither of our parents are paying for our wedding. Yet my mom still managed to pull me into a massive, emotionally wrenching guilt-fest in just the first "hey we've finally picked a date and started planning" phone call. The fiancee & I were engaged a full 6 months before we finally picked a wedding date. Since we already decided that we wanted a super small (60 or less guests) wedding at a location that was inexpensive, local and had great food (which really left us one awesome vendor to choose from)- we thought for sure this wedding planning thing was going to be super easy!

As soon as I told my mom about the guest situation, it fast dissolved into a mess of tears and yelling and "why don't you have any respect for your father." I was completely blindsided. It was awful.

It took nearly two weeks of awkward, painful calls- and my accepting ALL the blame for being the awful, disrespectful daughter. But I managed to get the idea clear that I wasn't going to change my mind about how I wanted my wedding to be- even if that meant they wouldn't be there to see me get married. Now we don't really talk about it except to say, "yeah this is booked" or "this is where the hotel we've arranged the discount with" and so forth.

I like to think it will all work out once they see the day and see what I had envisioned. But if they're still disappointed, maybe they'll find a way to forgive the less traditional wedding when they're holding their first grandchild in their arms. I can hope. -- jane

lsaspacey said...

Oh, Jane, that is one of the saddest stories that I've heard about parents and weddings, and believe me I've heard my share. (I'm usually the wedding-loving friend the crying brides call when things like this happen.)

I hope that they see the light WAY before the first grandchild. And good for you to not cave when they started to throw blame. One day, hopefully they'll apologize for trying to break you down. Good luck!!

Anonymous said...

Jane. :( I sincerely hope they come around, maybe after you send them some pics and ideas, etc. about what you have in mind. it's your wedding, they had theirs, and i'm glad you stood up for yourself. not enough people do.

since i'm not particularly close to either of my parents for various reasons, i at first didn't want my mom involved in the wedding planning process. but then i realized this will be her baby girl's wedding and probably the only big one she'll she her children in...no matter what bothers me about her, she is a sweet woman and deserves to be involved somehow. so i am having her come to the dress shop with me, and while we're there we'll pick out a MOB dress. it's something small, but she'll appreciate it and that means a lot to me.

Anonymous said...

I really wish I would've found this blog a few months ago. I had no idea my fiance and I would run into so many road blocks. We were really excited to get married where we met (at a park) but both of our mothers objected. Then we put the wedding off for a bit to think about it more because every idea was shot down, they made us feel guilty or said, you really wanna do THAT?!

We're getting married next week (not at a park) and most of our planning has been a complete nightmare. I'm convinced it didn't matter what or how we did it my mom would find a way to become the center of attention, manipulative and needy. My fiance and I are handling it as best we can. The show must go on and we're determined to enjoy our wedding and have fun.

My advice is:

1. Put your foot down as soon as you can. I'm too laid back and wanted to make people happy. Mistake.

2. If you already have a strained relationship with a parent, it will still be there and may become even more difficult to deal with.

3. How you and your fiance handle this family/relationship issue is a good learning experience for how you will handle future stress in your relationship.

Remember to put your union first, above all.

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