Planning a wedding can be exciting, fun, stressful, and overwhelming, all at the same time. A wedding marks the beginning of a new relationship, which inevitably means changes in other relationships. The mother-daughter relationship can rarely be ignored when it comes to planning a wedding, and is often sited as a source of stress and conflict. To help minimize the conflict and the subsequent stress, there are things that both mothers and daughters can do, while ensuring that their relationship stays intact.
First it is important to understand some of the sources of mother-daughter conflict. Much of the conflict arises from the impending change in the relationship that the mother and daughter previously shared. After years of nurturing, protecting, and caring for their daughters, mothers can fear (whether consciously, or unconsciously) being replaced by the daughter's new husband. Daughters, on the other hand, may feel trapped and stifled by their mothers, believing that their mothers are being selfish by not letting the daughter grow up and live her own life. On top of all of this, mothers may also have regrets about their own weddings, and seek to create their own fairytale wedding through their daughter. All of these underlying feelings show themselves in a variety of ways, such as mothers having strong opinions about every aspect of the wedding planning process (opinions which often contradict the daughter's opinions), mothers disapproving of her daughter's relationship, and daughters not wanting to accept any advice or help from their mothers during the wedding planning. These behaviors can be very damaging to the mother-daughter relationship and can cause lasting hurt.
As a wedding author, I receive thousands of letters from brides and their families all over the world, and the most common complaint is that brides and their moms clash over the planning of the wedding. Sometimes, it's just a minor skirmish that requires a cooling-off period, and other times it's all-out war that stops the formerly loving duo from even speaking to one another. Some mothers threaten to boycott their daughters' weddings.
What would bring two women to this kind of conflict? Why does a happy occasion such as a wedding bring out the worst in some people? And what would make a mother boycott her little girl's wedding?
Weddings are emotional events, big life transitions that affect not only the couple who are joining their lives together, but everyone around them. If your daughter is getting married, you're probably feeling many more emotions than just excitement for her. There's also fear. Fear of losing your little girl. Sadness. Sadness that her growing older means you're growing older. Anxiety. You're feeling anxious over the details of the wedding, what you'll wear, maybe whether your ex-husband is planning to bring that little blonde chippy from his office to the wedding as his date.
Weddings can create a type of chaos in our lives, and the first things to suffer are our relationships with the people we love the most. It's a universal phenomenon, seen all over the country and the world to varying degrees. You've probably heard horror stories of such mothers who do boycott the wedding just because the wording wasn't "right" on the invitations. Another mother slipped the ceremony pianist some sheet music that she wanted to hear at the wedding, and the bride walked down the aisle to a song that she not only hated, but that reminded her of a previous boyfriend! Are these mothers insane? No. Just a bit self-centered and out-of-focus.
You can be a great mom and still lose your sense of purpose during the planning of your daughter's wedding. It happens to the best of them. You may have nothing but good intentions deep within as you make decisions or requests for the wedding, but the root of all Mother-Daughter Wedding Evil is not directing your good intentions to the bride and groom.
The saddest thing I ever heard a recent bride say was "I've lost all respect for my mother after the way she behaved all through the wedding planning time. I never knew she could be so selfish. We'll never have a good relationship again." Just grab your heart right now. Would you ever want your daughter to feel that way about you? Over something as simple as the color of the tablecloths, the choice of favors, or the music during the ceremony?
Knowing that weddings stir up underlying issues and intensify family dynamics for anyone, causing the kind of behavior that does injure if not ruin close family ties, I've put together the following rules to help you stay on the right track as you help your daughter plan her wedding:
53% of weddings occur in the afternoon, 31% in the evening, 16% in the morning
38% of weddings have a buffet, 34% have a sit-down dinner, 28% serve only cake and punch
62% of weddings have a flower girl, 56% have a ring bearer
A little wedding humor...
When the Wedding Brings Out the Worst in Mom
Q: Anyone else have a difficult mom -- or have the wedding bring out the worst in Mom? My mom and I are in several battles over dangling vs. post earrings for the bridesmaids (I'm not kidding); seating arrangements for the bridal party; my shoes; and the type of music to be played at the reception. Ack! Like I really need any extra stress! I've tried the "It's MY DAY" thing, but my mother is paying for the entire thing, so that doesn't really fly. She insists that she's only being picky to make sure everyone has a wonderful time -- and I know she means well -- but she's driving me nuts. My fiance and I are starting to feel as if we have no say in anything. I've tried talking to her, pleading, reasoning with her -- sigh. I guess I just want to know if anyone else is going through the same thing.
I posted this Survey Question on my website:
Since your engagement, what has been the most difficult and/or most challenging relationship?
100% of brides who responded said "my mother." They are not alone. Nearly every bride who attends Emotionally Engaged workshops says their relationships with their mothers have changed since they got engaged. Lucky ones relate stories of getting much closer, emotionally, in the engagement/wedding planning process. Mother and daughter become more bonded. Not far in the distance, however, looms a wrenching separation when the daughter leaves to form her own family with her new husband.
Most brides, however, report turbulence in their relationships with their mothers. Mothers demanding center stage. Mothers harping on minor details. Mothers treating adult daughters like incompetent adolescents. Mothers angry and jealous. Mothers disinterested and distant. Mothers depressed. Mothers daily on the phone, "Have you done this?" "You need to do this!" Mothers disapproving, unforgiving, critical. Mothers too weepy. Mothers too generous.
Brides whose mothers have died also find their mothers taking center stage during their engagements. These brides often find themselves revisiting their grief -- deeply and painfully connected to the loss of their mothers -- as well as feeling angry she is not present for this pivotal event in their lives. And then they often feel guilty for being angry.
Why, during what's supposed to be the happiest time of your life, do mothers cause daughters such pain?
Yes, it is supposed to be the best day of a woman's life (having kids is a little too painful to be considered the best day of anyone's life, in my opinion), and it should be the bride's day, but a wedding is almost always a strain on the relationships of everyone involved and particularly the bride and her mother.
I am not a psychologist (but I did take Psych 101) but I think I have enough experience to make a statement here. I have been a bridesmaid more times than I can remember. I was a guest attendant, flower girl, Maid of Honor. I have gone to all of my cousins' weddings (some cousins more than once), was a bride myself and, most recently, the stepmother of the groom. So, I have played just about all of the wedding roles there are for a woman.
Every time a friend or relative got engaged, I warned her (and her mom) about what I had seen happen with others during the wedding planning process. I had seen how girls and their mothers almost always end up arguing about something (or should I say even more than mothers and daughters usually do?).
A wedding should be a happy time. What can we do to make it so?
Who is in charge?
The tradition is that the bride's family pays. That immediately sets up a conflict. Who then is "in charge?" Is it the person who pays or the person whose wedding it is? (Of course if the bride has the means to pay for her own wedding, this makes it all a little easier. Nevertheless, some parents still think they have a right to run the show).
I think that regardless of who pays, the bride (and possibly the groom if he is at all interested) needs to have the wedding she wants without totally disregarding the feelings and pocketbooks of others. Little girls dream of their wedding all their young lives. I know that I would "plan" what I would do all the time throughout my youth. It was a constant source of daydreams.
It is not the wedding for the mothers (of the bride, groom, or otherwise - hereinafter "mothers of..."). I don't care if the parents are paying for it. You had your wedding, let the bride have hers. It is not true that the one who pays should make the decisions. The one who pays may decide how much he or she will pay, but it is the bride who should be happy and satisfied, not the parents. Parents who love their daughter will let her have her day her way. If all parents do this, we will not later have these same brides trying to run their daughters' weddings, because they had the wedding they wanted.