The Magic Word

My cousin wants to bring her three-year-old to our reception. I’ve already told everyone else, "no kids," so how do I tell her she can’t bring him? —K.C., Medfield
Explain that you are terribly sorry, but you’ve already excluded other guests’ children. If Junior comes—adorable and well-behaved as he is—you’re certain that others will take offense. If she has any regard for your feelings, she’ll probably relent. If you haven’t already sent out invites, you can also take preemptive measures; many brides include a handwritten note saying they hope the guest will come, and that you’d be happy to arrange for childcare at the event if they aren’t able to find a babysitter. Incidentally, paying for child care at the hotel or reception site is always smart, even if guests haven’t asked to violate your "no kid" rule. You never know who might show up with tots in tow.

My future in-laws gave us a ridiculously long guest list. How do I tell them tactfully that they can’t invite all these people? —M.S., Newton
The key here is to cloak your firm refusal in a bit of hospitality. Invite your in-laws over for drinks, and after you’ve talked weddings awhile, smile and say, "About the guest list. We would love to include everyone we know, but there’s just not enough room in our budget—or our venue. And it really means a lot to us to stick to those decisions." That way, even if they offer to help with expenses, you needn’t budge. Suggest eliminating categories of people (like work colleagues or neighbors), so no member of a group is left out. Tell them you’ll flag their distant cousins as alternates; as regrets come in, you’ll mail out additional invites. As long as the RSVP cards come to your house, not theirs, you’ll be able to call the shots.

Help! My mother wants to pick my flowers, my dress, and now my music. My parents are paying for the wedding, so how do I tell her to back off without sounding like a complete ingrate? —T.L., Arlington
Saying no when money is involved is always tough. Ideally, you’d have established the level of parental involvement in your wedding up front, when you first accepted their financial help. But having gone this far, it’s time to stage an intervention. Invite your mother to coffee, and start by expressing your gratitude for her financial assistance and her enthusiasm. Then calmly express that you’re feeling left out of planning your own wedding. Tears are good, pouting is not. (Hey, it’s your wedding. Sometimes laying on a little guilt can work wonders.) When you’ve got your mom’s guard down, explain what you’d always envisioned for your big day, and ask if she’s willing to make it happen for you. I’m guessing you’ll have her in the palm of your hand at this point, but in case she insists on managing some part of the planning, have a few things in mind that you’d like her help with (the invitations, the favors, the food, the seating arrangement). But know your limits. If she reacts poorly, you can always decline your parents’ financial contribution and join the growing ranks of couples who pay for their own weddings (presumably without robbing a bank).

When I told my college roommate I was engaged, she mistakenly assumed she’d be a bridesmaid. How do I tell her that she’s not? —S.B., Boston

It’s hard to avoid hurt feelings in this situation, even with proper etiquette squarely on your side. You’ll be telling your roommate, whether you want to or not, that she is no longer one of your closest friends (unless, of course, you are limiting the wedding party to family). Tell her soon; the longer you wait, the worse it will be. While honesty is great, certain white lies have been known to ease the sting—you had to even up your attendant count with your fiancé…your wedding is small…your budget demands a smaller bridal party. Whatever you say, make sure you tell her how much it means to you to have her attend, and that you can’t imagine your wedding without her. Ask her to participate in the ceremony by reading a verse, or invite her to attend the rehearsal dinner.

We received a gift that wasn’t on our registry, and while it looks expensive, it’s hideous. How can I say "Thanks, but no thanks," so I don’t have to pretend to like it forever? —P.A., Falmouth
There is no way to politely say no. A gift is a gift, and you must send a note that sincerely thanks them for it. But that doesn’t mean you have to keep it. If you can find out where they bought the monstrosity, try to return it or exchange it for something you do like. Otherwise, try to sell it on eBay or Craigslist, or think of it as a nice tax-deductible gift to charity.