Wedding Advice: The Parent Traps

Weddings should be about love and togetherness, but planning them can be fraught with family feuds. Donna Garlough explains how to mediate fights, avoid awkward money issues, and deal with bad behavior.

family feuds

Illustration by Dan Page

My fiancé’s mother, whom I love dearly, really wants to be included in the planning. My mom, however, has openly expressed her displeasure about having the “other woman” involved, and is threatening to skip the whole thing. How do I keep this mom-fight under control? J.F., Weston

Solving the problem won’t be as easy as simply asking your future mother-in-law to back off or telling your mom to calm down. Both have legitimate reasons for wanting to be on the party-planning committee. For your mom, it’s about sending her daughter off properly; for » his, it’s about welcoming you into her family. But here’s the thing: It’s your wedding, not theirs, and these days it’s the bride who makes most of the big decisions. So while they both want to be acknowledged as important players in this life-changing event, they both need to pipe down.

The key is to give each mom her chance to shine, while you maintain overall control. You could hire a wedding planner, thereby absolving both ladies of the essential planning duties, or just hurry up and get all the big things booked so they’re no longer up for debate. Then ask your mother to tag along on errands that your fiancé might prefer to skip, like florist trips, dress fittings, and makeup trials. It’ll make her feel loved and involved without a lot of extra effort on your part. Meanwhile, focus his mom on activities that don’t threaten your family’s roles—planning the rehearsal dinner, for example, or taking your fiancé tux shopping and hunting for wedding favors. Remember, anything your future mother-in-law takes on will give you more time to concentrate on your priorities.

Help! My parents keep adding more and more of their friends and colleagues to our guest list, and it’s ruining my plans for a small wedding. How do I get them to stop? L.D., Cambridge

Call your parents and tell them you’ve booked the venue of your dreams. Be extra sappy. (“Dad, I can just see you walking me down the aisle! Mom, the gardens are full of your favorite flowers!”) Then tell them there’s one catch: It’s too small for everyone on the current guest list, so they’ll have to make some cuts. They might complain, but trust me, they’ll get over it. If, however, the pouting does continue, you can always tell them you’re thinking of eloping. Suddenly, your 75-person wedding won’t sound too small.

Once they’ve come around, divide up the number of invitations among you and your fiancé and your folks. If there’s room for 75 people, give each set of parents 25 invites, leaving 25 for you two. (You can count on getting a few regrets, but don’t invite too many extras, or you could end up overbooked.) Those who don’t make the first cut can go on a backup list; if lots of regrets come in, you can always send out another round of invitations. (Be sure to mail the first batch at least eight weeks before the wedding.)