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.

My parents had a really messy divorce less than a year ago, and now they’re on terrible terms. I’m worried that they’ll make a scene at my reception or, worse, at the ceremony itself. Is there anything I can do to make sure they stay civil? N.R., Belmont

Time to call in the troops. Your aunts, uncles, siblings, and other relatives can all be put on peacekeeping duty. Tell anyone who will listen how important it is for you to have a drama-free day, and make sure that message is relayed back to your mom and dad. If you’re bold, you can also take the direct approach and tell them flat-out that you expect them to behave like adults for the duration of the weekend. Hopefully, they’ll be mature enough to stay out of each other’s way.

Just in case, though, a few well-intentioned preventative measures can make all the difference. Avoid seating the feuding exes near each another: Have your ushers put them on opposite sides of the aisle during the ceremony, and for the reception, seat a “buffer” table of neutral relatives between them. Consider forgoing a cocktail hour and any other opportunities for extended mingling (or boozy arguments) early in the event. Of course, at some point you’ll just have to surrender control and focus on enjoying your special day rather than policing your parents. Place a diplomatic relative in charge of handling day-of disputes, and task yourself with having a good time.

I’ve never been terribly close with my siblings, but my mom is insisting that I ask my sisters to be bridesmaids. My parents are paying for the wedding, so on one hand, I feel like I should concede. But I’d really rather have my best friends beside me at the altar! Am I being ungrateful? S.J., Brookline

Luckily, this decision isn’t an all-or-nothing proposition. Why not ask your sisters and your closest gals to be your bridesmaids? Including your sibs in your wedding party can’t hurt, but leaving them out really could. If there’s anything sisters know how to do, it’s hold a grudge. Besides, it’s not like including your sisters devalues the role for your best friends or maid of honor. The more, the merrier!

If you’re still resistant, talk to your mom about creating different jobs for your siblings so they feel like part of the wedding ceremony. One popular way of including relatives is to have each of them do a reading. The text can be from a poem, a Bible passage, or the lyrics to a song you really love.

You can also enlist your sisters’ help in passing out programs, or have them guide guests to their tables at the reception. No matter what, make them feel like their duties are an honor—and definitely give them a thank-you gift, just as you would if they were full-fledged bridesmaids.

Our dream wedding venue is just a wee bit beyond our budget, which includes funds from my parents as well as some cash my fiancé and I have set aside. Is it terribly rude to ask his parents to pitch in? E.K., Boston

You can’t ask them to pay. In fact, you shouldn’t even ask your mom and dad to pay. These days, it’s great if parents take it upon themselves to pitch in for a wedding, but nowhere is it written in stone that your folks have to finance the celebration—especially now that many couples wait till they’re older and more financially stable to get hitched (and since many of their parents’ once-brimming retirement funds are now drained).

That said, if you know his folks would be willing and able to contribute, there are creative solutions to your problem. One is to ask them for a small, short-term loan to cover the amount you’re coming up short. Chances are they’ll gift it to you, but if not, you could work out a reasonable payment plan with them.

Another option is to scale back your plans in an area that’s less important to you. If the venue’s that good, maybe an $800 Running-of-the-Brides special from Filene’s Basement can replace the $5,000 dress. Swap the live band for a DJ, skip the dessert bar, or make your toasts with prosecco instead of champagne. With a few tweaks to your budget, you might find you have all the money you need.