Dear Prudence: Mom Making Daughter’s Wedding for a Do-Over for her Own

It’s wedding season! When all the crazy comes out to play and those of us fortunate enough to NOT be planning a wedding get out the popcorn and watch. Today, Slate’s advice columnist Dear Prudence got this question from a woman whose mother wants to use her daughter’s wedding to relive her glory days at a bride, now that she can afford to do it in style. If only the groom were on board …

Q. My Sister’s Wedding or My Mother’s?: My sister and the love of her life are going to get married this winter. Our whole family is very happy about it, especially my mom. When my parents got married more than 20 years ago there was not much money. Everything was nice and happy, but nowhere near the dream wedding my mom always wanted. The family’s financial situation has improved significantly since then and it seems my mother finally wants the wedding of her dreams—even if it’s not actually hers. My parents are paying for everything, but my mom wants everything her way. My sister, who has a soft heart, is willing to let her have it her way. The future son-in-law is another story. He wants no part of what he calls “a Ken and Barbie nightmare” and thinks a wedding should first of all reflect bride and groom. He even went so far as to offer to pay all the bills out of his own pocket. Mom is furious, but he won’t back down. My poor sister is so upset about all of this, she’s considering canceling the whole wedding. I would be grateful for any suggestions to solve this mess and give my sister a wedding that doesn’t give her nightmares for years to come.

A. Your sister may be soft-hearted, but she’s going to seem soft-headed if she can’t grow up enough to separate from her mother to be in charge of her own wedding.

As Jafar says in Aladdin, “You’ve heard of the golden rule, haven’t you? Whoever has the gold makes the rules.” This goes double for weddings. If you want to be in charge, you better be ready to empty your piggy bank. (And if you can’t stand up to either your husband or your mother, maybe you should reconsider whether you’re ready to get married?) But the broader questions of Who Pays? and Who Decides? these days are fascinating.

Increasingly, individuals in the US marry later, intermarry (“About 15% of all new marriages in the United States in 2010 were between spouses of a different race or ethnicity from one another, more than double the share in 1980 (6.7%)”), and marry same-sex partners. What remains constant through this tumult is the traditional generational push-pull over the wedding itself. To what degree will the ceremony and reception reflect the values of the couple and to what extent will it reflect the values of the families? If the families have different values, or religions, or cultures, whose wins?

Back when there was always a bride and her family handled the money as well as the choices, Emily Post had the answers; these days, as the Book of Judges would put it, there is no king in Israel so everyone must do what is right in his/her own eyes. Some of my friends have family-only ceremonies; others have such friend-oriented events that the families barely register and afterwards I can’t pick the Mother of the Bride out of a lineup. Some friends are married by other friends, without an authority figure in sight, or have self-uniting ceremonies. Save on an officiant! Legal in Pennsylvania.

Summer Camp Weddings and other more casual affairs — no showers or bridesmaids, much less pomp of the cake-cutting-and-garter-throwing kind — are increasingly popular in my community, where the trend is for the couple itself to a) make the calls, and b) carry many if not all of the costs. These weddings are celebrations of youth and love in all its idiosyncrasy. Not so much of family and tradition. Occasionally this leads to some messiness of which my mother, a strict disciple of Emily Post, would not approve: insufficient amounts of cutlery, for example, or such a lackadaisical approach to seating that some guests end up having nowhere to eat but the floor. But each wedding certainly comes off as reflective of the happy couple (and their Pinterest board).

It gets much more complicated when everyone contributes, though, and everyone compromises. The question becomes, What is a wedding really about — the couple or the community? And is it possible to make both, or even several, generations happy at once?


18 Comments / Post A Comment

ATF (#4,229)

I am in the thick of all of this and I am constantly butting heads with my mother. And the issue of money is ever present. I have SO MANY THOUGHTS AND FEELS about this.

Wedding: July 27th, 2014.

Bride: me, age 35

Groom: Enginerd, age 37.

Length of time we’ve been together: 2 years, 2 months

Who is paying: Everyone?? My parents said they’d give $8K, I wish for them to not spend that because they are teachers nearing retirement, so we’re trying to pick up what we can but not spend more than $8K ourselves because every dime we spend comes directly out of our saving for a house fund, his parents are giving I DON’T KNOW, HE WON’T ASK THEM FOR AN ACTUAL NUMBER. They gave us a check for $2K recently as part of their contribution and I still don’t know what that actually means.

What I wanted: something funky, reflective of us, not expensive, definitely not anything in the vein of traditional wedding. I do not want a formal ceremony, I do not want to toss the bouquet, I do not want to cut the cake, I do not want a first dance, I do not want to stress about center pieces or make favors.

My mother, despite saying she gets it that I don’t want a traditional wedding, wants ALL OF THAT. And the number of times in hte past few months I’ve heard “you have to have” or “this is important to your father and I” makes me want to punch something. We had a knock down fight over the bar package that ended with us not speaking for a week because she feels strongly that there is no need to have any sort of an open bar and she didn’t have one at her wedding and I feel like it’s something I want to do for my friends.

So far it’s shaping up like this:

– we’re having it a speakeasy style restaurant in Boston where the enginerd and I had our first date. You would think this would be the end of the talk of decorations because restaurant is already styled BUT NO. Apparently I NEED flowers and centerpieces and I don’t know why because it is not a sit down dinner.

– there will be passed apps, a buffet dinner involving carving stations, dessert spread. This will cost $11000 to $12000 when you add up 3hours of the bar package (price for certain tiers of drinks per person per hour), cost of the food, gratuity (22%) and tax.

– photographer – $1000. This still still seems like so much but it’s less than the $3K most wanted to charge, so here we are.

– dress – not bought, hopefully cheap because I do not care. My mother cares deeply but lives across the country and insists that she wants to pick it out with me but then calls me panicked about how I don’t have a dress yet. THERE IS NO WAY TO DO THIS TOGETHER BUT ALSO HAVE IT ALREADY DONE unless someone here knows how to bend the space time continuum or owns an airline.

– current fight: where to get the cake and making me cut it in front of people. Since I ‘have to have’ a traditional cake, I’m going stupid simple 3-tiered with white frosting that we will decorate with fresh flowers. I have no desire to do a cutting of the cake ceremony. NONE.

– other current fight: actual ceremony. I want to have the brand new Boston City Hall to Go truck come by and marry us. My mother wants my brother to do it and have my sister stand for me and enginerd’s brother to stand for him. And I have NO desire for this. I hate being the center of attention in things like that. I can hold my own in a crowd or whatever but put me in a role where I”m supposed to be a certain way and I want to run away screaming.

Other odds and ends:

– I have no idea what to do for music. I do not want a DJ. I am assuming we can use the restaurants sound system.

– My mother is throwing me a surprise shower (that I know about) despite my repeated and frequent protests that I DO. NOT. WANT. I am 35. I have most of what I need or want in this life. I live in a tiny apartment and will only continue to live in a tiny apartment (we do not plan to move out of the city). I have no room for things and I abhor clutter. We will register for some nice pots and pans and knives to replace our old shitty ones but those are legit the only things that I need. We’re in our 30s. You know? So an event where the whole point is for people to buy me gifts seems so, so, wrong.

I am going to run away and cry now.

Meaghano (#529)

@ATF Ahh, keep fighting the good fight!! Your wedding sounds great to me. And I feel like this is what I am in for once we finally pull ‘have a wedding thing’ off the back burner. We want small, casual, US but so many other people’s feelings are gonna be all up in it. The baby thing has been a crash course in that, too. At the end of the day (after I am done ranting about it…), it is nice to have people who care and are so supportive that they are emotionally invested in our life choices. But yes, gets exhausting staving ’em off, choosing battles, changing the subject, etc. Especially when it comes to decisions I’m not totally 100% on anyway, but feel are important to decide just us.

moreadventurous (#4,956)

@ATF I have no advice or clarity to offer just a “Yikes! I’m sorry!” It’ll be over soon? Internet hug?

And actually, regarding presents, you could do a “donate to charity on my behalf” or honey fund or other experience-based gift requests to supplement the few actual things you’ll register for. I suspect your friends will be on board with such a thing, and you can still appease your mom.

Vib G Yor (#3,566)

@ATF Ohhh, hang on! I totally understand your pain as I’m in wedding planning hell, too. I am also 35!

A big part of the problem is just all the STUFF there is to do and all the brain power you have to spend making decisions. Who knew that one party was so hard to pull together? We actually hired a planner to take care of a lot of that stuff, and while she’s been super helpful, she can’t make our choices for us. In fact, I think that sometimes she gives us additional choices to make that we wouldn’t have considered otherwise.

But the families. The families! Everyone is so happy and so excited to help and so sure they know exactly how everything should be. I am getting so many “you must’s” and “helpful suggestions” that it’s making my head spin. Also, it’s tough because both families want to contribute something. The wealthier family (his) is just overwhelming us with contribution (a fancier rehearsal dinner than we’d do ourselves, a brunch, a wedding gift already, contributions for flowers) and my parents are feeling a bit left out of the process, so now I feel like I need to come up with something for them to do, even though they’ve actually helped a ton. And, like you, my retired teacher parents just gave me a too-big contribution that was super generous and concerns me, though to be fair, they will be well cared for by their children.

Some of it is fun, though. There is a lot of joy in my life right now, and I do love pretty things.

jquick (#3,730)

@ATF I suggest getting married privately earlier in the day at the county courthouse/city hall. We paid an extra $15 or $20 to have a witness, who also took photos. And having a celebration party at the speakeasy, wearing something fun and funky. And honor your mom by having her cut the cake. I’d also forgo the $1k on photographer. As much as people like to take phone photos, have people do that and shares via FB or whatever the hip app is.

ATF (#4,229)

@Meaghano And when they are both helping to pay for it and you don’t want to make them unhappy, it gets so messy. It’s not that I want to deny my mom things that would apparently bring her so much joy to witness, it’s that I just don’t want them.

ATF (#4,229)

@jquick I had wanted to do it at City Hall before but City Hall is not open on Sundays. So it would’ve been a Friday and I was completely okay with that but my mother was aghast. Just. So over the top upset at the idea. And then my friend (who works in local politics) knew about the To Go Truck and I loved that idea. And the woman that runs it was so on board and excited about the idea of it. But again, my mother was aghast. So many long conversations about tradition and importance and how this is the merging of two families and not something I should take so casually and how could I deny my father a chance to walk me down the aisle, he’s been looking forward to that since the day I was born. And it’s just after a while I get so tired of fighting that I give in.

And the photographer is because it’s so dark in there. It’s not the type of place that phone photos come out good in. Otherwise we probably would’ve skipped.

kellyography (#250)


1. ATF, your wedding sounds amazing.

2. I am not saying this just because I’m a photographer, but just for everyone: foregoing the photographer in favor of having people take phone pictures and post them to Instagram is a terrible idea! You will have blurry, unflattering, tiny photos scattered everywhere that you can’t do anything with. $1K for a professional photographer is a good deal, but if you want to cough up less, get a third- or fourth-year undergrad (or even grad students who are willing to take a cut on their professional rates for cash work). You still have to pay them, but you can get even more of a discount, and if they are in a good program, they’ll have access to really nice equipment and will know what they’re doing.

Allison (#4,509)

@ATF every time I go to a wedding I can’t help think about how much I would hate having everyone STARING AT ME (even if I look great) during the ceremony, so city hall sounds great to me.

potatopotato (#5,255)

@ATF: I am super jealous of your marriage-for-delivery truck.

tenya (#833)

1stly! GOOD LUCK!! Uggghh, ugghh, my parents did the “we want to help but will definitely not give a solid number for budgeting! literally anything we’ll say is okay because we want to help but can’t budget ever!” Suggestion? Consider the 2k the only thing they’ll contribute. My funky with traditional elements but fun, everything as low cost as possible while not being in the back yard we don’t have was $8k. Ipod for music, I made the cake, the dress was a family item so only paid for altering, my mom did the cooking and her friend and my maid of honor the organizing and serving, my brother a hobby photographer did the photography for the cost of a new camera and flashcube, spent some money on the place because we wanted somewhere with lots of air conditioning that would let us serve our own alcohol and food and so on, but still under $4k.
(Oh and yeah, definitely don’t just go with iphone and so forth cameras instead of a photographer, sooo many of the pictures from them were awful and I’m still a little sad that we had to pick between brother-enjoying-the-party-and-working-and-still-getting-okay-pictures) Ugh, that balancing act of “I want to accept that you’re doing this because you want to give me a nice present, but please STOP” vs “go away, I’m just gonna do city hall”

Caitlin with a C (#3,578)

@ATF I have nothing helpful to add, but your ideas sound awesome. <3<3<3

nell (#4,295)

@ATF Your wedding sounds fantastic. Also, I don’t know if you want a wedding dress that reads “wedding” but if you do I highly recommend Vows in Newton–I was also loathe to spend a lot of money on a dress and I had a lot of luck there. Lots of beautiful stuff for $200-300. (although eventually I ended up buying one online, which I also recommend)

mariajoseh (#405)

The first girl of my group is getting married and the whole thing has me feeling feelings and thinking thoughts about marriage and weddings but the thing that bothers me the most is that she keeps saying “i want X thing for my wedding but they won’t let me”. I think “they” is mostly her mother and it is sad. The end.

illnona (#4,783)

Ok, so I think that the real issue is the inability of these adult women to stand up for what they want and communicate it to their families and spouses. I just got married in December. My husband and I let our families know what we wanted and that we would accept their help, but did not need it. My mom paid for our cake (dessert bar), gave us some cash, and threw me a shower. My husband’s family paid for the rehearsal dinner. We paid for everything else for a total of approximately $24000 for 100 guests. We’re lucky that we live in an inexpensive area and this paid for a pretty fricking nice wedding- an open bar, passed appetizers, 4 live action stations, and a professional florist and decor company. I handmade our invitations for $100- people have since asked me to make their invites. I used online companies for almost everything, but most of all I stood up to everyone (except my husband) about what I wanted and who was invited. If we didn’t want something, it didn’t happen. If we couldn’t afford it, we didn’t have it. We’re also in our 30s. My husband is a full-time college student and works retail. I’m an executive. We own our home.

The awesome thing is after our wedding, we have no wedding bills and don’t owe anyone. Our friends and family say our wedding was the best they’d ever attended and I agree because it was what I planned. Moral of the story- Ladies, WOMAN-up. It’s such a silly thing to have anxiety over when you could be stressed about the potential of being homeless, jobless, or terminally ill. Relax and enjoy!

kellyography (#250)

@illnona I had to Google “live action station” because I had no idea what that was. For those who may also have to Google: It’s chefs that stand there and make stuff for you, like crepes or pasta or whatever! Your wedding sounds pretty fancy.

Thingamabob (#5,522)

@illnona I do have to ask though, did anyone in your family have Feelings about how your wedding should be, or disagree with you in a major way? There’s standing up for yourself on one side (commendable, needs to happen, etc.), and then there’s overruling the sometimes long-held wishes of your family members, and I do feel like compromises have to be made; after all, it’s not just a special day for the bridge and groom, in the end. I’m sure that is a tougher balance to strike for some people than others.

jersey (#7,389)

I am the mother of the bride. I have a daughter that has always liked to do things her own way. She has beautiful taste and is doing a great job planning her wedding. On the other hand, it makes me sad. If we offer to help and decide anything on our own, like the signs directing people to sight of ceremony, she becomes upset that we are deciding without her how to decorate. I don’t know why I feel hurt and sad by this. She and her fiance are financing most of the wedding costs themselves. So I guess she feels we have no say in the planning. I know I should be so happy that she is so independent, but I feel sad. I feel she just wants us as guests at the wedding and that is it. We have done small things that she has asked us to do like research rental companies and hired companies with her approval. I guess I should be happy that I don’t have to do anything unless she asks us. This is how other mothers might feel as well.

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