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.

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What parents are really telling children with their constant intervening is that there’s no way for them to succeed on their own, says Harold Koplewicz, a founder of the Child Mind Institute. “The message to the kid is, You aren’t good enough.” He compares these parents to “fixers,” who illicitly manipulate outcomes for their clients. In their effort to build their children’s success, parents may actually be short-circuiting their self-esteem, and stunting their self-efficacy, making them unable to tell the difference between the things they can accomplish in the world, with the application of hard work and native ability, and the things they cannot. Jason Stevens is somewhat blunter. A fixing parent can make a child, he says, “crippled. Or entitled. Or both.”

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