If your child just got engaged (November to February is peak engagement season), congratulations! There are a lot of things to do between now and the big day, and everything—from guest lists to budgets—has its own challenges. But while wedding planning can be undeniably stressful at times, there are opportunities for strengthening family ties every step of the way, while avoiding any indication that you are trying to take over the wedding. Here’s how to get closer to your child whether you are the parent of the bride or the groom.
Share your own wedding memories. The early weeks after a proposal are the perfect time for the bridal couple to dream and explore inspirational ideas—meaning that it’s a welcome moment for you to break out your own wedding album and share stories with your child and his/her fiancé that you may never have shared before and connect on a different level. Talk about the wonderful jazz band you danced to or the menu choice you would change if you could do it all over again. By sharing memories, you begin the wedding planning on a warm and positive note.
Connect with the rest of the wedding VIPs. Consider the wedding an opportunity to really get to know all of the people who are special in your child’s life, from college roommates and cubicle buddies at work to future in-laws. Start with the in-laws—a lovely, quiet restaurant is the perfect neutral zone for meeting the parents of your child’s future spouse. Tip: Even if you already know each other, have that meet-up as early as you can, before you have to really dig into the wedding-planning details. That gives you time to bond before any potentially contentious issues arise. You might want to plan other casual get-togethers as well—such as a coed bridal party barbecue—so that you can get to know the bridesmaids and groomsmen better. Also: If the wedding VIPs are scattered geographically, suggest setting up a private wedding group on Facebook or text to help you connect with the key players. This is a place for you to be a supportive player, not a leader. You don’t want to steal the bride’s spotlight—you just want to stay connected.
Pitch in where you’re needed, and not where you’re not. Weddings come with hundreds of little details—so ask how you might be able help out. Once the couple has made some decisions, you can offer to help with details that mean the most to you or ones you’re especially well-suited to cover, such as working with the caterer if you’re a real foodie. And don’t forget some of the more mundane but important parts—such as researching transportation options or tracking the RSVPs, for example. Potential pitfall: It can be easy to slide from helping out to taking over, which often leads to friction. Stick with research tasks—but leave the final decisions up to the engaged couple.
Add a little fun to the wedding planning. Kick off the planning period with a special wedding movie night, where you screen Father of the Bride, 27 Dresses or other favorite wedding-related movies. Turn mundane tasks into special bonding time with your child by making those meetings fun. Examples: Turn favor-making or invitation-stuffing into a party by serving pizza, playing lively music and creating an assembly line of helpers. Create one-on-one time with your new son-in-law at a driving range as you scout it for a potential wedding weekend activity. Doing something alone with your future son- or daughter-in-law helps you build a relationship that’s separate from the one you have with your child.
Write a love letter. Write a special letter to present to the couple on their wedding day. Use it to share your feelings about them, offer your marriage advice—and give a warm welcome to your new son- or daughter-in-law. Benefit: Writing this can help you keep your focus on what really matters—your child’s new marriage and the joy of adding his/her spouse to your family—at a time when you may find yourself thinking only about wedding bills and logistics.
Give the couple something sentimental. Your wedding contributions may be most of your wedding gift, but consider giving the couple something tangible that has a deeper meaning. Example: A pretty frame with a picture of the whole family—including the newest member—is a nice touch. Or select a family heirloom that brings a bit of your family into their new home together. You can give separate gifts to the bride and groom. But you don’t necessarily have to raid your jewelry box for it—one groom was gifted with an heirloom flask filled with his favorite brand of whiskey.
Create a code word or phrase that can be used if things get tense. Try saying something like, “I’ll do that at my next wedding,” to remind yourself that this is not your day and you are not the one being celebrated. Or have everyone agree to use a random word like “squirrel” that, when said, places the conversation on pause—you can revisit the topic later when you have more patience and a fresh perspective.
Lavish praise, when appropriate. Brides and grooms, more than anyone, feel judged by their choices. What will guests think of their shoreline wedding site? The banjo music? The Middle Eastern food? All this scrutiny makes people feel nervous and unsure of themselves. Commending your child and future spouse on their choices and the actions they take to achieve them often is forgotten in the rush of wedding planning. But a quick, “Nice job negotiating the limo rental fee” or “I love your idea of filling vases with sand” goes a long way toward promoting harmony and happiness.
The 3 Most Common Wedding-Planning Pitfalls to Avoid
Weddings can bring out the best—and worst—in families. And odds are, there will be at least one planning topic that leads to a major disagreement. Try these techniques to reduce the drama around the big three battlegrounds.
Budget. The average wedding with 167 guests costs nearly $44,000, according to the 2018 Brides American Wedding Study. Be honest about what you can afford, and have that conversation early on in the process, so that everyone knows the budget. And keep in mind that these days, the parents of the bride and groom and the couple themselves all contribute toward the cost, especially if the groom has a large group of family members and friends he wants to invite. Talking budget first helps set expectations before somebody gets his/her heart set on ideas beyond his financial reach. Many families find that creating a single wedding account that everyone involved contributes to enables them to track finances easily. Others divide and conquer, with each contributor responsible for a different part of the budget—the photographer and entertainment…or the venue and catering, for example. Tip: Set aside up to 10% of the wedding budget as padding, to cover the inevitable overages.
Guest list. Deciding who should be there to celebrate your child’s wedding can cause conflict. Everyone involved has people they would love to have attend—but the couple may have a different vision of party size than you do. For instance, they may want a small wedding with people who are very close to them—and not a lot of distant cousins and your friends, who they’re not close to. Discuss which family members and friends are most important to you and your child. Be equitable—giving the couple and each set of parents one-third of the guest list to manage as they see fit. Decide early on whether young children make the cut—and determine whether accommodations will be made, such as providing a kid-friendly space with a babysitter. Note: Even if you’re hosting the wedding, your child still may decide to have a smaller wedding than you would wish. Bear in mind—this is not a reflection of how the couple feels about your family or friends…it’s simply how they want to spend this moment in their lives.
Family roles. All families, especially modern-day complicated ones, can get tripped up on thorny questions such as who walks the bride down the aisle…who gets a special dance with the bride or groom. Look for ways to include stepparents or other special people in the festivities, whether it’s splitting the walk down the aisle between the father and stepfather or having more than one parent-child dance. Tip: If you’re stressed about spending the day with your ex amicably, create buffer zones. Example: Designate separate tables for you and for your ex at the reception, with the other family’s table in between, and consider sitting in separate rows at the ceremony. But even if it’s tough, focus on your child’s happiness and make your peace with your ex for the day.