It's a Family Affair

8th September 2017

Calling parents of the bride and groom… Your son or daughter has set the date, and they’re keen to start planning the wedding. Congratulations!

But before you get too swept up in the excitement, Claire Moulds has some words of advice…

First and foremost, remember the golden rule – it is not your day.

True, you may have dreamed about your child’s wedding since the day they were born but, ultimately, the final decision on every aspect of the ceremony and reception lies entirely with them and their future husband or wife.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t have any input into the big day, or proffer your advice, but always wait to be invited first!

Some couples have a very clear vision from the outset and are happy to work together on creating their dream wedding with minimal help from their respective families. Others will want to involve their nearest and dearest in the entire process – from writing the invitations to making the table centrepieces, from sewing bunting for the marquee to baking the cake. Whichever approach your son or daughter chooses to adopt, be supportive and let them know that you are there to help them as much or as little as they want.

The pressure of creating the perfect day – not just for them but for their family and friends – can be extremely stressful, so make it your aim to reduce the pressure wherever possible, and certainly not to add to it. This is especially the case if you do not agree with some of the choices that are being made. If you are unable to let it go, and feel you simply have to say something, try to deliver your thoughts in a calm, measured fashion, however upset you might be. Emotions will already be running high, so bear in mind that any perceived criticism of the wedding plans is likely to be taken badly and leave you all feeling battered and bruised afterwards.

If it’s the couple themselves who are finding it hard to agree, try not to take a side. Although it’s tempting to always back your own child, this is one instance when it’s better to be someone that they can both vent their feelings to and who will act as an impartial mediator. Don’t alienate their partner by being seen to ‘gang up’ on him or her. After all, in the future you will want them to feel that they can also come to you with any problems or concerns, and that you will act in their best interest as well as that of your own offspring.

It’s also important to recognise the fact that the wedding is about two families, not just your own. Your son or daughter, through the act of getting married, will form a lifelong link between your family and their partner’s, and both need to be on an equal footing from the very start. While the bride’s parents may have historically taken the lead on decisions, as they were paying for the wedding, the modern approach is for both families to be equally involved. If you don’t know each other very well, suggest getting together a few times during the planning process for a meal or a drink to remedy this.

If you’re the mother of the groom, it can be difficult to find your place in proceedings as your future daughter-in-law is likely to be taking the lead role in the planning process and will turn to her own Mum for advice and support. Make it clear from the outset that you are more than happy to help share the load and are available as a sounding board whenever she needs it, even if it’s simply to provide a friendly ear over a coffee if things are getting too much for her. And, while she may have a clear idea who she wants to accompany her on her own dress appointments, there’s no reason at all why you can’t invite her on a shopping trip with you to choose your outfit.

One of the thornier aspects of being ‘the parents’ is how much to contribute financially. These days, many couples prefer to pay for their own wedding – or at least the majority of it – and the onus is no longer on the bride’s parents to pick up the entire bill. However, that still leaves the dilemma of ‘how much?’

It goes without saying that it is not a competition between the two sets of parents as to who gives the more generous donation to the wedding fund. Both families may have very different incomes, approaches to funding family weddings and opinions on what the parents should and shouldn’t pay for. Respect the decision of your opposite numbers and, if they don’t want to share what amount they contributed, do not ask your son or daughter to tell you, even in confidence!

If you can’t afford to make a financial contribution, remember that your time and skills are just as valuable. For example, you could offer to write all the invitations, address the envelopes and take them to the post office, thereby saving the bride and groom hours of precious time. Equally, gathering together items that can form the bride’s ‘something old, new, borrowed and blue’ will be a gesture that she looks back on fondly.

Putting money into the wedding fund does not, in any case, ‘buy’ you the right to make key decisions, even if you have put in the largest amount. The mother of a friend of mine thought that by paying for the lion’s share of her wedding she could ‘demand’ to have three tables at the reception solely for her own friends, even though that meant her daughter and fiancé would have to exclude some of their closest friends in order to make room. It didn’t make for a happy occasion.

Also, do appreciate that your son or daughter might not want to give you a full financial breakdown of the cost of the wedding, and that you might not therefore know exactly what your money fully, or partly, paid for. If you feel strongly that your money should fund specific items – as the bride’s parents, you may want to buy her dress, and as the groom’s parents you might want to pay for the drinks reception – then ask if that’s a possibility.

On the day itself, accept that your son or daughter is going to be in huge demand. As well as wanting to spend time with each of their guests – many of whom they might not have seen in months or even years – and having their formal photographs taken, they will also want to catch private moments with their new husband or wife. Do not take it personally if it feels as though you are only getting a brief word here and there.

Equally, if there’s a special moment you want to share on the big day, make it clear beforehand so it can be included in the schedule, especially if it’s not a traditional part of the proceedings. For example, as the father of the groom, you might want to say a few words at the meal welcoming the bride to your family.

Finally, don’t forget that a wedding is just the first of many future celebrations that you will all share, so use it as an opportunity to get to know the people who have welcomed your son or daughter so very warmly into their family and build the foundations of a lasting friendship. Your children – and future grandchildren! – will thank you for it.

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