Of all the complaints we hear about wedding planning and everything that goes into it, I’d say that pushy or demanding parents are pretty close to the top of the list. Unfortunately, working through that process and relationship doesn’t have any easy answers that will work for everyone, but that doesn’t mean you should throw down the gauntlet and have fight after fight, and it doesn’t mean you need to just shut up and go along with whatever they want either. There’s a middle ground, and today, I’d like to try and help you find it.
As is true with most wedding advice that doesn’t strictly deal with procedural concerns, there’s no objectively good advice, and how you should handle your own situation depends on your values and priorities. For the sake of this article, however, I am going to assume that you love your parents very much and want the best for them, but that you also probably have a challenging relationship at times.
Of course, as with almost any challenging situation, you always have the option to flip the bird and burn a bridge. You can do that. It’s an option. There is no judgement here if that’s what you feel you really have to do for your own sanity or safety or emotional wellbeing. But, I sincerely hope you don’t feel that way. In a relationship that is often very positive, but also existing in tension with some important disagreements, wedding planning can be an emotionally exacerbating trial, that sometimes ends up leaving scars. We’ve all heard of familial relationships that completely collapsed under the stress of wedding planning—“I haven’t spoken to my sister since my wedding 9 years ago”—or the relationship that was immutably changed when the bride’s mother, in defiance of all logic and emotional sensitivity, wore a white dress. These are extreme examples, but avoiding them, and the difficult and stressful feelings that come along, is my interest here.
So lets talk about some options you have that might help keep the relationship healthy, happy and comparatively less stressed out through this whole process.
Who’s paying for the wedding
This is probably the most important question to answer when deciding how to involve parents in the wedding planning process, and work with them if and/or when they’re pushy. Regardless of whether they’re helping to pay for your wedding or not, the fact of the matter is, if they are invited to your wedding, then the wedding is in some ways, not just about you and your fiancee, but also about them. They made you, and probably raised you, and at the very least exist within humanity’s long tradition of acknowledging familial relationships. If they are helping to pay for your wedding, then they are likely at least a little aware of that, and its likely part of the reason they want to contribute. And if you’re asking them to help pay for your wedding, then you ought to be aware of it too.
For your own sense of comfort, I would suggest considering whether you want to accept monetary help from your parents on the front-end. Think about what kind of wedding you want to have—fundamentally speaking. If it’s important to you not to have a religious wedding, but your parents are both very religious, I think you’ll spend more of your time feeling good and comfortable if you opt not to accept monetary help. Or likewise, if being with friends is among your top priorities for your wedding, and your parents really don’t like your friends, allowing them to pay for parts of your wedding might create a lot of tension around something that you have otherwise been able to keep in a healthy balance.
Before discussing any wedding plans with your parents (or any wedding benefactor, for that matter), make a list of your values and your priorities. Peek around at what products and services really cost for the wedding you want to have, and get an idea of how your wedding might look and feel if you decide you need to spend less. If any of your values or priorities are in sharp contrast with those of your parent’s, then it may be a good idea to invite their involvement to whatever degree you’re comfortable, but not their money. And, if you find there isn’t a significant contrast in your’s and your parent’s values and priorities, then you can probably accept their help without much concern. Though, it’s a good idea to decide what you consider ‘non-negotiable’, and make sure it’s a part of the discussion from the very beginning.
Getting Parents Involved
Whether your parents are paying for things or not, you probably want your parents involved with planning in some measure, and you want that measure to be something you’re comfortable with. Sometimes parents insert themselves into things you might prefer they didn’t. Maybe you don’t want your mom to be calling DJ’s for you, or scheduling fitting appointments for your dress. Some parents will wait and ask for your direction, some just dive right in.
Now, if your parents are footing the bill, hopefully you’ve already decided to value their input and negotiate through everything that is important to them. But maybe they’re not paying for it, but they’re eager and you don’t want their inch to become a mile. To that end, I’ve detailed a couple of strategies that will help. Bare in mind, as I said in the beginning, every relationship is different, and you’ll have to decide what is the healthiest approach for you and your parents.
Pre-Emptive Regular Updates
If your parents are pushy or overeager to help, then the best way to help direct their energy to where you actually want and need it, may be to preempt their effort with updates to plans and decisions of your own. Take charge from the get-go. When you first announce to your parents that you are getting married, follow that very soon after with what steps you are planning to take next. And, if there is something specific they can do to help, then request help with that specific thing. Keep these updates going every few days or weeks, depending on the pace at which you’re planning. The important thing is to try your best to preempt their questions with some kind of a plan.
If questions about this or that get through, then try to avoid saying things like “I have no idea”, and instead say something like, “I’m not 100% certain yet, but I will be doing _______ this week”. Avoid leaving big gaps they’ll immediately want to fill with their own ideas or efforts. If your parents are helping to pay for the wedding, and assuming they have already agreed to be mostly hands off (if not, you may ponder the ethics of trying to seriously limit their influence), you might consider making this update into a weekly real-life get together with mom and/or dad. Your parents will enjoy that time with you, and you’ll help them feel valued.
For parents who are excited to help you plan your wedding, and especially those who are helping to pay for it, designating some project within your wedding as almost totally under their control can help them to feel involved and valued, and help keep them from making their way into things where you might not be interested in their input.
Think about things like the rehearsal dinner, photo booth, hotel rooms for you and all the guests, transportation necessities, keeping and transporting the wedding dress safely, alcohol during the reception. Or, higher impact things like the centerpieces, catering or cake. Personally, I think it’s best if you handle the primary elements personally, or at least jealously maintain the final say on all those things. Avoid delegating responsibility for the dress, DJ, photographer, filmmaker, and venue, and avoid making your parents the liaison for those things. If you want to limit a parent’s influence on the wedding planning process, those aspects of your wedding day have deep roots and handling it personally is probably best.
Ultimately, probably the most reliable way to enjoy your wedding planning experience in the midst of a pushy parent, is to try and genuinely appreciate and incorporate their thoughts and ideas and advice. Of course, the kind of relationship you have with your parents might make that impossible, but if not, there is no rule out there that says you have to make all these decisions and plans yourself. If you are able to comfortably collaborate with a parent who desperately wants to help and has a ton of ideas, then do that! Go ahead and choose to be flexible as much as you can.
But, on the other side of the coin, if you have a difficult relationship with a parent, don’t feel guilty. It is absolutely okay to acknowledge you love them at one level, but need to keep some distance at another; It just means you love them, and you want to keep it that way.