By Maureen Thomson
No one is more qualified than I to write this article. I’ve been officiating wedding ceremonies since 2002 and I’ve met MOBs of every type.
Because I’ve performed so many weddings, many people have asked me whether Bridezillas are everywhere or whether they are just another interesting urban legend. I have had very few out of control, demanding brides. However, I’ve dealt with more than my fair share of domineering, pushy, controlling mothers. Hence my self-appointed expertise in this area! In addition, I’ve been the MOB myself–twice. And if you are an MOB and reading this, thinking how hard it is to walk the fine line between being helpful and being pushy as your starry-eyed engaged daughter goes through the wedding planning process, then visualize how more delicate the task if you are concurrently MOB AND a wedding professional yourself. White lace and promises, not so much!
Welcome to my world! Mom, I feel your pain. I’ve walked a mile in your wedding pearls, pumps and pantyhose. Don’t worry; we’ll muddle through this together.
1. The first commandment is: Know thy Daughter. This may sound like common sense, but sometimes when emotions come into play as well as the anticipation of spending gobs and gobs of cash for this one-day extravaganza, common sense can easily be thrown to the wind. Throw in the media and industry hype that surround the Wedding Day (always capitalized) and it’s easy to get crazed before you even start.
My two daughters are as different as night and day. Bethany, the oldest, married in 2004, was only 22 at the time of her wedding and fresh out of college. Alyssa, wed in 2009 at 24, had a couple of years of being on her own under her belt. Bethany had some definite ideas about what she wanted, but was generally pretty open to suggestion. She also didn’t get too worked up about the small stuff, being perfectly okay if Mom handled details like the cake server, the ceremony programs, and the flower girl basket.
My daughter Alyssa, is a bit more ‘detail oriented’, she had to be hands on with virtually everything and approve all details right on down to the fold of the napkins at the rehearsal dinner. I did find myself having to go out and buy the hurricane globes for the Unity Candle as time was running out in Alyssa’s busy schedule, and you’d better believe I scrutinized every globe in the store to get ones that would confirm to Alyssa’s precise standards. Bear in mind that this is the child who, upon telling me of Joel’s proposal, exclaimed, “Mommy, I want to wear a veil AND a tiara!” (and she did). This was opposed to her sister who wanted nothing to do with the fuss of a veil on her wedding day.
Bethany’s wedding was in-town, at the Lumber Baron Inn–an urban Bed and Breakfast, on the Sunday of Memorial Day Weekend in May. Alyssa’s wedding was at Mt. Princeton Hot Springs–a mountain resort three hours away from our home, on a Friday evening in August. (This brings up another significant issue. If you are lucky enough to be blessed with two or more daughters, suggest that they have events that are different in feel from their sister’s. There’s nothing more annoying than sister-sibling domestic rivalry. Making the experience totally different helps remove comparisons.)
Also, keep in mind that no matter what the occasion, your daughter’s basic personality won’t change Your jeans and sneakers-wearing tomboy who delights in mauling her bothers at touch football, is not going to swoon over yards and yards of meringue tulle, no matter how much you want her to. And your fussy perfectionist offspring is not likely to relinquish control–or lower her standards–no matter how much you insist that it doesn’t matter if the red in the table linens isn’t an exact match with the bridesmaids’ dresses or that no one will notice if the cream filling in the cake is chocolate as opposed to mocha.
2. Develop a budget with your daughter and future son-in-law (and any other interested parties). Let them know how much you’re willing to kick in for this big day. Determine what you will pay for, and/or how much you’ll pay.
If your daughter is the buttoned-down finance major, you can simply inform her about the size of the check you are able to write and let she and her groom figure out the actual allocations. She probably already has a spreadsheet of expenses worked out anyway, so just go with it. Alternatively, if she has always been a tad disorganized about money, you can simply give her a list of the specific expenses you will fund. Either way, be clear. It’s not reasonable to set your daughter adrift in a jungle of wedding vendors without knowing how much money she has to work with.
And bear in mind that just because you are financing all or part of this venture, does not give you carte blanche to make all the decisions. In fact, you’d be surprised at how little bargaining power holding the purse strings will give you. Wedding vendors will undoubtedly view the bride and groom as adults (gasp!) and will contract with them directly. You may be issuing the checks, but the bride and groom will be viewed as the customers. I know, I know…19 hours of labor and a C-section and this is what you get!
3. Understand whose wedding this is, hers not yours. No doubt this will be a difficult pill to swallow, particularly for those moms who have spent plenty of time dreaming about weddings. (Really? Geeze–get a life!) After all, you gave this child life and have the stretch marks and gray hair (from the teen years) to prove it! The little princess owes you this much! Sad to say, things don’t work this way. You had your day of wine and roses, this is hers.
If she wants to be married in jeans and sneakers before bungee jumping off the side of a cliff with her new hubby, then so be it. Just let her think the tears you’re sobbing into your lace hanky (the one that belonged to your grandmother that you imagined your daughter would be carrying with her bouquet as she walked down the aisle wearing a frilly white dress in front of 300 of your dearest friends and family members) are tears of joy.
4. Be aware that things have changed since your wedding day. Time to shoot on down to the Barnes and Noble and buy a couple of wedding magazines to review the current state of wedding etiquette and customs. Good manners are always in style, but the styles may have changed over the years. (Set yourself up as a Guru on this topic and you will be an indispensable resource for your daughter—or you’ll just be perceived as being amazingly with-it. Either way, everyone wins.
RSVPs are sent online. Invitations are no longer engraved, but can be produced on any computer. Weddings are now “green” (and I don’t mean the color of the bridesmaids’ dresses or how much you’re spending–I mean environmentally conscious). Feeding the guests is no longer “One from column A and one from column b”. Think pot luck, brunch on the patio, cocktails only, a grand BBQ or an multi-ethnic buffet. Your daughter may be escorted down the aisle by any combination of folks; her dad or step-father, or even her mother. Friends don’t care where they are seated, a good view of the ceremony and ability to hear being the new priorities. Bridal dresses are no longer all-white. Brides “maids” are sometimes men and there may be a “best woman” standing next to your future son-in-law at the altar (if there even is an altar). It’s all good! Just breathe.
5. Be there when she wants you to be; don’t be offended when she doesn’t. While your daughter may have appreciated your input as she tried on 311 different wedding dresses, she might be a little hesitant about having you attend her bachelorette party, especially if the plans include something a little bawdy and alcoholic. You’re in your 50’s for crying out loud; get over it!
6. Know when to offer help and when to keep mum, Mom. Giving advice is all very fine if it’s received well, but don’t push. If she does not want to hear it, then sit down. See Rule #2 above, responsibility without authority. Offer the insight of your experience, but go easy. You might calmly note that a Colorado mountain top wedding in mid July could be interrupted by an afternoon lightning storm and torrential rain. “Dear Daughter, have you thought of a backup plan?” If she insists, then all you can do is remember to rent 100 umbrellas (on the sly-of course) and pray for clear weather. And if it’s a situation over which you have no control, then recite your Serenity Prayer and move on. If you daughter thinks the eight inch tattoo on her shoulder is beautiful and wants to show it off with a strapless wedding dress, then voicing your opinion will do nothing but cause angst.
On the other hand, you can use your verbal assertiveness for good rather than evil if some hard-nosed vendor haranguing is in order. For example, the seamstress who altered Alyssa’s dress tightened the body into the diameter of a small drain pipe, causing my size 4 daughter to turn a distinct shade of blue after wearing the gown in the dressing room for ten minutes Alyssa’s solution? Maybe she could drop a few pounds before the wedding (from where, I don’t know). Mom’s solution? Get the dressmaker back into the shop on her day off to let out the dress a half inch so the bride could inhale enough to say her vows. See? I was needed, after all!
7. As a possible major bone of contention between couples and their parents, I would be remiss if I did not mention the issue of differing religious views. You may have raised your daughter as a good practicing Lutheran (Hindu, Methodist, Jew or you name it) but she might not choose to overtly espouse those beliefs on her wedding day. This may be due to many reasons: a difference in religions between her and the groom, their desire to have a non-traditional wedding ceremony, wanting to have their ceremony and reception all in one location, so therefore ruling out the idea of a church wedding. Whatever the reason, see Numbers 3 and 6, above and try not to worry that your daughter is headed for eternal damnation because she is not wed in your place of worship. And while I’m on the subject, don’t even think about pulling the “If you’re not married in the church, I won’t in good conscience be able to attend.” No matter how this turns out, you will regret it for the rest of your life.
8. Pick one thing that is important to you. Ask nicely. When my daughter Bethany was married, I had my heart set on a bagpiper leading her down the aisle. Bethany was indifferent, but I decided that was the hill I wanted to die on. As a bargaining chip, I had let a bunch of other stuff pass by, so I was well positioned to have my way on this without seeming like a demanding authoritarian. And it was glorious! For Alyssa’s wedding, I wanted to be the one to marry her. I had not pushed hard enough on this for her sister’s wedding and even though I authored the ceremony, their non-professional wedding officiant delivered a truly lackluster performance.) This took a bit of artful negotiation. (Alyssa wanting me to “relax and just be the MOB”, but really I think she was afraid I’d tell embarrassing stories at the ceremony. I didn’t.) Eventually she conceded on that point and it, too, was glorious!
9. On the day of, expect your role to be that of Major Domo, doling out sage advice here, calming nerves there and keeping everyone on track. You thought your mothering days were over? Ha! All questions and problems will be magically funneled to your in-box. According to some universal unwritten rule, you’ve been anointed as combination Queen Solomon and Head Labor Boss. No one would dare disturb the bride, on this day of all days! Who is the logical second best choice to express the bride’s wishes? Why, Mom, of course.
- Where do you want the Unity Candle table placed?
- Someone has to meet the florist in the dining room to review the delivery and pay her final balance.
- Do these bows on the chair covers look right?
- The bride’s father (FOB) has gone AWOL–can you find him? (No matter that you’ve been divorced for 15 years and try to avoid the man at all costs–just use your Mom-radar and track him down.)
- The string quartet for the ceremony is calling on your cell phone. They are lost. Can you give them directions?
- How do these darn boutonnières get pinned on?
- The bride forgot her contact lens solution and is dry-eyed and puffy. This won’t do. Can you find someone to run to the store to get some eye drops?
- The ring bearer is chasing the flower girl and now she is crying and he has grass stains on the knees of his miniature tux. Can you find them a quiet activity to keep them occupied for 30 minutes?
- And oh, by the way, the ice sculpture was delivered too soon and it’s now dripping water droplets onto the dance floor–could you see about that, Mom?
- Does anybody have a tissue? (This will be said with an expectant look at the MOB; mothers are ALWAYS supposed to have tissues!)
And on it goes. Suck it up. This is your lot in life–or at least on your daughter’s wedding day. It’s what you signed on for the minute the doctor proclaimed, “It’s a girl!”
And along these lines, do not expect to have much time to get yourself ready on the day of the wedding. You’ll be so busy helping your daughter to get down the aisle in style that you may look down at yourself 15 minutes before ceremony start time and realize you are still in your jeans and slippers!
10. Anticipate that your daughter might change her mind about at least one thing–probably more–on the day of the wedding . Be flexible about this eventuality, improvise where necessary and make it quick. Do not lecture, gloat, or give long-suffering looks.
11. Refrain from catty remarks about relatives–especially your future in-laws–during the entire wedding-planning process. Big surprise, not everyone is going to be helpful, courteous and kind, the Girl Scout Manual notwithstanding. Your daughter will get stressed because her future mother-in-law won’t help plan the rehearsal dinner or the groom’s step dad will use the occasion to go on a non-stop bender. Your darling daughter will be at turns angry, frustrated or frazzled; she will utter unprintable epithets about her future in-laws. She will vent to you over and over. Do not use the occasion to jump on the “let’s trash-the-inlaws” choo choo train. Empathy yes, support yes, aiding and abetting, definitely not. You do not want to set up the ‘us versus them’ dynamic. In the blissful aftermath of the wedding your daughter will have forgiven all the small transgressions of her now oh-so-wonderful in-laws. You, however, will be remembered as the one who bashed her relatives. Smile, offer sympathy, empathize. Brainstorm solutions, hand your daughter a pint of Ben & Jerry’s with a soup spoon and a can of whipped cream, but badmouth no one.
12. The single best piece of advice you can offer? As trite as it sounds, remind your daughter that the wedding is only for a day whereas her marriage will (hopefully) last for a lifetime. It had better, because after this wedding, you’re done!
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