A few weeks ago, my son married a wonderful woman. He’s my oldest baby and I am thrilled. I think she is awesome and a great match for him. She is funny, intelligent and adores my son. When your child is getting married, what more could a mother want?
One thing though that has surprised me, is how hard it is to be a mother-in-law. While it has only been legal for a few weeks, as soon as they announced their engagement, I was in training. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t “that mother-in-law.” I didn’t want his fiancee to have to call up her friends and tell them the latest story about me, and I didn’t want to be a source of tension in my son’s relationship.
And that all started with the wedding arrangements. Their wedding was not exactly what I would have liked; I had always imagined a big celebration. They wanted a small one. I imagined a bride in a veil, walking down the aisle of a church, they dreamt of a small ceremony for family.
Right from the start, I had to watch my tongue and remind myself that while my child is getting married, I am not the star. As anyone who knows me realizes, that is not an easy feat! But to be clear, it wasn’t that I didn’t speak my mind. I just had to watch what I said and what expectations I was conveying to them.
When we first started talking about the wedding, I was as open with my feelings as possible. I told them I didn’t want to be “that mother” and that the wedding was for them, not me. Whatever they wanted, I would be happy – as long as I was able to attend. I told them I had my own opinions and that they could take what they wanted and ignore the rest.
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Because I re-married ten years ago, it was fairly fresh in my mind what the challenges are with regard to expenses and expectations. I shared that I thought one thing they shouldn’t skimp on was the photographer but that something like the cake wasn’t as big of a deal. These were my thoughts only. They listened and they did what they wanted, and I was happy. By the way, they hired an awesome photographer and her aunt made a lovely cake!
So, what advice do I give parents? Simple.
- Communicate. Be up front about what you are thinking and feeling. Don’t get upset down the road because you bottled things up.
- Once you tell them what you are thinking and feeling, let it go. They are adults and have the choice to act on what you have told them – or not.
- Ask them what they want you to do, rather than telling them. Maybe they want you involved in a big way, maybe they don’t. You won’t know until you have that conversation. Once they tell you, respect their desires and the boundaries they set.
- Your child is getting married so sit back and enjoy!
What about blended families? Or family feuds? The exception, rather than the rule these days, is having only two sets of parents who are married to each other. Unfortunately, not all couples split is amicable. Tensions can run high with animosity between the parties. During a celebration, those parties come together? Well, anything can happen.
It’s important to be clear within yourself that this time is for the couple. It’s a time to ignore any snide comments, rolling eyes or actions. This is not the time to prove you’re right about anything. Of course, you don’t have to pretend you are best friends or even talk much to each other. At my son’s wedding, I probably said five words to my son’s father, but we co-existed without obvious animosity. We had pictures taken as a family, gave our toasts to the couple and celebrated the happy occasion.
Of course, if you feel that the people involved won’t be able to act as adults, that is something you need to discuss with the bride and groom. Bring this up before the wedding day. Perhaps some concessions can be made such as ensuring the parties don’t sit side by side at the dinner table.
Can you expect your relationship to change now that your child is getting married? Yes and no. It will change because their spouse is now (or should be) their number one consideration. Don’t expect them to put you before your new daughter or son-in-law or you will be disappointed. And if they do put you before their spouse, you may find the marriage is quickly on rocky ground.
On the other hand, it doesn’t need to change in a negative way. If you get along with your child’s spouse, they can be a positive addition to the family; you may gain a daughter or son. Keep the lines of communication open, treat their spouse with respect and you lessen the chance of a negative relationship.
What if, in spite of all your efforts, your child’s new spouse just doesn’t want to have a positive relationship with you? While that is a whole other issue I can talk about in another article, the main thing is to make sure you don’t complain or talk down about them to your child. This goes back to the fact that your child has to put their spouse before you now.
So, this is what I have learned. Did it work? Well, I think I managed to hit the right note, because I was invited to go along wedding dress shopping! I was so pleased and honoured to be included.
The wedding was beautiful and moving. I teared up when his beautiful bride came walking down the aisle, her dress twinkling as it reflected the sun. My son waiting for her in his tuxedo, shoes gleaming. I sat back, enjoyed and let all my expectations go. And I couldn’t be happier.