How should we handle a potentially explosive disagreement with my parents over our upcoming wedding? They've expressed strong objections to our serving wine and having dancing at our reception. My husband-to-be and I are financially independent, and we'd be willing to cover the wedding expenses ourselves. But this wouldn't really solve the problem, since my mother has made it very clear that they will not attend either the wedding or the reception if dancing or alcohol are present. To be honest, these things aren't that important to us. But I'm afraid that if we capitulate she'll be emboldened to try to control us in other ways. What should we do?
The first thing you need to realize is that your situation isn't unique. It's very common for conflicts of this nature to arise when you're in the process of planning a wedding. If there's any tension at all present in your family relationships, you can expect it to come to the surface at a time like this. As you say, it's a potentially explosive scenario, and it needs to be handled with care.
Perhaps it would be helpful to remember that while this is undoubtedly your wedding, your parents also have a large vested interest in it. Traditionally, a wedding and the following reception have been viewed as a celebration put on by the parents of the bride – the father in particular – in honor of their daughter and her new husband. That's why it's been standard procedure, at least in the past, for them to cover most of the expenses. It stands to reason that whoever pays should also have a significant say in the way the wedding is conducted.
Nowadays these perspectives are changing, of course. Contemporary wedding customs and practices are morphing in many different ways. You've said that you're willing to pay for the reception yourself, so it's arguable that money isn't the issue here. Nevertheless, the fact remains that moms and dads, especially the mom and dad of the bride, are key players in the planning and staging of a wedding, and not just because they're likely to be shelling out a lot of money for it. The fact of the matter is that a wedding isn't exclusively about the nuptial pair. There's a very important sense in which it's a family affair.
This suggests that it's only reasonable to listen when your parents have suggestions or if they object to certain aspects of your plans. Notice that we said listen. You don't necessarily have to do everything they say. In the first place, you're adults and it is your wedding. In the second place, healthy families always make room for honest dialogue, disagreement, discussion, and negotiation. If your mother is uncomfortable with alcohol, she has a perfect right to say so. But there's no reason to suppose that the conversation stops there. You, your fiancé, and your parents need to sit down and talk this out with an eye to resolving the conflict and finding some way to come to terms. If there's something you can do to placate your mom and make sure she attends the ceremony – for example, limit the use of wine or champagne to toasts – that should be one of your top priorities. You certainly don't want to kick off your marriage by fomenting a schism in the family.
If your mom proves intractable and unwilling to bend, it's very possible that the real problem isn't dancing and alcohol at all, but rather an issue of control. This is something we can't determine without more information – you're in the best position to know. If you think this is the case, you're probably right in assuming that you need to stand your ground. Gently let Mom know that she's not the only one who has an interest in this wedding. Tell her that, for reasons beyond her control, you and other concerned parties have decided that it would be a good idea to include dancing and alcoholic beverages on this occasion. Let her know that you desperately want her to attend, but give her permission to stay home if that's what she chooses to do. Keep the entire conversation as respectful and honoring as possible.
Here's the important point: while there may be a sense in which the wedding belongs to your parents, the marriage that is to follow is exclusively yours. That's why it's so crucial to set appropriate boundaries now – before the knot is tied and before your mother gets the idea that she's entitled to maintain a certain degree of influence over your married life. If you want to have a thriving relationship with your husband-to-be, you need to honor the biblical principle of leaving and cleaving (Genesis 2:24).
If you have additional questions or would like to discuss your concerns at greater length, we'd like to invite you to call Focus on the Family's Counseling department.
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