Parents and Financial Expectations for Adult Daughter’s Wedding

Is it our responsibility to cover the expenses for our adult daughter's wedding when she and her husband-to-be have good, professional jobs and earn more than we do? They expect us to do so even though we have limited financial resources after putting our children through college. Do you think this is right? We feel like we're done paying for our adult children's expenses.

There’s no right or wrong answer to this question, but we can tell you this much – it’s easier for everyone concerned when issues like this have been discussed and decided ahead of time. We’ve seen many poor financial decisions made in connection with weddings. That’s because most weddings tend to “happen” without any real plan. Parents and children often leap into the process by throwing out a lot of exciting ideas without stopping first to think through exactly what they want to accomplish, what it’s likely to cost, and whether or not they can afford them.

The best-case scenario is when parents have decided years ahead of time what they intended to do for their children financially as they passed through the various stages of life. In other words, they agreed on what type of college they would pay for and what kinds of expenses they would cover both during and after college, including wedding costs and first-home expenses. If parents haven’t thought through those questions, they’re apt to face emotional battles later, either between themselves or with their adult children.

The principle here is to avoid creating a “coping gap.” A coping gap exists when there is a difference between expectations and reality. If parents can establish realistic expectations for their children early in life, they’re in a much better position to reduce conflict during periods of high emotion – for example, after an engagement ring has already been given and the church has already been reserved.

In cases like yours, where this kind of planning apparently hasn’t taken place beforehand, we’d suggest that it’s still possible for parents to establish some realistic financial parameters. We recommend that you come up with a budget outlining what you are willing to spend on the wedding and then communicate that to your daughter and her fiancé. Tell them that they can spend the budget in any way they want – on a reception, a wedding gown, invitations, flowers, etc. If any money is left over, it can be used as a nest egg or applied to the cost of beginning their married life together. If, on the other hand, your budget falls short of their needs and expectations, let them know that you have financial limitations and that they’re free to make up the difference out of their own resources. This may require some sensitivity and a generous amount of diplomatic language on your part, but we believe you can pull it off if you know your own minds and are firm about establishing and maintaining appropriate boundaries.

If you’re unsure about your ability to manage the relational aspects of this situation, we’d encourage you to give our Counseling staff a call. They would be happy to listen to your concerns and assist you with some practical suggestions. They can also provide you with referrals to professional Christian family therapists practicing in your local area.

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