Our advice columnists have heard it all over the years. With wedding season upon us, today we dive into the Care and Feeding archives to share some of the best letters we’ve received the more annoying side of nuptials. Join Slate Plus for even more advice columns.
Dear Care and Feeding,
I thought I was past the age where I would need to be asking a parenting columnist questions (my kids are grown, mostly successfully!), but here I am. My daughter is getting married to a nice enough guy whose parents are from a conservative, old-fashioned background. That hadn’t been an issue before now, but wedding planning has become extremely contentious.
We’re doing … OK? … financially. Our home isn’t paid off, but we don’t have a lot of debt and are trying to think ahead to retirement, not that “retirement” is in the cards for most people anymore. This is all well and good, but her fiancé’s family has made it clear that they expect us to pay for the kids’ entire wedding, which they have very particular plans for. Her fiancé is their youngest, and they’ve apparently paid for their two daughters’ weddings in recent years and think it’s their turn now.
We don’t mind contributing something, but we certainly can’t throw a big white wedding for 250 guests on our own dime without going heavily into debt for it. I am having a tough time communicating this before plans get completely out of hand. Help!
—Father of the Bride
Dear Father of the Bride,
You can give one extremely priceless gift to the engaged couple right away: complete transparency. Sit down with them, minus his parents, and say that you’ve crunched the numbers and you can commit to contributing X amount to the wedding. You want to make sure, you can say, that they have that information before they start putting deposits down. I recommend literally having a check made out for that amount, to avoid getting drawn into haggling.
It is immaterial to me (and you) if the groom’s parents have already paid for a thousand weddings for a thousand daughters. That’s their business, just as your money is your business. Ideally, the engaged couple will have the decency to thank you and take the check and downgrade their plans accordingly. If you wish to first talk to your daughter about this before looping in her fiancé, that’s fine too.
What you must avoid is getting into an argument about this with the groom’s parents. You can remain pleasant and smiling and firm and committed to contributing the number previously stated. If his parents are determined to throw the wedding of the season, God bless. You’ve done nothing wrong, and it’s not 1952. The vast majority of wedding costs are now shouldered by the bride and groom with contributions from both sets of parents. Allow no guilt trips on this point! — Nicole Cliffe
From: “My Daughter’s Fiancé’s Parents Think We’re Paying for the Wedding.” (Nov. 16, 2018)
Dear Care and Feeding,
I recently torpedoed my close family when the topic of my cousin’s wedding came up. My cousin is getting married in a foreign country at a five-star, all-inclusive resort. Guests are required to stay a minimum of three nights. My family wouldn’t normally choose a very expensive all-inclusive hotel as our vacation of choice, so we asked if we could either stay at an Airbnb off-site, or simply fly in for the wedding itself, but not stay for three nights. We were told no. The couple wants the family there for the full three days.
I think the conversation would have been tense, but not catastrophic, if the topic of the wedding costs hadn’t come up. My cousin was explaining that her out-of-pocket costs were going to be around $500 (because all food is included at an all-inclusive, and I guess she is getting the venue for free), and I said that it sounded like the guests were subsidizing the wedding and that the way it was presented to us, it was a really expensive ask of their guests. The conversation exploded. They accused us of being cheapskates. We accused them of trying to get a wedding for free off the backs of their guests. It was ugly. Now no one is talking to each other, and it’s getting to where we’re talking of canceling upcoming family events just so we can avoid each other. Despite how all of this went down, this is close family, and I don’t want this to be a permanent rift. How do we heal after this?
I hope there’s more to the story than what you’ve laid out here. If not, then your cousin and her future spouse could be two of the most self-centered people I’ve come across in a long while. Who plans a wedding in a foreign country in the middle of a global pandemic? Who makes guests stay for a minimum of three nights at an expensive resort in said foreign country? Who is dumb enough to brag about spending $500 for this while pushing the rest of the expenses to the guests? My head feels like it’s going to explode.
When people show you who they are, believe them. It’s beyond unreasonable to ask this of anyone even in “normal” times, but certainly not now. Your cousin is showing a blatant disregard for your well-being and your financial situation by not taking a shred of ownership in this debacle, and that’s extremely telling. I’m not saying that you should cut all ties with her, but you may want to ask yourself if that kind of person is someone you’d want to have a close relationship with. I know I wouldn’t.
As for how to “fix” this: You could apologize for saying hurtful things to her, and mention that you’re willing to attend the wedding, but stand firm on the fact that you’re unwilling to spend money to stay at the resort. Hopefully she would be reasonable enough to compromise in order to save your relationship. If not, then this could be a clear illustration that you don’t matter as much to her as she does to you.
Also, I can’t believe that you’re the only one who feels this way about the wedding. Maybe if you found others who felt the same way you do, you could approach her together in an effort to prove that you’re not the lone party pooper. In any case, I think it’s important to stand up for yourself and not give in to ridiculous requests. Hopefully, she’ll see the error in her ways, but if not, you have to be at peace that you did what you believe was right for you and your family.
— Doyin Richards
From: “My Cousin’s Insane Wedding Plan Is Splitting Everyone Apart.” (Sept. 21, 2021)
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Dear Care and Feeding,
I have two daughters. “Allie” is 28 and “Grace” is 26. Allie met her fiancé in college and they’ve dated continuously since then. They got engaged three years ago, planned a much-later wedding so they could save money, and have since set their wedding date for summer 2023. Grace met her fiancé last year and they had a whirlwind romance. They have set their wedding for fall 2022. Allie has always been very clear that she wants her wedding to be a big affair (about 150 guests) including many extended family members whom we haven’t seen in a while because of COVID. She and her fiancé are paying for it entirely on their own, and my husband and I have been excited about the de facto family reunion in summer 2023. However, Grace just announced that her wedding will also be large (and self-paid) and she will be inviting the exact same set of family members.
I’ve been fielding calls from many of these family members who are geographically/financially limited and can only attend one wedding in this time frame, wanting to know whose would be more appropriate for them to go to. Allie is livid. She feels that Grace is forcing people to choose between them. Grace contends she did nothing wrong. The tension between the two of them boiled over at Christmas and now they aren’t speaking. My husband and I are at a loss, as we aren’t financing either wedding, so we feel we have little room to adjudicate this. I know we should just let the two of them work it out … but in the meantime, is there anything we can do to help? What should we say to the family members who keep calling us? How do we keep this from causing a permanent rift between our daughters?
—Mama in Matrimony Mayhem
There is nothing you can do to “adjudicate” this. I will say that I am getting a whiff of your opinion—that you believe Allie is right and Grace is wrong—and that if I can sense that, just by reading between the lines of this letter, your daughters surely can too. And the family members who are calling you and expecting you to tell them what to do (why on earth are they doing that?) may be able to as well. Just so you know.
Look, I get that you’re disappointed by the way this has worked out, that it seems to you that your younger daughter, with her whirlwind romance, has thrown a monkey wrench into your dream of a big (and “perfect”) family reunion, and that you’re distressed by your daughters’ anger at each other. But planning when and how they are going host their weddings is no one’s business but theirs and their fiancés’. Stay out of it. When relatives call to demand to know whose wedding they should go to (again: Why are they asking? Do they really think you are going to choose for them between your two daughters? And can it be true that many people are asking you to make this choice for them?), why not say, “Goodness, I don’t know!” and change the subject?
I guarantee you can do nothing to keep this from causing a permanent rift between Allie and Grace. I’d hazard to say that if this argument about their weddings is not a straw breaking the poor camel’s back on a long-simmering conflict between them, it absolutely will not drive a lifelong wedge between them—and if their relationship wasn’t solid, it may turn out to be the excuse they’ve been looking for. (And who knows? At the rate things are going, they both may have to postpone their large weddings for the sake of everyone’s safety.) — Michelle Herman
From: “My Daughters Won’t Stop Fighting About Their Weddings.” (Jan. 2, 2022)
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Dear Care and Feeding,
My brother is getting married this summer in a small mountain town that’s either an 18-hour drive or an expensive flight/rental car. He and his fiancée want our three boys (ages 2, 3, and 6) to “be in the wedding,” which means “walk down the aisle, put flowers down, and return to sit” with me. But the reception will be adults only.
My husband (whose cultural background is very inclusive of kids at weddings) is perturbed and insulted that we will have to bring the three little kids a very long way to a ceremony, only to drop them off with a babysitter. He loves our kids, of course, but for him it’s not a relaxing family vacation to drive the kids a long distance; he would likely be stressed the whole time. I want the kids to participate in what they can of the family event, even though it’s a logistical inconvenience to us. I see it from more of a family vacation view. Plus, I would rather enjoy myself at the reception (ha!), so I don’t mind the part where we would leave them with a babysitter. My other cousins are bringing their little kids and nobody sees it to be a problem … they would certainly ask us where our kids are if we left them home.
Should I request a table for the kids at the reception? Leave the kids home with my in-laws? Or ask husband to suck it up in name of family event/reunion? Is it super crappy of the bride and groom to ask kids to be in the wedding but then not invite them to the reception? Have you been in a similar situation?
— 18 Hours Is A Long One
Dear 18 Hours,
It sounds to me like the “in the ceremony, not at the reception” question is something of a red herring here. The ask is a little annoying, but as you say, your other cousins are not surprised or upset by it, and I have certainly taken my child to a wedding where she was welcome at the ceremony and then had to leave for the drinking-and-food part of things. (For what it’s worth, she was totally unbothered by this, and thought that the ceremony itself was the bee’s knees, worthy of re-enactment with stuffies for four weeks thereafter.) And it would, I think, be a breach of etiquette to ask for another table at the reception for the kids.
But yes—I think all of this is a little bit neither here nor there. It sounds like your husband is just a little bit overwhelmed by the idea of this 18-hour drive with these three, and is focused on the ceremony versus reception question because it’s kind of catalyzing all of these feelings about this whole plan being just wrong. I have to be honest—I kind of agree with him! This drive sounds like something I’d dread. And this is a wedding on your side of the family—his in-laws—which is a whole other thing, when it comes to prospective enjoyment levels, at least for some people.
I’m not sure if you’re determined to drive the whole way, or if you’d be willing to do this the plane-plus-rental-car way. That is probably a lot pricier, but I wonder if it might seem a little more bearable to your husband? Try to see it from his point of view: This sounds less like a vacation, and more like a trial-by-fire.
If he’s still not sold, I think your best bet is to tell your brother that bringing the children is just too much for you guys (giving him plenty of time to fill the small hole in the ceremony), leave the kids with the in-laws, and fly there with your husband, to have a good time. Your cousins may be traveling with their kids just fine, but everyone’s situation is different, and I think, in the end, this choice will feel like a relief. Happy husband, happy life, as the (slightly amended) saying goes. — Rebecca Onion
From: “I Can’t Believe What My Brother Is Asking Us to Do With Our Kids at His Wedding” (Apr. 18, 2022)