Our grown children are several years into their marriages, but who can forget some of the conflicts during the planning stage of their nuptials. Tensions run high, so do feelings about what is right, proper, best, appropriate. Friends of ours got off to a rocky start with their new daughter-in-law when they tried to insist that their daughter's toddler be invited to the wedding--even after their son and his bride explained that they saw the evening wedding as an adult affair, not one to which children would be invited. And then there are friends who wanted the wedding venue--a white clapboard church on a hill in the bride's home town--moved to a non-religious setting so a rabbi could co-officiate. Never mind that the bride had always dreamed of marrying in the neighborhood church and that their son didn't care who officiated at the wedding, so long as his wife-to-be was happy.
When I saw that Sheila Heen--a conflict solver who has penned such books as, "Difficult Conversations: How to discuss what matters most"--posted a column on the New York TImes entitled Parents at a Wedding, I thought I'd check it out and see if there were insights to share with other parents of brides and grooms.
There were. Our job, she seems to say, is to de-escalate tension and be supportive--no matter what. Easier said than done. The two reader-questions she addresses in her post are quite different. One bride was alarmed that her divorced parents weren't communicating with each other and that her stepmother was trying to step into the role of 'equal mother.' The other came from parents whose daughter was marrying her partner, another woman, and an aunt and uncle were refusing to attend the same-sex wedding. While Heen's answers were specific to the issues at hand, there were also some generalities that we all---when and if we're parents of a bride or groom--might keep in mind.
--Heen notes that a theologian had told her, “Planning a wedding is a microcosm of the marriage itself. All the things the couple is going to fight about or struggle with – money, disagreements, family dynamics – are at the heart of the wedding planning process.” It also sets up all the things we may struggle with in developing an adult-to-adult relationship with the couple. The way wedding-planning disputes are settled, Heen sugggests, establishes expectations about how the new couple will handle their families' conflicting interests. So there's more at stake than whether we walk the bride down the aisle or all our cousins are invited.
--As to the no-show uncle at a same-sex wedding, there's nothing that spoils the day for parents than a slight to their child. Heen reminds us--the parents--not to escalate the tension. Whatever the cause of the slight, "what the daughter needs is continuing support from her parents and continuing efforts over time to encourage positive contact with the no-show relatives....What won’t help is to respond to your sense of judgment from them with judgment of them. That will cause everyone to retreat in hurt and anger."
Caveat parentus. Keep your eye on the prize--a healthy future relationship with your children and their spouses--and the spouses parents.