Several years ago, when my daughter became engaged, her future mother-in-law called me the next morning. She introduced herself, chatted a bit and then asked if I was excited about planning the wedding. I mumbled a "Hmmm," but the unspoken answer was more precise. "I will do my duty."
No kidding. Not all of us are excited about planning our child's wedding--and that doesn't even get to the point of whether or not the couple getting married want us to do it. In my case, my daughter, who was living on the West Coast, was busy working to support herself and applying to graduate schools. So it fell to me, who lived on the East coast where the wedding was going to take place, to do the ground work and pull together a basic plan--subject to the bride and groom's approval, of course.
Most parents, particularly mothers of the bride, are excited and energized about taking an active role. But that helping role is more fraught than ever. Today's weddings tend to be bigger with more guests, more dinner courses and events, to say nothing of those weddings that are weekend extravaganzas in far away places. There are many more choices and more moving parts, which means too many decisions where mother and child can have differing opinions and difficulty reining in their positions. Also, grooms play a more active role in the wedding plan than they did, say, 20 years ago--which gives negotiations an additional corner to turn.
My wedding-planning days were pre-smartphone and as I understand it, texting, email, FaceTime, Instagram bring a more immediate way to communicate about little and big details. In today's Social Media world, planning a wedding can create a higher level of inclusiveness. (Some of the emails Hillary Clinton did not want disclosed had to do with details for her daughter Chelsea's wedding.)
This feeling of heightened closeness builds on a pre-existing condition. As Deborah Tannen, the linguistic professor and author, has noted, mother-daughter relationships today "are closer than a generation or two ago. Many mothers identify as their daughters' best friend. They rely on their phones to text, Snapchat, email and speak daily. But it’s not just the mothers seeking participation. It’s the daughters, too.”
All well and good. But here's the issue about parents and a grown child's wedding: Close as we may feel to our child and they to us, and as accessible as details about menus, dresses and flowers may be, it is the bride and groom's marriage and a reflection of their commitment to each other.
Beyond consulting on the wines and the seating arrangements, we need to keep our distance and to back off when--whether or not we're footing all or some of the bill--we don't agree or approve of a decision the wedding couple make. As Deborah Tannen points out, “Close bonds always run the risk of feeling like bondage.”
If the bride and groom choose to replace formal shoes with matching sneakers to walk down the aisle, our role is to mention our point of view but ultimately to accept and add a pleasant "I do."