Years ago, when one of my children got engaged, the phone rang the next morning. "Am I calling too early?" It was my child's future mother-in-law--a woman I didn't know who lived in a city far from ours. She was full of excitement about the happiness she foresaw for her child and mine. She wasn't quite right (that marriage didn't work out) but I still remember how wondrous her enthusiasm was and how happy it made me feel that she was so thrilled to have my child become part of her family.
I thought of that moment when a friend told me her story. When her 20-something son, who lives in the Midwest, got engaged, she and her husband found out just minutes before their son's boyhood friends did. Within an hour, those friends "showed up at our doorstep with champagne for us," my friend Betsy says. And a suggestion. They wanted to have a party for the "old gang" and the parents of that gang--to celebrate the engagement and the inter-family friendships that had lasted for all those growing-up years. Betsy agreed. The party would be at her house but it would be casual and 'the boys" would take charge of emailing invitations.
The engagement glow had barely worn off when Betsy got hit with this question: What about inviting the bride-to-be's parents? Betsy didn't know them, and they lived in another city hundreds of miles away. "It was hard for me to get my head around this," Betsy says. "Can't I have an informal party in my own house with my old friends?"
Evidently not. "I got off on the wrong foot with her parents," Betsy says. Since then, Betsy has immersed herself in the reading of many books about parental etiquette for weddings and engagements. What she learned from "the books" was that "I should have reached out to them. I should have sent her parents flowers."
As to the wedding itself, her parents are doing a lot of the planning but they have not asked Betsy for advice. "I call and check in about the color of dress to wear, that kind of stuff. It' tricky when dealing with your son's in-laws-to-be. You don't want to compete with them. You don't want to do the wrong thing." But it's so easy to, well, stick your foot in the wedding cake.