This all-hands (or all flippers) approach to ensuring your genetic legacy apparently pays dividends.”It turns out that a grandmother’s help can have a profound impact on a new mother’s well-being, on the success of her pregnancy and even on how her children thrive.
During the pandemic, even those mothers who live close to their own mothers have often been forced to be distant. For many others — like me — who live hours apart, this time has caused us to reconsider why we don’t live close enough to continue to be mothered well into adulthood. It’s not just wishful thinking; as Tucker explains, there’s a science to our sense of need.
GIOVANNI FRANCESCO DA RIMINI - Le Mariage de la Vierge
Two years ago, when a co-worker was in the throes of being a first-time grandmother, she asked her son to invite his sister's toddler to his wedding. The son and his bride refused. My co-worker argued the point but the bride and groom's vision for their Saturday evening formal wedding did not include small children. The mother of the groom pouted and complained, and then came up with a solution: She brought the toddler to a casual morning-after brunch where due homage was paid by extended family and friends to an adorable child: a grandmother's pride, salvaged.
I was reminded of that episode by a letter to Philip Galanes at SocialQs. A grandmother was outraged that her husband's niece failed to invite his (and her) three pre-teen grandchildren to her wedding--a destination event at a popular resort. The grandmother writes that she had told the bride that she had rented a large home at the resort to accommodate her adult children (who were invited) and the grandchildren. Once again, the bride had her own vision of her wedding and said No to adding the children to the guest list. The grandmother wrote to Galanes to say she has refused to go to the wedding and has canceled the rental. Her husband, who is to officiate at the wedding, and her son would attend, but she would stay home. "We should have been told about the children [not being invited] much sooner," she wrote. "Thoughts?"
Galanes had plenty of them. "The din of your foot stomping and harrumphing has caused you to miscalculate: You are throwing away a lovely family vacation at a 'popular tourist destination'...in a fit of pique over your grandkids' exclusion from a rubber chicken dinner they probably wouldn't enjoy anyway."
Beyond that point, Galanes notes that "Brides have more on their minds than other people's grandchildren. And making an exception for yours would probably rub others guests with children the wrong way."
It's a reminder, once again, that we are not the star of events--weddings or other occasions our children plan. lWe can ask for a favor but adult children (or nephews and nieces) will have their own reasons to say yes or no. As they should.
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."
When it comes to wedding costs, those of us who are parents of the bride can only be thankful that dowries are no longer an acceptable mode of exchange. But what about paying for the wedding? Tradition has it that the bride's family is on the hook for it. But is that how millennials see it? Has there been a rethinking of who pays for what?
I bring this up because I recently saw a Survey Monkey poll run by a 20-something over at FiveThirtyEight. (He likes to run surveys about what he calls questions about how to be an adult). More than 1,000 single and married folks from millennials to 60+ answered the Survey Monkey questions, which asked about a variety of financial and etiquette wedding issues. Chief among them: who should pay for the shindig?
Before I read the results, I leaned on my own carefully acquired anecdotal evidence: It will vary with the age of the bridge and groom: the older they are (upwards of their mid-30s as opposed to in their 20s) the more likely the bride and groom will pay for or share the costs for the wedding they want. The survey answers were more varied than that.
According to the 20-something who analyzed the Monkey results:
Three responses rose to the top: 25 percent of respondents said the bride’s family, 26 percent said the couple, and 26 percent said that the groom’s family, the bride’s family, and the couple should split evenly. The remainder were split over various permutations of those three groups, with most saying either both families splitting it or the bride’s family and the couple splitting it. For what it’s worth, among the 18-to-29 cohort --you know, the ones often getting married — about half thought it should be some permutation of the parents’ problem to pay, with 35 percent saying the bride’s family should cover it.
Bottom line: The more things change the more they stay the same. There’s still a broad belief that the bride’s family should pay for the main event. To put some survey numbers on it:
Stripping out the permutations, 70 percent said the bride’s family should be at least somewhat on the hook for paying for the wedding, 60 percent said the couple should chip in, and 41 percent said the groom’s family should.
Here are the survey permutations for those interested in details--and to see how answers varied by age of respondent. And yes, my anecdotal evidence is within the margin of error.
We went to see Meet the Patels last night. A delightful documentary: Witty, insightful, one family's dilemma but universal in its message--especially for those of us who think (or whose parents thought it for us) we have any sway over who our children decide to marry.
The Patels are an Indian family living well and successfully in California. The dad, who came to the U.S. to study and stayed on to make his fortune, and the mom are a well-suited, arranged-marriage couple who've been happy together for more than 30 years. They want the same happiness and sense of Indian-culture family for their son (and daughter--but it's the son's story that is the focus of the film, which was filmed by his sister).
We who do not believe in arranged marriages--the Patel son does, or thinks he does--can sit back and laugh with the film's story teller (the son) who does not disparage his parents or make fun of them but takes us along on some of the real-life arranged dates, which includes a speed-dating event for Indian singles. We may laugh at the folly of trying to set up for marriage an American-born and very California-ized son. But the reality that underlies the movie and its message is how universal the parents are: What they want--what motivates them in what they consider to be their modernized marriage-arrangement journey--is for their children to be happy.
Isn't this true of all of us. Or to put it another way, we are only as happy as our unhappiest child. Let joy be unconfined.
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.
A friend's daughter is engaged. Joy to her world. She loves the guy her daughter will be marrying--a young man her daughter has been with for the past five years, the man she moved with post-grad from the east coast to west, then back east for grad school and now south for a new job. The wedding, scheduled for November, has been in the planning-works for several months now and my friend is wondering when she's going to have to start "doing stuff," wedding-wise. She's even put that question to her daughter.
This is not going to be a home-town wedding. The couple--both in their early 30s--are getting married in the southeast town where they went to grad school. That's where most of their good friends are and it's a picturesque town that reflects the couple's values.
My friend isn't complaining. She doesn't feel left out--her daughter keeps her up-to-date on plans as they progress: the place they've rented--a big barn on a farm; the bridesmaid dress colors she's thinking about. But it's the couple--not the mom and dad--who are making the choices and decisions. The parents are chipping in a defined amount of money but other than that, their role is small so far. The mother of the bride, an art director at a magazine, is helping out by reviewing photographer portfolios and giving her daughter a short list of the best of the bunch. But other than that, she and the dad just listen to plans as they evolve.
Does she feel badly about this? Not really. She's working full time and has never been a person who has lived for the day when she would plan her daughter's wedding. Besides, the daughter is 30, living 500 miles away and fully capable of taking charge. It is, in fact, her and her fiance's adventure together.
And that's the point. When our children marry young--early 20s would be young for this generation--we probably have a bigger role to play in wedding plans, especially if our daughters choose to marry in their hometown and we're cast in the role of active hosts. But once they've reached a certain age, they're mature enough to figure things out. They don't really need wedding-planner mom. And if they're living and marrying elsewhere, well, it's their party. (Of course, if we the parents are picking up the tab and the budget is unlimited--well,that's a whole other issue.)
Here's what I learned from hearing about my friend and her daughter's marriage plans: The key to familial happiness is inclusion--not being in charge.
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.
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.
I love Miss Manners--her delicious wit and snarky asides that stay just this side of mannerly. Mostly, though, I feel the etiquette expert is on our side. In her everyday life as Judith Martin, she is, after all, the parent of grown children.
One of her recent brief but pertinent sallies addresses the issue of a grown child's wedding: How much control do we have over the celebratory reception, given that we may be footing the bill? The question put by the parent goes directly to the point: "If I am paying for my daughter's wedding, do I have input on the guest list?"
Miss Manners replies: "That privilege is not for sale, as Miss Manners gathers you seem to believe. However, it does come free with the position of being your daughter's parent."
I believe that says it all in terms of how much pressure we are allowed to exert on the number of aunts, uncles and cousins (by the dozens) we insist be invited to attend. Caveat parenter.
They're getting married. The grown son has finally found Ms Right. They've also found what they consider to be the perfect place for the wedding. It isn't your hometown or hers. It's a destination. Someplace far away and beautiful--but expensive. Too expensive for, say, most relatives and friends. If you're not asked to foot the wedding bill, do you have any say in the matter?
That was a source of lively discussion in a recent Carolyn Hax column in which the son and his bride-to-be planned to wed on the Isle of Capri. Sounds romantic. But airfare to Italy and several nights accommodation can run up a bill. The father wrote Hax to say he can afford to take his wife and stepson but no one else can afford to or wants to spend the money to go, including the elderly grandparents, uncles and aunts. He's tempted to decline the invitation but is, he writes, "afraid of the damage to our relationship with him. I did offer to host a reception for all those who cannot afford to go, but he declined, saying it would cheapen the ‘real wedding.’ How should I handle this?”
It's complicated. On the one hand, the grown child isn't thinking of his greater family or the down-home virtues of having his family and hers meet and mingle and put down roots together. He's thinking of a wedding that will have panoramic views and sophisticated venues--or one that has a particular meaning for him and his bride.That's the best case scenario.
Most Hax readers saw the grown son as incredibly selfish and advised the father to stay home. Hax, who suggested the father go and make the best of it, had this point to make vis a vis the selfishness of the son's decision: "There's no way to re-raise your adult child by saying no for the sake of saying no. Sometimes you have to make a calculation that taking a big stand isn't worth the cost."
It is their wedding--and they're paying for it. If they make a decision we don't approve of--and sometimes that may be the choice of spouse--we still want to continue to be part of their post-wedding lives. Sometimes we just have to suck up what we see as a bad decision and live with it. Especially since it's unlikely we can change it.