Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Reader Question: In-Laws and Wedding Plans

Hi Meg,

I have a question for you. I just got engaged to my boyfriend of four and a half years. His sister recently got married (2 years ago) and his parents paid the entire bill for her wedding, showers, anything she needed wedding related..and so on. My own parents are in absolutely NO condition to pay for our wedding. In fact I make more money than my parents combined and will most likely end up paying for them, not the other way around. His parents continue to make remarks about my parents paying for the wedding. One: How can I let them know that this is absolutely not an option and that we plan on paying for this ourselves? Two: How can I avoid being in his sisters' spotlight the entire time? (anytime I make a remark regarding the wedding, I have to hear "well Samantha had this and Samantha had that," etc) I'm going mad!
Hope you can help!


Wow, this is a sticky situation you're in. But I think there are definitely solutions. The most important thing to remember is that it's YOUR wedding, not your in-law's, not Samantha's. I think you need to have a serious sit-down conversation with your fiancé and his parents and let them know what your plan is for the wedding. You should feel no shame (and should actually be quite proud of yourself) to explain to them that you (not your parents) intend on footing the bill for this wedding. Your parents will be helping you in many ways, but you're taking on the financial burden. There's no reason why they shouldn't understand and respect this, just as long as you present it the right way.

During this conversation, you also need to tell them that while you thought that Samantha had a beautiful, wonderful wedding, this wedding is yours, not Samantha's, and you're going to do things differently in some ways. Tell them that planning a wedding is stressful enough alone, but you're finding it more difficult when you're constantly being compared to Samantha and how she planned her wedding.

Of course, you'll want to talk to your fiancé first and make sure both of you are on the same page before you speak to his parents. Present your views as the views of both of you, which will make your argument stronger. And throughout the conversation, tell them how much you appreciate their financial and emotional support during this process.

The worst case scenario here is that they continue what they're doing and annoy you for the next however many months until the wedding is over. This obviously sucks, but as long as you try to block it out and stick to your gut to have the wedding you want, you can definitely handle it. But these sound like decent, well meaning people, and I have a good feeling that if you talked to them honestly about the financial situation and your feelings about their constant comments and comparisons, they'll change their behavior for the better.

Anyone else have advice or tips for LV?


Anonymous said...

Your parents might want to make a small contribution to your wedding, regardless of whether you make more money. My parents gifted us $5000 (and when I was previously, ill-advisedly engaged, that gift was going to be $2000). We paid for the rest. If they want to do that, please let them.

But you might want to think of doing something a little non-traditional. It really gets people out of the comparison mode and the expectation that you have to spend tons of money on flowers and stuff.

Aside from that gift, my husband and I paid for our wedding. Everyone is still talking about how we did it "right" -- and differently than anyone else they'd met. We got married at a friend's restaurant before dinner, with just our parents in attendance. It was beautiful. Then we went on a 2-week honeymoon in Costa Rica, which accounted for the $5000 gift. THEN, we had a party at our condo for about 30 friends and family when we got back. We hired two servers to help out, we picked up dishes from all our favorite restauraunts (with a theme tying them together), and we just made a few things ourselves. It was all in the presentation. I think it all came in under $2000, including beer, good wine, champagne, and one signature martini. Plus, a lot of the serving stuff we used was either wedding presents, or we bought them ourselves to re-use for years to come. We got this amazing tropical flower arrangement at Fresh Market -- for a whopping $8 -- that was identical to all of the floral arrangements in the swank hotels in Costa Rica. It was probably the cheapest wedding any of our friends had ever been to, but they all say it was the best.

Oh, and we had so much food left over the next day that some friends threw an "after party" and we brought all the food.

Erika said...

My parents had a limited budget when my husband and I were married. Coming from different backgrounds, the parents had different ideas on what was proper. My in-laws wanted a sit down dinner, which we just couldn't afford. We told them how much my parents could spend, and if they wanted to chip in the rest for the dinner, that was fine. They agreed.

I think the main thing to remember is, even though this is a special occassion and you want it to be perfect, it is only one day, and quite possibly one you may not remember much of due to the craziness of the day and nerves.

Also remember, when you marry your husband, you marry his family. Set the ground rules now, or you will be in for a long battle.

All that being said, have fun!

Cate said...

I think Meg's advice is great, but I wouldn't--at all--call your future in-laws out on their comparison comments. I think that simply sitting down with them and explaining, with your fiance, that you two are going to pay for the wedding will take care of that.
If it does persist, then that is an issue for your fiance to handle--definitely not you! He can go to his parents and say "guys, listen, you can't keep comparing our wedding to Samantha's; we're not working with the same budget, here, and it isn't fair to (your name) to act like we are." Coming from you, it will sound defensive and shrill; coming from him, it will sound matter of fact.
I am also of the opinion that far too much money is spent on weddings these days, and you shouldn't feel discouraged by the over-the-top weddings that are constantly being televised and advertised (by the wedding industry and those who have bought into it) as the norm. The focus should be the ceremony, where you commit your lives to one another...that's the important part!...and the lovely party that follows should be just that--a lovely party. There is no way you'll get away with spending zero, but with proper planning you can hostess a gorgeous, intimate affair that I guarantee people will remember MUCH more fondly than the huge wedding they went to where they spent 2 hours standing and sitting while people did their dances and the cake was cut and yada yada yada (just check anoymous' post!). the key is to remember that a great party has four key elements: great food, great booze, great music, and great people. spend the bulk of your money on the first three, invite a guest list that is meaningful for you, and celebrate the hell out of your (and his) day! good luck!

Meg the Florida Bargain Queen said...

While my mom did help some, she wasn't in a position to pay for our entire wedding either. I was going through college at the time and not working, so that left it pretty much on my husband's shoulders. He paid, I planned.

In the end, we got the wedding we wanted which was large, but still very inexpensive because we focused on what was important to us. For instance, I was in the band program in high school, so we had the high school jazz band play for a reasonable donation. We also had the high school culinary arts cater for the cost of food and a donation. We saved on decorations because the place was already decorated for the holidays and decided that are guests did not need monogrammed napkins, plates, candy bars, etc.

Of course, there was some friction with in-laws along the way. I was glad I was on the phone with one relative, miles and miles away, when I told her that I was considering wearing a tiara instead of a veil (still went with the veil in the end).

Looking back, I would have tried to include my in-laws more. It was hard because I didn't know them very well, but I think some of the meddling was just them wanting to feel included in our big day (though it had the opposite effect). Ask for advice. Ask for help and find a job for everyone you can -- even if it's just, "Can I count on you to fill the bags of rice?" They'll be happier because they'll feel needed.

Anonymous said...

I had a very similar situation when I planned my wedding 8 years ago!

First thing to say is: if your husband's sister is a Princess, she will always be The Princess. Go ahead and make sure that you are OK with that, because it will inform everything for the rest of your married life. I am not kidding or being alarmist-- if your in laws like big extravganzas, they will want everything you guys do to be big, too. Once the weddings are over, there are baby showers, christenings, Christmas morning, etc etc. So there are two big issues that you have a chance to set straight RIGHT now:
1) How ok am I with marrying into a Royal Family where I will never get to be a Princess (only, MAYBE a Duchess) and where eventually someone's else's kids will be the Heirs Apparent possibly meaning that ours take a back seat?
2) How can we make it clear to them that we are creating a family with our own way of doing things that is OURS, and that needs to be respected? This is a BIG deal, WAY WAY bigger than a wedding. I thought that it was just a wedding things-- but no, not at all. Sure, we worked out fine compromises for the wedding but other people can and have given you good advice about that. I just want to encourage you to make sure that your future spouse is on the same page with you and that you have thought through how conspicuos consumption events will impact your relationship with *your* parents ESPECIALLY if and when there are children.
Here are some examples:
it breaks my mother's heart because my daughter gets probably 5 times as many gifts that are 10 times more expensive from my mother in law. And they are more than any child needs, as well. Sure, my mom's problems are hers alone, yada yada. But it still puts a little damper on birthdays and Christmas for me and my mom.
Her Royal Highness my sister in law gives her Royal Daughters any and everything they want. I have to contend with telling my mother in law that I don't *WANT* my 5 year old to have her own TV/VCR/DVD while trying to not sound judgmental about that AND dealing with my kid wanting something that, if her cousins weren't so spoiled, she woulnd';t know anything about.

I see this situation as a resd flag, and you need to make sure that you and your spouse are on the same page re: materialism and consumption. And then, HE needs to make it clear, early, often, with respect but firmness, that this is the Way that Your New Family is going to run.

Because no matter what the wedding business tells you, this is not about a romantic fantasy moment in time blah blah greatest day of your life, blah blah. You are starting a family. Whether or not your have kids, there is a long future ahead of you. Just how long and how often do you want to "compromise" on your values and those of your family? I promise that around year 5 or so, you might get tired of it.

Anonymous said...

Great Advice Meg!!! Sitting down with the in-laws is spot-on advice. This will clear up any misconceptions that either side has. Also great point of talking to your fiance first. Make sure you are a united front when "confronting" his parents. Looking back at my own wedding, I would advise you to make it your own. Don't feel pressured to compete with Samantha. Then when all is said and done, Make sure you enjoy the wedding for what it is. Don't spend time worrying if everything is perfect. Just go with the flow on the special day, because most likely, something will go wrong! (Knock on wood!)Don't let it get to you and focus on each other!! Overall, I wish you all the best!

Anonymous said...

One of Carolyn Hax's favorite suggestions for dealing with people who insist on saying stupid things is to simply respond with "wow" until they get the message.

It's really so sad that people act like these in-laws do. I wonder how your relationship is with the "sister whose wedding was the best wedding in the history of weddings." If she's a reasonable person with whom you get along, perhaps you can enlist her help in dealing with her parents.

Beth said...

I agree wholeheartedly with Anonymous above. She is 100% right, it is more than wedding plans, it is an attitude you're dealing with. I also married into a family where my husband's little sister is the Royal Princess and has everything (and I mean everything) she wants. I had no idea how much this would impact our lives and the lives of my children, but I am learning daily. The worst part is that DH was brought up to worship at her altar and he thinks she can do no wrong, and no amount of money is too much to spend on her. Her parents and my husband have paid for everything for her (car, insurance, education, wedding, deisgner clothing etc.) and any money she makes at work is just spending money for her. My in-laws also intend to leave everything to her in their will. Anyway, just be sure you know what you're getting into and can handle being compared (unfavourably) to Samantha the rest of your married life.

Anonymous said...

Is eloping out of the question? Or just get married at the courthouse/city hall with your parents in attendance. Have a casual party at some other time to celebrate the marriage. Put your money toward a house, savings, or the honeymoon instead.

Corey B said...

My suggestion is to talk with your fiance, come to an agreement on what YOU want for your wedding and do it that way. Explain to his parents - when and if the subject comes up - why you are doing it your way but I would avoid the topic of the comparison attacks as well. If you feel you must address it, do it tactfully and under the "her wedding was perfectly suited to her and was awesome, but we are different people and this is how we want it" rather than "stop comparing me to her."

Above all else, depsite all stressors, DO WHAT YOU WANT! I can't stress that enough. I had so many issues during my recent wedding and in the end I'm SO glad I stuck to my guns and held my ground against my inlaws. You will be too.

lisa said...

I think Meg's advice is spot-on regarding the sit-down talk with the in-laws.

As for the comparison attacks, I agree with other commenters that this is a touchy issue to bring up. As much as the comparisons annoy LV, I think it's just best to ignore them. Like Meg said, the in-laws sound like well-meaning people; maybe the constant remarks about what Samantha did are their odd way of helping LV in the wedding planning process, their way of offering suggestions based on recent experience. If LV starts thinking of the intention behind the comments as benign and an attempt to be helpful, maybe they'll come across as less annoying.

Kay said...

My parents were cheap as only the well-off can be. $2,000 for the wedding itself, a $3,000 gift for us. They would have spent more on the wedding--but then less of a gift for us.

This is what we did. Wedding in the chapel at the gorgeous church where I'd grew up, and it had a monster organ with a wonderful organist playing cheerful baroque all through, Handel, not Wagner, for the wedding march. 50 guests. Wedding gown was nothing but a well-cut, long-skirted, Edwardian, cream, watered-satin suit with a lace shirt and my hair in a topknot. No veil, no train, no beads or pearls or embrodery on suit, just a double strand of pearls around my neck(already owned) and pearl earings(ditto.) A maid-of honor in a plain dark red velvet dress with pearl necklace, no bride's maids or other attendants cept for a best man who ushered. My husband wore a well-fitting, navy-blue suit. The night before, after the short rehersal, my husband and I went off with the maid of honor to drink at home and my parents took the minister to a local hash house (thou being NY, it was a fairly prestigious hash house.) Everybody else came in the next day.

It was a week before Christmas; decorations were white and red blooming cyclomens and amyrillis . The reception was back at our apartment. No band, no dancing, no sit down dinner but wonderfully delicious finger food from an expert caterer and lots of liquor. Only close friends and heartfelt toasts.

Quick honeymoon in glamorous DC for the free museums and then another party for another 50 at the apartment.

Can you tell I'm actually rather pleased with all this? Blowing a small fortune on a wedding? I'm not as cheap as my mom -- but spend the money on a house, or paying off student debt, or or being able to stay home when the kids are little. Something that's an investment in what's real, something that in the long haul matters.

People feel pressured by others' expectations into dropping a bundle. Life is tough enough in the long slog; give yourselves a break with a nest egg to carry forward. I've never heard of a marriage being saved because the couple had a really fabulous wedding.

knoxwhirled said...

then that is an issue for your fiance to handle--definitely not you! .... Coming from you, it will sound defensive and shrill; coming from him, it will sound matter of fact.

Have to agree here--avoid at all costs getting involved in any issues within his family unit. It's really his responsibility to reign in his parents if they are being thoughtless or disrespectful in their dealings with you.

And if he's hesitant to do so, that's a *red flag.* I have 2 friends who have marital strife because their husbands are more loyal to their parents/siblings than they are to their wife, and even in adulthood are uable to "cut the apron strings."

Meg the Florida Bargain Queen said...

I definitely agree with that!

When we were planning our wedding, my husband and I would agree on something, but then afterwards he sometimes sounded wish-washy about our decisions with his family and friends. Mostly, he was just trying to avoid a confrontation, but it ended up sounding like I was calling all the shots with no respect for his opinion. Unfortunately, it lead to a few big confrontations. Fortunately, we figured this out since then.

Anonymous said...

What Corey and Lisa said. Why make an issue out them talking about their daughter's wedding? Maybe they are just pleased and happy and like talking about it.

Anonymous said...

My brother had an amazing wedding in a flower garden overlooking the bay. His friend sang a song he had written for the occasion, and the food was a lovely "upscale-picnic" in the park by waterside. While some traditionalists at first made comments about it not being in a church and not having a traditional sit-down dinner, now we all reminisce about how it was one of the loveliest weddings we have been to!

Also you can cut corners and not lose quality by avoiding those bizarre wedding stores. If you can find a dress you like (and some for your bridesmaids) in the department store or a small boutique then you are avoiding a real racket!

I agree that you should NOT be confronting the parents, it should be the job of your hubby-to-be, and he should be confident enough to present it as HIS decision as much as yours. Men can be notorious wet noodles when it comes to confronting their parents (especially moms!).

Also I must agree that you should set the ground rules now, but in a way that is firm but tactful. Say nothing personal, heck, even pretend you are agree with them about the monogrammed napkins but then just do it your way!

Be prepared for a blowup or two (possibly involving you, your fiance, and/or your/his parents). There is always one, just because of the natural stress of a wedding. But it is always forgotten when the moment comes. Believe me on the day of the wedding no one cares about the napkins!

Good luck.