Dealing with family expectations

Emery & Trey wedding-334
This mother of the bride has her OWN expectations … FOR FUN! Thanks to Emery Thibodeaux for submitting this to the Offbeat Bride pool!
As an offbeat bride, I come from an offbeat family, yet I have been amazed at the expectations that have come up from both sides of our families.

How do I manage the expectations of so many family members, while still keeping the vision of our own, unique wedding intact?

-Summer

Isn't that so weird, how even the most nontraditional of families still have expectations about what a wedding should and shouldn't be? Suddenly hippie mothers are hurt because you're not wearing grandmother's veil, and hip uncles reveal that while they might seem like a non-practicing Jews, they're actually mortified that you're making your chuppa out of PVC.

It can skew both ways, too: I spoke to a UK bride named Sabrina who told me that her free spirited mother was mortified (AGHAST!) at the prospect of her daughter having bridesmaids.

I wanted a wedding party, which caused absolute havoc in my untraditional family. My mother kept screeching "Bridesmaids? BRIDESMAIDS?" like I'd suggested roasting babies over an open fire. But I wanted to get married with these women around me; they're part of who I am.


My best advice for how to deal with hitting the brick wall of family expectations is to get into a discussion of why the family member in question has that expectation, and what they really want.

In other words, if your father can't believe you're not letting him walk you down the aisle, ask him WHY he wants to walk you down the aisle, and don't let him get off by saying "That's just how it's done." This can be a cool opportunity to really get into the nitty gritty and find a solution that addresses the root concern of the family member without sacrificing your vision for your wedding.

With the father/aisle example, chances are good that the desire to walk down the aisle is in part because he wants to be involved in the ceremony somehow, and aisle-walking is the usual role (or expectation) for how fathers are acknowledged. Once you get to that root of the expectation, you may be able to find a way you can address the root desire without actually giving into the superficial demand. In other words, you can come up with a different and perhaps even MORE meaningful way for your father to be involved in the ceremony. Then it's win/win: your father's root need is met, and you don't have to feel like chattel being walked to market.

Each expectation can be an opportunity to really explore the meat of WHY that expectation exists. If you have the time and patience for these kinds of conversations, they can be enlightening and even a bonding experience for the bride and her family. It gives your family members a sense that you're listening and care about their thoughts about your wedding, but without you having to change your vision.

Then again, you may get to the root of the demand (ie, "I want you to wear grandma's veil because otherwise I had to and I want you to suffer, too!") and realize that you still don't like it. In that case, you have to pull out the big guns and just say no. And that's another answer for another day…

  1. I know this is an old article, but it hit close to home. My non-traditional parents have both turned uber-traditional now that I'm getting married.

    So far things have turned out well through some compromises "okay I will wear a long wedding dress, but my bridesmaids are wearing miniskirts!" have been made but it has been really unexpected and its nice to know I'm not alone.

    And on a few topics I'll be saying "NO!" even though it's beyond tough.

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  2. I did ask the difficult "dad walking me down the aisle" question and the answer was something between "because it's done" and "because I want to be acknowledged and participate, and I want to fill this role and I've been looking forward to it since before you got engaged".

    Another role, another thing to do, another form of recognition wouldn't have worked: it would have been a consolation prize, a
    not-really-good-enough. Really – we discussed readings, we discussed other ceremonial actions…no. Dad had this one specific thing he was excited to do, and saying 'no' and offering him something else was like saying to a kid on Halloween, "no, you can't have the Iron Man costume with the cool LED lasers…but here, let's take an old sheet and cut holes in it and you can be a ghost!"

    So I decided instead to redefine the role from "giving away" (Dad did not give me away) to "the honor of walking with me down the aisle" and did it, well, for him.

    I found that when I redefined it and stuck to that (all "giving away" language was stricken from the ceremony wording) and let word spread naturally that that was what the role meant to me – which was fine with Dad – that it was no problem at all. It was far easier to swallow.

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  3. This article hits home, I thought my mom would be the only one supporting some of my non-traditional choices, since she prides herself on being the black sheep in her family, but came to find out she saw my wedding as her one shot to be that gal in the limelight, the 'mother of the bride'. She picked some silly things to make a stand on, like bouquets…really? I compromised on some things…flowers from the farmers market will do, but others just had to duke it out until she realized while this day isn't all about me, it's also not all about her.

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  4. I too would love to figure out a way to incorporate my dad (whom we've had a rocky-ish relationship) without having him walk me down the aisle. I too do not feel like he's "giving me away" and more to the point. I've considered having both my parents walk me down, (for one my mother is far more supportive), but I would love any suggestions that both recognize him as my father but me as an independent, non-giveable-away daughter!

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    • Is he the one agitating to walk you down the aisle?

      My dad was totally fine with my idea, which was to walk down the aisle by myself. (My husband also walked down by himself, so there was that bit of egalitarianism going on.) The way we incorporated the parents during the ceremony was like this: husband and I first did a rose exchange with each other, and then we each presented a rose to the other's parents to acknowledge and thank them. The minister also asked each set of parents to pledge their support with a "we will." There was no giving away of anybody :) Maybe something like that would work for you?

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      • I like the idea of the rose exchange! I think my mom is more wanting it than either of us; it's not something my dad and I have talked about a lot. But then again, we don't talk a lot about anything unrelated to fishing or basketball (my dad's two hobbies).

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  5. I think people revert to tradition because they like knowing what to expect, and more specifically, what they are being asked to do.

    My FH and I are at odds over having one or more friends serve in the the "master of ceremonies"/officiant role for our non-religious ceremony. (We're doing the legal ceremony beforehand, with no guests present, at a city hall.) He thinks we should just appear in front of everyone and say our vows. I would like a little more direction–that's why I like the idea of one or more friends in official roles, explaining what's going on, guiding everyone on what to do. We may be offbeat, but not all of our family and friends are.

    So we have somethings to work out between us.

    1 agrees
  6. I'm not nearly offbeat enough for my mom's taste. I'm totally ok with that though since I have no desire to be as mental as my mom. She's all hippie-trippy, I'm a new ro/nerd, nary the two shall ever see eye to eye. She's pretty used to me telling her no and I'm very comfortable doing it just because it's been this way for 20 some years.

    1 agrees
  7. I'm interested in hearing the responses on this one.

    I feel this huge pressure to be the bride that my mom "couldn't have afforded to be" when she got married, even though that's not what I want. We're super early in our engagement, and there have been no fewer than 5 blowups already due to expectations.

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    • I would say from our engagement the initial period (i.e. 2-3 months) was pretty rocky, and there was a lull until really the last 2-3 months (we're 6 weeks out from the wedding). Our newest clash? We are talking with a female minister. My dad, of course, does not believe females can be ministers and ergo we wouldn't actually be married. Which only make me want to choose the female more…

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    • You have to set expectations those first few months and it's rough. I had a very supportive maid of honor who I started bouncing ideas off of, instead of my mom, because every time I would tell her something she would be negative, or worse, pout because it wasn't what she thought we should do.

      After it was all said and done, we survived the blow ups, the wedding was a success, we included what we wanted, left out what we didn't, and we can look back on it fondly.

      We are able to do so because I set boundaries about how involved in the decision making process my mom was. We didn't do wedding dress shopping, she didn't go to the cake tastings, and I created my own invitations that didn't mention my parents. It helped that I wasn't taking money from her for the wedding, since that really makes things complicated!

      It may sound cruel to have cut her out of so many traditionally mom and daughter wedding things, but we never would have made it without killing each other.

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  8. Its been so hard to talk to my mom about my wedding and I'm only recently engaged! she's so traditional and so is everyone else on her side! everything from leaving my hair short to getting matching tats is a huge battle >.<

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  9. I don't really get any expectations from many people, my side of the family doesn't really care, they aren't very vocal, but I know that during the wedding they'll be analyzing everything and tell me what I should have done differently afterwards, which makes me super nervous. My FMIL has the most expectations, her daughters both kind of eloped without her, my FH is her last shot to see her children get married. I've had to decide not to tell anyone what shoes I'll be wearing for the wedding though….because I know someone will say something and it will break my spirit.

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  10. The pressure for dude and I both is getting more intense as things creep up. We're both the oldest grandchildren–on my side, everyone else who has gotten married has eloped or did a quickie 'shotgun' wedding and for dude, he's the first to even bring a person home for the holidays.

    It's not that we have pressure to stick to tradition or to be more offbeat (yet), we just have so many people who are SO STOKED to FINALLY be able to do things that they've always wanted and expected to be able to do–so juggling all of those dearly held expectations is getting more and more a part of this process.

    Like PPs have said, my dad is also hell bent on walking me down the aisle. I wasn't feeling that too much until I remembered that it's a Jewish tradition for both parents to walk the bride down the aisle. This sits better with me as with both parents there, there is no implication of me being given away. But I've nixed the father/daughter dance and he's dealing with that. We'll dance at some point, just not as an event. My grandmother would cry if she did not have a corsage–I was not planning on any corsages and now we have to have 5 of them or Grandma will cry. How can I argue with that? So instead, I sigh and add more money to the feather lady's bill and it's done so I can do fun things like homework and house cleaning.

    I try to remember to pick my battles–I'm not going to fight over something just so I have control over it. I will reserve my energy and verbal melee skills for the things that really matter, and the other things, I will do my best to work for a solution that makes everyone happy. If I can afford to throw money at something to make it go away, I will. If I can't, I'll figure it out. I see so many people picking one extreme like trying to make everyone happy or the other extreme like refusing to budge one little bit, even over something small. I try to avoid that because I've never seen an extreme behavior strategy work effectively. We try to keep the things that we determined were important to us to the forefront and let the little things that may or may not matter to us or others work themselves out. It's hard but it's all about balance and thinking about something before responding/emoting about it. No one's perfect, my dad and I totally fought like cats and dogs over the aisle nonsense but it obviously ended up ok. :D

    1 agrees
  11. My mom wants me to wear a WHITE dress….I want to wear a black one. The black one i want to wear i made myself so i just made a white one and then she told me that it was too sloppy and that she would remake it if i'd let here. its 3 months before the wedding… what do i do? i don't want to hurt her feelings but i want this to make ME happy, not her.

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    • You need to say whatever equivalent of "Mom, I love you and love that you're so invested, but please fuck off" that works for you. If that's what you want, it's a conversation you're going to have to have, which sucks :(

      2 agree

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