Honoring a wedding you're not invited to: advice for an estranged mother

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My daughter has estranged me and excluded me from her wedding.

A few good friends are keeping me company that day and I would like to plan an authentic small ritual to honour and celebrate my daughter and her fiance's love and union. Nothing religious, but something spiritual. They are going to make statements to support my situation. Can you offer suggestions? Passages? The couple will not be aware, but we wish them well.
-Elaine

Oh, Elaine. This situation is so painful for everyone. On Offbeat Bride, we've covered this issue from all sorts of angles…

And our sister site Offbeat Home & Life has lots of thoughts on estrangement, too:

Just one post from Offbeat Home & Life's archive of posts about parental estrangement

…but we've never covered it from this angle. I appreciate that you're not arguing with your daughter's decision, nor trying to change her mind. The situation is likely complex, painful, and fraught… and your respect for her decision speaks a lot about how you're trying to move forward with healing from the rift.

My mom on the left, with her partner Tere.

So. Let's talk about this: how can an estranged mother honor a child's wedding that she's not invited to? To help me answer this question, I decided to bring in the best expert on ceremony I know… my own mother, Therese Charvet.

My mom's a former catholic who's spent decades as a Buddhist / pagan / whatever, and she currently runs an eco-retreat called Sacred Groves on Bainbridge Island near Seattle. She and her partner host women's groups, grief retreats, wailing lodges, and ceremonies ranging from coming of age rituals to baby blessings to memorials and more. In other words: Mom knows her shit when it comes to non-religious self-designed spiritual ceremonies.

Here's what she had to say:

Greetings Elaine,
The situation you are in as regards being excluded from your daughter's wedding sounds heart-breaking. I honor your decision to have your own little ceremony to link-in energetically with theirs, to send blessings for their love and union. This is definitely walking "the high road," an important alternative to feeling bitter and victimized.

So firstly: good on ya for staying in a positive place and responding from a place of love and respect for your daughter.

As for the nature of the ritual you might hold…..I suggest you follow your heart and follow your intuition in making something up. Here are some ideas:

  • Lay out an altar with photos of your daughter (and her husband if you've got them), candles, flowers, anything else that feels right.
  • Sing some songs, say some prayers for her and for their marriage, for their future children, for yourself and the healing of your relationship.
  • Play some music, do some movement, express your grief at being excluded but don't get lost there.
  • Send blessings, send blessings, send blessings their way.
  • Pray for healing, pray hard, envision and speak a future when you will be re-connected in a positive way, when you can be actively and positively engaged with them and with their children, a loving and positive grandmother, mother and mother-in-law.
  • Weep and wail at the pain in your heart at this current estrangement and cry out for energies to shift, resolution of the severance, good will all the way around.
  • Call in the help of the ancestors to support this…… this severance may be a multi-generational issue, something that has been passed through your lineage. Ask them to help resolve it once and for all. Send more blessings backward in time to your ancestors, send blessings forward in time to your descendents.
  • Speak out good memories of you and your daughter and your intention to heal the rift. Those who are present with you can hold witness, support you and your prayers, speak prayers of their own if they know your daughter. Doing such a thing will surely help energetically, even if it isn't clear for many years.

Blessings on your efforts and prayers… may they succeed in bringing you peace of mind and a sense in your heart that you have done something positive to support your daughter at this time as well as your own healing process.

Thanks, mom!

My hope with this post is that it's both useful for Elaine and other family members who may be going through similar experiences… but also that it helps spread a little compassion and empathy to couples who are making the difficult decision not to invite certain family members.

It's important to draw your boundaries, but also important to hold a sliver of compassion and empathy for the experience of being excluded. Family estrangement is painful for everyone, and while that doesn't mean that anyone should feel obliged to invite ANYONE to a wedding… compassion for the challenges experienced by everyone go a long way.

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  1. Thanks for posting this. I know it's not the same, but…..two of my siblings won't communicate with our parents, and it leaves me very, very stuck in the middle. To this day, my parents continue to offer to meet with any neutral counselor or mediator the sibs choose, to try and start to mend fences, but the sibs won't take their calls, or reply to any notes or e-mails. We aren't talking about abuse, huge disrespect or boundary issues, or anything even remotely in that category – we're talking about misunderstandings, blown out of proportion (and yes I've fully heard both sides). Holidays are a logistical nightmare, because if the rest of us go only to our parent's celebrations, the siblings accuse us of showing a preference, in favor of the folks. My parents are crushed at being ignored, and when they occasionally ask, "How are X and Y?" you can hear the pain in their voices, & see it on their faces.

    Cutting people off is never just about the 2 parties involved – those of us in the middle get a pretty crappy deal out of it, too. Family friends & distant relatives who don't know the situation, approach me to ask 'why' X and Y don't show up at family reunions, funerals, etc, and all I can tell them is – ask my parents, and then ask my siblings, because I can't be in the middle of it.

    The highest road I can think of, is for an offended party to at least acknowledge the other, tolerate them in small doses, etc. Again – I'm not talking about including people in things who won't discuss issues, who won't make amends, who won't ever see that their actions were terrible, or anyone who committed serious abuse, intolerance or breaches of boundaries. Before you cut anyone off, please – don't just ask how it will be for you, or how it may be for the other party – please also ask yourself, who else will be seriously impacted by this course of action?

    3 agree
    • I'm sure if my brother were writing about this topic it would sound a great deal like what you just wrote. It would all seem like misunderstandings that are blown out of proportion. As close as you think you are to all parties however, chances are you there is a lot that has passed that you don't know about. My brother as the "golden child" doesn't understand why I have chosen to mostly cut my parents off. I don't know if what they did crosses the line to emotional abuse vs. just really crappy parenting. But I do know that my life is much more positive when I limit their involvement in it.

      4 agree
    • I'm sort of in the same situation. It really sucks, especially when the siblings in question won't even try to resolve things. You feel like if they would just talk to each other things could start being resolved even if they won't immediately be fixed, but a refusal to communicate by one party just leaves you awkwardly in the middle. Good luck.

  2. Include things that remind you of your daughter. Serve foods she liked when she was little, wear her favorite color, have her favorite flowers, etc. Make her energy felt in the space. All things that happen you want to resonate toward her, so make her as present as you can in order to focus your energy.

    The structure of a ceremony can do a lot to make it feel important and worthwhile. I think of rites of passage ceremonies, which admittedly are the only kinds I know about, but they start with an element representing how things were, then the time of transformation, then an element of the way things will be. In this kind of ceremony you wouldn't have a true transformation, but similar attention to form might help lead the proceedings in a meaningful way. The best format is what feels right to you, and where you want to devote your energy. Whether your energy goes more into the blessings for her wedding or prayers for healing for both of you would change how the ceremony goes.

    If you want to focus on the wedding, and wishing your daughter best regardless of how your relationship is, I would still recommend some kind of grief expression, but making it shorter and moving on toward the prayers and blessings more quickly to make them what you put the majority of your energy into. But coming into an invocation for happiness while clinging to the pain and remorse can be difficult. Allow yourself to feel these emotions, then try to move past them to look toward the future.

    Here's one suggestion of how you might do an invocation:
    "I lift up my daughter, ____, to bring love and compassion into this day and into her future life with her new husband, _____. May they find….. May they cherish….. May they be…..
    I call upon our ancestors: the mothers, the grandmothers, the sisters, the daughters, the friends who were more like family. I ask you to bring her guidance and love. I ask that you help her to continue to grow into the wonderful person I know she is, and into the wonderful wife I know she will be. I pray that you will show her…. May she find _____'s strength…. _____'s compassion, etc.
    I ask the universe to show her favor. Whether fair to ask it or not, I always wish her the best. With your help I brought her into this world, and I pray that the world does not sour her. I pray that she gets back the compassion she shows in tenfold. I pray that she never loses her light. I pray that she remains strong against the storms, and loving in times of peace. I wish her peace, and boundless expressions of love. May her days be filled with joy and beauty, and her nights filled with awe and wonder."

    After an invocation and blessings, the most important thing is joy. Your daughter may feel grief in your relationship, like you do, so fill your ceremony with joy to send positive energy her way to try to heal this grief.

    I've never done or written anything like this, but those are my suggestions. Regardless of the pain you feel, I think it's important to focus on positive thoughts for the future.

    2 agree

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