Are your parents helping pay for your wedding? Have them read this.

Photo print available from Etsy seller Peggy Collins Photo Art

I was interviewed recently for an article on the AARP's website about how parents can speak to their adult children about contributing money toward a wedding. It's a thorny issue, for sure. Generally speaking, the only rule is to talk openly and honestly about expectations clearly before accepting any money — is the money a loan? A gift? If it's a gift, does it come with stipulations or expectations? Talking about money is uncomfortable and awkward for everyone, but it's critically important for parents who might be contributing to weddings to be VERY clear about what their expectations are. Do you expect to be able to control the guest list? The decor?

While it’s uncomfortable to talk about the expectations around money, 'it’s way less uncomfortable than dealing with control issues later on in wedding planning,' Stallings says.

Some 'predatory' vendors target parents as well as the couple, Stallings says. 'There is a lot of messaging out there about what weddings need to have, and parents can often fall prey to enforcing these commercial traditions on couples who don’t relate to them.'

She says couples can have awesome experiences educating their parents about which wedding traditions just aren’t needed. Brides on her website ask for advice on how to convince parents that it’s OK not to carry flowers or wear a veil.

You can read the full article here: The Knotty Issue of Wedding Costs: How to handle who pays for your adult child’s nuptials. When I was talking about the more "predatory" types of wedding marketing out there, I was referencing this post:

And when it comes to Offbeat Brides educating their parents about skipping certain traditions, one reader shared her experience here:

I just wanted to express thanks to you for saving me from my mother. She had been pestering me to carry flowers down the aisle, which I had absolutely no interest in at all whatsoever. After many impassioned pleas and fights, I decided to email her a link to Offbeat Bride — particularly the response you wrote to the girl who didn't want to carry anything on her trip down the aisle.

My mother called me and told me that she had never even considered that flowers were optional — it just seemed like something you had to do. Long story even longer, she spent an hour perusing Offbeat Bride and told me how much fun it all looked, and how she just assumed since she had always seen things done a particular way, it had never occurred to her that it didn't have to be that way.

I don't know how you managed to get it across to her, but you've not only opened her eyes, you've helped me to be more understanding of where she's coming from. Thank you so much for making this ridiculous and incredibly arduous process a little bit more human, and a little bit less stressful. – Trish

P.S.: When I walk down the aisle with no flowers in hand, I will be secretly whispering, 'Thank you, Ariel!'

I'd love to hear from readers are dealing with parents helping pay for their wedding — how did you navigate the conversations? How did you deal with the awkwardness?

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  1. As a parent, I completely agree with this advice. When my son and his wife married, we gave them an amount of money to spend as they wished -no strings attached- and hosted a welcoming party in lieu of a rehearsal dinner at their request. Although they spent more than I thought reasonable and skipped many traditions, they got what they wanted and everyone had a wonderful day celebrating their marriage.

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  2. My parents gave us a number that they would be comfortable spending for whatever we wanted. The number was so high that it made us really uncomfortable and we only ended up asking them to pick up the catering, the bar, and some odds and ends.
    Now, when we originally accepted the offer I thought it was no strings attached and for the most part it was. The one bone of contention was the stupid Pigs in a Blanket. My husband and I thought we were ordering the little hot dogs wrapped in dough. Apparently, we weren't and when I got the final menu it described some gross sounding cabbage wrapped meat in sauce. When I tried to cut it from the menu by mother had a conniption because she already told "everyone" that we were having those and "everyone" was really excited. It don't know who "everyone" was but I agreed to leave them on the menu but get half the amount as of everything else.
    This Pigs in the Blanket mess was just the by-product of the larger issue of not discussing "So, we want you to pay for the catering. Do you want to have a say in the menu? Do you agree that we have the final say in the menu?" etc. So yes, I think the biggest thing about parents being involved monetarily is that initial conversation about expectations.

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    • Tangential to the point of parental expectations, but my family is Polish American and the cabbage and meat Pigs in a Blanket you describe was something we'd have for dinner growing up! (Called golabki in Polish.) We also had the American hot dogs and dough variety, so it wasn't uncommon for someone to say "I'm bringing Pigs in a Blanket to the party" and the response to be "which kind, the hot dogs or golabki?" Anyway, I appreciated your story.

      • Haha, that's so funny! We had never heard of the traditional Polish dish so we were so damn confused when we saw it listed on the menu. Apparently at the restaurant we used for catering what we wanted are called "Mini Piggies." So, we just had Pig in a Blanket AND Mini Piggies. Glad to know we weren't crazy and the name is interchangeable!

      • In the UK, pigs in blankets are sausages wrapped in bacon, just to add another definition!

        • Okay, now that sounds absolutely delicious! I wish that's what we got instead of the cabbage roll things!

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  3. Oh, god, this… Whatever y'all do, don't do what I did!

    My parents have always talked about paying for my wedding, so when I was engaged and planning, I kept waiting for them to volunteer money. I found out later they were waiting for me to ask for it. (I never ask for money. Ever. Like, if I'm dying of the plague and my car broke down and I haven't eaten in three days because I can't afford food, I'll still claim that I can figure it out.) So I assumed they were pissed at me for having a small wedding and they assumed I was excluding them and shit went so effing sideways that just thinking about it makes me want to cry.

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    • I am so sorry that happened. Hopefully you have all learned to communicate better. You don't have to ask for money to ask if someone was hoping to contribute. 🙂

  4. Timely! My parents are paying for the meal at my wedding (they have also offered to pay for my dress but they know they get no choice in that!) and we've had some slightly awkward conversations around them consequently wanting to invite people that I… don't. We have compromised on only inviting people to the full thing that I actually know (old neighbours and family friends, yes; Dad's work colleagues, no) but I have had to state my boundaries a few times. We'll see how it goes with menu choices…

    Thankfully my sister has recently got married and so was able to give me a heads up on the likely conflict points.

  5. My parents are paying for our very modest wedding (otherwise, there wouldn't be one…not in the party way, anyway). The biggest problem seems to be that they see it as no-strings-attached but they assume a lot of strings attached. Like others, my mom has fallen prey to this concept that a wedding HAS to have many elements (including the flowers, being walked down the isle by my father, dancing, meal-type food, alcohol, etc.) otherwise it somehow doesn't count. I don't think this is the product of predatory vendors so much as her generation and the fact that she married quick and cheap and regrets it. She's also a perfectionist, so that might be some of the issue. I will say, she (and all of her friends, as twenty strangers in their seventies are now "helping" plan my wedding without me) was SHOCKED at the cost of things. That's a nice bargaining chip to have. But it's been exhausting (two years of fighting for every inch and having to plan and provide every last detail when she asks for it) and I don't even want to have a wedding at all anymore. But of course, I'm obligated because it isn't my money. Oh, the irony.

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