Weddings: the petri dish of family drama

Petri dish crosstitch pattern from Etsy seller nerdylittlestitcher
Petri dish crosstitch pattern from Etsy seller nerdylittlestitcher

So there I was at a barre class in Seattle, and after class the woman next to me was all, "Um, are you Offbeat Bride?" and I was all, "Totally," and she was all "I follow you on Instagram."

Her name was Nicole, and after class we got into a quick conversation about some of the wedding planning challenges she was dealing with.

"My family doesn't understand some of my choices," Nicole said. "It's really frustrating to have to explain myself and defend my ideas over and over again."

"Totally," I said. "Really, your wedding is just an opportunity to act as an ambassador… presenting your lifestyle and your choices to your family is an ongoing process, but wedding planning brings it all the forefront. Wedding planning is totally a petri dish of family dynamics."

This is all to say, all sorts of your interests and lifestyle choices probably seem a little odd to your family, but until you're planning a wedding, it's easy to just sort of ignore the differences. It's not until you have the combination of two families coming together, social anxiety, financial considerations, religious and cultural traditions that all these things are forced up into your face.

If you have the energy for it, wedding planning can be a really amazing opportunity to give your family and other community members a hand-guided tour through your more offbeat interests and choices. I've always loved when people use their wedding programs as a chance to educate and inform guests, letting them in on the in-jokes and cultural references of your wedding that they may not understand.

This concept of being a "weirdo ambassador" isn't a new one in these parts. Anyone remember this post I wrote for Offbeat Home & Life a while back? The tl;dr there is that if you're outspoken and demonstrative about your nontraditional choices, you have the amazing opportunity to answer people's questions about those choices! (Note my language here: It is an opportunity, even if sometimes it feels frustrating.)

But of course aesthetic choices are just the tip of the iceberg — planning your wedding will bring all sorts of larger issues to the forefront like financial and wedding budgeting issues (how does your family approach conversations about money? What are the dynamics around gifts and loans? How do you talk about savings or wedding debt?) and social obligations (how does your family feel about dealing with abusive relatives? What about wedding invitation tit-for-tat?).

You're also going to be on the front-lines of communication dynamics, navigating how your families deal with boundary issues (pushy? passive aggressive?) and conflict resolution.

None of these issues are unique to weddings… communication styles, money issues, social dynamics and are all ongoing family issues. Depending on how old you are, your wedding just might be the first time you're confronting these issues head-on as an adult, on even (ish) standing with your parents and other elders. For some of us, wedding planning is a big fat "welcome to adulting!" party. This isn't to fear-monger — adulting is awesome (really!), but it can definitely be a challenging level-up when it comes to finding new ways to deal with family drama.

Luckily, we here at Offbeat Bride have got your back. We've got sooooo many posts about how to constructively deal with family drama. Here are a few of the most popular:

Try searching our archives for the family drama you're dealing with… with over 7000 posts, chances are decent that we've at least touched on the problems you're having. And if you can't find anything? LEAVE A COMMENT! We're happy to help…

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  1. I need help! My mother has caused a causes just a few months from wedding. There's too many details involved, and I'm unable to find any help, only separate issues I can find, just not occurring in a single day. Parents divorced bitter due to moms resent.,have great relationships with each of them and I live with my disabled father. This single day, started great. Already called her, then she got angry at my dad. She then called to tell me she's done with the wedding, I'm not her daughter, I need to get my dress off her property and take it to dad's my choices and me need to stay at property for good, don't call, don't come, just forget I'm here. Then randomly began sending me our date deposit refunds and cancellations.
    She's hurt me in a way I can't describe, and lied to others about the occurrences of the day, luckily I have a phone recorder.
    Where do I even start? The original location feels ruined, out of state guests are already coming, and I'd done nothing wrong. The reception, the photographer, caterer, flowers are lost, and decorations I don't want anything to do with because she got them.
    I have to start from square one, deer in headlights about plan B locations, etc. And now have to do it without my mother. I've wondered if maybe we should elope so it's just us and witnesses, but it's the complete opposite either wanted.
    She's put me in this situation. I don't even know what to do with a wedding with no Mom. I don't want that, but I did nothing to deserve this, and she's tried to apologize.
    I just don't even know where to begin, neither does fiancee. I know if she's there, my father and the side of family won't attend at all due to her impulse actions.
    Please, the date is the anniversary of my grandparent's, August 4. 2017. Save the Dates already sent, invitations already ordered.
    Hellp!!! Please!!! Where do I start?!

    • Okay, first step is look at your emotional support system. There's your spouse and your dad. Do you have a wedding party? Do you have other friends who aren't in the party, but will hold you up right now? Do you have a therapist?

      Once you've got good people around you, let them help you. Tell them what's going on, that you've been let down, that you're hurting. They know you, and they'll know how to support you best. Remember that your wedding isn't about your mother, it's about you and your spouse. She's obviously got issues with what happened in her marriage to your father, and that sucks for her, so she's making it suck for you, and that's not fair. At this point in time, until she learns to behave in the manner you have a right to expect your guests to, she doesn't have the right to expect to be a guest at your wedding. Plan for a wedding without her, and closer to the date reassess whether you're ready to have her there, and in what capacity. Deliberately put her to one side for now, mentally pick her up and put her and all her negativity and issues and drama in a box far, far away from all your wedding planning and marriage excitement. Don't let her touch that, it's not for her.

      In terms of wedding planning, getting the venue sorted is your main priority. Talk to your partner about your original venue and whether you want to stick with it. There are reasons you picked it that have nothing to do with your mother, and those still stand. If you can't cope with it any more, then start calling plan B venues (if you haven't got any in mind, ask local friends about where they got married, check out local photographers portfolios for ideas, call local public buildings and museums to see if they can fit you in, think about favourite restaurants…) and plan for the best way to tell the guests about the change – website, email, phone call, letter, all of them… Don't worry about telling them why there's a change, if you make one, just make sure they know there's been one. Consider starting the wedding later at your new venue and deputising a member of the wedding party to stand at the old one and redirect people (allowing enough time for that person to join you at the new venue).

      Go through all your vendors and call each one to see where you stand with them, even the ones you don't think your mother cancelled. You'll probably find most of them are still free. From what you've said, it sounds like your mother was paying for a lot of the vendors (otherwise, if they've cancelled at her request they're fools, and you want more professional vendors anyway!). Can you afford the same vendors without her financial help? You may want to go back through your budget and reprioritise what you want in the wedding (sounds like decorations can go for now!) to free up cash and make the wedding feel your own again. Most people don't get a chance at this stage to re-evaluate what they want from their wedding, but you have, so if there are any decisions you've been doubting, any compromises you regret making, now is the time to double check your choices and make the ones that are best for you as a couple. Imagine you're starting fresh – one of my friends is currently planning her wedding for August having started only a few weeks ago, so it can be done!

      1 agrees

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