We've talked many times about the challenges that can arise when your wedding attendants are helping you organize your wedding, but I'm not sure we've ever addressed how you can get help from your bridesmaids or other wedding party members. It's a delicate dance, to be sure… you want help with your wedding, and ideally you want the people helping you not to hate you after it's all done. You can totally do it. Here's how.
Talk about expectations early
Oh man. We've talked about this a LOT on Offbeat Bride, especially about how you should never assume your bridesmaids will be your henchwomen:
Many bridesmaid issues seem to stem from a disconnect between what the bride expects and what her attendants deliver. One way to deal with this is to have long talks with your bridesmaids before you ask them to be in your wedding party. Really long talks. If you can't talk comfortably about this stuff before you get into the thick of wedding planning madness, then how the hell are you going to be able to do it later on?
I'm not saying there are specific bridesmaids requests that are unreasonable — it's totally dependent on the ‘maid and your relationship. Crafty friends will love helping with the invitations. Glamour girls will be totally into growing their hair out for matching up-dos. Friends who are finishing their PhDs while raising two children and moving cross-country are going to be willing to commit to showing up, and that's it. The moral of the story here is that ANY expectations you might have need to be addressed right up front — before anyone agrees to anything. If you don't know what you want want from your bridesmaids, then slow down and figure it out before you go asking people.
Unless you've had these very explicit conversations, don't expect that your bridesmaid will help in the ways you want.
Ideally, these conversations about how much help you will or won't expect from your wedding party is a conversation that happens before anyone accepts the invitation to be in your wedding party. But sometimes it's easy to get caught up in the excitement of asking someone to be in your wedding party before you actually know what you want help with. I get it! How can you know how many invitation assembling parties there will be before you've even picked the invitations? Maybe you've already picked your folks but never talked about what they're doing? In that case…
Keep talking about it: always asking, never assuming
Yep, guess what? You get to keep talking about it. Every step of the way, it should be a question — never a demand. “Hey, as I'm getting down to business with our decorations, I'm realizing I could really use some help assembling our YAY flags. I'd love to have your help — is this something you'd have time to do, as part of your bridesmaiding?”
Be clear about your needs and the fact that you see this help as within the context of them being a bridesmaid — but always ask. Never announce or demand.
Don't leave them hanging
Those of you who've read my book know that while I didn't have a wedding party, I did have a whole community of friends who volunteered to help us with our wedding. Some of you may remember a story I recounted about how, in an effort not to micro-manage or be a bossy bride, I ended up totally alienating one of my friends who was helping us:
There is, of course, the dark side to weddings—especially when you have friends help you with everything. The “It Takes a Village” technique I mentioned ion Chapter 14 isn't always a smooth ride. You get a lot of tasks generously taken off your plate, but you need to work overtime to keep all your helpers happy. Managing a volunteer staff is delicate work, and at times I felt like I was tiptoeing on saltines trying to make sure everyone felt loved and appreciated.
As part of our wedding preparations, we needed to clear some campsites for guests in the forest of my mother's property. She lives a half-hour ferry ride from Seattle, so it's a relatively quick trip to the country. We put the call out to our group of friends: Did anyone want to take a day trip out to the woods to scope out the space and do a little light brush-work under the trees, raking campsites and trimming back bushes? We invited both friends acting as “Location Managers” and as many outdoorsy guyfriends as we could, and then we headed out to the forest.
Trying not to seem bossy, I'd been intentionally vague and told the location managers to just poke around and get a feel for the spaces, envisioning what they wanted where and how things might look. There was an awkward moment when, twenty minutes after arriving, one of the location managers got flustered and confused and found a reason to turn around and immediately head back into the city.
In talking things over after the fact, I learned that she felt unprepared and disoriented, and that she wished she'd had a bit more direction and guidance ahead of time about what my expectations were — instead of my just saying “Here's the space . . . now brainstorm!”
Zoinks! In my effort to avoid bridal bossiness, I'd left her out in the cold, totally confused and somewhat upset and . . . ack! Damn.
It's a delicate balance, making sure that the people helping with your wedding understand what the expectations are — and aren't. In the case of this particular friend, she wanted more guidance than I was giving her. I was so obsessed with my own narrative about not being bossy that I completely ignored her cues that she wanted a bit more input from me. As she said afterwards, “I felt like you were setting me up to fail… if I didn't know what you wanted, how could I make sure you would like it?”
Give them so much love
I know you're busy. I know you're juggling a million things with your wedding planning and your life and your relationship and your family and all these logistics and spreadsheets and stuff, but guess what you need to add to your to-do list? Heaping praise on your wedding party. Thank them every chance you get, as publicly as possible. Thank them early on, and every time they do anything that's helpful. Thank them with pizza delivered to the DIY parties. Thank them with cards. Thank them by breaking out into song over beers at your local pub. Thank them until they're uncomfortable. Thank them until they're begging you to shut up all ready. Then thank them at the wedding itself. Sing them a song. Kiss their feet.
Thanking your wedding party isn't about gifts (but by all means do give gifts, if you've got the means) but about truly sincere gestures that make your appreciation clear. Write them notes to leave on their dash boards. Write awful poems that rhyme and recite them in rambling voicemails. Tattoo their name on your butt with a Sharpie before the next time you see them, and then sneak into the bathroom to show them.
Seriously, there is no such thing as being too appreciative when someone is helping you with your wedding. You want help? Start by saying thank you.