How to get bridesmaids to help (and not hate you afterwards)

Updated Oct 12 2015
arielmstallings
Untitled
Photo by Jason Travis

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?"

Oops.

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.

  1. Love it! Saw over on the Tribe that this was coming out and had to read on the blog. Loved the reminder to continue to thank family and friends as the day gets closer and things get so much more hectic. Thanks Ariel!!

    • Thanking family and friends can get theatrical and weird, too… one of these days, I'd love to run a "thank you contest" where Offbeat Brides show off all the demented ways they can have to say THANK YOU to their friends & family members. 🙂

  2. The continuing communication part was what got me in trouble recently. I was asked to throw a bachelorette party, not so much because I was the best person to throw the party, but because I was the MoH. I prefer smaller, quieter gatherings personally so without much guidance, I started making plans along these lines, only to find out that my friend's expectations had changed. I ended up feeling quite hurt, and another couple of friends ended up planning most of the party. It turned out fine, but was a lot of stress. So I guess that's two points, actually. One, communicate and keep communicating, and two, don't ask someone to do something because that's the way it's "traditionally done" – ask them to do it because it's something they'd be happy and comfortable doing. Asking friends to go too far outside of their comfort zone can put a lot of tension on the relationship, not to mention potentially lead to results no one's happy with.

    • You shouldn't have been asked to throw her party. As a bridesmaid, you either decide you have the finances and time and offer to throw the bride a shower/bachelorette party/awesomesauce beer pong tournament, or they don't get a party. She was rude to ask you, and even ruder for changing her expectations. I know this is an offbeat site, but I've said it before and I'll say it again- etiquette isn't just for traditional southern belles or offbeat mamas- it's for every decent human being. The bottom line is, bridesmaids DO NOT have any "duties" beyond: show up to wedding on time, in the dress, and sober. That's it. Drives me crazy when brides expect anything else. There's nothing wrong with accepting help or stating that "I'd like to do this DIY project, if anyone has extra time meet me at xyz and I'll buy pizza" but I feel like most brides have turned it into "you are my wedding party and I expect this multitude of ridiculous commitments from you." Ariel hit on some good points but I feel like some of them (expecting them to grow out their hair for matching updos, whaaa?!) are still missing the mark. You were uncomfortable because she was imposing on you and didn't think your efforts were "good enough," when she should have been grateful for any sort of party in the first place.

      • The thing is, it's hard as a bride NOT to feel hurt when no one wants to throw you a party, or when your sister volunteers to help with tasks, and then disappears for three months leaving no one with a clue what has happened to the fabric for your bridesmaids's dresses. Or when your sister has to be reminded three times to show up to her dressfitting. Are you supposed to just politely wonder if someone's going to bother to show up to your wedding? These were the challenges I was dealing with, and I felt as though none of the people I was having this wedding for (because *I* wanted to elope) cared anything about it.

        • Beck, I totally get what you're saying- if a friend offers to help out, they should follow through on their promises. But I think that's the whole important catch. Presumably, your sister volunteered to get the fabric, so she assumed responsibility for an aspect of the wedding planning. I think in that case, it would have been completely fine for you to follow up with her to make sure she didn't drop the ball, and step in if she couldn't deliver. If, however, you expected her to get the fabric, without taking her schedule into account, then I would feel like you were in the wrong. And dressfittings- those are part of a bridesmaid's only duty- getting the dress (and of course, showing up). If she doesn't get her dress, she is taking herself out of the bridal party. Again, I think it's fine to remind her, but after two or three times I would drop the subject and let her make the decision to get her butt in gear and get her dress altered. She's an adult, she can either take the time to perform her only true job, or attend as a guest. As for bridal parties- it sucks to think that none of your family or friends would want to throw you a party out of their own volition, but there are many factors besides their dedication to you and your wedding, like finances, time, other obligations, even a distaste for planning that could be standing in their way. The situation hurts, but I think some brides forget that no one is as excited for their wedding as themselves and their partner.

          On another note, I am so sorry you were not able to plan the wedding you truly desired. You took your family's feelings into account, and were met with disinterest on their part. That's never cool.

  3. I think that most of the problems I've ever had in interpersonal relationships came from (or at least started) with bad or inadequate communication. Especially about expectations, relating to anything. People can't read minds (well, maybe some people can but not MOST people) and if you want something specific you have to ask for it. And the part about saying "thank you"…that's priceless. As someone who has been a bridesmaid multiple times, saying thank you and meaning it is important and often neglected. (Because things are crazy, and you just assume that people KNOW you love them, communication again.)

    Also, I would say, keep in mind that your wedding might be the center of your universe, but it is not necessarily the center of their universe. People commit to being in the wedding party because they love you and want to share the day with you. But they don't stop having their own shit to do. I don't think this kind of wedding party being taken for granted stuff is that much of a problem with OBB and the Tribe folks…but I've actually seen someone in another "wedding community" pitching a howler because one of her bridesmaids had to have elbow surgery unexpectedly and was OMG going to be in a sling and cast for the wedding and ruin the pictures and ambiance of the SPECIAL DAAAAY.

    • Yeah, it's funny because whenever I write advice posts it always boils down to the same communication advice… talk often, talk honestly, and keep talking. That's not to say you'll always AGREE, but at least everyone will know what's going on.

      And while I'm with you that Offbeat Bride readers tend to be more understanding of wedding attendants having other lives, bridesmaid drama is a pretty common issue that comes up… even we Offbeat Brides are not exempt from sometimes being self-centered and thoughtless. (I'm speaking for myself here — QUEEN OF SELF CENTERED THOUGHTLESSNESS! 🙂 )

      • "talk often, talk honestly, and keep talking" honestly, I think I need that cross stitched on a pillow or a sampler or something. 🙂

  4. Oh, Ariel, you mind-reader, you… This post has perfect timing!
    I swore up and down that all I wanted bridesmaids for was to stand up and look pretty with me. I was like you – I wanted so badly to steer clear of bridal bossiness that I told all 3 (eventually 4) of them to get a floral dress of their choice. They wanted more detail. I gave them fifteen examples from ModCloth and it turned into a "Isis wants us all dressed in ModCloth for the wedding" and then my sister took 6 months to pick hers and ordered it YESTERDAY and another bridesmaid ordered one after much hemming and hawing and it didn't fit and she had to send it back. So my sister's is going to arrive on their doorstep tomorrow – 4 sleeps before the wedding. And the other bridesmaid has two options and I have no clue what they look like.
    Be ye warned, Tribesmaids!! Be ye slightly more bossy than I! If you want your girls adorably mismatched, tell them so!
    But the anti-bossiness of asking the whole way – major win. That's what I've been doing and it results in continued willingness and appreciation for my "positive attitude". No matter what I need them to do – it's always in the form of "I'm so sorry to keep you asking you for stuff, but would you possibly mind ….?" And maybe it's because of that, or because I picked awesome ladies, but they are always glad to help!
    Also,
    >>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.
    THIS. I'm doing it. And I'll post pics on the OBB flickr pool 😛

  5. I think if brides just were honest about what they need help with, it wouldn't have to be difficult. 🙁 Ask as if you were asking for a favor about anything else. "Hey, I'm struggling with this. Could you please help me?"

    • Ya know, this has totally been my experience. My friends knew they could ask me to do stuff for their weddings (I was never a bridesmaid but I was always in the help crew if available). So for mine, I was pretty clear about the minimal help I was going to need. So I did a quick poll, then scheduled a day to assemble invitations. Set it all out, showed them how it should look and what parts went where, then we got down to it.

      One couldn't make it due to being on bed rest so I took over some other stuff to be coloured and we hung out and worked on that for a while until she needed to rest.

      It's also just being flexible with your plans of how to get things done. If I hadn't been willing to cart some pencil crayons and tags to her house, I wouldn't have had my friend's help.

  6. I love that this article is relevant to not just those with a wedding party or bridesmaids, but also folks like me who have opted out of having official titles. Early in our planning we decided we didn't want bridesmaids or groomsmen, rather that we wanted a crew and that crew could include anyone who wanted to pitch in. We met up with a few of our nearest and dearest early on and talked with them about our ideas and asked if they would be insulted if we asked for help but didn't give the official title or expected them to stand with us at the altar. There was a resounding "no, that's wonderful" from all we asked. We want our wedding to be about community, inclusiveness and people giving freely what they want/can. It's been amazing. When a few months went by of us doing a bunch of stuff but not reaching out for help a few of those friends got in touch with me and said "we're bombing your house this weekend and you better put us to work". I cried with gratitude. There have been other really unexpected offers of help and our community really coming together to help us pull this crazy shindig. It's hard to ask for help and to be clear about what you really want, but I am finding it to be extremely rewarding to see how happy it makes my friends and it feels so good to have a group working together.

    • I had 2 friends who helped me out with stuff but who didn't have official titles. They were both pretty much as involved as my other two bridesmaids (or more than the one wonderful pregnant friend, really). They were happy to help and I took them up on it, thanked them, mentioned them in our little programs, etc.

  7. 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?"

    THIS. I already sent the mother of the groom into a panic because I said "whatever you want to do with flowers is fine with me". I thought I was being easygoing, but I think I burst a blood vessel in her brain. It's surprisingly difficult to find an easy balance between not pushy and not giving enough direction.

    • That would have paralyzed me, too. There are some people who thrive under those circumstances. Case in point, my sister's wedding. Our older sister and sister-in-law had made the cake (which was gorgeous and delicious), but realized they needed more time than they had in order to decorate it with fresh flowers. Older sister grabbed a creative family friend and asked her if she could do it while they got ready for pictures. The family friend did a phenomenal job; you'd never have guessed, looking at the cake, that it hadn't been done professionally.

      Unfortunately, I'm just the opposite. If I don't have a clear idea of what's expected of me, I freeze. I don't know what to do. I think the best thing to do is to say what you have in mind, then ask if they need more specifics from you or if they feel like they can take it from there.

  8. I found that the two bridesmaids I picked (both my ladies of honor) were ready, willing and able to take care of serious business when it came to helping me with the wedding. I hope I took as good of care of them at their weddings as they did for me.

    My husband also picked two bridesmaids (and I picked two of the groomsmen) and the two he picked were not as willing to help with anything.

    The point is, I knew that. My ladies and I communicated clearly. One of the other bridesmaids and I shopped for flower girl dresses and ring bearer clothes (she is a mom of 5 kids between the ages of 4 and 11) and she attended a shower the other two threw. I understood that she was just too busy to do more than that. However the last bridesmaid did nothing but show up on the day of the wedding (and this after TOTAL D-R-A-M-A from her at the rehearsal dinner). I asked her to help a few times, and no dice.

    But I don't think that my husband asked them anything than to "be in the wedding." Communication and expectations are KEY!

  9. This has got me thinking about a related issue: WHAT can I get my bridesmaid to help with? I have two, one is my sister, the other my FH's sister. My sister planned my hen do, helped figure out outfits, and has drawn up a "day of" plan. FH's sister hasn't as I can recall done much in the planning stages. But when we do speeches we will be thanking them, plus the best men, right? But thanking them for what?!

    With two months to go, how can I ask her to be involved? I'm struggling to think of anything.

    The two best men are also a similar puzzle.

    Is it just moral support? Being there? Can we task them with going up to dance if the floor is empty at the party? Being in charge of something like providing games?

  10. I got around the miscommunication that could happen with yourself and your bridesladies by writing a letter to each of them as part of me asking them to be my ladies. In the letter I wrote a little (or a lot) about how much they meant to me, and after asking them, I laid out the things I might ask of them (help doing the few DIY things, communicating about no plus ones or the wedding being unplugged etc), and told them what I would definitely be expecting of them (support, dress in the right color, showing up the day of haha). This was really the best strategy because it got my expectations straight, and opened up the communication line between us. Ever since it's been "let me know when we can DIY" or "is this something I should let guests know clandestinely," and along the way I've continually been thanking them all for their help and support. I would recommend starting from day one of asking just dropping a note or line that "these are my top expectations and I love you and if you can't do these let me know *now* because I won't hate you for it if can't just tell me!" It's been so easy with it all out the open, and of course some questions have come up but they've come up and rather than no talking and things going poorly and us hating each other!

  11. One of my friends who I'm planning on asking to be a bridesmaid is a huge Big Bang Theory fan, so I started writing up a Bridesmaid Agreement for her. My fiancé saw it and said, "I think they're going to be pissed if you hand them a seven-page legal document first thing." Which, really, I'm not going to except with her–but writing it down like this has helped me think about what I expect (and what they have the right to expect from me). I think it'll be a great guideline for those long conversations that will come before the "So uh, you wanna be a bridesmaid or something?" question.

  12. On the topic of "thank you": I had one friend that used the rehearsal dinner as a way for the two of them to thank each person individually and talk a little bit about why that person was so important in their life. They went around the room and one or both of them said something about each person. It was not only a great way to have introductions, but it was also incredibly personal and touching. I almost teared up. I intend to do the same thing because it was such a great idea.

    Of course, this only works if you have a relatively small rehearsal dinner.

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