#1367: “I made a sacrifice to keep the peace. Was it right?”

Hi Captain Awkward,

I (she/her) and my partner (he/him) have been planning our wedding for nearly the past 3 years at this point. Pandemic concerns forced us to push it off, but last summer we were finally able to settle on a date (late summer 2022) and booked a venue, multiple vendors, and laid all the groundwork. Partner and I have had much support—emotional and financial—from family and friends with planning this wedding. Ultimately, we can afford to pay for what we want to do, but it is a big financial commitment and our families want to gift us with help so we can save our money for our future married life.

But unfortunately, all throughout last year, my mom began suffering from mental health concerns that have been growing and spiraling out of control. This has been tough for me for many reasons, but primarily because while I love my mom, we have always had a strained relationship. My mom is the center of her own world, and despite wanting to good by others, she is truly unable to understand that other people have different wants and needs than her. She also struggles with low self esteem and projected this onto me as I was growing up. She spent much of my childhood and young adulthood confiding her feelings and struggles in me when I was too young to support her, and often based her happiness on my achievements and whether or not I was doing what she wanted. I learned that I could not be my true self around her because every time I expressed my feelings, she would invalidate me because ultimately, her feelings are more important to her. Additionally, she is often incredibly rude to others and takes her anger out onto others because it is difficult for her to balance how other people feel with her own feelings. It has taken a lot of therapy for me to be able to set better boundaries with her in order to maintain a relationship with her, and more importantly a relationship with my father, who is truly my hero.

Speaking of my father, he is currently taking care of my mother throughout this current crisis. He is a fixer and is always trying to do whatever will solve the problem right in front of him. And the current problem is that my mom now will not be well enough by the summer time to attend my wedding. In January, my mom asked partner and I to consider postponing until she was better. Partner and I were both incredibly upset that she would ask this because at the time, there was no timeline for when better would be. We had already committed to the date and paid for many things and while both my parents offered to recoup all debts incurred, it’s not just about the money. Every friend and confidant we have asked for advice has said a resounding chorus of, “this wedding is about the two of you!” along with variations of “People should be focusing on how they can be there to support you. You should not be focusing on how you can accommodate others.” Partner and I expressed many concerns with postponing to my parents (we already made commitments! My parents aren’t considering anyone but my mom in this situation!) and the past two months have been emotional hell.

I am frustrated that my mom views my wedding as an Event In Her Life and not an opportunity to support her daughter, but also, this is the kind of person she is. I am frustrated that my parents didn’t consider my partner in all of this. I was also heartbroken about the possibility of having neither of my parents at my wedding (not that my dad would refuse to be there, but my mom would be unbearably upset if he went and she could not be there). My father, the fixer, hates seeing both his daughter and his wife heartbroken, and finally asked me again: if we agree to a date, and this date is the absolute line in the sand, and all the booked vendors have this date available, will you please consider it?

Partner and I asked our vendors about the new date and at first, we didn’t think availability would work. Plus, we really wanted to stand our ground because honestly, this is a pattern of us having to plan our lives around accommodating my mom. I told my dad no due to vendor availability and while he was sad, he understood. My mom, however, did not understand and expressed this to me through a barrage of “you don’t know how miserable I am” and “why can’t you do this for me.” The next day we heard back from more vendors and realized that logistically, we could make this work, so we gave in and officially postponed the date.

Partner was actually the one who convinced me in the end that maybe we really should postpone, and while we are sad, we are ultimately relieved. If we didn’t postpone and moved forward as normal, I likely would have had to sever all ties with my family and risk losing their financial support to avoid the emotional fallout. We made this choice to protect our peace. But I can’t help but feel like we were backed into a corner and pushed into accommodating my mom. It feels like a step back on the work I’ve done to set boundaries. I’m honestly worried my therapist is going to disapprove of us giving in to my parents like this (she has been a strong proponent of “don’t move your date to please your parents”).

At the end of the day, partner and I are happy with the choice we made, but how can we make sure that in the future, we’re not forced to make a sacrifice like this again?

Dutiful Daughter

Dear Dutiful Daughter,

Congratulations on your upcoming (eventual!) wedding and condolences on being in a situation where you both absolutely hate it and feel obligated to justify the sucky parts to others, including your therapist. Rock? Meet Hard Place.

You’ll notice that I kept your email subject line as the post title, with its question: Was it right?

If I were to say that your therapist and your friends made some excellent points, would it matter? You and your partner felt that it was the best option given the circumstances, you’re the ones who have to live with the decision, and you’ve already done the necessary scheduling adjustments. Here’s where I can maybe help:

First, you don’t need my permission, but you have it anyway: It’s okay to be angry and upset and not actually “happy with the decision.” You feel like you were backed into a corner because you were backed into a corner. You can make the compassionate, diplomatic choice to not make these feelings the center of how you communicate with your mom or how you and your partner communicate about your decision to postpone the wedding yet again. But I fail to see any upsides for you in pretending the feelings don’t exist or being mad at yourself for having them, and I fail to see how it’s your therapist’s place to approve or disapprove of you.

It’s okay to wish things were different. It’s okay to have compassion for your mom while she’s in crisis and hope for the best and also place her demands within the context of a lifetime of boundary-stomping behavior from her. It’s okay to grieve the experience you hoped you’d have. You’re not a bad person for wondering*, welp, what happens when the new wedding date is coming up and your mom insists on pushing it again or tries something else to wrest control of the event and make it about how you’re a bad daughter?

[*Is anyone reading this…not …wondering …that? My MIL almost didn’t make it to our wedding due to an untimely flare-up of a chronic illness, and it would have been so sad if she’d been absent, but one thing she did NOT do is demand that we move the whole shebang. My godfather had the same thing happen and unfortunately had to cancel his trip. I missed him, but nobody was mad at anybody about it. So I’m gonna remain forever skeptical of anybody who claims that your compliance with demands that make you worse off are the *only* way to make them better.]

Which leads me to the second way I might be able to help: You made a bargain in exchange for peace. It may have been a bad bargain. But you can’t get the cow back, so it’s time to plant these magic beans and grow as much peace as you possibly can under the circumstances. And I have two very concrete suggestions for where to start. They are:

  1. Ask for the promised money now.
  2. Stop planning your wedding, at least as far as your parents are concerned.

I’ll explain.

1. Ask your family for the promised wedding money *now.*

Goal: To remove concerns about money as a source of pressure on decisions about your wedding, and to regain a sense of agency and control over your financial future as a married couple.

If your parents are offering financial support for your wedding, they’ve promised to absolutely make it up to you for having to move the date, and one of your recurring fears is still that they’ll withdraw it at some point if they think you aren’t doing enough to accommodate your mom, what’s the worst that happens if you ask for that money now?

“Dad, we were able to rebook everything, the new total is $X. Are you still planning to contribute $Y, as we discussed? If so, are you able to advance us the funds now, so that it’s all settled and out of the way?” 

You and your partner have made a great effort to honor your parents’ wishes and set their minds at ease. Could they do something concrete to set your minds at ease by following through on what they’ve already promised?

This *shouldn’t* be a huge ask, right? As you point out, your families have made it clear that they want you to have a great party and be equipped to start your married life on the best possible footing. If postponing the wedding was in fact the right move, and things go according to plan, these contributions are a normal, expected, agreed-upon part of the plan. Your parents have both promised that this is so. But money is still a source of anxiety in your letter.

Because, of course it’s a source of anxiety! “When should the party be?” “It should happen when we’re reasonably sure Mom will be well enough to be there” is a far, far different calculus than “Should we buy a house, if yes, where/when/how much?” “Idk, it all depends on whether Mom feels up to attending this one party that we’ve already had to postpone multiple times and how Dad feels about that at the time, we can’t spend any money on anything just in case.”

Neither COVID-19 safety concerns nor your mom’s illness are anybody’s fault, but neither are they “just” about this one day on a calendar. If you and your fiancé know for sure that the wedding costs are completely squared away, it frees you to move ahead with the financial planning for all of those other parts of your married life, without it being contingent on how your mom is doing at any given time.

I feel strongly that removing pressure from a difficult situation rarely makes anything worse, which is why I think you should ask for the money and ask for it sooner rather than later. A “yes” will add greatly to your overall peace of mind and ability to plan your future on your terms, and a “no” will give you essential information for the next batch of decisions you’ll need to make.

First, even if your gut reaction is “nope nope nope, I can’t possibly ask for that right now,” that is information about whether you believe that your dad will keep his promise to cover the costs no matter what happens with your mom.

Second, if you ask, and your parents balk, that is potentially information about:

  • Whether they believe that the wedding will really happen as re-scheduled.
  • Whether they envision the money as a gift or as a bargaining chip in case they want you to move the date again.
  • If your mom is in the kind of crisis where “show up for one day in a nice outfit with six months to prepare” is out of reach for her, are they are still in a financial position to give you any money?

No judgment, especially about that last possibility! Just, if any of these things are true, I think that it’s essential that you find out now and adjust accordingly.

The goal is for you to reclaim financial security and a sense of agency with regard to your wedding.

The hope is that you’ll be able to have your wedding on the new date, at the budget and fanciness level you’ve decided upon, with the financial support your families have offered, with your mom back up to full “yeah” strength and able to attend.

The reality is that your best bet might be making the decision right now to pay 100% of the costs of your wedding yourselves, even if that means scaling back to a cheaper/smaller event and then treating any and all family money that comes your way as a nice surprise.

Listen, I despise wedding budget-shaming in both directions, I don’t think the performative cheapskates who brag about how they found a friendly spider to weave their wedding dress and fed their guests by foraging in restaurant dumpsters are morally superior to the caviar-and-champagne crowd. But sometimes the cheapest way to pay for things is with money. If postponing means buying you and your partner many more months of money stress, even if the promised cash eventually appears, that still might be Too Expensive. Your parents theoretically have the power to remove that specific stress from you right now, so will they or won’t they? You asked for advice about ensuring you aren’t “forced” to make sacrifices like this again, and I think getting very straightforward about the money piece is one of your best bets for being able to say, “I’m so sorry, but we’re not moving it again” if things don’t go according to plan.

“But it’s a gift, you’re not entitled to anything from them!”  Quite right! But your parents offered money for your wedding in the first place and offered subsequent reassurances that they would absolutely honor this commitment. You’re not some kind of brat for wanting to know that those offers are real before you write big checks.

2. Stop planning your wedding, as far as your parents are concerned. 

Goals: A) To free yourself as much as possible of having to weigh every single thing about your wedding against how your mom is doing or feeling at any given time. B) To find ways of maintaining boundaries with your mom with maximum care and gentleness for your mom, who didn’t ask for this crisis to be happening to her. C) To give yourself a break. You’ve been planning this wedding for three years. You planned the ever-loving shit out of it. It’s okay to be done for a good while.

In past wedding planning posts on the site, managing the expectations of all the people who are not members of the couple has been a recurring theme. Who decides what? Who needs to know, and when do they need to know it? What’s the difference between asking for input and communicating decisions that have already been made?

With the best of intentions, people want to head off future discomfort by talking everything through like adults, spelling out expectations from the start, and giving people plenty of reasons for why they are doing things this way and not that. Alas, some people are unwilling and/or incapable of engaging in good faith, and perceive “more discussion and more time to come to terms with decisions” as “more time to argue.” You mentioned in your letter that you don’t have an easy time being “real” with your mom, and that is unlikely to change now, so my suggestion is that you give yourself permission to not try so hard to include her. Why discuss a thing that you’re already pretty angry and sensitive about with a person who you already know tends to make things all about herself and who stresses you the entire fuck out, even when she is not in the midst of a crisis? Why put your Dad in the position of siding with your mom again, when you know that he will, each and every time? Why buy yourself X more months of the same arguments and anxiety you already had, and hated?

It is time to be as brief, boring, and breezy as possible. Think:

  • “Oh, Mom, thank you, but it’s all handled!”
  • “Mom, I’ve had all the wedding chat I can handle for two lifetimes. What else is new with you?” 
  • “Oh, we’ve already done the hard part,, we’re just excited to actually show up on the day at this point.” 
  • Think of it as a formula: “It’s going well” + “Thanks for asking” + “Howabout that subject change where you get to talk about you?”

If (when) this appears to backfire and you get accused of “shutting her out,” don’t take the bait! This is an area where it is okay to be honest and a little bit blunt.

  • “Ha, Mom, we’ve been planning this wedding for three years. I know you are excited and want to help, but  I beg you, can we talk about books or current events? Watching anything good lately?” 
  • In case of a shame/apology spiral, interrupt it! “Mom, at this point we’re just relieved that we could move the date. Please, let’s not!” 
  • “Mom, you have one job right now, and that’s getting well. Don’t you dare stress yourself out over decisions that we made two years ago.” 

If she won’t take the subject change life-preserver you’re throwing, cut the conversation short and try again some other time.

If/when she makes specific suggestions you don’t like, don’t argue! (That’s also filed under “The Bait”)

  • “Interesting suggestion, we’ll think about it!” 
  • “Oh, Partner/Partner’s family is handling all of that, but I’ll mention it to them, thanks!” 

Promise nothing. Whatever fantasy either of you had about what a Mother-Daughter bonding experience this was supposed to be is long gone. Disengage.

When all else fails, time travel to a safe place that is all about her: The Past.

  • “Mom, I can’t believe I’ve never asked you this, but what was your favorite part of your own wedding?”
  • “Other brides all all say that it ends up being a blur. What are the best things you and Dad actually remember about your wedding?” 
  • “Did you and Dad, or you and Grandma & Grampa ever argue about wedding planning? What was the biggest disagreement about? What happened?”

Ultimately, you cannot hope to manage your mom’s emotions and reactions to anything involving your wedding. Mom is going to Mom, and Dad is going to side with her! But what you can do is get very clear with yourself about the difference between “sharing a decision you and your partner have made about the wedding” and “asking others for their input” before you engage. If you know that your mom is likely to mistake the first thing for the second, maybe she doesn’t need real-time updates. Or any updates.

From there, I think it’s pretty much about contingency planning and reminding yourself & your partner that you are allowed to carry on, as planned, with or without your mom’s presence or your dad’s “help.”. You have done everything you possibly can to ensure that your mom can celebrate with you when the time comes, but you don’t actually need her in order to be married to each other. You are forming your own family unit where you prioritize each other, and this is where it starts. If moving ahead would really mean potentially cutting ties with that whole side of your family, that would suck so much, but that would also be a choice that they are forcing on you, not one that you invited by being inconsiderate or uncaring. Time to find a way to give yourselves credit for handling a hard thing in the best way you could at the time and figure out how to be a team during whatever comes next.

I don’t think it’s all going to be smooth sailing from here, but I hope your wedding happens according to plan and that it is a fun, joyful occasion. with everyone you most want to see.