My fiancé and I are not shy about cutting “traditions” that aren’t going to work for our wedding or seem silly to us. Garter-toss? Out. Throwing my bouquet? Uh-uh. Cake-cutting? Make it pie! One tradition we have kept—and one I especially look forward to—is our first dance. We’ve already picked a song (Louis Armstrong’s “La Vie en Rose”) and have been talking about getting ballroom dance lessons for years.
However, last week my future mother-in-law threw a bit of a wrench in the plans. We were casually discussing the wedding over dessert when she announced that she had asked my fiancé to take some ballroom dance classes—with her. She then invited me to join—with my dad. She’s been divorced from my fiancé’s father for twelve years (they don’t speak) and does not currently have anyone (romantically) in her life. He is her only child. She has been nothing but absolutely excellent to me—making every friendly overture possible from day one, being respectful of our relationship and us, and always being incredibly thoughtful and considerate. She’s really a dream future mother-in-law! As a dedicated follower of APW Philosophy, I tried not to immediately jump to, “But it’s MY wedding!” I made some polite noises and the conversation continued from there. The problem is, I find myself privately feeling hurt, jealous, and indignant. It’s ugly, but true. I feel like dance lessons are something my fiancé and I should be doing, not him and his mother. Besides, my dad has already taken ballroom dance and knows what he’s doing. I haven’t spoken to my fiancé, but this issue is burning a hole in me while I keep silent.
What do I do? Keep silent and try to let it go? Try to discuss it? I would really appreciate your help!
Mentally Making Assessment of Maternal Matters Anxiously—Mother In-law Astounds!
I get enough emails about terror mothers-in-law, that it’s sort of a relief to hear you gushing about yours. And even in this little snag of a situation, it sounds less like your mother-in-law is overstepping boundaries, and more like your partner isn’t setting them. I’m guessing that’s not for any reason other than that he just didn’t know. He didn’t know this was important to you! He didn’t know that you wanted ballroom dancing lessons to be “your thing.” So, mom asked to take lessons, and he jumped on board. While it makes for a sticky issue, you can’t really fault either of them for it. And before you pull him aside to talk it out, let’s figure out whether or not this is a situation where you even need those boundaries.
I completely understand what it’s like to want something unique and special and “just us” with your partner. But, the whole wedding day is one giant special moment with him. While you may feel like “ballroom dance lessons is OUR THING!” really, isn’t the whole day, “our thing”? Meanwhile, that mother-son dance is the only small “just us” moment your mother-in-law gets with him. And in a symbolic, but also real sort of way, it’s her last one. This is it. From here on out, he’s all yours. You’ll be able to have hypothetical “ballroom dance lesson” moments just the two of you for the rest of your lives. She, mostly, will not. And I’m guessing she knows it and wants to make the most of it while she can.
I passed your question over to former ATP writer Alyssa (as I sometimes do. She’s not emeritus staff for nothin’) and she pointed out that in addition to that emotional, symbolic stuff, mother-in-law is probably super nervous about dancing in front of people. Sure, dance lessons would mean she gets an extra opportunity to spend time with her son, savoring the last moments before he has a new family of his own. But, they also mean she won’t look like an ass in front of her friends. Anyone would be nervous about being center stage on a super emotional, important day. But, add to that the fact that your dad knows how to dance? You’re setting up a tough act to follow.
So, yeah. Usually I’m writing about the wedding being a time of setting boundaries and for laying the groundwork to make sure that your relationship with your spouse is respected and protected. But, there’s also another piece to weddings that’s all about joining two families together into one big (hopefully) happy family. Instead of that first kind of boundary issue, I see this as potentially that second kind of family opportunity. You two can still take your private lessons together and have your special time. But maybe this is one chance to expand “just us” to “all of us” by taking lessons all together, too, or giving her some alone time with her son.
The flip side to figuring out how to protect “our thing” by creating personal, private time, traditions, and memories for just the two of you, is figuring out how to allow family in. The need to hash out that line between “just us” and “you can be part of this” is already starting, and both sides of that coin are important. It’s tricky. It’s personal. But, it’s worth the thought and effort to make sure you’re paying attention to both your baby-family and your extended one.
If I haven’t made it clear yet, I’d include mom in this one. Let her have some time with her son as she adjusts to the idea that he’s moving on. But, it still is a good opportunity to pull your partner aside and say, “Hey. That was important to me. I like having things that are just specially ours.” That conversation might as well begin now, because it’s not ending any time soon. It’ll to come up from time to time, whether in the form of, “Oh, I didn’t know you wanted me to wait and see The Great Gatsby with you!” or, “Whoops, didn’t realize this was sexy-dinner when I invited my college roommate along.” Be ready to let him know when things are “just us” (because it’s important to have those!), but realize that this wedding is just the beginning of a lifetime of “just us.” It’s okay to share a little.
Team Practical, how do you determine what stuff is just for you and your partner, and what you can invite your family to enjoy with you?
Photo by Calin Peters.
If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!