Q: We’re in the midst of planning a wedding for next summer. It’s been a whirlwind and it’s been a challenge to have a wedding that would be APW-approved… not ridiculously expensive, not huge, and true to our personalities. We decided at the outset that we wanted to keep the guest list as small as possible, so we can spend the wedding day with people we truly care about—quality over quantity, right?! Since we have big families, it’s been a challenge but we settled on a size we’re happy with.
Though, once we decided the guest list, my parents have asked to add dozens more of their friends to the list. I’ve pushed back on this using the reasoning of, it’s our wedding—we want to keep it as small and intimate (and with people we know well and love) as possible, we don’t want to over-expend on additional guests we don’t know as well, and having dozens more on the list makes the event just too unwieldy to plan. I’ve tried at the outset to include my parents in our thinking of small, slightly unconventional, fun, and outdoorsy, so they wouldn’t be caught off guard or surprise us in any way.
It’s tricky because my parents have offered to pay for some of the wedding, and they come from a different generation and culture where the parents always ruled the kids’ weddings, and they have attended hundreds of weddings for the children of their friends. So, it feels important to them to have their friends there. I’ve also tried to compromise by asking to invite a FEW of their friends, not all forty of them, but that hasn’t gone over so well either.
I’m caught between a rock and a hard place here since this should be an exciting time for all of us, and we’re planning a beautiful day, and I am so lucky to have parents who want to support us and be part of it. But there’s a lot of tension when my fiancé and I have a vision and my parents have bought into an entirely new vision. I don’t want to cause a rift, but I don’t want to give in to inviting another half of our guest list to our wedding and have it be way bigger than we’re comfortable with.
What should I do? I’m at my wit’s end—no level of rationalizing, compromising, or diplomacy seems to have worked!
A: Dear Anonymous,
Oof. Guest lists, money, and parents. Maybe the three most difficult parts of wedding planning?
Before we even chat about your parents, though, I have to admit to squirming in my seat at this: “It’s been a challenge to have a wedding that would be APW-approved… not ridiculously expensive, not huge, and true to our personalities.” Sure, all those things are awesome and, if they’re important to you, I’ll defend ’em to death. But they’re not intrinsically “practical,” you know? Sometimes APW weddings are expensive, or are giant, or are held in cookie-cutter event halls. The specific details aren’t what make a wedding “practical.” Sometimes the most practical decision ever is to just invite all forty of your mom’s friends and take out a small loan to make it possible.
Whoops, sorry about the heart attack at the end there. That is my personal perspective, though: inclusivity. My parents are important to me, so by some sort of transitive property or something (I don’t know math), their friends that I hardly know and don’t remember are important to me as well.
On top of that, in my few short years as a mom, I’ve had my own friends already contribute to my son’s health and wellbeing in innumerable ways that I’m sure he’ll never know. That same mathematical property above works here, too. My friends are my friends, but they care about my son because I do. This is obviously way far ahead in the future, crazy hypothetical (he’s not even four yet, alright), but if my son were to one day marry, I’d love to have those friends there. Meg has feelings on this, too, and offers her perspective as a mom:
These people brought you into the world (one way or another), and raised you, and have been thinking about your happiness since before you could do anything but make spit bubbles. This may feel like it’s just about them pushing to win at the guest list (and maybe it is that), but it also could be that you are a huge part of who they are. If you getting married makes them proud and happy, it’s a fulfillment of dreams they’ve for your happiness since you were a tiny wailing ball-o-baby. So, maybe they just want their people to celebrate with your people, so they can show off… you. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t still say no, and set boundaries. Just because your parents love you a lot doesn’t mean you’re always going to give them everything they want. But taking a time-out to see it from their perspective might help. All that intense parental love can make a person a little bit crazy, and sometimes the crazy comes out over guest lists.
Granted, I know it doesn’t work that way for everyone. Some folks love their parents fiercely, and still prefer to just leave their parents’ friends out of the whole thing, thanks very much. Fair. The idea that maybe you can invite more people and still have a great wedding isn’t often voiced in the Internet world of “intimate” and “unique” weddings, so I just wanted to put it out there (and maybe defend the moms of the world a bit. They can get a bad rap when it comes to weddings).
But if those things—having a wedding that’s affordable and small and personal—are significant to YOU, and aren’t just some tick marks to earn favor on a wedding website, you’ll need to set some boundaries. You said you’ve already tried to compromise, but that would be my main thrust. Decide with your partner what sounds like a reasonable number—six friends each? Ten? And then stand by that decision. Allowing your parents just a few guests instead of “all” or “none,” may help them to feel heard and respected, without doubling the size of your wedding. You also may want to explain to your parents that you and your partner had to make the same sorts of difficult decisions in building your own guest list. Everyone is chopping friends in favor of intimacy, you’re not just picking on them.
Money always murkies the waters a bit, but make it clear to your parents that they haven’t “bought” their friends in. In fact, allowing your parents guests is less about their money and more about them being your parents. Have you discussed what their part of the financial contribution is covering? It may be too late for you guys, but for anyone else about to jump into these parent money talks, check over here, where I talk about establishing what that money is going to buy up front, so no one is surprised or tries to pull strings that don’t exist.
They’re going to be disappointed that they can’t bring everyone. But that’s all part of the “establishing boundaries” bag. If you don’t need to do it here, on the guest list, you’ll eventually need to establish boundaries sometime somewhere. You might as well start adjusting to the idea that your parents won’t love your every decision. Their disappointment is all part of what you’re weighing here. Is it more important to have a small wedding? Or more important to not disappoint your parents? If you decide the small wedding is priority, stick together and stand firm.
Team Practical, how did you handle parents who wanted to bring friends to your wedding? Did you opt for intimacy or inclusion?