Ask Team Practical: Estranged and Engaged


How to keep your engagement happiness bubble intact

by Lucy Bennett, Deputy Editor

Ask Team Practical: Estranged and Engaged | A Practical Wedding

Q:Hey there, wizened people with relatively normal lives, I’ve got a conundrum for you.

I recently, after a years-long struggle, decided I could not continue a relationship with my mother. The decision was obvious and absolutely necessary, but in no way easy. It remains a painful aspect of my life, and while I’m working hard on blooming (and I am blooming!), life’s kinda tough in the family section lately. It doesn’t make it easier that my father disowned me a few months ago. (Very separate relationships—if we could all not speculate as to why my own dad can’t love me, and why I am choosing to live a life free of abuse from my mom, that would be really, really appreciated.) That being said…

They—my birth family—are all hundreds of miles away and have been for five years. I packed up and moved long ago, and have since created a life full of joy, love, and healthy community—a HUGE change of pace from the addiction-riddled parenting of my childhood, the homelessness of my adolescence, and the turbulence of settling into an entirely new city and state. I’ve settled into this life and thrived. Additionally, I have cultivated a wonderful romance that is about to be officially betrothed! I couldn’t be happier with my sensitive, caring, hilarious, goofy, handsome, talented partner, and I’m thrilled that I have found this path in my life. I have a lot (outside of my relationship as well as within) to be grateful for.

Here’s the question. When I am “officially” engaged, and I call my siblings (who I am in no way close to), they are going to ask me if I’m going to call our mother. How the hell do I handle this? Mother’s Day was enough of a mess to last me for at least a solid year. Should I speakerphone call them with my sweetie? Is a photo text appropriate? And my sister-in-law of almost twenty years, who recently blocked me on Facebook for talking about homophobia being a problem (my partner and I are both queer), what do I even do with that? (I don’t really care for her to be involved.)

I’m entirely aware of how dysfunctional this all sounds, and it is. I don’t know how to wander through this dark forest, and my beau is helping the best he can, but… dang. What do we do here?

On a separate note: his family, and our friends, are all wonderful, sweet people, and announcing our news to them will be an absolute pleasure. I have no fears or anxieties about anything announcement-related outside my weird little gene pool.

A Black Sheep

A:Oh, Black Sheep. Who told you that I was a wizened person with a relatively normal life? I need to go correct them.

When you are estranged from a parent or relative, it can be hard not to feel like you’re the only one who has difficult family relationships. Because when it comes to family matters, a lot of people keep their own personal difficulties… well… in the family. Combine that with your average day on Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, etc.—the places where shiny happy friends show off their shiny happy reunions, vacations, holidays, you name it—and it’s pretty damn easy to feel like you’re the only person who can’t have nice things, like loving parents.

But you aren’t! Given the chance to take quick peek into most people’s personal lives, you’re going to find some kind of dysfunction. Everyone has their own dark forest to walk through at times, though others may be longer, shorter, or less full of terrors. Personally, I’m very, very guilty of being a shiny happy person most of the time on social media. But out here in the real world, I’ve also cut off all communication with my mother, for the sake of my own personal health and well being. So much for that “relatively normal life.” As many APW readers will likely tell you in comments, you are definitely not alone in this.

Now, your question. Having already walked the path of sharing engagement news with my estranged family, I’ll say that this is a problem that is unique to each person. The main question you need to answer for yourself—and I mean only yourself, this is not the time for outside opinions—is how much contact you’re willing to have with your mother, or any other estranged relative. If it’s none, then that’s your answer. No matter what everyone in your family says. The decision of whether or not to contact someone who has been a source of abuse is entirely yours, and not open for discussion.

When it comes to contacting the rest of the family, I’m going to suggest something that may fly in the face of what some etiquette guides might tell you: use whatever form of communication that will keep your “just engaged” happiness bubble in tact. You don’t owe anyone a phone call, so don’t feel like you’re obligated to start a phone tree fifteen minutes after the proposal. If you do still decide to call family, ask yourself this: will calling your sisters on the phone pop that happiness bubble when they ask about your mom? If yes, then deal with that specific phone call after you’ve had time to just be happy for yourself.

As for family members that you don’t wish to be involved, or who’ve blocked you, or who are just rude to you? Well, they can find out through the grapevine. You don’t have any obligation to share good news directly with people who don’t have the decency to be polite to you, regardless of their relation.

In this age of instant Facebook updates after major life events, it might feel like you’re required to inform your entire family via phone call in the span of hours, and that can be stressful even without strained family dynamics. I recommend sitting on the Facebook and social media update for a couple days—or even weeks—whatever works. And tell all your friends to sit on it, if they happen to be there or know about the proposal. Give yourself time to enjoy your newly engaged state, and then make the tougher phone calls after you’ve had some time to enjoy this new, big adventure you’re embarking upon.

There are going to be even more tough discussions ahead—wedding planning with estranged family is its own minefield—but they can wait for now. Make time for the happy moments, because the road you’ve got to travel will still be there, whenever you’re ready.

Like with any post that covers family situations, we ask that you do not pry into details of the original poster’s life. Any comments speculating about those details will be removed by moderating staff.

Lucy Bennett

Lucy is the Deputy Editor of APW and a freelance designer/ writer hybrid. When not coming up with weird self-challenges, she can be found marathoning TV shows or playing board games. She lives in Atlanta with her husband, her moderately-internet-famous-pup, and two cats. She takes herself very seriously.

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  • Dell_Griffith

    I can’t speak to the estranged family, which, man, sounds really tough (to say the least), but I wanted to speak up as someone who didn’t share the news that I was engaged on Facebook for at least a week or two. We even waited a few days before telling our parents. It may not be the best approach for everyone, but it gave us the time we needed to feel all loved-up, get used to the new status and not have to worry about any questions related to the wedding. Having that time together to celebrate and settle into our engagement was SO nice, I highly recommend it!

    • Elizabeth

      Agreed. We were lucky to be without cell phone reception for 48 hours after my husband proposed. We loved having that time together, to focus on each other, before sharing the news with family and friends. That was truly a happiness bubble.

    • A.

      Thirded! We waited two days before telling our family members via phone call and left it off of FB entirely (we closed down our accounts shortly before the wedding) and it was a great time to, as you so perfectly put it, “feel all loved-up, get used to the new status and not have to worry about any questions related to the wedding.” These are the best tips I can think of for how to preserve the happiness bubble.

    • Laura C

      Same here — and we gradually told some friends before putting it on Facebook, as well, and no one let it out. I think it actually took us several weeks since I had surgery shortly after we decided to get married and that slowed us down notifying people individually who we wanted to.

    • Natalie

      Yes! Even if there are no negative family issues, waiting to tell people after getting engaged can allow you to bask in the happy glow together without all the obnoxious, nagging details well-meaning people ask you when you get engaged (“where’s the ring?” “when’s the wedding?” “where is the wedding?” “when are you having kids?” “who’s in the wedding party?”). My FH and I got engaged at the bottom of the Grand Canyon, so we couldn’t tell anyone for days, even if we wanted to. The only “person” I told was a guest logbook at a rest bench along the trail on our hike back up. After we got back home, the only person we told was our roommate until 2 weeks later. It was lovely – a great decision. We had time to absorb the enormity of committing ourselves to each other. We had time to slowly think about wedding planning (dates, venues, the overall feel we wanted) before anyone asked us about it. We were so right to do so – the second we told our parents, our mothers began peppering us with questions about wedding details.

      If the OP decides to contact estranged family, I think it may be easier emotionally to wait days or even weeks after the engagement is official. Having the first few people you tell be close friends who will simply rejoice and be excited adds to the overall lovely glow. That way, whatever negative things family members say won’t be coming immediately after a happy moment, thereby ruining the happy moment in your mind and memories.

    • Jess

      I plan to wait a while before telling people as well. Just wait for a bit and let it settle in, be happy about it before feeling pressure to make decisions or have a date.

    • orienteeringirl

      Yes, this. We got engaged when we were out of the country on vacation.
      Even though we could have contacted friends and family back in the
      States, we decided that it was our time to just bask in the warm happy
      glow of being newly engaged. When we returned home we slowly contacted
      the closest friends and family over the course of about a week before we
      shared our news on Facebook. Taking out time was wonderful, but
      honestly, I was so relieved when we finally put it on Facebook. I have
      no regrets for how we chose to share our news, we wanted the friends and
      family that are most important to us to hear from us that we were
      engaged, but it was incredibly draining to to have to go through the big
      emotional reveal of our engagement over and over again (we made about
      30 calls in 7 days.) And while it was wonderful and warming to speak
      with so many people who were so happy for us, even positive responses to
      our news hurt sometimes. We’d been together for 5 years when we were
      engaged, and almost everyone had the same response “It’s about time!” I
      understand that these sentiments came from a place of love, but it also
      felt like a judgement on our relationship and worse really robbed our
      moment of it’s specialness. My FMIL went so far as to scream
      “YESSSSSSSS!” in an emotional release that made me feel like waiting for
      our engagement to happen had been as agonizing as the final play of a
      tied Superbowl game. I suppose some may think that it’s sweet that she
      was so excited, but to me it felt like she put her own emotional needs
      before celebrating our good news…she wasted no time in planning for
      her future grandchildren that she assumes will come right after the
      wedding, so you see where this is going…

      My point is that even
      positive and seemingly supportive reactions to news of your engagement
      can be hurtful. We are of course blessed that (to my knowledge) all of
      our family and friends support our upcoming marriage, but regardless of
      the reaction you expect from those around you once you’re engaged, take
      the time that you and your partner need to just be happy, full of love
      and newly engaged. There are a lot of emotions going on just within your
      bubble, and it’s only going to get more complicated when you add more
      people.

    • Elizabeth

      My fiance and I kept our engagement quiet from my family for a few weeks because my parents were coming to visit and he needed to “ask permission.” After they left, we waited to tell them we were engaged partly because they were out of the country and didn’t get phone calls, and partly because it reinforced the lie that we waited for him and my dad to have “the talk.” It all blew up in our face anyway because even after all that effort we put into making my dad feel like he got what he wanted, my dad denied that the conversation ever happened! Why he’s flat-out lying about this is anyone’s guess, but I don’t have much room to talk either. I hate that my engagement is shrouded in such secrecy and I’m terrified that one of my friends will spill the beans at the wedding by accident. Oy vey.

      The moral of this story is, keeping your engagement secret for a while is fun, but don’t lie about when it happened.

    • Meg Keene

      I didn’t put engagement news on Facebook till I’d talked to everyone I was close to on the phone, which took at least two weeks. And I didn’t put pregnancy news on Facebook till I was 20 weeks, AKA half way through. I knew for damn sure I wasn’t up to sharing a early miscarriage or bad news on the organ scan on FB, so that was that.

      So yeah, REALLY, this goes for everyone. Take your time. Take whatever time you need. PARTICULARLY on Facebook, to whom you owe nothing.

    • Kris

      We got engaged without a ring. So we waited until we had the ring (about 1 week) to start sharing the news. Hehe, our engagement went something like “let’s get married” “are you for real?!” “yes.” “yes!” [husband-elect gets out laptop] “so which shiny do you want?”
      It was a loooong week for both of us. I wanted to jump up and down, fill pinterest with bridesmaid dress ideas, and be asked by everyone what the wedding colors were going to be. I think he spent the whole time feeling vaguly ill about all the money I/we were about to spend (it is his way, and I love him).

  • MK

    Do what you need to do to protect you, your new baby family, and the life you have built, because all three are worth it. If that means calls and gritted teeth, so be it. Texts, so be it. NOTHING, so be it. Try to remember that you don’t have to tell your family just because they share some DNA with you. When it comes right down to it, you share a lot of your DNA with, for example, bananas.
    You’ve been SO strong to build a life like this. I am wishing you and your partner so much joy, and the courage to keep walking this path, wherever it takes you.

    • http://andshelovesyou.com/ Lucy

      “When it comes right down to it, you share a lot of your DNA with, for example, bananas.”

      In the running for my favorite comment of the week. :)

      • MK

        Hee, yay!

    • Stephanie B.

      Tell the bananas. They’ll be WAY more supportive!

      • Sarah E

        Yeah, after you share the news, they may decide to just split, but throw a cherry on top and it’s still a win ;-)

  • Estherhasi

    As someone who comes from a family where my dad still believes he needs to “give his blessing and give me away” the fact that my boo and I got engaged without that caused a huge problem for us. We went straight from the lake where we got engaged to tell my mother. Let’s just say there is no better way to pop a happiness bubble than your mom breaking down into hysterical *sad* tears when she hears you’ve gotten engaged. Protect that bubble and your baby family!

  • Daisy6564

    I also want to chime in about the calling people after getting engaged. When my husband and I got engaged two years ago we let it settle for about an hour and then called EVERYONE! It was a big mistake. Although I am not estranged from my family there is nothing more emotionally draining and exhausting than talking to all of your relatives in succession over the phone. Engagement bubble burst. I did not feel excited at all by that time but I had to fake enthusiasm with each phone call. It majorly sucked.

    My question is this: are you planning to invite these estranged relatives to your wedding?(sorry to dump another stressful decision on you). If you think that you will not invite them then why do you feel that you need to call them to tell them?

    I would say do not call anyone that first day and just enjoy your own bubble. My suggestion would be to not tell anyone, unless you live with them or run in to them the first day. Wait a few weeks (or even months) to put it on facebook. In the meantime call only the people who you would want to be at your wedding at your own pace, not all in one go. Let the rest find out through the grapevine, (or facebook when you eventually post it) as Lucy suggests. You absolutely do not owe anyone a call.

    • jashshea

      Yup to that last paragraph. Enjoy time with just the two of you. Then enjoy time with his loving, supportive family and your friends. Then, in a distant third place, worry about whether your people deserve the chance to know about your life and exciting news.

      FWIW, I’m not facebook married. I wasn’t facebook engaged. We weren’t facebook dating prior to that. My real friends know what’s going on in my life, but I don’t put much “real talk” out on FB. I’m not sure why the guy whose locker was next to mine in 7th grade would need to know my relationship status, but that’s just me. If you want to share the news, but don’t want it to be a minefield, try setting up a small group of good supportive people and share the news only w/them.

      I’m so very sorry that your parents and family are unsupportive/destructive and commend you for getting away from those relationships. Big hugs.

      • Sarah E

        Seconded on not being facebook engaged, even with less severe family dynamics. We are in a facebook relationship, but as far as engagement, I really didn’t want friends and acquaintances from many stages of life wondering if they’re going to be invited or asking me questions and starting conversations that we aren’t close enough to have.

      • SarahG

        Yeah, I’ve never put a relationship status on FB. It’s not a dating site, so I just feel like… if you know me or ever look at my page, you know I’m in a relationship because I post stuff. And if you don’t know me, why are we FB friends again? So I didn’t change my status to engaged; just wrote a post. Some people missed it but again, nobody that was critical (more like randoms from seventh grade).

    • dearabbyp

      We called the next day — family and a few close friends and did it over FaceTime. It was lovely because everyone was super supportive, but I can see how that would be draining to call a bunch of others. Not very many other people got a phone call. We then went on vacation for three weeks. Engagement bubble is the best!

  • Julianne Smith

    I’m estranged from my mom, as well, also for abuse. I specifically tell my siblings not to tell her anything important, particularly like where I live, but I also know that some things get through to her. That’s just reality. If you specifically don’t want her to know, that’s tough, but like Lucy said, you don’t owe anyone any phone calls, not even your siblings. The way I announced my engagement was just a friends only Facebook post, and was done with it. No specific phone calls to anyone, even my sisters with whom I am very close. The most important thing is to protect yourself. Best of luck :]

    • http://andshelovesyou.com/ Lucy

      Oh, I feel you when it comes to not giving out important info. My mother doesn’t get to know I own a house because I know she’d find the address through property records (she’s a real estate agent). But after a solid ten years of dealing with it, all my siblings (who are varying degrees of estranged from her) have learned what information we need to ask permission to give out.

  • Philippa

    Gosh, a difficult one – I am fortunate to have a supportive family, though my fiance’s family is very disfunctional, and we are taking that one step at a time. I want to echo Lucy’s thoughts – the decision on whether or not to contact ANYONE (and for some people that could be an abusive friend) should be just yours, and should be right for you, your partner, and your new life together. We have been planning our wedding very much on the mantra that it’s the opening of our marriage, and anyone sharing that with us are the people we invite to share in our married lives and in our new journey.

    I also would MASSIVELY recommend the social media and communication switch off to enjoy the engagement bubble! We were in NYC when we got engaged (I am from the UK) and so didn’t call anyone at all for a week until we were home. Having that time just for us was so important – keep that happiness bubble intact!! Good luck, and lots of love for your (wonderful!) new married life!

    • Erin

      Seconding what you said about this kind of bubble-bursting can come from an abusive friend, too. I had an old, formely very close friend who showed her true colors when I told her I was getting engaged, and she responded with “Don’t get a fit and flare dress” and immediately start complaining that I was “making everything about me.” That hurt. After reflecting on it over a few weeks, I wrote her an email explaining why I was hurt and asking if we could work on our friendship. She responded by refusing to acknowledge her hurtful words and telling me I was so awful there was nothing in our friendship worth saving. I wrote back one last time (honestly, my last message to her was harsher in tone, but I stand by it) and cut off all ties with her. …I can honestly say I’m better off without her in my life, but it still kind of sucks that a happy occasion like my engagement led to the end of a 10+ year friendship. But I know I did the right thing putting my baby family first. Also, my other close friends admitted they were relieved they wouldn’t have to deal with her being in the bridal party, as they’d had difficulties with her in the past.

      Good luck to you, LW and enjoy being with the community that truly supports you on your wedding day!

  • Bonfire Girl

    Whatever you do, don’t allow your family to occupy more emotional space than they deserve. If nothing else, you’ve posted this question to APW, you obviously care, and that, in itself, is enough. We who are born of dysfunctional families can spend so much energy on doing the right thing and putting others’ needs first to keep the peace. Maybe, just this once, you get to put yourself first, and maybe that hurts other peoples’ feelings. So be it — it’s your turn. If it makes YOU feel good to share your joy, do it. If not, oh well.
    I got engaged in a place with no cell reception. I highly recommend this for anyone who gets engaged, not just those who might dread certain family phone calls. We spent the entire day walking in the woods, blissed out, letting it all soak in. Only the next day did we have cell service again and started making calls–this means that no one was left out of getting late news. We called my father last. Standing there with my “new family” smiling at me gave me new strength and took some of the power away from my father and his gruff response. Yes, they will still be awful…but you might find it bothers you a whole lot less.

    • http://andshelovesyou.com/ Lucy

      “Don’t allow your family to occupy more emotional space than they deserve.”

      Yes yes yes yes yes. This is really high on the list of things I have to remind myself of when in the midst of family….drama, basically.

    • MDBethann

      We got engaged while vacationing in mainland Greece with my parents & sister (at a monastery in Meteora – my DH has awesome taste & ideas). So while my immediate family knew right away (they’d seen the ring at the airport & kept the secret for 4 days), no one else knew until we landed back in the States a week later.

      So I wholeheartedly second the idea of getting engaged in a place without cell phones, WiFi, social media, or any Internet access. While it is tempting to proclaim your news to the world, it’s really nice to just have some time to digest it yourselves and soak it all in.

  • Anon

    ” I packed up and moved long ago, and have since created a life full of joy, love, and healthy community—a HUGE change of pace from the addiction-riddled parenting of my childhood, the homelessness of my adolescence, and the turbulence of settling into an entirely new city and state.”
    Thank-you so much for sharing this! Your experiences of childhood and adolescence sound not dissimilar to that of my beloved, who also recently decided to cut contact with his family. It has been a huge struggle for him (and me) but we are slowly, slowly trying to figure out a way forward and develop a sense of community in lieu of having a supportive biological family. What you have achieved sounds awesome and gives me hope for our own future. I wish I had some words of wisdom in terms of sharing your engagement news, but I know that one day we will have the same dilemma and am not sure what we will do either. For my part, even though I know that cutting off contact has been for the best, I still feel a sense of regret and know my beloved does also. At the end of the day, you have to do whatever you think will be best for you and your mental health. Good luck!

  • Sara

    I think the question you should ask is what is the interaction you want with the sibs- do you want to just inform them before posting it on social media? Do you want to call them and tell them the story behind the engagement? If all you want is to tell them to be polite, I say just send a picture text and don’t respond to follow up “congratulations”. Don’t engage in conversation, just present it as fact and move on.
    If you’re interested in telling them about your partner and details about your life/engagement/future, then by all means call, but I would say think about polite ways to say “I don’t want to talk about ____” so you can steer the conversation, and polite ways to end it like “oh the doorbell just rang, I have to run, talk later?” :)
    Good luck! And congratulations on everything!!

  • EM

    We faced a somewhat similar situation, and chose not to tell them for a few months (and actually pulled together the entire wedding in that time, so it was more of a “hey, you’re invited to our wedding on X date” and less of a “hey, we’re engaged!”). I also arranged to have dinner with a friend who was thrilled for us immediately after telling my family, so I would have something to look forward to and help balance out a not-so-fun experience with a fun and upbeat one, which helped me a lot. And gave us a polite way to end the conversation, because we had to get to the restaurant on time!

    • Acres_Wild

      I second this advice! I kind of do the same thing when having conversations with my mom – we’re not estranged, but we don’t have a great relationship and conversations with her are usually super emotionally draining, so I always arrange an “out” after about a half hour. It helps immensely.

  • Nell

    This is going to sound incredibly strange, but one of the most significant things about being engaged thus far is that my friends have opened up to me about the totally insane family dynamics that they went through on their way to getting married – and I feel so much less alone about my own family drama. Talking to your family of choice makes everything better.

    • Meg Keene

      As someone told me mid-wedding planning, “There is a reason family doesn’t go with you on the honeymoon.”

  • genevathene

    We stayed in our little post-engagement bubble (i.e. nobody knew we were engaged) for two months! Part of that was so that we could figure out how we wanted to get married before getting everyone’s input, but also because I knew my mother would react negatively. We didn’t call anyone – instead, we wrote letters to each other’s families, thanking them for raising our partners so well and letting them know when we were getting married. My fiancé’s family was thrilled – my mother didn’t speak to me for two weeks. Which led me to therapy and the realization that due to an abusive childhood, my mother is a narcissist and there was nothing I could do to change her.

    8 months later, we still haven’t updated our Facebook status, but that’s mostly because we’re working on writing short letters to our families and friends as a “save the date”. As introverts, we found this to work well for us (while also still being meaningful – who gets letters in the mail anymore?).

    • JDrives

      Whoa – I LOVE the letters idea. I would be so, so tickled to get a handwritten letter in the mail announcing the engagement of a loved one. Like, happy tears tickled. And best of all, it worked for you and your partner, which is the most important part!

    • Eh

      We didn’t update our FB status to engaged for a long time. The people that matter knew we were engaged (our bubble only lasted a day – but it was an awesome day). Though before my husband could tell all of his family that we were engaged his mother did post it on FB (in her defense she gave him two weeks). Some people didn’t realize I was engaged (since status still wasn’t updated) until I made a comment about dress shopping. Other than that we didn’t post much about wedding planning. Months after we were engaged some of our friends were bugging us to change our status so we finally did.

    • Jess

      I love the idea of short letters! I also love letters, so there’s that. But what a great way to say, “We’ve chosen a date, and we want you to be there because you mean a lot to us.”

  • Amy March

    If you want to tell your siblings, I think an email is the way to go. Ordinarily people say not to email such important news, because it suggests you’re not that close with the person you’re telling. Here, that in entirely true, you know it, and they know it.

    If they ask if you are going to tell you mother, it’s fine to tell the truth “as you know, I’m not in touch with Mom, and I am not planning on getting in touch with her about this.”

    As for the homophobic sister in law, I think her blocking you on Facebook is what you should reflect back to her. Is she invited to the wedding? Sure, if your brother is. Do you need to engage in conversations about your wedding with her? Nope. You’re busy washing your cat every time she calls.

    • http://andshelovesyou.com/ Lucy

      I can attest that washing a cat is very time intensive, and takes major concentration. Also, body armor.

      • Jules

        It says loads that washing the cat is more pleasant than conversing with someone.

    • swarmofbees

      You could even write a paper letter, with envelope and stamp, as a way to make it a perhaps more special way to tell them. “This was so important I didn’t want to put it just in an email!” You also don’t have to worry about a super easy reply. They have to make the effort to pull out their phone or open the computer to let you know how they feel. Perhaps that little space might help them to find an appropriate response.

      • Kris

        I’m blessed to not have LW’s issues but this was the solution I thought of as well. Just snail mail them a picture and/or short letter with the happy news. You can even neglect to provide a return address if you want. Then you can feel at ease knowing you “did what was expected” by sharing the news but you also have made it tough for people to say something nasty in response. (And if they do write back maybe let your fiance read them first, it might be easier on you if your partner can warn you with a “hey, Aunt Tilly wrote you a nasty letter. Wanna read it first or shall I just shred it?”)
        I also agree with you, swarmofbees, that the letter has the additional advantage of being unimpeachable etiquette. Aunt Tilly won’t have a leg to stand on if she tries to call LW rude (as she might if she finds out through the grapevine). Not that Aunt Tilly’s feelings are what’s important here, it’s LWs. But since LW seems to feel conflicted and guilty, knowing she’s “doing it properly” might make her feel better.

  • Grace from England

    Hi black sheep. Firstly I just wanted to congratulate you – not just on your impending engagement, but on getting yourself out of a toxic family environment, moving far away, and building a happy and healthy life for yourself. That’s no easy feat and not everyone manages it.

    I totally agree with Lucy’s advice regarding the happiness bubble, but I just wanted to add another layer. I really think how you handle announcing your engagement to individual people should relate to the relationship you have with them, or how you would like things to be going forward. If someone in your life has consistently not been there for you and you’ve decided to cut ties with that person, and you can’t see yourself going back on that decision, then you don’t owe them a phone call, or anything else for that matter. If part of you is hoping your engagement will be a new chapter in your relationships with certain family members, then as Lucy says you might want to proceed with caution and make the call in your own time.

    There’s this narrative that when you get engaged, your family should be the first to know. But the truth is that the people you love most and feel closest to should know first, whoever that happens to be, and you should tell them however you want to tell them. There is no right answer, as Lucy said, but I hope the people you’ve surrounded yourself with in your new life will be there for you whatever you decide.

    • ferrous

      Yep. As someone who is also estranged (abuse), I wanted to highlight this excellent idea that you don’t owe anything, despite the overwhelming cultural narrative.

      A question you might ask yourself, Black Sheep: what do you want or hope for? Their happiness? Support? Attendance (drama-free)? Can you realistically expect any of these things?

      Our engagement and wedding happened without my parents’ knowledge, and while I thought I would feel shame or remorse, all I’ve felt is relief. It took decades, but I learned to stop opening that relationship door. Now I’m pregnant, and the decision not to involve them came pretty easily. There is nothing I want or hope for from them, in fact it scares me to think of them with my child.

      Of course, there is no right answer; I hope you find the level of communication best for you. Best of luck!

    • Stacey H.

      “I really think how you handle announcing your engagement to individual people should relate to the relationship you have with them, or how you would like things to be going forward.”

      My thoughts exactly. Black sheep, this is your first opportunity to establish the boundaries for you and your NEW family- you and your partner. As your proceed with wedding planning, you’ll face other obstacles with your family and this is just step one. You’ve established some of your boundaries already by cutting out contact with your parents– are there other boundaries that the two of your need to establish as well before you dive into starting a new life together?

  • anon

    wish I had read this before I called my parents and brother about our engagement… that sinking feeling I had when I heard my parents pause before saying a half hearted congrats and the way my brother merely sneered at the size of my ring’s stone really sucked. I was so happy for all of half a day, and after I called my family I realized that I had done that because I had hoped they would rally around me and be a family over this happy news. But it was really just my fantasy, and in real life, they reacted as they would always have. If I could do it over again, I would have let myself be in the happy bubble with my fiance for at least a couple of days.

  • http://thinkweirdthoughts.blogspot.com Phira

    I’m estranged from my dad, and both of my siblings DID ask if I’d been inviting him to the wedding. Actually, a lot of people asked, to the point where I’m a little irritated (like, some people who were just curious and have no emotional investment in the situation–I felt like it wasn’t any of their business). But with my siblings, both of them were just happy to hear about the engagement. Eventually, both of them DID ask me.

    My older brother seemed sad, but he was supportive; he’s been married before and he understands how absurdly difficult it is to deal with family drama when planning a wedding. My sister asked me and pressured me, and it was a very rough conversation for both of us. All I can recommend is that you not try to appease anyone. You’ve already made your decision: Your mother isn’t going to be invited. So if it comes up (and it might not!), you can say that: “I understand that this really upsets you, but I’ve already made my decision.”

    It’s worth remembering, and reminding your siblings, that a wedding is not a deadline. There’s this idea that if you don’t invite your estranged family member to the wedding, then you will NEVER reconcile, the end is upon us, etc. So you can remind your siblings: “My relationship with Mom has been a disaster, and I’m not ready to let her back into my life. My wedding isn’t a deadline for reconciliation. I hope you can understand that.”

    Finally, your siblings may NOT bring it up anyway.

    • Meigh McPants

      “My wedding isn’t a deadline for reconciliation.” Oooh, that’s really good. A wedding is just a single day – an amazing day, granted – and there is a lot of life left after it. With all the pressure surrounding a wedding day, why add “Solve all my longstanding family issues” to the list?

    • River

      Seriously, thank you for the line “My wedding isn’t a deadline for reconciliation” – I will be using that when people ask why my dad isn’t coming even though I invited him :-( or why my FMIL and her sister will (most likely) be cool to each other.

      Drama on all sides! ugh.

      • Eh

        “My wedding isn’t a deadline for reconciliation” – This is a great line.
        As someone who tried to reconcile with a relative before our wedding, it was stressful and it did get to the point where we had to say we couldn’t put any more effort in. (I would still do it again – maybe a bit differently, but hindsight is 20/20.) We were trying to reconcile in good faith, not just because of our wedding. We truthfully wanted a relationship with this person. That said, she felt we were only trying to reconcile because their was pressure from other relatives so she refused (we set up a time that was convenient for her to meet with her and she “forgot” and made other plans). We invited her to our wedding and she said we only did that for the “image” of a unified family and that she wasn’t going to be playing along. To ensure she couldn’t come she didn’t even book the day off work. She also couldn’t be civil and other people wouldn’t have been civil to her so it’s probably good she didn’t come.
        Since then we have reconciled. After our wedding our emotions were not as high and there was no deadline so it was a lot easier.

    • Charybdea

      I’m in this situation too: Seven weeks to the wedding, estranged from my parents for two and a half years, and fielding way too many calls from other familiy members about whether said parents will be invited. And…god. It’s awful, to repeatedly have everyone chipping away at decisions that were so hard to make, and have everyone assuming your reasons for making them were somehow childish or small.

      So I don’t know if it’s been wise, but: I finally just started telling people, in explicit detail, why I made that decision (abuse).

      As a strategy for making people stop bothering you/setting boundaries, it’s risky. But I think the underlying point here is that in situations where our families have been less than the things we need, we kind of have two family lives: There’s the pretty picture everyone’s trying to maintain, and then there’s the real we live with.

      I don’t think it’s a bad or impolite thing to insist, in our weddings and the rest of our lives, on living the real.

  • Eh

    Sometimes someone blocking you of FB is a good thing. In the year (or maybe a little more) leading up to our wedding my now-SIL had a very negative attitude. She would get worked up and go off on FB rants over anything and everything. Every day she would post multiple rants. At the time we were not getting along with her (she was not supportive of our relationship) and her FB posts were not helping my impressions of her. I considered blocking her on FB but I felt that wouldn’t help with us trying to improve our relationship with her. I ended up making it so I couldn’t see her posts in my newsfeed. I didn’t look at her posts for a whole month. My anxiety level went don’t because I wasn’t constantly reading her negative posts, and my mood improved. After the month I allowed myself to occasionally look at her FB page so I could see pictures of my nieces (the only thing I missed during the month). A few months before our wedding she was upset with someone my husband had done so she blocked me (but at that time, not my husband) on FB (she did block my husband about a month later for something else).

    All that to say that you don’t need that attitude or vibe. You need people around you who support you.

    (My SIL is getting help and working on being less aggressive. We are now getting along with her again and we are FB friends with her again. And now she rarely posts negative rants on FB.)

  • pajamafishadventures

    Black Sheep, I can’t quite tell for your original letter: Do you WANT to tell these people because you want to be closer/have that more traditional-looking family or do you FEEL OBLIGATED to tell them because they are family? If the latter, I would say: just don’t. Don’t feel obligated to involve people in your life if you don’t want them there.

    • ART

      I totally agree. You know that saying, “happiness shared is doubled, misery shared is halved?” I love that. And I find that when the opposite is true in a particular relationship, I really don’t want to do any sharing of any kind.

  • Jen

    My mother, who I haven’t communicated with for 6 years and haven’t seen in person in 12, was not invited to my wedding. It was a MUCH better day without anyone causing any drama. Keep people in your life who make you happy- that’s my motto :)

  • beelitenotfab

    Hey, just wanted to echo that you aren’t alone. There is all kinds of crazy complicatedness in my family, and when I got engaged, I was so sick with my chronic problems from Ehlers Danlos Syndrome, that I couldn’t actually talk on the phone. And let’s be honest, I get overwhelmed by that kind of interaction. So I texted everyone, including the parent I have contact with and my best friends. So do what works for you and trust yourself, you got yourself this far. It’s no ones business but yours who you contacted and how.

  • Penny7b

    I’m another one estranged from my mother (15 years and counting). So first up I’d like to say congrats on making the difficult but worthwhile decision about what you need to live a healthy and fulfilling life. I know it’s not easy, but I can tell you from 15 years of experience it is so worth it. Go you!

    My best bit of advice is about the importance of setting boundaries. I’ve sometimes had people (e.g. siblings and other relatives) ask me to contact my mother out of sympathy or consideration for her feelings. Aside from the fact that completely misunderstands (or ignores) my needs, it’s not actually good for her. People, particularly people who might have the kind of emotional issues that lead to them becoming abusers, need boundaries. They need to know what they can expect from you. And the best way to do that is to be consistent. If it’s no contact, stick with no contact. If it’s birthday and Christmas cards only, stick to that. Breaking your own rules “for the sake of your mother” doesn’t do anyone any favors.

    In the early years of my estrangement I struggled to defend and explain my choice to other relatives. But in the end it didn’t really matter what I said. The people that had a problem with it would have had a problem with it no matter what. The people who could accept it, just accepted it because it was my decision. At the end of the day it doesn’t matter what you say about your choice, it matters that you make the choice.

  • Black Sheep

    Hey there! Black Sheep (original asker) here.

    The response to this letter is sweet, and the commentary is incredible. I feel silly hiding behind an anonymous name, because these are such real feelings… And honestly, the community here has absolutely warmed my heart. I want to hug each of you. Thank you so, so much for your kindness.

    A bit of an update: After the engagement, we did a speakerphone call to our nearest and dearest, and to the people who we felt it would be important to inform- we decided to call my brothers (not my sister) first, in case of any negativity (as it could then be smothered in the inevitable excitement of his family). To my surprise, and RELIEF, (and as one commenter mentioned might be the case) no one asked about my mother. And his family? They *screamed* with giddiness for us. His siblings that live 1,000 miles away opened a bottle of champagne in our honor. We got phone calls with applause. They’re the best.
    Oh, and the engagement itself was far beyond what I could have imagined he would plan. It was absolute perfection.

    There has only been one person who’s asked anything about my parents- “are your parents flying in for the wedding?”- and the answer found me rather easily.
    “I actually don’t have a relationship with my birth parents, but my partner’s parents are local and we’re very excited to celebrate with them.”
    And it’s true. I am excited to have this new family ahead of me- both my baby family and my in-laws.

    Being estranged from my family is difficult, but not because of who they are; this means accepting who they are, and who they never have been, who they never will be. It’s an exhausting thing to overcome, but so are a lot of other things I’ve already dealt with. Like all those things, I will take advantage of the beautiful community I’ve surrounded myself, I will reach out (as seen here), and I will, inevitably, be supported by some truly wonderful people.

    Thank you for being a great deal of those wonderful supportive hands I needed. <3