Planning A Indie Wedding – With Your Family Too

by Meg Keene, CEO & Editor-In-Chief

There seem to be two predominate ways of dealing with one’s family during the wedding planning process that you hear about on the web or in wedding magazines. One, I’ll call the traditional approach, which seems to be, very loosely stated: Dad pays, Mom helps you plan each little detail, and the wedding is very traditional and proper so that no ones friends or family are at all shocked. Two, I’ll call the indie approach, again loosely stated: the bride and the groom pay, the parents don’t have very much input, the wedding is non-traditional and a beautiful reflection of the bride and the groom.

Both of these approaches sound fine. In fact, many days I wish we were planning one of these ways because they sound sound so straightforward! But, neither idea comes anywhere close to what our wedding planning experience has been like. David and I are doing most of the planning for our wedding, we’re working hard to make it a clear reflection of who we are as a couple, and in many ways it is not terribly traditional. That said, we’re both close to our families, and we know that our wedding day is important to them too. Each time we make a decision, we run it by our parents. They are not pushy, so as a result, if they express concern over something, we listen to them, and see what adjustments we can make. This kind of wedding planning involves lots of compromise from everyone. In a sense, no one person is going to get their dream wedding, but we’re creating something real and messy and complicated, just like a marriage.

Sometimes I wish we could just make every decision on our own. Our wedding would be somewhat different if we did it that way, probably smaller and more informal. But that wouldn’t reflect our parents wishes or really include our extended families, and in the end that wouldn’t feel quite right to us. On the other hand, there are days that I wish someone else were paying for and planning the whole day, and I could just sit back and not worry too much. “I’d like the bridesmaids dresses to be dark blue,” I’d say in this fantasy, “not light blue. But everything else looks great. Carry on!”

I don’t understand why there is so little discussion of this middle ground of (indie) wedding planning. Is it just too complicated to talk about, or too boring? Is anyone else trying to have their cake and eat it too – planning a wedding that is a reflection of both who they are and who their families are, with everyone helping out and paying a bit?

A big happy indie wedding family, via coach_stacy on Flickr

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. She has written two best selling wedding books: A Practical Wedding and A Practical Wedding Planner. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and two children. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit #NASTY

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  • You are not alone :) My fiance and I are laying down a large chunk of the cost of the wedding, but even so we want to make sure our parents are involved. To be honest, its my mom and step-dad specifically. The reason is not just because they are helping to pay, but because they ARE what’s important to us. Having them not involved wouldn’t seem right to us either.

    That being said, I think your take on this is interesting. I guess I kind of just assumed it was this way for a lot of people out there. Maybe this type of planning is the minority?

  • We are doing it similarly. We approached our parents early in the game and said “what are your wishes?” What do they want to see, read, eat, hear? My parents were forthcoming and we (luckily) agreed with all their ideas. FI’s parents didn’t have an opinion, until now- 2 months before the wedding. Kind of damn if you do, damned if you don’t situatiion for us. Good luck!

  • Great post! We doing most of the work but running everything through with our parents… Everything has been ok so far, but since our wedding is in september 09 we still have a long way to go..

  • I can see the issue of running everything by your parents means there are gonna be a whole lot more arguements and people disagreeing.

    We generally tell his parents everything and well my mom will just buy stuff that we then have to find a place for. It certainly is intersting.

  • we’re doing a variation on this. When we first declared our engagement, her family reacted very poorly. Over 4 years of being engaged, we’ve slowly won them over to our side. So, going to all that trouble to gain approval from certain people, and then dragging them to a wedding they wont enjoy…well, it just seemed off. We havent accomadated all their wishes (no disco dancing. period. I’m sorry FMIL)but we have done some guest list rearranging, and made sure there were activities for EVERYONE to enjoy at the reception.

    I think you might hear less about this approach becuase it neccesitates several parties being accostomed to compromise, which is just not as common as most would like it to be.

  • This is exactly what we’re doing. My fiancĂŠ and I are paying for most of it ourselves, and my mom and grandparents are also contributing. But even if we were paying for everything ourselves, we definitely wanted to make sure that the wedding made us *and* our families happy. At first, that seemed really tricky — my grandparents wanted something very formal; my mom, a backyard picnic. But we seemed to have forged a middle way and everyone’s pretty happy.*

    *although my very proper grandmother is less than pleased that the bluegrass band is called the Jackass Flats. She doesn’t think the word “Jackass” has a place at a wedding. Oh, well :)

  • our wedding cost was split pretty evenly between us and both sets of parents and we did try to include them in the decision making process. Since we’re both the youngest and already had siblings walk down the aisle, we had a pretty good sense from the start of what our parents wanted or didn’t want in a wedding. So, we started planning with that in mind and then slightly tweaked it to feel as much like “us” as possible and explain why those changes were important to us and usually they were fine with it. Other than probably wanting to include more extended family (our guest count was around 70 people) all of the planning went extremely smoothly. It also probably helped that we don’t live in the same town as either set of parents. That way we could relay info by phone or e-mail but nobody was constantly standing over our shoulder second guessing our decisions or tiny craft projects:)

  • I’m in the same boat chickadee!
    My parents are footing the bill for this shindig… but we are really trying to make it very “us”. Ironically, we are a bit backwards from most trying to do this. The majority of the times that my Dad had pulled the “im paying for this party!” rank has been financially concerned… but not in the way you think. I say “we are going with a limited bar” (to save $) and Dad says “We are having a FULL open bar and thats that!” Same thing with the guest list. Other than that they are involved but really following our lead on it. Except that do to my mothers request Cannon in D will be played at some point during the ceremony. Oh welL!

  • i think you hear much more about the compromise approach when speaking with individuals than you do when reading wedding media (magazines or blogs) because it IS so very personal and messy, as you said: it’s one thing to say to the world, as you did, that you’re working with your family to make sure everyone’s wishes are respected, and another to really dig into what those details are while respecting everyone’s privacy as well.

    working with divorced parents when planning a wedding is a good example: it can require serious emotional athleticism, and writers have covered some of the more universal concerns involved very well. the unique solutions, on the other hand, don’t lend themselves to public discussion – how useful are they to other couples?

    when it comes to compromise, the best support planners can give each other is, i think, the kind commenters give you here: that is, assurance that many, many brides-to-be are fighting the good fight – er, forging those unique compromises – for the same reasons you are. you’re most certainly not alone :)

  • I think it’s just too complicated, so people side step the middle ground. We’ll definitely be in the same boat. I love my family and I can’t imagine wanting to have a wedding that makes them uncomfortable or miserable. Of course, I’m lucky because I don’t have the kind of family that is going to freak over weird details, like chair covers.

  • It just seems like such a fine line between planning your wedding with your family and losing sight of what you really want and what reflects you. Growing up, I always felt the tension between fitting into my family (because I love them and want to be part of that community) and also being my own person (embracing vegetarianism and working in the non-profit sector, for example). To fully grow, I had to accept that my family wasn’t always going to be pleased with my choices but that was okay; I was going to use my own internal compass to find my own life path.

    I think the balance looks different for each couple, depending on their families’ temperaments. I’ve seen families use their children’s weddings as a venue for impressing or fitting in with their extended family and their friends.

    My partner’s mom wanted to be really involved in the planning process, so we encouraged her to plan a separate reception for us in her hometown. We gave her free reign to plan whatever kind of event she wanted and to invite whomever she wanted.

    We definitely ran ideas by our families during the wedding planning, but we made the ultimate decisions. We also involved our families by asking them to help out with various aspects of our ceremony and reception.

    I think what you’re trying to do is great! But when you find yourself disagreeing about something or having different ideas about something, you need to figure out why your family wants it a certain way. Why do they want it to be more formal or traditional? Is it because they want people to be comfortable? Is it because they want people to be impressed? Is it because they want their family represented well? Sometimes you’ll agree with the reason and sometimes you won’t. Either way, you should stay true to yourself.

    Good luck (and have fun!).

  • I’d like to think we are a nice mix. I’m blessed enough to have help from my family (with money) and my mom has been a god send dealing with the caterer and dress fiascos. So in that aspect, I guess you could say that we border on traditional. But then you come down to the planning, it is simply pure fiance and I, which is certainly along the lines of indie. I really do think you can have you cake, eat it, and then wash it down with milk.

  • I totally agree. At the end of the day it seems like we will be contributing equal thirds to the wedding. Yet our parents refuse to give us any input. They want the wedding to be a reflection of us and don’t understand how much we value their opinions.

  • peihan17

    We paid and planned everything with essentially no input from our families. The reason we didn’t go the middle way because although it could lead to compromise and everyone being happy, in our case, it was more likely to cause a lot more stress and pressure (especially for us). Everything would be a lot more complicated. So we just did it the easiest way, though we tried to avoid things that might overly shock or annoy family. Besides, we footed the bill, and none of our parents seemed all that interested anyway, so why ask for trouble? =)

    Interesting post!

  • A consultative approach is a thoughtful thing to do – but taking it too far is just asking for indecision, competing views and piling more pressure on (especially as the clock starts to tick). Sometimes someone just has to *decide* – especially when you don’t have the luxury of 18 months planning time

  • E

    We’re doing the same thing, peihan. My parents are perfectly content to just sit back and be consulted if we feel the need. My future mother in law, on the other hand, is very…”opinionated.” Overall, we figured this is a case where trying to have everyone sit down and compromise on everything would have been far more stress that it was worth. We’re both known for being the independent ones in our families, so fortunately no one was really surprised or offended.

  • i think planning anything other than a ‘traditional’ wedding can be both easy and hard, exciting and frustrating, for everyone. My parents are paying for the wedding, and we pass every decision past them. However we also told them right off the bat that we didn’t want a sit down dinner reception. Luckily they have been open to our desires, although there has not been a lack of “what? You aren’t going to do ______?!?!” It is give and take, and I am blessed to have such great parents who are willing to both give and take, with a smile :)

  • Meg, I know what you mean! I posted on this topic at

  • This is exactly what we’re doing.
    Some things are compromises– my mom really really wanted jordan almonds at our wedding. I hate jordan almonds! But she felt strongly about this tradition, so I let her have at it. In the end, it’s no big deal and it makes her happy to have the Italian tradition in there (and hey, I don’t have to eat them!).

    It’s possible to have a wedding that’s very ‘you’ and personal while also making others feel included and a part of things.

    Both sets of our parents have been married for over 30 years. We owe a lot of our relationship success to them, and we want them to feel that this day is a celebration for them as well. Pushing them out of the planning would be rude and wouldn’t reflect the values that are important to us (family, togetherness, compromise).

    The balance is different for everyone, but our approach has been similar to yours: it’s our day, but it’s our families’ day too. Together we can create a day that everyone will enjoy.

  • Our Big Day on the Day of the Dead

    were doing it with no input from our families. I guess this stems from our own reaction to a wedding we attended this past spring.

    the bride’s father was so controlling and had informed the vendors ahead of time that because he was paying it was his way.

    this wedding was nice, but all of us being friends of the bride and groom knew that this wedding did not match their “real” personalities.

    after we experienced this, we vowed even pre-engagement that it is our wedding day, and our we will stick to that, that means not consulting any of our families. if they love us, they will be there to support and witness (key word here, WITNESS)

  • We’re in the same boat as you. My parents are contributing MOST of the $$ for our wedding. We are coming up with the rest. BUT, that being said, I’ve been like you. Since I’m older (32 – not that that is “old”, because it’s NOT, but I know what I like and have been pretty independent for 10 years now), and also since I work in the design field, my Mom is pretty much letting me handle things. I love her input on the “big” decisions, but ultimately, it’s been mine to make.

    If I had had it TOTALLY my way, we would have flown off to some really cool location (either a beach or Europe), and gotten married there with only our immediate families and close friends (if they wanted to come) along in attendance…. that being said, like you, there would have been many people disappointed by that.

    Keep up the good work! I hope you’re finding out that you are in no way alone with how you want your wedding to be, what you can afford to spend on your wedding, what you are willing to spend on your wedding…. on and on. That’s why we love you so!! ;-)