Ask Team Practical: Choosing Between Relatives

The relationship between my mom and my uncle has been on the rocks for some time, but right around the time of our engagement things were looking up. They had reconciled and our family was feeling a bit more whole for the first time in a while. My uncle and I have always been close, and one of the first decisions my fiancé and I made was to have him sing one of his original songs (he plays acoustic guitar and sings) as our first dance. Fast forward to almost a year and a half later, and some crappy actions on the part of both my mom and my uncle have left them not-so-much on speaking terms. It’s pretty messy and raw between them at the moment, and since our wedding is only a few months away, I don’t see it getting better any time soon. It’s gotten to the point where my uncle has suggested that maybe it would be better if he just didn’t come at all (which I kind of told him wasn’t an option). I don’t worry about them causing drama at the wedding, but I do worry that giving my uncle a special job at the wedding will upset my mother and cause her to have a bad time at the wedding. At the same time, I don’t want to revoke the request to have him sing at our wedding and then regret it if/when they reconcile in the future. Am I being selfish for wanting to bestow wedding honors on both of them, ignoring the fact that they kind of hate each other right now?


Stressed About YoYo-ing Uncle Not Crooning Like Expected


Your letter has a few hundred readers putting down their coffees and leaning closer to their screens right now. I hate it, but this situation happens more than it should and is awful for everyone involved. The best thing you can do is to navigate carefully; protect yourself and make sure that your wedding isn’t being used as a chance for one family member to get back at another.

Whether it’s warring parents, close family members or distant cousins, wedding tend to bring out the RAWR in relatives. One of the worst things you can say to someone is, “Well if ______ is going to be there, I’m not coming.” Really? Because what you’re really saying is that you can’t be grown-up enough to behave yourself for six hours and think about someone other than yourself and your feuds. Unless there is criminal activity or severe emotional distress involved with a family member warranting the other person’s absence, manipulating a bride or groom to choose is just plain childish and mean.

Which doesn’t mean that it never occurs, nor does that mean that it’ll resolve itself on its own. SAYUNCLE, your uncle is doing a very nice and noble thing for you, but in the long run it doesn’t help anyone. You want him there and it sounds like you need him there—you’re close and it would hurt you if he wasn’t at your wedding. If he doesn’t come to your wedding, two things can happen. If he’s being vindictive, he gets to be the martyr in the situation and bring his bowing out of your wedding up in future fights with your mother. If he’s actually trying to help, he’s hurting himself by not being present in an important milestone in your life. A few things can also happen if your mom finds out he’s removing himself: she can feel guilty about it and try to mend fences, she can feel guilty about it and resentful of your uncle for making her feel that way, or she can not feel guilty about it but become even more angry at your uncle for making you sad with his absence.  Or all of these feelings and reactions could occur at once because we humans are a tricky little bunch with our multiple motives and feelings and whatnot.

What you need to decide is what’s best for you. If you need your uncle there, tell him you appreciate his gesture but you’re rejecting it and he needs to start tuning up that guitar. He might protest or use this as an excuse to get some mom-bashing in, but steer the conversation back to your wedding and how much you need him there.  Reassure him that everything will be fine and make him promise he’ll be on his best behavior. And don’t let it turn into a “I will if she will,” conversation. His actions are independent of hers and retaliation will only hurt you the most.  (Does this sound like you’re talking to a child? Hmmm… family. Do all of this respectfully, but firmly. Their behavior may seem childish, but your relatives still deserve the respect they’ve earned from you.)

You’ll also need to have a conversation with your mother. Remind her that while the day isn’t just about you, it’s about her too, you still dearly need your uncle there. And more importantly, you need your mother on your side. Don’t mention your uncle’s offer, no matter how tempting—it could put her on the defensive. All she needs to know is that you love her and you want her to be happy, but you also love your uncle and want him to be there.

And as for your behavior, just make sure that you stay out of the feud, no matter how much they try to bring you in. Weddings are stressful for everyone involved, so be mindful of that as your date gets closer. If they slip, just reiterate what you’ve already told them; you love them both and you want them both there. End of story. If one starts to remove themself from your wedding, let them know how much that hurts you but you understand. (Even if you don’t.) In the end, it’s their decision, and if they think that hurting you and themself is worth more than having to be in the same room with their “enemy,” there’s not a whole lot you can do about it. There may be a last-minute change of heart, so don’t give up their seat at the reception just yet.

As far as logistics, make life easier for everyone involved. Plan seating arrangements to minimize contact. Involve other relatives as buffers, but for goodness’ sake make sure they are neutral; you don’t want to invite more trouble. If alcohol tends to stir things up, don’t have it. (I don’t want to hear it. It can be done, and if it helps keep everyone a little less murderous, it’s a small price to pay.) Also, remember that this is the start of expanding beyond your family of origin. Focusing on the joy that will come in your life will help drown out some of the cantankerous relatives’ noise. And lastly, learn from their mistakes. Know how you’re feeling right now? How about you never make someone else feel like that, m’kay?

Hey, lookit that, they just make you a better person! Guess something good is coming out of this, huh? No? Sorry, sometimes the silver lining isn’t bright enough yet. But it will be, promise.


Alright, Team Practical. Y’all are chomping at the bit to share your own stories on this, I know it. Help SAYUNCLE out and let her know how you handled family strife. And if you’ve ever been the wedding boycotter, let us know why and how it turned out. Do you regret it?

Photo of reader Christine’s wedding from the APW Flickr stream by uplift photography

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Alyssa at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though we prefer if you make up a totally ridiculous sign-off like conflicted and rageful but deeply in love in Detroit (CARBDILID, duh). Seriously. We love sign-offs. Make your editors happy.

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  • I just wrote in regarding my own similar experience. But for me, my mother gave me the ultimatum saying she would not attend my wedding if I invited my (ex)stepmother, who has been in my life (for better or worse) for 24 years. Long story short, I had a few insane and hurtful blow-ups with my mother (not recommended, it comes to nothing) and then a few therapy sessions to solve this out. My father, in the meantime, said that he would be incredibly disturbed by me if I didn’t invite my (ex)stepmother and that he himself wouldn’t attend. So, what to do? Forced to choose between two parents over a third (who, is now divorced from my father as well).

    Long story short, there is no way around it. I need to have my mother at the wedding. That’s something I couldn’t get passed. She’s my mother. And even though her refusal to grow up and be an adult for 6 hours put me in a horrible situation, I recognized–thems the breaks.

    It took 3 weeks for me to get the courage to talk to my (ex)stepmother. But I did it just last night. Surprisingly enough, she was the most mature and adult of them all. She handled it well and told me not to worry, that she expected this would happen. She thought it was going too easy so far. All she wanted to know was that it wasn’t coming from me and if things weren’t so complicated, I’d have wanted her there. Which is true. I know I still hurt her, but I’m hoping that because it wasn’t a direct order from me, we’ll be able to move passed it and still have our relationship intact. I also asked if she wanted to plan a little reception dinner on the side too. We’ll see how that pans out.

    I guess, my point is–the situation sucks. It couldn’t be harder or more emotionally disastrous. The thing is–you need to keep telling yourself that despite what you feel, despite what people may tell you–this day is in fact about YOU and YOUR FIANCE. Period. Whatever happens, whatever drama gets stirred up–in the end, you’ll be married to the love of your life and everything else will fall as it may. As hard as it is–let everyone else be children–and try to keep your head above water.

    • Melissa K

      Wow, glad you were able to navigate through that – that sounds extremely difficult.

      • “The thing is–you need to keep telling yourself that despite what you feel, despite what people may tell you–this day is in fact about YOU and YOUR FIANCE. Period. Whatever happens, whatever drama gets stirred up–in the end, you’ll be married to the love of your life and everything else will fall as it may.”

        Yes. Well said.

    • I am so worried that my kids will face this situation. Their dad and his family hate me and my husband. HATE. And I can just see his family offering to pay for my children’s weddings with a lot of strings (like “Your stepdad whom you’ve known since forever cannot come, and he definitely can’t have a ROLE in the wedding,” or “Your mom is not welcome at your bridal shower”). It kills me that I can see this coming; I’m already steeling myself to tell my kids something along these lines: “Do what you need and what will make you and [insert SO’s name] happiest. We would love to be there and support you, but if you need to exclude us, we will understand, and we’ll find another way to celebrate with you.” And then I will pay for a freaking videographer and the photographer so that I can see my kids get married without making them fret about their parents’ and grandparents’ selfishness.

      Mean people suck.

      • I think if you can be mature and honest with your children, they will see the pettiness and strings of your husband and his family. They won’t shut you out.

        • Yeah, kids really can sense with clarity where the sanity and insanity lie. With somewhat similar issues, I have always known that one parent is safe and flexible and understanding in the face of the other’s Crazy. And I so appreciate that, and so will yours.

  • Moz

    Nothing to share except nice acronym SAYUNCLE. The best yet, I’d say.

  • I had a similar issues (except between my divorced parents) and although the months prior to the wedding were… tense, everyone behaved beautifully the day of our wedding. I think you might be surprised. I even have a picture of me with both my parents on each side and both are genuinely smiling.

    Also, a lot of people say do assigned seating for keep non-compatible family members apart and I disagree with this. For us, it just opened up a whole new field of combat for people to get pissy and offended about… it was much easier having so- called buffers to steer the guilty parties away from each other. And plus, it allowed everyone to surround themselves with the people they were most comfortable with and I think that lowered tension as well. Good luck!

    • Gigi

      I have to second the no assigned seating idea. I truly believe it was the single thing that kept our wedding reception civil. Most people understand how they are supposed to behave at weddings and can be trusted to stay away from anyone they have conflict with. I think people are more relaxed when they get to choose who they sit with and that definitely lowers the tension level all around. (Note I said “most people” – there are, unfortunately, always exceptions.)

  • Sometimes people can surprise you (and each other). My parents had a messy divorce. (My mom got served with divorce papers on their 25th wedding anniversary and found out that my dad had a long-term affair.) I was worried about how ugly things might get with both my mom, my dad, and my dad’s new wife at my very small (immediate family only) wedding. Turns out, things went well! And if they didn’t, I didn’t know about it.*

    • KTH

      Kudos to your parents for keeping it civil…or it if it couldn’t be civil, keeping it away from you at least.

      I feel like the job of “Keeping the Crazy Away from the Bride & Groom” is a really important job of some folks at a wedding. Possibly your other family members, possibly the bridal party. I’m about to be in a bridal party and I’m 100% ready to be a barricade against The Crazy.

  • Shayna

    So I know this is more an east side bride-ish response than APW but here goes: You’re an adult right? So’s your mom? And your uncle? Tell them to put on their big girl panties and suck it up for one measly day. I hate to say this word here but it exists in our culture if not as much our happy place, but this is a time when its perfectly fine to go “bridezilla” on them. Lay down the law, “this is how it’s going to be, kids.” If there was a time to assert yourself, you better believe this is it.

    • I think one can have a serious conversation and tell their family members to behave without going “bridezilla.” Shayna — I’m sure you meant no offense, but I really hate that word.

    • meg

      Yeah, I don’t love bridezilla, it’s sort of anti-feminist and grosses me out. I think a woman standing up for herself appropriately, as you suggest, is just being an ADULT, right? I know people are freaked out by women taking power so they use insulting terms for it, but lets not do that here.

  • Melissa

    I had a similar situation with my 2 uncles on my dad’s side. My dad was the middle brother who kept the peace, but he passed away 10 years ago and my uncles hadn’t seen each other since his funeral. Many things transpired since then though – legal issues, drug use and subsequent irresponsible spending/borrowing, a debilitating stroke, and on and on. They did not speak directly to each other through all of this, only through lawyers when possible.

    To honor my father, I broached the subject of a shared uncle/niece dance to one of my father’s favorite songs. One uncle readily agreed and didn’t even mention the other uncle (I said, I want to dance 1/2 with you and the other half with your brother); the other uncle started into the other’s many years-old transgressions but agreed to do it.

    My husband and I had already decided on assigned tables – we had been to weddings where fending for ourselves left us feeling like awkward social outcasts, so we didn’t want anyone to stress about where they were sitting. I put one uncle & aunt with my mother’s family (oh, did I mention their wives hate each other even more than they do?!) and the other with some of my husband’s uncles/aunts. Lo and behold, when we came into the cocktail hour, my uncles were at a cocktail table together catching up! But I think they were both happy to not have to sit together through dinner . And the dance went off very well! I was so glad I asked my uncles to be a part of my day, to honor my father and also to honor the relationship they had with him. (Also, there was alcohol involved and they were still civil so I consider this a huge win).

    All of this is to say: I would recommend having him sing if you want to and not worrying about those two. I would also recommend assigned tables. It makes sense not only for your uncle and mom, but also as a host/hostess who wants to make sure her/his guests are comfortable. After dinner, ppl can move wherever they want to – they will not be in those chairs all night – so if there is someone else they’d rather hang out with then they will get that opportunity. (I’m not holding it against anyone if they want open seating at their wedding. It’s their wedding. But I’m just projecting my own social awkwardness and what I would prefer. )

    Good luck! It doesn’t feel like it now, but I’d be willing to bet that on your wedding day, you will likely not even think about this mess because you will be so happy and consumed with other things!

  • Katie

    I’m not the person who sent in this question, but I seriously could have been. My mother is currently feuding with half of her family over something completely stupid. It’s been going on for three or four years now and they all refuse to just be grown-ups and talk about it. While I think saying, “Hey, J, it really hurt my feelings when you did this…” is easier than not talking to your sister and brother-in-law for three or four years, no one on either side will not swallow their pride and do it. My grandmother and other aunts have gotten involved over time, and so everyone is on a “side.”
    My wedding isn’t until next December, but I just found out that my aforementioned uncle has cancer. He had a heart attack two months ago and was in the hospital for nine days. He was practically my dad when I was growing up. I am, and have always been, his “favorite little girl.” I have always dreamed of this man walking me down the aisle. My fiance and I want to have a small courthouse wedding soon because I need my uncle there and we don’t know what will happen with his health yet. I need my uncle to be there. To be fair to my mother, she seems genuinely upset that my uncle is sick, so she may understand.
    He’s the only person who has ever been okay with the freakazoid that I am, without judgment or criticism. He has come to every concert, every play, and every other performance I’ve ever been in. He taught me to read and to love reading. He bailed my fiance and my future brother-in-law out of debt so that I would have a place to live that wasn’t with my mother. When I had a fight with my mother and was kicked out of her house, he let me stay with him, no questions asked. He has ALWAYS been there. I can’t imagine him NOT being there for this, too.
    Here’s hoping that people can be adults about this.

    • I’m sending you lots of virtual hugs, Katie. I hope your uncle is around for a long time.

    • Melissa

      Also sending you hugs! It is great to see that you cherish this man no matter what family stuff is going on. Even if no one else can be an adult, looks like you sure can! HUGS!!!

  • So, interestingly, we had a bit of the opposite problem happen with us: My family was all fine and dandy UNTIL the wedding, when one of my uncles (and his entire family) refused to attend our (two lady) wedding and my godmother attended, but made it very clear that she thought our (two lady) wedding was ‘wrong.’ My cousin actually told me that she wished she could tell me she was happy for me, but it was against her religion. Sigh. We had to deal with the aftermath of that– my father and my uncle actually stopped speaking for about six months.

    Family is hard. I would hope in your situation, SAYUNCLE, that your mother and your uncle can put their differences aside for a few hours so they can honor and respect your day. Would it be possible to give your mother a ‘special job’ as well, so she won’t feel left out?

    Also, AWESOME acronym.

  • Luckily we didn’t have any situations like this at our wedding. My husband’s mom and dad are divorced and his mom is remarried, but luckily everyone still gets along just fine.

    I think the common denominators in all situations like this is that the warring parties, while unable to get along with each other, care about the bride (or whoever is involved). What I would suggest is to talk to each warring party separately. Tell them that you want them to be there, but you also want XYZ person to be there as well. And that you will make every conceivable effort to ensure that they don’t have to interact on your wedding day. Ask them to make the effort for YOU and make it a lovely day in which everyone can put aside their differences (or at least ignore each other) for a few hours! At that point, be forthright. Say something like, “if you don’t think you can do it, I don’t want you there, and I’m going to tell XYZ person the same thing.” I think if you can reiterate that it’s important to you, and put the focus on YOU and not the other warring party, then hopefully they will in fact put their big girl panties on for the day and handle it.

  • Jo

    So, my recommendation for dealing with relative issues (see my wedding grad post if you want the mom-dad example) in addition to all the great advice Alyssa gave is that you find ways to make each person feel honored at the wedding. You’ve already got your uncle covered. Is there something you know would make your mom just fall over with glee if you had her do? Doing a reading? Greeting people? Leading the hula dance? I think it helps to get people to focus on their role in your wedding by giving them a place to put all their extra energy that is NOT planning awkward conversations with relatives at your wedding. How can you make your mom feel extra special too?

    • Amanda

      I’m with Jo on this-find a way to honour your Mom (publically) at your wedding. And remember that life is short, we lose people without warning, and you din’t want to regret not having both/either your Mom & Uncle not there to celebrate a day filled with moments you’ll always remember. Ask them to behave themselves, and I hope they will. Best wishes!

  • Families are complicated and unfortunately, weddings don’t fix it. But sit both of them down and explain that they are both important to you and you need both of them to be there. It’s only one day, after all. They can behave and then go back to their normal feuding selves.

  • anon

    Hang in there lady, family issues are rough, but as others have said, do what will make you the happiest. H’s divorced parents played nice at the wedding but sadly his brother could not put on his big boy pants and be in the same local as his father. I was heart broken for H and did everything I could to make him feel included in the family he was marrying into. We don’t choose our family but we can choose how to respond to them. Try to roll with it and make sure to include them in your life once wedding craziness has passed no matter what the outcome of the wedding is.

  • Brittany

    This makes me think about my own family dilemma, though its not exactly related. My FI and I are currently trying to figure out whether or not to invite his father to the wedding, and making the decision has been miserable. FI was sexually abused by his father as a child. He was afraid to tell anyone, and it was kept quiet until he was an adult. In the meantime, they had what was from the outside a very normal father/son relationship (though there was still a lot of manipulation, anger and verbal abuse that others didn’t see.) Since speaking out about what happened to him, he’s suddenly been processing all this anger and bitterness and emotions that he suppressed all those years, and he’s mostly cut off his relationship with his father. He wants to one day have a relationship again, but right now his father isn’t showing genuine remorse and claims he is going to get help, but then makes excuses and doesn’t go to his counseling appointments. He has stated that he doesn’t see why its such a big deal, since it happened so long ago.

    I don’t want his father to come to the wedding, as I think that his presence will bring a lot of difficult emotions that I don’t want any part of my wedding day. I’m still too angry with him to imagine him being a part of our intimate (25 people) wedding ceremony. Most of the time FI is adamant about not inviting him, but occasionally he second guesses himself and wonders if he’s being too harsh. Our family and friends feel that we might regret the decision if we one day have a relationship with him again, and are pressuring us to just invite him and deal with it for a day. FI is struggling to commit to a decision, though he most of the time leans toward no. I don’t want to push him, as this is his family, and I know that if he feels pressure from me at all, that could result in bitterness toward me later if he regrets the decision. But not knowing one way or the other and having the conversation repeatedly is stressing me out so much that I start to think about just not having a wedding at all. Sigh. These are the things people don’t tell you about engagement. Its hard.

    • This hits so close to home for me.

      As someone in shoes that sound awfully similar to your FI’s, I need you to know how important being there for him and letting him have all those conflicted and conflicting feelings is.

      Thank you.

    • Vanessa

      Although there is no abuse in my case, I feel I have a similar situation to your FI. I think I’d be considered “pre-engaged.” One thing I dread about my future wedding day is the dilemma of whether or not to invite my father. My parents divorced ten years ago, and I strongly disapprove of the woman he’s been dating since (complicated story). My father hasn’t really been in the picture since the divorce, but we did somewhat keep in contact until recently. I worry about whether I can only invite him (and not his partner), or if I can/will invite him at all. And I worry about whether I will one day regret the decision I make regarding whether to invite him.

  • Right now my family members are behaving themselves beautifully, but I wanted offer a little historical perspective. My parents had to deal with a lot of family drama around their wedding. A few years before they got engaged there was a family tragedy on my mom’s side. Everyone was hurt and everyone grieved. Unfortunately, people blamed each other for something that was not anyone’s fault. My mom’s grandmother said she would not come to the wedding if my mom’s aunt was invited. Mom’s cousin was going to be her maid of honor, but didn’t feel like she should be in a wedding that her mother (my mom’s aunt) was not invited to. My dad thought the whole thing was horrible and didn’t want to give into mom’s grandmother.
    Now, 35 years later, almost all the major players in that drama have passed away, except my mom and her cousin. They are still best friends, and although my mom wishes that she could have had her best friend in her wedding, they were able to be the adults in the room and not let it mar their relationship.
    This stuff is not new, and it is hard, but in 35 years the people who actually love you and want the best for you will have gotten over any drama long ago, and you can all eat Thanksgiving together. We are having it at my mom’s cousin’s house this year.

  • Kaitlyn

    My cousin and I are in this position, and it sucks. We were really close growing up, but stuff happened, and right now her mother hates my mother with a burning passion. It’s to the extent that even though cousin N wants to invite me to her wedding, we don’t think she can, because her mother will refuse to attend, and the last thing I want to do is create drama for N. At least I can invite her to mine, and my aunt doesn’t need to know anything about it. If she did know, she’d try to forbid N to come.

  • Danielle

    My problem before the wedding was that my husbands mother and father wasn’t/isn’t on speaking terms. No one really made any threats, bur the mother insinuated that the fathers wife shouldn’t be seated at the honours table. The have been married for nine years, so yeah, no. For me it was never an option – this womas has been married to my father in law as long as I have known them. She is family – of course she is going to sit at the honours table.

    So we, or really my husband, had to have a few hard conversations when he in the kindest way possible told everyone, especially his mother, to suck it up. This is what we want and you just have to deal with it.

    So we did what made us happy. What we did for them though, was to try to make it easier for them with seating charts, vastly different tasks during the wedding and so on. My step mother in law was very graceful and discreet during the whole day, not wanting to take any joy from husbands mother. And it went well – everyone sucke it up, did what they were supposed to, even said hi to each other.

  • Katie B

    I have a rule I apply to all grudges that has served me well: If you problem with X originated during the Clinton Administration or before, I don’t want to hear about it. Doesn’t solve every problem but it gets people thinking.

  • SAYUNCLE, I can’t speak for your mother, only for mine – but if she was fighting (REALLY fighting) with a relative (and she has, in the past), and she thought said relative would not go to my wedding as a result of the fight? She would feel AWFUL and would NOT want that. Give her some credit – I’ll bet she’s on your side.

  • kim

    Thank you so much for this. I’m having similar problems with my family right now, and this post and all the comments help so much.