Ask Team Practical: My Parents’ Guests

Do we opt for intimacy, or inclusion?

Q: We’re in the midst of planning a wedding for next summer. It’s been a whirlwind and it’s been a challenge to have a wedding that would be APW-approved… not ridiculously expensive, not huge, and true to our personalities. We decided at the outset that we wanted to keep the guest list as small as possible, so we can spend the wedding day with people we truly care about—quality over quantity, right?! Since we have big families, it’s been a challenge but we settled on a size we’re happy with.

Though, once we decided the guest list, my parents have asked to add dozens more of their friends to the list. I’ve pushed back on this using the reasoning of, it’s our wedding—we want to keep it as small and intimate (and with people we know well and love) as possible, we don’t want to over-expend on additional guests we don’t know as well, and having dozens more on the list makes the event just too unwieldy to plan. I’ve tried at the outset to include my parents in our thinking of small, slightly unconventional, fun, and outdoorsy, so they wouldn’t be caught off guard or surprise us in any way.

It’s tricky because my parents have offered to pay for some of the wedding, and they come from a different generation and culture where the parents always ruled the kids’ weddings, and they have attended hundreds of weddings for the children of their friends. So, it feels important to them to have their friends there. I’ve also tried to compromise by asking to invite a FEW of their friends, not all forty of them, but that hasn’t gone over so well either.

I’m caught between a rock and a hard place here since this should be an exciting time for all of us, and we’re planning a beautiful day, and I am so lucky to have parents who want to support us and be part of it. But there’s a lot of tension when my fiancé and I have a vision and my parents have bought into an entirely new vision. I don’t want to cause a rift, but I don’t want to give in to inviting another half of our guest list to our wedding and have it be way bigger than we’re comfortable with.

What should I do? I’m at my wit’s end—no level of rationalizing, compromising, or diplomacy seems to have worked!


A: Dear Anonymous,

Oof. Guest lists, money, and parents. Maybe the three most difficult parts of wedding planning?

Before we even chat about your parents, though, I have to admit to squirming in my seat at this: “It’s been a challenge to have a wedding that would be APW-approved… not ridiculously expensive, not huge, and true to our personalities.” Sure, all those things are awesome and, if they’re important to you, I’ll defend ’em to death. But they’re not intrinsically “practical,” you know? Sometimes APW weddings are expensive, or are giant, or are held in cookie-cutter event halls. The specific details aren’t what make a wedding “practical.” Sometimes the most practical decision ever is to just invite all forty of your mom’s friends and take out a small loan to make it possible.

Whoops, sorry about the heart attack at the end there. That is my personal perspective, though: inclusivity. My parents are important to me, so by some sort of transitive property or something (I don’t know math), their friends that I hardly know and don’t remember are important to me as well.

On top of that, in my few short years as a mom, I’ve had my own friends already contribute to my son’s health and wellbeing in innumerable ways that I’m sure he’ll never know. That same mathematical property above works here, too. My friends are my friends, but they care about my son because I do. This is obviously way far ahead in the future, crazy hypothetical (he’s not even four yet, alright), but if my son were to one day marry, I’d love to have those friends there. Meg has feelings on this, too, and offers her perspective as a mom:

These people brought you into the world (one way or another), and raised you, and have been thinking about your happiness since before you could do anything but make spit bubbles. This may feel like it’s just about them pushing to win at the guest list (and maybe it is that), but it also could be that you are a huge part of who they are. If you getting married makes them proud and happy, it’s a fulfillment of dreams they’ve for your happiness since you were a tiny wailing ball-o-baby. So, maybe they just want their people to celebrate with your people, so they can show off… you. Now, that doesn’t mean you can’t still say no, and set boundaries. Just because your parents love you a lot doesn’t mean you’re always going to give them everything they want. But taking a time-out to see it from their perspective might help. All that intense parental love can make a person a little bit crazy, and sometimes the crazy comes out over guest lists.

Granted, I know it doesn’t work that way for everyone. Some folks love their parents fiercely, and still prefer to just leave their parents’ friends out of the whole thing, thanks very much. Fair. The idea that maybe you can invite more people and still have a great wedding isn’t often voiced in the Internet world of “intimate” and “unique” weddings, so I just wanted to put it out there (and maybe defend the moms of the world a bit. They can get a bad rap when it comes to weddings).

But if those things—having a wedding that’s affordable and small and personal—are significant to YOU, and aren’t just some tick marks to earn favor on a wedding website, you’ll need to set some boundaries. You said you’ve already tried to compromise, but that would be my main thrust. Decide with your partner what sounds like a reasonable number—six friends each? Ten? And then stand by that decision. Allowing your parents just a few guests instead of “all” or “none,” may help them to feel heard and respected, without doubling the size of your wedding. You also may want to explain to your parents that you and your partner had to make the same sorts of difficult decisions in building your own guest list. Everyone is chopping friends in favor of intimacy, you’re not just picking on them.

Money always murkies the waters a bit, but make it clear to your parents that they haven’t “bought” their friends in. In fact, allowing your parents guests is less about their money and more about them being your parents. Have you discussed what their part of the financial contribution is covering? It may be too late for you guys, but for anyone else about to jump into these parent money talks, check over here, where I talk about establishing what that money is going to buy up front, so no one is surprised or tries to pull strings that don’t exist.

They’re going to be disappointed that they can’t bring everyone. But that’s all part of the “establishing boundaries” bag. If you don’t need to do it here, on the guest list, you’ll eventually need to establish boundaries sometime somewhere. You might as well start adjusting to the idea that your parents won’t love your every decision. Their disappointment is all part of what you’re weighing here. Is it more important to have a small wedding? Or more important to not disappoint your parents? If you decide the small wedding is priority, stick together and stand firm.

Team Practical, how did you handle parents who wanted to bring friends to your wedding? Did you opt for intimacy or inclusion?

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  • Katie*

    I knew my dad would want to invite a few more sets of his friends than we were willing to go along with, for various reasons. Instead of setting hard-and-fast rules, we told them a few guidelines: We had to have seen them within the past year, the potential guest had to have known the smaller towns we had lived in during our long distance period, etc. I did explicitly draw the line at certain couples for specific reasons — one is a bit of a bully, one I hadn’t seen in 15 years and would be homophobic to our other valued guests, one I don’t even think my dad talked to much anymore, etc, which my parents understood. Yes, my partner had to meet some people on the day-of that he had never met before (5 couples, I think), but with 120 people there, he hardly noticed at the reception. Good luck!

  • Sparkles

    My parents had a bit of a hard time with this. My dad is Italian and has a whole bunch of cousins whose weddings he was/will be invited to. But I haven’t seen these cousins since I was probably 12, I don’t know anything about them or their children.

    Our focus at the wedding was having people there who we could imagine supporting us as a couple when things get hard. It was about bringing together community that we could imagine being part of our lives as we moved forward. And part of that meant that they had supported us before our marriage too (however that meant). So when I talked to my parents about how these cousins would support our relationship, they relented a little bit. We compromised on a couple (apparently my dad had some friends who were like parents to him? how did I not know this?). And I think my dad is still a little confused about it, because relatives are asking “why wasn’t so and so invited?”, but that’s a cultural thing that’s hard to understand.

    The last thing to keep in mind with the guest list, is that (most likely) not everyone will show up! I started freaking out when our 100 people guest list turned into 120. But in the end we had exactly 100 and I had to dip into my backup list (totally a thing, and they’re friends who weren’t offended at all), and the people who were like my dad’s parents weren’t able to make it.

    • zoe

      We’re Irish so I hear you on the huge family thing. Even outside of my mom’s cousins, I have 32 cousins JUST ON MY MOM’S SIDE. They are all married and have multiple kids. Inviting just my cousins and their spouses would have put us over 60 people and we were trying to keep the list under 100. Plus, I’m relatively close to some cousins, and others I’ve only met a couple times. What worked for us as a “line in the sand” was inviting at least one cousin from each nuclear family (i.e. one of aunt mary’s kids, one of aunt brigid’s kids, etc). That way, each aunt/uncle (who were all invited) had one of their kids there with them too. It was sort of arbitrary, but it helped my mom explain the “system” when she got pressure from her family over why not everyone was invited, and I think conveyed the sense that we had been considerate in sending out invites. This stuff is so hard.

  • CJ

    I think depends a lot on the culture/family context. My husband’s family is South Asian, and for our wedding one of the main ways to honor/respect his parents was to invite 150 to 200 friends and relatives of his parents that I, and in some cases he, had never even met. I probably knew about a quarter of the people at my wedding. I was mildly annoyed at the time, and we had to go with a giant cookie-cutter event hall to make it feasible, but it ended up being a great way to start off our relationship with both our families on the right foot. My parents, on the other hand, had much less strong feelings about inviting friends.

    • Laura C

      We have had this issue as well, with the twist that my parents (like me) really would have preferred a smaller wedding. So how to balance the fact that my parents are pretty freaked out by this big event at which they’ll only know a few people (they will have one table of friends, all of whom are people I’ve known all my life and would have at least seriously considered inviting absent my parents wanting them) and that we gave my FMIL 85 slots at the wedding (so 100+ invitations) and when she heard we were inviting people from our B list she asked for more? And is still asking for more when I’ve self-consciously limited my own B- list invites in hopes of getting the wedding size down from 250 to, say, 240. It’s so hard balancing competing sets of desires from parents, is what I’m saying, and maybe more directly related to this letter-writer, even if there aren’t obvious cultural concerns, you still have to think about it as a whole. “What if we give my parents this many friend invites and then my in-laws want that many? At that point what’s the wedding like?”

      I also think there’s a generational thing where parents’ friends get to be defined as practically family but our friends don’t, and that kind of pisses me off.

    • Lauren from NH

      We are planning to side step that issue in a sense by letting his family throw a big party/BBQ where they can invite whoever they want, we will be there and I will drink enough liquor that I forget that I am an introvert and unber uncomfortable around 300+ strangers. And then a couple days later we will have the wedding with a much more exclusive guest list. Win-win I think… Not knowing the people’s names who witness my vows would make me extremely uncomfortable, but if those people want to party because their golden boy is getting married I can grin and bear it. Also then they can act out whatever traditions they think are required, I am hoping this saves me a few headaches.

      • Outside Bride

        Very Good! I actually think this would have been my #1 bit of advice to my pre-wedding planning self. I was so focused on keeping things simple, and one of my lines in the sand ended up being that we were only going to have one party, goddamnit! Well, long story short, it ended up being three parties, and we still didn’t get all of “our” people on the list. If I had been more willing to do two different types of parties (one casual rehearsal + out-of-town-friend dinner that my parents had the reigns on and one super causal beer and cake reception for the wedding) from the outset, I think we would have felt less compromised on the guest list.

        • Lauren from NH

          Oh I understand where you are coming from. I am taking very little responsibility for cost or logistics for the BBQ, they do these large family gatherings semi annually anyway, they are experts! If I/we had to be responsible for paying and planning for two huge events I think my head would pop off, sprout legs and run! For that event my only job is showing up, looking good and being pleasant.

    • Fiona

      I’ve actually thought a lot about cultural context and pleasing families. I have a very traditional Bavarian family with a LOT of expectations about weddings. My fiance’s family, for the large part, won’t be able to make it (money and visa reasons). This means that the large majority of both expectations and guests are coming from my side of the family.
      We decided to navigate this by eloping for the legal ceremony (just the two of us), during which we will wear what we want and then go out and act the way we want with friends over drinks. Afterwards, we will have the huge ceremony and party with friends and family where we’ve made compromises to make them happy.
      For me, it was a question of when to make sacrifices for the sake of the family, because they are MY family, and I do want them to be happy.

    • Jade

      South Asian here and while I adore our giant weddings, it NOT my style or my FH’s style, we wanted something smallish and I refused to have any kind of event at a banquet hall. I’ve been telling my parents for YEARS (since I was a teenager even) that if/when I get married, I’m not inviting our whole community of 250 like everyone else does.

      Our compromise came in two parts: first I told my parents the guest list would be 85-100 people, and because me and FH are paying for the wedding all by ourselves they decided to throw a big reception for us a month after our wedding, with 200 of their friends.

      But as I was planning our wedding, they became very unhappy with how imbalanced the guest list was (I had 30 guests and my FH had 70) and insisted another 10 friends of theirs be invited. I wouldn’t relent and stuck to our guest list… and found myself stressed and ill and crying that I was letting my parents down. So in the end I agree to add another 10 people from their side to the guest list… and the tension disappeared. It wasn’t what I wanted, but it was the right thing to do.

  • C

    Oh my god, this was the worst part of wedding planning for us. My husband wanted 10 people, my parents wanted 150, and I was somewhere caught in the middle. Add to that we were living far away from family and close friends, and the isolation and emotionally distraught phone calls with my parents were a lot to handle. This was a helpful perspective to read from APW, on the needs of parents and the investment and care of their friends. We ended up having a wedding overseas, which I know is not financially feasible for everyone, but my parents could invite everyone they wanted and we got 80 guests who really wanted to be there. Plus we had a casual BBQ back home for everyone who couldn’t attend, and my parents invited everyone they knew. Our wedding had 80 people, and because it was a destination, we saw guests over the course of days and got to spend time with them.
    But really, I hope you update with how it went! I find negotiating with loved ones pretty difficult.

    • Katherine

      I should start by saying that my parents never really tried to invite their friends to our wedding, so maybe this plan wouldn’t work for you, but…

      We also went the “separate party for parents’ friends” route. Our wedding had a total of 75 guests, chosen with the criteria of only inviting people who we felt would go out of their way to come. (And it really was almost all of the invited guests who came.) My parents then had a separate brunch, a couple months later, where they invited all their friends who had known me for years. I know that attending a brunch isn’t the same as attending a wedding, but it did at least mean that those people got to formally celebrate our marriage (and they got to meet my new husband — and potentially get to know him much better than they would have at a large wedding).

  • jhs

    I agree with the standing by your decision bit! The way we did it was give each of our sides a number (40) and told them they could invite whoever they wanted, but it could not go over that number. There was some bitching at the beginning (“but how would you feel if you weren’t invited to your 2nd cousin’s kid’s wedding??”) but we made no exceptions, and it went well. That number allowed everyone to invite immediate family (up to all our 1st cousins) with a good amount of room for 2nd cousins, friends, colleagues, or however else they wanted to split it up. We also had some family members drop out, so we could include a few more family friends closer to the date.

    Part of standing our ground was also making it clear about our stance on money. Our parents were very generous and paid for the whole thing, but we told them that if they wanted to pay for it, that would be a gift to us to let us do what we wanted, and while we would make many efforts to listen to their wishes, we would be just as happy going to city hall and paying for our own party if they tried to assert their own agenda. I promise it didn’t sound as harsh as that, but we stayed firm, and it turned out great.

    • Annony

      I wish that I had taken your stance more effectively. My parents also paid for our wedding and it basically meant that every wedding discussion turned into “we are paying so our opinion matters most.”

      It was disheartening and endlessly stressful. They were not bad about the guest list, since they were paying they wanted to keep costs down on that end. And they let me invite everyone I wanted to. However, I did feel hostage to their money throughout most of the process. They kind of made me and my husband feel like freeloading brats (we are completely self-supporting 30 year-olds!) any time we challenged them on a decision.

      They also alienated his family by refusing to include his little cousins because it was their opinion that kids should not be at weddings (and their opinion mattered most, they let us all know!) His family is still angry at them and I don’t know how that relationship is going to be repaired. Not a great way to start a marriage.

      It is too late for me but might be helpful for others if you could share how you expressed: “thank you for your gift of money, it does not entitle you to more say than anyone else and if you think it does then no thank you” in a firm but loving way.

      • jhs

        I’m so sorry this happened to you! For us, at the beginning, we sort of sat our parents down separately to talk about money plans, since we had no idea if they even wanted to contribute, and had really figured we’d be paying for the bulk of it ourselves. Then it turned out that my dad and his parents had been putting away money for this for years (Indian family, weddings are super important), and he said he’d pay for it all. We definitely got some contributions from my husband’s side, but my dad paid for the bulk of it.

        Early on, there was a mini-fight where my dad offhandedly mentioned some people he was going to invite, and I got upset because I didn’t want him to assume he could invite anyone without asking us. My husband mediated, and right then we told him that we sort of had a plan for how we wanted the day to go, and that we feel so lucky that he was willing to pay for it, but that it was important for us to be able to execute it the way we wanted. There was one point where I did “threaten” city hall, and my dad got mad, but I was lucky in that his heart was in the right place, and he wanted us to have what we wanted.

        I had an ally in my mom, who totally got it, and I used her to talk to my dad from the get-go and remind him that this was for us to plan, not him. It helped having the message come from a few places. It also helped that we definitely did want to have a wedding that included lots of family and friends, so even though it may not have had as many distant family members as they wanted from the start, it was clear that we wanted to include people. My husband’s family said it was actually a relief to have a firm number, and just work within that, instead of having it open ended.

        I realize we’re lucky that our families were pretty accommodating as soon as we made this clear, and it didn’t turn into an ongoing fight. But we also made sure to say “thank you” a lot, and remind my dad how much we appreciated it. I think a lot of it came down to him wanting to provide for us, so as long as he knew he was doing that and making us happy, he was more willing to let us do our thing.

  • CH

    I agree a lot with this advice. I didn’t understand why parents wanted to invite friends to their kids’ weddings until MY friends started having kids. I am invested in these little nuggets, so I wanna dance at their weddings 30 years from now! :-)

    • zoe

      YES! This is such a great perspective. If I threw your mama’s baby shower, I would be so honored to dance at your wedding. Even if at that point in your life, I’m just some old lady you barely know.

      • Bets

        Yeah, this advice gave me new insight too — my parents’ friends were always just my parents’ friends, until my friends started having kids.

        But I have no expectations to go to my best friend’s kid’s wedding unless I have an actual relationship with the kid as he grows up. I don’t think it’s fair to expect the kid to remember, or acknowledge me if my interactions with him were way before he was capable of having conscious thoughts.

    • KEA1

      *Stay* invested! A couple of our family friends from my childhood are still wonderful people whom I’d consider inviting to my wedding depending on size of guest list. Several more are, well, still wonderful people, but not close enough with me to be on an invite list. “Relationships by association,” as it were, are a particular sore spot for me, so your mileage may vary and all…but as kids grow up, the relationship you have with them can be more and more of a relationship *with that kid*, not just as the kid’s parent’s friend from xyz. And, from my experiences with the family friends who developed relationships with me, not just with my parents, I can speak to it being *AWESOME* whether or not it ends up including a wedding invite.

      • elysiarenee

        this! a world of this!

    • elysiarenee

      yes you love your friends kids but unless you continue to maintain a relationship with them over the next 20 or more years there’s no reason they should invite you to their weddings just because they should somehow glean that this would be cool for you.

      I don’t actually mean this a a personal attack, by ‘you’ I mean anybody with the notion that loving friends kids when they’re all small and cute should equal mattering to them as grown ups.

  • nf

    As someone who had strong feelings on this before and after my wedding, i want to weigh in. I spent g hours arguing and crying as my mom added friends who were “like family” to our guest list. Now, I have no regrets about anyone who was there, only regrets about the people who were excluded. It turns out most of the people I didn’t care about attending didn’t really care about coming to my wedding (none of the name I didn’t know ended up on the yes list), but if friendships with my parents were important enough that they wanted to be there, then I’m glad they were there.

    • sheismle

      This is a good point– some of our parents’ potential guests were what I would call “courtesy invites” who were really quite unlikely to come.

      • Marcela

        Beware the courtesy invites… We had 6 “courtesy” invites that ended up coming which doesn’t sound like much but was almost one tenth of our wedding guests. I had never seen these people before in my life.

        • sheismle

          It’s okay, wedding already happened. :) If you see my other post below, you’ll see that we had distant relatives & parental friends who we didn’t know, but we ended up being okay with it.

        • nf

          Yes, it’s never safe to assume courtesy invites won’t come, but I would argue that chances are they came because someone they care about asked them to be part of a very important day (especially true for people who you don’t expect to come because it’s inconvenient). Which still might not make their presence particularly welcome for you, especially at smaller weddings (_not knowing 10%of your guests at all sounds unpleasant), but I think keeping in mind why people came to your wedding is important even if you wish they weren’t there..

          • Marcela

            We live in a pretty popular tourist city. We heard a lot of “we were going to visit Florida in a few months/next year, but since you’re getting married we changed our vacation plans!” We were the free meal and dancing between theme parks. Especially evidenced by some of the people who did not come for the ceremony, only reception.

          • taygete05

            Wait, people can do that? What the heck?

          • Marcela

            Yeah, it was pretty crazy. we have pictures with big obvious empty chairs as I’m going down the aisle since we had reserved seating for some of them because they were family members. They were there in time for dinner though! (possibly still bitter)

          • Liz

            Commiseration, lady, same thing happened to us.

          • taygete05

            Yikes, I’m so sorry. What a major bummer!

          • anon for this

            Ouch. I’m still hurt after 2+ years that one of my friends (and her boyfriend) came for the reception, not the (religious) ceremony — and I’m pretty sure lied about “getting lost” on the way to the ceremony. We did have friends miss the ceremony by mistake, but that happens…

          • Marcela

            Ceremony and reception were in the same place so that excuse doesn’t fly for our situation.

  • Erin

    We were okay with my parents’ friends on the list since they were all people I had grown up with and had always envisioned being there. Where we had comflict was my mom wanting to add dozens of her cousins I had never met. She and her sisters couldn’t comprehend how I could choose my friends that I see every day over “the family.” Sorry, but if these people were family, where had they been the last 30 years?.Eventually, my dad, who had been on my side, offered to up his share of the reception costs to invite the cousins who my mom cared about most, and I was okay with that solution. I still get snide remarks from her though about how the cousins would have given better gifts than my broke NYC theater friends. Sigh…

  • anonpsu

    This was really hard for us too! It wasn’t the friends of parents, but the extended relatives of my fiance’s family. My fiance hasn’t seen these people for years (like 10-15 years), but his parents were adament they had to be invited. My fiance finally got them to whittle down the list a bit, and then I threw up my hands and said “fine!”. They offered to pay for the additional guests but I didn’t want them to do that. We were hoping our guest list would be 120, it’s now around 175. And we really are a “the more the merrier” sort of people. It’s just sort of a pick your battles sort of thing. Like you need to decide if this is a hill you want to die on. And if it’s not, accept your parents money graciously and invite their friends.

  • sheismle

    This was difficult for me too. Making our parents happy was something that we prioritized throughout our wedding planning, so we gave them free rein with the guest list. My in-laws, in particular, are inclusive people, to put it mildly. We had about 160 guests at our wedding, and I would guess that there were 30 or 40 people there who I really didn’t know. Did this bother me during the planning stages? Yes, it’s weird and uncomfortable to invite people you’ve never met to come to your major, personal life event. Do I still feel weird about it? Well, when I look at our photos, it is strange to see people and have to think about who they are– but they are smiling and having a good time, so that helps. And honestly, on our wedding day, it didn’t bug me at all. All of those 30 or 40 virtual strangers were at our ceremony to support us and celebrate our wedding, even though we were also not familiar to them, but just because they are distantly related or because they love our parents. It ended up feeling special to me in its own way and I’m glad that we had them there. Interestingly, because we had the ceremony in a small chapel that just barely fit everyone, we got a lot of comments about how “intimate” it felt!

  • Laura

    I completely sympathize with Anon, having been in that exact same position myself… But now, two days (TWO DAYS) before my wedding, I have to say I agree with Liz’s advice. For example, the first tears I ever shed about my wedding came when my dad had some, ahem, harsh words about our choice of city – because he was worried that *his* friends wouldn’t come. (No regard for the fact that 90% of our friends have to travel.) But it wasn’t worth the continued strife to me, so I conceded and let both sets of parents invite way more people than we did. And at the end of the day, we’re filling 3 tables with “us” people, 4 tables with extended family, and the remaining SEVEN tables are full of family friends, which is a little sad to me and not exactly the wedding I wanted. I’m not super interested in a sea of stranger or acquaintance faces watching me at a fairly personal moment. But guess what – my dad is super happy because it turns out that his friends *do* give a shit and our wedding is *not* an imposition for them and they *are* coming! And that is totally worth it. Avoiding drama! That’s the way to go!

  • A.

    Anonymous, I feel your pain. The second most important thing to us, after having the ceremony in our house of worship, was a small wedding. We spent some time discussing what “small” meant, but we finally came to a number that worked for both of us (which was capping our invites at 75; our total head count ended up being 55). My parents wanted to invite some of their friends (actually not all that many) but we emphasized that a small wedding was very, very important to us, and we pointed out that they would have their siblings and in-laws there to socialize and celebrate with, so they weren’t going to be lonely. His parents were not trying to add people to the guest list, so we were prepared to bring in the issue of fairness if needed, but ultimately we didn’t have to. I think they were a little bummed, and we were sorry to have to hold the line, but keeping the guest list small helped us both feel less stress and more excitement about our wedding, so ultimately we’re glad we did. Plus, two months later, everyone is telling us they loved the entire day, so apparently we did something right!

    Another tip (with a caveat)- my parents bought all the food, alcohol, and flowers, but we had put a deposit on a venue we loved (max capacity 80) AND sent out the save-the-dates before we decided to accept their generosity. We were prepared to pay for the wedding we wanted all by ourselves (which we were fortunate to have as an option; I know not everyone does), but accepting that offer only after we had decided where to have the wedding and who to invite sort of negated the whole delicate issue of “money as leverage.” Instead of feeling like they were paying for the right to make decisions, it felt like they were contributing to the wedding we wanted to have. I realize that if you need or want help from family and friends you may have to accommodate their wishes more, but that worked out well for us. Same amount of money, but the timing of when it was accepted and what it paid for made a difference. Good luck Anonymous, you’ll figure it all out!

    • M.

      “We were prepared to pay for the wedding we wanted all by ourselves (which we were fortunate to have as an option; I know not everyone does), but accepting that offer only after we had decided where to have the wedding and who to invite sort of negated the whole delicate issue of ‘money as leverage.'” This was our experience as well. I found it really helpful the whole time to follow our guts and make decisions, and THEN to share them as “this is what we are planning.” We made a point to honor/include everyone in the immediate families and had almost no wedding drama with family due to this approach (except for talking his mom down when she Googled what’s “traditional”) They understood, I think, that we were doing what was true to us, and we explained all of our choices, and it ended up being great.

      • Lawyerette510

        I’ll chime in that we also took this approach. We had the small venue set with a 65 person cap (we didn’t tell my parents that it could go higher but it would involve rentals from outside the venue etc) and the guest list included my dad’s two best friends, and my mom’s very close friends who helped raise me. It only included limited aunts and uncles based on the role they had played in our personal development and our development as a couple (5+ years in when we were married means we has lots of people to thanks for helping us get that far).

        We wanted to have a day about acknowledging the commitment we were making to each other as who we are today and that meant carefully choosing people who either were so significant in shaping us as children or are a part of our shared lives (eg no coworkers, no friends from my dance stuff or his climbing stuff who weren’t also a part of our lives outside those activities. Also no parents friends for the sake of having parents friends but yes to the parents friend who were a significant part of our lives.)

  • Marcela

    We struggled with this too (doesn’t everybody?). Our venue had enough room for 90 comfortably IF it didn’t rain, if rain happened (a distinct possibility in Florida June) we would lose the 24 seats that were out in the courtyard area as well as the dance floor. With that in mind, we split the guest list into 3, my fiance and I got 30 guests, my parents got 30 guests and his parents got 30 guests. When we got the handwritten list back from my in-laws there were 63 people on there! A lot of the names my husband didn’t even recognize and when questioned about it, his mother assured me that these people wouldn’t come, it was just a “courtesy invite”. we got the list down to 50 after much struggle and 6 of the courtesy invites showed up at the wedding. Me and my parents were paying for the whole thing and those extra 6 people added almost a $1000 to our final costs. It still makes me a little mad.

  • Chloebear

    Ohhh I needed this post about two years ago. My parents, fiancé, & I got into a very heated disagreement about the guest list. My parents friends list was about 80 originally (250 total). My fiancé & I picked the smallest venue we looked at (max 200). We compromised & cut children under the age of 10, guests for non-bridal party members who were family & unmarried/not in serious relationship, & my parents cut their guest list of friends to 50. in the end, my parents sent out the invites and when declines came in, they sent out invitations to those 30 people I believed had been cut. Of course I didn’t find this out until the wedding day when I saw all there was a large group of people I’d never seen before & asked my mother who they were. Needless to say, I was not happy about this decision.

    • Liz


    • Marcela

      I would have lost my bridal shit if that had happened.

    • elysiarenee

      This fills me with rage.

      but also cements my overall feeling that ‘which is more important a small wedding or not disappointing your parents’ is a really nasty piece of advice, obviously designed to make the first thing sound trivial compared to the latter (who want’s to disappoint their parents!?!?!?!!). People you love very much, who love you very much and will have relationships with for you whole life are the most important thing in the world , more important than any specific wedding planning descision. but BUT advising people to essentially just please their loved ones without question is terrible terrible relationship advice that will result in eventually going crazy. Sure don’t make unnecessary trouble but the writer of the letter obviously cared enough about the issue to write somewhere for advice about it, doesn’t it matter that the parents are not considering the couples feelings or that the couples reasons might be better or more important reasons? There’s been a lot of ‘all love is good love’ kind of responses to this letter and that seems very subjective to me. Certain personality types might really struggle with having people they don’t know well at their wedding if they believe it is an intimate event.

  • M.

    With the caveat that we don’t have huge families or any real cultural/family influences around wedding invites, we really (nicely, positively) put our foot down on this (as well as on some of our other non-traditional choices). We were clear from the start the type of wedding we wanted, and it was important to us to really know everyone there. We had limited plus ones (another thread!), family through first cousins (don’t know the others), and friends were easy for us to decide. After that our rubric was family friends *that we think of as family.*

    That came down to one couple for my husband, several families for me (I was raised in a smaller family than he was, in a smaller town, with more of my mom’s friends that were close to me and are like my parents). We decided the list on our own with a few parental consultations to confirm our thoughts, and were only presented with two sets of people his mom wanted us to invite: a great aunt and uncle, who we barely know but we then invited — they were lovely, and a couple his mom and sister are close to that neither of us had ever even seen before. We said no re them, and it was the right choice and easily understood. Invited 100ish, had 85, and it was perfect. I felt very loved and happy and… secure? calm? centered? I don’t know the word, but we wanted it as private and familiar as possible, and we had that. Total love fest with people who are like a comfy sweater in our lives :) And as far as I have heard, those who we do love but we couldn’t invite (I worried about some of my mom’s friends who I grew up around), are just straight up over the moon for us and wanted to see all the pictures and toast us when they see us.

    • A.

      M., this is a great perspective; the people who you love but couldn’t invite are DEFINITELY still delighted for you and want to congratulate you, even if they weren’t invited. We had a smaller wedding than almost anyone we knew, but if someone I love has a small wedding in the future, I am definitely planning to send them at least a card as a way of saying, “I don’t need to attend your wedding to be happy for you and send good wishes.” An older couple who have known me since I was a babe in arms asked my mom for our address and sent us a wedding card and a check; I felt a twinge of guilt at them being left out of our small wedding, but we sent them a thank-you note and will be sending them a Christmas card, and I’m sure they’ll love that. Little gestures mean a lot, going both ways! (And if you’re the same M. who commented on my note above, well, hi again! :-)

  • Lauren from NH

    I have to admit, Liz did give me a bit of a heart attack saying “Sometimes the most practical decision ever is to just invite all forty of your mom’s friends and take out a small loan to make it possible.” Everyone is different and has different values but for me the list of needs for my wedding goes 1. guy I love (SECRET item 1a. DON’T GO INTO DEBT!) …everything else. I will do a lot of things (elope, sign a marriage liscense and eat cake from Costco, order one hundred pizzas -not a bad idea) before I go into debt for strangers who expect a certain level of wedding fancy. Just me.

    • Anon

      Yes, the “wedding fancy”. This was our biggest issue – not so much that my parents were inviting lots of people (they had told friends, and those friends had purchased tickets, before we even discussed ground rules for the list), but that those friends all had recently married children, and my parents felt we needed to live up to certain expectations. One of which was a nice sit down dinner. Which was nice, but also meant (for reasons of space, they were paying for a lot of it and budget was generally a non-issue for them) that we weren’t able to invite a lot of our local folks who helped us out along the way. I almost lost it the morning before the wedding when my mother commented “You need friends with trucks”, but instead I patiently (I think) explained that we had been unable to invite our many friends with trucks due to space restrictions. Still obviously not quite over this one, but working on it.

      • Another Meg

        Oh gosh. I might have lost it as well over that bit.

        Good luck with the working on it.

    • Sarah

      So invite them, but don’t give them fancy. We sacrificed fancy things to make room in our budget for more people who love us. In the end, love > fancy things. If they love you, they will happily eat Costco cake (which actually is quite good)

      • elysiarenee

        I’m not sure this is fair. Even non-fancy things have a cost and everyone has a budget. Nobody should be obliged to invite 40 extra people and take away from what they are able to provide any single guest just for the sake of the people getting to be there (unless that’s what they want).

  • zoe

    I totally agree that it’s nice to consider including your parents friends where you can. Honestly, you’ll barely have time to spend with some of your besties. If there are a few people you don’t know THAT well, you’ll probably barely notice. On the other hand, like others have said, DON’T GO INTO DEBT for it (or for anything wedding related, IMO). What worked for us was laying out for my parents how many guests our own contribution could cover. Let’s say that was 75 people. My parents then gifted us the money to pay for an additional 20 or so of their friends (outside of close family friends who we were inviting anyway). It meant a lot to them and making them happy makes me happy!

  • Meg

    This might sound crass, but your parents friends will write checks. It will mean a lot to your parents to have them there too. My parents and my husband’s parents were just so happy and proud that day and getting to have their friends see it all meant a lot.
    also…they wrote checks!!

    • Lizzie C.

      Sure, some will write checks, and some will give you gifts (wall clock with a cheesy saying about time, etc.; just me?) that make you say “Not a chance” as you drop them off at Goodwill. But it’s the thought that counts, I know.

      • Meg

        That’s fun! a silly lighthearted gift isn’t the end of the world.

    • Sarah

      It’s true. My parents’ friend were the biggest gift-givers. There were also some oddball gifts. But you know what? Someone gave us what we thought was tacky, ugly frame and we wanted to give it away but felt bad because it was given to us by a close relative. We put a wedding photo in it in case they ever came over. And guess what – it looks LOVELY in that frame.

    • Annony

      This was my parents main argument for insisting on inviting a bunch of their friends. In the end plenty of our generation gave checks as big or bigger than my parents’ friends. I was a bit overwhelmed by how generous everyone was.

  • april

    I think Liz’s advice is spot-on, but another thing to keep in mind is that your parents are probably navigating their own social minefields. Even if you don’t know the ‘Smiths’ well, for example, your parents might find it difficult to leave the Smiths off the guest list if they’re inviting friends from the same social circle – especially if the Smiths invited them to their son’s wedding last year. I’m not saying you have to invite all 40 of your parents’ friends, but maybe try to talk with them about each of their proposed guests. If you can help them to draw a non-arbitrary line between who can and who cannot attend, it might be easier for them if they have to explain the decision to disappointed friends in the future.

    • Lawyerette510

      I think you raise a valid point but I would also counter that if you (in the general sense)give your parents the out of saying “the kids made the guest list, we didn’t have a say.” It let’s them explain things to their friends who don’t make the cut for the bride and groom. Also if they have large social circles and they can turn around and say “it was a lovely small wedding with 70 people” the smiths whose son had 250 people at his wedding will likely see the difference.

      • Jade

        I encouraged the “kids made the guest list” argument as well and gave my parents full permission to throw me under the bus, so to speak, as to absolve them of any pointed questions they’d get from their friends.

  • La’Marisa-Andrea

    Oooh I struggled with this too. We wanted small and intimate and my parents wanted to invite their friends who I had seen since I was a baby! I think the advice here is wise and I would definitely encourage you and your fiance to really establish what kind of wedding you want to have and why so that you can communicate that to your parents. For example, I wanted 50 people, but found that when we really thought about it, 75 was our max for what we considered intimate. And also understanding that not everyone who is invited is going to come so that may work out in your favor at the end too.

    If at the end of the day, the compromise is gonna be your parents can each invite a few friends and that’s it, know that they will be disappointed, but they will live and get over it. Sometimes we make choices that disappoint others no matter how much we love and respect them, but they are OUR choices and the people who love you really will deal. They really and truly will. We as the “kids” have to learn to set boundaries but parents have to learn to respect boundaries. It’s a growing process complete with growing pains and all for everyone.

    • Lawyerette510

      Yes yes yes yes!!!

    • MC

      YES time a thousand to your second paragraph. I kind of disagree with Liz that the decision comes down to whether having a small wedding is more important than disappointing your parents. I’m generally a people-pleaser and growing up I spent a lot of time trying to please my parents. And it kind of turned me into an anxious stress ball, especially around my major life events (graduations, birthdays, etc.). Now that we’re wedding planning I’ve really had to let go of a lot of the internal fears about disappointing my parents or making them uncomfortable because I want my partner and I to have a wedding that feels like ours and that is comfortable for us.

      Obviously I don’t want to intentionally disappoint my parents or make them uncomfortable, but as an adult I can’t always make decisions with the happiness of my parents as a top priority. I think that can definitely be tough for parents to accept but usually they do accept it. And I think setting boundaries ESPECIALLY for big events/life moments helps reinforce that new relationship between parents and adult kids.

      • La’Marisa-Andrea

        Yeah I don’t think it comes down to which is most important. They can be equally important. I think the fairest thing to do is compromise where feeling comfortable and move on confident that you did the best you could.

        But it sounds like maybe they would be ok with a few more people so maybe they should talk about that.

      • Liz

        Oh, I think we’re saying the same thing! Not that parental disappointment should be avoided at all costs AT ALL, but that most parent-tension wedding choices are about, “Okay, is what I want more important here or is it more important to keep the peace?” and then establishing boundaries appropriately. If your parents aren’t disappointed over the guest list, they probably will be about something else (if they’re really opinionated or vocal about your wedding planning). Weddings, man.

  • Emily

    Oh, I feel this today! We have compromised with both sets of parents to have a big backyard kegger when we get home from our honeymoon that they can invite anyone and everyone to. When we were still figuring (fighting) out the guest list, my mom finally confessed that she didn’t really care about inviting so-and-so either, but that they had been invited to their friend’s kid’s wedding, and they didn’t wanna hear snide remarks from the snubbed couple at every dinner party for the next 10 years. So the backyard party fixes that, I will dress up, we made a whole set of pretty celebration invitations, and I mean who needs another excuse to drink free beer? Maybe this compromise would help the letter-writer too.

    • sara g

      That’s pretty much exactly what my mom said too, about some of the extra people she wanted to invite. She’d been invited to all their daughters’ weddings, and felt super obligated to invite them to ours. (Even though she didn’t go to any of said weddings.)

    • Lauren

      This is similar to what we’re planning – my FILs have a lot of local friends, so they offered to throw us a big pre-party (tradition here) in their backyard so that their friends can participate without us having to invite everyone to the wedding.

  • Nikki

    When my parents announced during wedding planning that they wanted to invite their friends (so many!!) we knew we’d need to give them a logical argument if we were to limit how many they could invite to avoid hurting their feelings. This is what we proposed: 2/3 of the guests were to be our (husband and my) choice, and the remaining 1/3 split between the families’ friends. Our 2/3rds included immediate family (parents, siblings, grandparents etc) and in reality the split worked out as 1/3 family, 1/3 our friends and 1/3 parent’s friends (from both sides). We had 60 people at the wedding, so 1/3 splits worked well.

    We asked each set of parents to provide us with an A list, B list and C list of friends, with A being people they really felt needed to be there. In the end we accepted everyone on the A lists, but substituted a few of the B list friends with C list friends while providing a good argument for each substitution (usually ‘we’ve never met that person so would rather invite someone who actually knows the people standing at the altar’). Generally we found that in most cases our parents wanted to invite people who had been in our lives a long time, so they were people we were happy to have at the wedding anyway.

    In the end, giving our parents boundaries and options, as well as explaining to them why we were limiting the people they could invite (and pointing out that we were also limiting the number of people WE wanted to invite), worked really well for us and everyone felt they had at least some of the people they wanted there.

  • Molly P. Kopuru

    We ended up having to invite a lot of people neither of us were close to, mostly on my husband’s side. We were paying for most of the wedding, but it wasn’t really something my husband’s parents were willing to compromise on. The wedding ended up being great despite the number of guests at the reception. We were able to keep our ceremony smaller and invite everyone to the reception. No one was offended and his parents got what they wanted. Sometimes it’s best to give your parents what they want rather than rock the boat on certain issues… Wedding planning was stressful enough all ready. Was it annoying having his parents adding guests up to the very end? Yes. Was if worth it to upset them? Absolutely not.

    Overall I agree with Liz’s advice except where she suggests taking out a loan for your wedding. I know some people have to but I would avoid taking out a loan for one day at all costs.

  • Kirstin

    My mom is a popular lady, and she’s been invited to about a million weddings of children of her friends. She rarely even knows the kids. She and I had a conversation before we were even engaged that I wasn’t comfortable with that for our wedding, and thankfully she was on board. She did contribute to our wedding finances, and so I was a bit worried she’d have some expectations, but she was wonderful about it being the wedding that we wanted, and she knew that meant small. Outside of her family, we didn’t give her any invites. We had actually thrown her a surprise party earlier this year and had to navigate our own challenges of narrowing down her many friend groups. It just wouldn’t be possible.

    What we decided to do instead is have a BBQ a few months after the wedding with some of her neighbors who she’s particularly close with, but who also have known me since high school. They had an interest in celebrating with my husband and I, and we could honor that, and they also understood that we couldn’t invite all 60 of them to the wedding. They are just as excited for the BBQ, no one’s feelings are hurt, and it should be a lot of fun!

  • Mary

    Liz, thank you. So spot on, and a perspective not often heard. If i could tell former-blushing-bride me one thing it would be: preserving — maybe even strengthening! — your relationships with your family and loved ones is more important than crafting the unique and intimate wedding of your dreams…if/when that vision comes at the expense of the people who loved and raised you. Your wedding is one day. Your marriage *and* your relationship with your parents is (hopefully) forever. It wasn’t worth it, for me, to shut my loving parents down over second cousins and old family friends.

    • elysiarenee

      I agree very much with the marriage and relationships with people being more important than the wedding. So much agreement.
      I disagree that just doing whatever makes the other person happy even when you have good reasons not to is a very good way to maintain relationships-particularly lifelong relationships. Although I’d wager that understanding where each other is coming from is more important than the actual outcome of these points of conflict.

  • Ann

    I had a tiny, tiny wedding, with just two friends of parents there (who played a critical role in transporting food, so they were extremely helpful. I had also known them my *entire* life, and twenty years prior was the flower girl in the weddings of two of their kids). My parents had people who were very important to them, and they wanted to have a party with them. So my parents threw their own party, we showed up, and all of my parents’ friends got to meet my husband. It was a great compromise. My introverted husband didn’t deal with meeting a ton of people on an already stressful day, and my parents got to celebrate with their friends.

    There are lots of different ways to compromise here!

    • Bets

      I also think having “two weddings” could be a solution. A small one according to the OP’s “outdoorsy wedding vision”, and a big one that her parents’ friends can attend and that her parents can help pay for. The bigger one could be more conventional, more cookie-cutter/less unique, could be an(other) opportunity to include traditions from her parents’ culture, could even be located elsewhere if large portions of the guest list are from a different region or another country, etc. If OP’s budget with parent contributions allows for two weddings/parties, it could be a good way to make everyone happy.

    • SusieQ

      Yes, I was going to say something like this too. We got overwhelmed with the size of our guest list; they were all people we really loved and wanted to celebrate with, just… we were getting hives (literally) from the idea of sharing our wedding day with such a huge crowd. So we cut the wedding to immediate family only, and then had two large casual celebrations for the local crowds in our current and former hometowns. It felt weird at first, but we got to invite EVERYONE we loved (or our parents loved) to some celebration, we did not spend a ton of money, and most important, our wedding day was small enough for us.

  • Casey

    My mom has a group of friends who have all been BFFs since middle school and high school – almost all of them came to our wedding and some of my favorite moments of the day were watching all of them together. My mom NEVER dances and they got her out on the dance floor with all of us, which was amazing. For me, having those people there was priceless.

    • elysiarenee

      The difference is that you decided of your own accord that it mattered to you for those people to be there whereas the letter writer has put a lot of thought into her guest list and had not thought to include these people the parents want to invite. These are very different things.

  • Maggie

    Yknow, there’s something to be said for inclusivity, but DOZENS of extra people that you don’t really know?! That’s what pushed this over the line for me. If the OP wants an intimate, small wedding, 40 people will be a huge percentage of the attendees. I can’t imagine not really knowing almost half the people at my wedding! I’d think that parents getting an extra 1 dozen (not 3-4 dozen) should be entirely reasonable.

    • sara g

      I agree…compromise is key, here. Although of course it does get murky if the parents are footing the majority of the bill. In my case, my parents offered us X amount of money, which has ended up covering almost the entire cost. So honestly I feel like if they wanted to invite 40 of their friends, I’d have a hard time saying no. I’m very lucky in that they have been super chill about the whole thing, and my mom only invited a handful (10 maybe?) of distant relatives/friends, but… yeah, I can see how this can get messy fast.

    • Bets

      OP said she asked her parents to invite a few of their friends, not all 40, but it didn’t go over well. Maybe the 40 friends are all friends with each other and you can’t invite one without offending the rest – or maybe these are 20 couples, or 10 couples and their kids. That’s often the case with guest lists, where you can’t just invite your cousin Jane whom you’re close to, but not her older sister whom you’re less close to.

      • Maggie

        Right, yes, I see where there was parental pushback on the number, and those reasons make sense. But the fact that it seems to be all-or-nothing with the parent’s extra guests still means that it’s 40 extra people, even after the OP has really tried to give some space and compromise, and that end number is what would end up making someone who really wants small and intimate uncomfortable.

  • Sarah E

    I’m going to throw in that we are planning a fairly large wedding. . .currently, the guest list stands at about 175 + about 50 kids (age 0-18). . .and we’re considering it both inclusive and intimate. Granted, we’re escaping a lot of parental pressure thanks to a combo of low-key and introverted parents. But the intimacy stems from knowing and loving all these people through many different phases of our lives, and crafting a ceremony with a strong sense of community support. We’re also going to be in a venue where everyone will have space for their own conversation, but over half our people are dancing people, so I think everyone will be grouped together nicely. Without having a sit-down meal (dessert only!), we can better afford to invite everyone and don’t have to worry too much about have a table or two full of acquaintances. Actually, if the geography had been different, we’d probably have an even bigger event, as we’re already planning a casual keg party with the grad school contingent once we return from the honeymoon.

    . . .My experience might not be too helpful, but maybe you could pose to your parents that more guests equals less food? Or that you’ll have to sacrifice another important aspect of the wedding in order to accommodate them?

  • Eh

    For me, my father’s friends have been involved in my life, especially his best friend who is like an uncle to me. When we got engaged I asked my dad what I would need to do to invite his best friend and he said I would have to invite two of his other friends (six people in total). This man has been there my whole life and he has been very sick the last few years so I was very honoured that he could come to my wedding which was a 5 or 6 hour drive from where he lives. It was one of the highlights of the day to see him.

    Since we were inviting some of my dad’s friends, we also asked my in-laws if they wanted to invite anyone (and asked them to keep it to three or four couples). My FIL’s response was that it was our wedding and that he didn’t have any friends (my husband gets his self-deprecating humour from his father). My MIL requested to invite two of her friends plus another family friend. My MIL forgot to give me information on two partners for these guests (she just gave me the three names and addresses for the friends). This resulted in the partners being self-invited (one on the RSVP and the other approached me at my shower). Then neither of the partners showed up to our wedding and the third guest didn’t either even though she has RSVP’d that she was coming. They were also a bit demanding since all of them requested that they sit at tables with specific people (they were the only guests other than my two aunts that do not get along that made requests about who they wanted to sit with). The good thing is that I had already planned on seating them with the people they requested to sit with (because I already figured that’s who they wanted to sit with). It was a bigger headache than I expected but my MIL appreciated it (which was good since she didn’t like some other things we did, e.g., that we weren’t inviting our parents’ cousins or their children – who would you really rather have at your son’s wedding your best friend or your cousin and their adult children that you haven’t seen in years).

    • Lindsey d.

      “Who would you really rather have at your son’s wedding your best friend
      or your cousin and their adult children that you haven’t seen in years?”

      My wedding was basically a family reunion. I got to see my mother’s cousin whom I hadn’t seen in about ten years since our last family wedding. I had no problem cutting not as close friends in order to have him and his partner there. I wouldn’t have cut out my best friend, though… Thankfully, she was standing there right next to me, straightening my train and holding my bouquet.

      • Eh

        Everyone has their own priorities. We didn’t want people at our wedding that at least one of wasn’t close to.

        My MIL’s original list included all of her cousins, all of my FIL’s cousins and all of their cousin’s children (and their children, if they had any). This would have added another 50 people to our guest list (and since they all live nearby many of them would have come). Luckily my FIL put his foot down (some people were offended that they were not invited to my BIL’s wedding so they were invited to ours but my FIL pointed out that these people would not be offended if they were not invited to our wedding since they hadn’t been offended that they weren’t invited to my BIL’s wedding). She also invited all of my husband’s great-aunts/uncles (we allowed that but that’s where we drew the line). From my perspective, I don’t have relationships with these types of people in my parents family (mainly because they aren’t alive, live in other countries or are people that were cut out of the family) and my husband did not seem to know these people either (e.g., if I asked him who so-and-so was he couldn’t tell me how they were related to him and he hadn’t seen them since he was a kid). We were going for an intimate wedding (at least in relationship, not necessarily in size as we did have about 80 people and we did invite quite a bit more) so having people that neither of us knew was not what we wanted (my husband hadn’t seen most of these people in over 15 years – we actually saw his second cousin one day and he didn’t know who she was and she didn’t recognize him either so I let pretty good about the decision to not invite them). Our parents friends were more involved in our lives than these people so that was the compromise.

        • Lindsey d.

          Oh, I totally get it.. I invited my mother’s cousin, who she knows well, but omitted my own first cousin because I don’t like her or the drama she might have brought. The two full grown adults who are a great time at a party? For me, bring them in. My mother’s other cousins (my second cousins and their daughter) had visited us just the year before, so a relationship is definitely there. Where the same people on my dad’s side of the family invited? No, because NO ONE in the family has a relationship with them. I didn’t know my one second cousin well, but I loved that he was able to make it.

  • Second opinion

    Also, one thing to point out is a generational factor that may have been ignored in the advice: yes, maybe your parents do want to invite a lot of their friends to show you off or to celebrate with their people, but maybe not. My mom has been pushing me to let her invite another 40 people to my wedding (I wanted 50 people, we’re already at 150). When I said I’d give her a small guest list number (10 ish) and asked her which 40 people she wanted to invite, she said “well so and so invited me to her daughters wedding and it’s just to be fair… I don’t really like this lady but she’s my neighbor and asked to come….well they’re our second cousins brother, etc.” My point is, she is from a small town (where I don’t live), and would like to invite the entire town because that’s what the WIC tells her you have to do. If your parents have a lot of friends who love you and know you and are involved in your life, then sure. But in my case it was just perpetuating a tradition that makes no sense to me.

    • Lauren from NH

      Yes to the last part. That’s the difference here that I have been struggling with. It’s one thing to be accomodating and expand your preferably small guest list for people that matter to your people, be that your parents or your future spouse, but it’s a whole other to be told lots of people need to be invited (while maintaining the quality/level of wedding fancy) just because. If neither of the couple have met person X or heard they spoken of frequently in a positive way (your mom’s new bestie and such) what is the point of inviting person X? There are only so many people I think should be invited out of obligation. Grouchy Grandma gets an invite and that family friend who reliably shows up, but it whiney, okay he can come but distant relatives just because they are blood, eh that would be a no for me, family friends you haven’t seen for years and haven’t missed, nope. Some people get very hung up on the idea of extravagant hosting or the displays of wealth and I guess I just don’t value those things.

    • I think this is where communicating with your parents is really key. You have to be willing to sit down and suss out why they want to invite all these people, and then gently nudge them out of that WIC mindset. And then if they don’t nudge, perhaps try a shove. ;)

    • EK

      Yes to all of this! My initial thought in reading Anonymous’ letter was, “Her parents really have at least dozens and dozens close, personal friends who just can’t wait to dance at her wedding?” If they do, they are blessed people, but more likely, it’s a matter of a sense of obligation. We ran into this dilemma with our small (40-person) wedding, with my parents wanting to invite a bunch of extended family whom I’d only met once or twice, and whom my parents openly admitted to not really caring for. I have absolutely no regrets nearly four years later in putting my foot down and telling them no; in fact, it was one of the first times I’d done so in my adult life, and set an important precedent for setting boundaries that came in handy after the birth of our daughter.

  • Jean N

    I had a similar dilemma, with a twist, when I got married almost four years ago. I’m one of those people who HATES to be the center of attention in emotional situations. I’m using all-caps HATES here – I don’t even celebrate my birthday. For my wedding, I wanted to invite approximately 20 people, including our immediate families, a few BFFs, and the minister. End of list. When I told my family this plan, my wishes were effectively dismissed. My mom wanted her friends there. Dad wanted Mom to be happy. Actually, so did I. So, fine. A million friends it is.

    If this makes me sound like a completely spineless push-over, let me assure you that that’s not the case at all. We had just learned that my mother had a rare form of blood cancer, and my intuition told me to let her have her way on this one, my personal feelings notwithstanding. Mom never asked for much, and was never a pushy or complain-y person, so when she pushed on this particular issue I could see how incredibly important it was to her.

    Essentially, I told her, “Fine. Invite whomever you want, but I’m not planning a huge event, and I’m not paying for it.” Fair enough, she said, and she planned the entire thing. I showed up in white, got married, survived a huge emotional occasion, and made my Mom’s decade. I was surrounded by love on all sides, and it turns out that love is love, no matter how well you know the source from which it flows.

    Fast forward: our fourth anniversary is this October. Mom died last July. I have never, for a single fraction of a second, regretted abdicating control over my wedding to give my mother the day she’d hoped for. You see, I didn’t really have much of my identity tied up in my vision of myself as a bride, and my mom had a huge potion of her identity tied up in her vision of happiness, complete with dozens and dozens of friends surrounding our family on my wedding day. Mom focused on planning my wedding while she went through chemo, blood tests, medications, side-effects, and hours upon hours of hospital stays. It made her happy.

    Mom was my closest friend, and I can’t think of anything in the world that I wouldn’t have given her at that point, up to and including my wedding day. In the end, I’m just as married as I would have been had my wedding been as tiny as I’d thought it would be. My marriage is strong, and my husband is one of the best parts of my life. I guess what I’m saying is, search your heart and see if you can discern who needs this particular piece of happiness the most. That’s what guided me, and I have no regrets at all.

    • A.

      Beautiful perspective Jean, and thanks for sharing it. I shared my own (completely different) perspective elsewhere in this thread, but that’s what I love about APW; you can find someone whose thoughts and feelings might help you work out yours, no matter how similar or different your circumstances may be. I’m sorry to hear of the loss of your mom, but what a beautiful gift you gave her, and I’m so glad you have a beautiful day to remember and no regrets about it. Thanks again.

    • Maddie Eisenhart

      “Search your heart and see if you can discern who needs this particular piece of happiness the most.”

      If THAT isn’t the wedding advice of the decade.

      • Emily

        I also really like this part: “I was surrounded by love on all sides, and it turns out that love is love, no matter how well you know the source from which it flows.”
        Wonderful perspective on the chaos that weddings can create.

    • Valerie Day

      This should be reposted as an entire APW essay.

    • NM

      “I didn’t really have much of my identity tied up in my vision of myself as a bride, and my mom had a huge portion of her identity tied up in her vision of happiness, complete with dozens and dozens of friends surrounding our family on my wedding day.” <– I'm having a similar dilemma and that line just made the decision for me. So thanks!

    • Anon

      I wish you were my daughter-in-law. My husband and I were not allowed to invite anyone to our son’s wedding. It was a black-tie dinner dance with a live band for 120 people. I should say, too, that it was held in a city where we have family. My DIL has recently asked why no one has ever been invited to our house–after the wedding– to meet her. I replied with a standard ” that it’s the holidays, and everyone is busy”. The truth is that no one wants to meet her. I am not looking forward to a conversation in the future about why I am not able to have a baby shower for her.

      The fact is that exclusion has long-term costs. I would note that chosing to exclude people may save money today, but will likely cause heart-ache in the future.

  • Guest

    I can totally sympathize with you. We cut out a lot of friends from our guest list to make our budget and to keep the event on the smaller/more intimate side. Then we got a list of about 25-30 people from my MIL along with a note instructing us to add them to the invite list and she would pay whatever additional costs came up for rentals, food, whatever for those additional people. These were people I didn’t know at all and my husband barely knew, and being the textbook introvert that I am, the one thing I absolutely did NOT want was to be meeting people for the very first time at my own wedding. My husband just went with it because it was just “mom being mom” according to him but for me, it definitely left a sour taste in my mouth and left me feeling like she hijacked our wedding. If something is important to you, I think it’s important to speak up about it and set those boundaries. I only wish I had done the same (she even “invited” some other friends to just show up the day of and come anyway – essentially giving them permission to crash our wedding…).

  • Lindsey d.

    About half of our guest list was family. Of the remaining half, about 2/3 of that was our parents’ friends and just a small smattering of our friends. I realized that, in most cases, I’d known my parents’ friends longer than my friends (and same for my husband). They’ve always been wonderful and supportive, inquiring about me and true friends to my parents. Our wedding was as much a celebration for our parents as for us, so it was important that they have people who are important to them there. Plus, our parents’ friends danced a lot more than our friends… and I love people who dance!

  • Anon

    I can totally sympathize with you. We cut out a lot of friends from our guest list to make our budget and to keep the event on the smaller/more intimate side. Then we got a list of about 25-30 people from my MIL along with a note instructing us to add them to the invite list and she would pay whatever additional costs came up for rentals, food, whatever for those additional people. These were people I didn’t know at all and my husband barely knew, and being the textbook introvert that I am, the one thing I absolutely did NOT want was to be meeting people for the very first time at my own wedding. My husband just went with it because it was just “mom being mom” according to him but for me, it definitely left a sour taste in my mouth and left me feeling like she hijacked our wedding. If something is important to you, I think it’s important to speak up about it and set those boundaries. I only wish I had done the same (she even “invited” some other friends to just show up the day of and come anyway – essentially giving them permission to crash our wedding…).

    • leafygreen

      I am sort of worried this will happen to me, because my future MIL pushed at the guest list of her other child a few years ago and contributed the money to cover the expansion, like yours did. We plan to pay for the wedding ourselves, but it will take a very firm “No” to refuse extra people when the person requesting them is offering to pay. Luckily, my future spouse is excellent at being assertive, so that will help.

      I am the kind of person who occasionally has to go hide in a corner at a party if there are too many people I don’t know, because it’s overwhelming and I just freeze up. I would really love to NOT feel like doing that at my own damn wedding.

      • Lawyerette510

        It may make it harder to draw that line with your MIL if the other kids let her do what she wanted so long as she paid for it, but you can. My dad pretty much had his pick of how my sister’s wedding went, but when it came to ours, my husband and I made our decisions, communicated the venue-related cap, our reasons for choosing the venue, etc, and it all worked out ok. That said, we were very independent in our planning, largely for self-preservation reasons having to do with family-dynamics on my side.

        My dad ended up offering to pay for all of the food and booze, which we had been prepared to pay for ourselves, even though he only had 3 people who were “his guests” (plus one of his sisters, her husband and her kids who are close to husband and i in their own rights plus some family friends who used to be mutual friends but have been closer to my mom since my parents divorce). He later admitted how much he enjoyed our wedding because he was able to relax and be a guest and get to know husband’s parents, reconnect with the people he had lost touch with as a result of his divorce and spend time with his sister.

        • leafygreen

          On the other hand it may make it easier for her to accept, because she’s had the wedding she envisioned for one of her children…maybe she doesn’t need it again.

          I’m glad to hear other people have put their feet down on this stuff too, at least.

          • Lawyerette510

            Very good point. And it may make it easier for some of the related pressures people discuss below like “well Bob invited me to his daughter’s wedding, so I have to invite him to yours” when if Bob was already invited to another sibling’s wedding then mom and Bob are even.

  • Anona

    I have to say, I knew before I read the response to this question that it was going to spend 2/3 of the time pushing the LW to include her parents’ friends. Yes, community is important, but I really dislike it when Ask APW spends more time trying to convince the letter writers to change their minds about something than it does answering their questions. To me, it sounds like you’ve already made a decision about the guest list, and your parents can either take the compromise you offered of inviting a few friends or not invite any of them. I think you need to start shutting down this conversation when it comes up so that your parents can learn to accept that this is the way it’s going to be. They want to invite forty more people, and you want an intimate day; there’s just no solution that’s going to make everyone happy. You’ve offered a compromise, but they haven’t made any effort to meet you halfway.

    Also, the last thing you need to care about is having your wedding approved by a blog.

    • Maggie

      I so agree. This isn’t a LW trying to get comfortable with the 40 extra people, or figuring out how to make it work: this is a LW saying, I really don’t want this, how can I help my parents understand that? 40 extra people just does not fit if you really want a small, intimate event.

      • Liz

        I guess that’s one way of reading the question. I read it as, “My parents want this, I want that, what should I do? (Stand my ground or cave to them?)”

        Regardless, an advice column that doesn’t examine every angle is pretty useless to the letter writer for sure, but to the general readership, especially.

    • To be very clear, our publication of these advice questions is not us giving or taking away any approval on someone’s wedding. This is advice, not public rulings on what you should or should not be doing. We do not publish *any* question for the means of convincing a reader to “get approval” from this blog. Any further snark on that front is simply not permitted here, comment policy rules.

      The main question here is “should I invite my parents’ friends to our wedding?” and there is no cut and dry yes or no answer that applies to every wedding. This is a question lots of people face, and we give well rounded answers so that lots of folks can take said advice and apply it to their own situations. In this case, that means trying to further illustrate the parent’s perspective, just so couples know where they might be coming from.

      However, the last two paragraphs of the answer address exactly what you’re asking: continuing to discuss the financial aspect with the parents, and then establishing clear boundaries for what you’re willing to do if that fails.

      • B

        I think Anona’s comment about approval had to do with the letter writer’s wish to have an APW-approved wedding, not with anything about the publication of the letter or Liz’s answer.

  • Sarah

    I agree with Liz and Meg. Err on the side of inclusion. These people might not be important to you, but you are important to them. My mom asked me to invite my parents’ neighbors, some of whom I love and would have invited anyway, and some who I haven’t spoken to since I was 5. The neighbors who practically helped raise me (even though I don’t remember it) were in tears; it was like their own daughter was getting married. And the neighbors I hardly know or remember really surprised us. One of them is elderly and sick and had fallen the day before. She doesn’t leave the house but once a week to go to church and get her hair done, and sometimes she skips that. But she got herself in a car and drove the 40 miles to our wedding. She looked half-dead, honestly, and she shouldn’t have come because of her health. But she was thrilled to be there and said it was the best wedding she’d ever been to. I wouldn’t have invited her if my mom hadn’t asked me to but I’m so glad I did. The wedding is about you and your husband, yes, but it is also a day you are sharing with your nearest and dearest. I’m not a mom yet, but I can imagine that when I have kids, I will want my nearest and dearest to celebrate my kids’ milestones with me, too. Your parents probably feel the same way. I feel like it’s more “bridezilla-y” (I know, we all hate that word) to exclude people in favor of a small wedding than to include people because you or someone you love loves them.

  • Lizzie C.

    A year and a half after our post-elopement “wedding fiesta,” this topic is still a sore point for me (I know, time to get over it). My in-laws invited more than a dozen of their friends–most of whom I’d never met and whom my husband claimed not to know–to our party of about 100 people. I was livid at the idea that there would be strangers (to me) there. But my in-laws were so thrilled to have their own friends to celebrate with that it made the night easier on all of us. And being able to give the in-laws a wedding album with lovely photos of their friends was priceless. Given their age group, some of these folks might not be around for long, so it’s good they got to party together while they could.

  • Annie

    If left to their own devices, my parents could literally have invited 500 people. One thing that helped me was having a space with a limit of 250 people total (when it doubt, blame the fire marshall). Another thing that helped was explaining that a wedding isn’t necessarily for people you enjoy or people you’re in book club with or people you work with. It’s for people you want to share in a very special day of your life. That helped my mom better wrap her mind around the kind of people in her life who should have been included, vs. the people she liked in general.

    • Marcela

      Upvote for “when in doubt blame the fire marshall”

    • Audrey

      We totally did this too, except a venue with 150 people. It helped so much! (And we secretly had some extra balcony seating in case we were super off, but didn’t tell anyone. 145 people came, so it was a close thing!)

  • ElisabethJoanne

    1. I’m surprised that the parents are ok with excluding family over their friends. Maybe this means that these are “obligation invites” like others are suggesting, but I’d definitely have another talk with my parents about their guest-list priorities if the guest list is going to be expanded. That doesn’t solve the whether-to-expand-the-guest-list problem, but I wonder if there isn’t an additional misunderstanding in the mix.

    2. More people =/= harder to plan. You can choose an all-in-one venue for 200 people and only make aesthetic choices from there on out, or you can make individualized favors for 20 people for a wedding at a rustic venue where you’re responsible for everything from food to port-a-potties. [Ok, yes, collecting RSVPs for 200 is harder than for 20, but that’s nothing compared to having to wonder how much toilet paper to buy.] If more people = harder to plan, it’s because you’ve already made some choices and set some priorities beyond “intimacy.” Those choices and priorities may be great, but they need clear expression, first in your own minds, and then to your parents.

  • Peekayla

    I haven’t gone through the thread yet, so this may’ve already been suggested, but. . .

    when my parents tried to include more friends to our guest list after we’d already gone over it with them and included the main friends they requested, I told them to give me these new friends’ names and addresses and that I’d put them on our B list. And, I’d only invite them if we got more “declines” than expected from our side of the family.

  • Jessica

    I think my mom still feels a lot of guilt over not being able to invite her (200+) friends and co-workers to our wedding, but my husband and I chose a venue before we crafted the guest list. This gave everyone an out for who was invited and who was unfortunately not, because we could only have 125 people there (only 110 showed up and it was still really crowded). The people who have helped me become a grown up that are in my parent’s circle were invited from the start, but people like my dentist, mom’s boss, neighbors I barely know, folks I’ve met once, and grandparent’s cousins were not invited–even though my mom wanted to because she hosts parties they go to all the time.

    We compromised by having an open rehearsal dinner backyard party. All the neighbors, bible study friends, the dentist bosses and coworkers were invited. While this sounded a little awkward at first I think people really understood that the wedding was going to be an intimate one and we still wanted to party with them. People brought us cards and no gifts, which was perfect.

    ETA: thank goodness my brother (the extrovert) is getting married soon. They will have a HUGE wedding so my mom can cover all the folks who weren’t invited to mine.

    • Em(ily)

      That compromise sounds really nice! Hope your brother’s fiance is down for the huge party.

  • Meg (not that one)

    I can’t imagine my parents wanting to invite 40 people that I didn’t know or that my fiance didn’t know as I’ve known most of my parents friends since childhood. A few of their friends were people I didn’t have a relationship with, but I had heard of and met previously. The ones that Meg and Liz discusses above that helped raise you aren’t strangers even if you wouldn’t call them your friends. My husband’s parents invited plenty of people that neither of us knew, but it wasn’t worth the fight and most of them didn’t come.
    I think I read it here, but it may have been somewhere else, but I believe in the “kitchen rule.” If they’ve never been in the kitchen of a house you (or your fiance) lived in or you’ve never been in their kitchen, then you are justified in saying no. Meaning, if they were best friends with your parents before you were born and never visited your home after your birth, they clearly they aren’t that good of friends to your parents now, and it’s ok to tell your parents no.

  • Gina

    We asked both sets of our parents to make an A-list and a B-list of their friends they wanted invited. It worked well. Of course, if you don’t want any of their friends invited, that’s harder, and you’ll have to have a sit-down conversation with them about why. Be prepared to give the money they’ve gifted you back, if necessary.

  • Kate

    Perhaps it would help (as some other commentors have noted) to give your parents a number. They can invite this many friends. Although, to warn you, no matter how reasonable the number is, your parents may still not be happy. When we got married two years (and eight months, not that I’m counting) ago, we divided up the space into thirds. His parents could invite up to x family and friends, we saved x for our friends, and my parents could invite x family and friends. My mom was still unhappy with it, though (and the number was around 70). She wanted to invite ALL her family and friends.

    We compromised and my mom planned a second reception in my home town for us, where she invited everyone that she wanted to. Not the most fun spending several hours with people I’d never met (and had only the loosest connection to – one of them was one of my brother’s elementary school teachers), but it made my parents happy. Something like a second reception can allow for inviting all those people that your parents want to invite, while still keeping the wedding itself small.

  • Alyssa

    This reminds me of a great article I read over on Slate about, now having kids, how this author wished he had invited more of his parents’ friends. It really resonated with me, and I don’t regret at all having invited my parents’ friends to our wedding. It made the wedding that much more full of joy! “As a child you don’t know it, but your parents’ friends are often responsible for convincing Mom and Dad that whatever you’re doing is normal and not incipient brutishness that needs to be stamped out with extraordinary measures.
    This support group is really going to be necessary at a wedding. It’s a celebration for the parents, but the melancholy is there too. Your child is really gone now. You are heading into another stage—the final stage—of your life. It is precisely in these kinds of moments that parents need their friends to commiserate and laugh and to trade stories.”

  • breezyred

    My spouse and I were pretty open to the idea of letting our parents have a separate invite list. We understood they wanted to share in this day with people we would not have immediately thought of, even after accounting for all the family and friends we could.

    But when we actually asked them for their lists, drama ensued:
    –We have 30 EQUALLY important friends! [I should add that my spouse and I still haven’t ever met 26 of them]
    –You may not have seen or heard from this person in OVER 20 years, but she was super important to your life when you were 8!
    –You were best friends with her daughter when you were 11! [adults from my childhood were a recurring theme]
    –We went to their son’s/daughter’s wedding so now we need to return the favor! [wedding invites are not transactions–especially when they are not your own!]
    –I email this person at least once every two years! [I email customer service once every two years too]
    –Of course you don’t know who this person is; I just met her! But now we are besties!
    –We already told them they would be invited! [this is actually not an excuse, but poor social skills on your part]

    I wish I was exaggerating. It turns out putting together the invitation list brought out some of the most petty behavior of the entire wedding process from all our parents. There were threats to not talk to us, invite people anyway, etc… Childish, childish behavior. But the spouse and I were pretty firm the entire time and refused to make decisions without each other’s input, so the team mentality helped up keep both our heads on straight.

    Our decisions on handling the above were based in large part to the fact we had a destination wedding. Nearly everyone who came was going to be with us for a whole weekend. We could handle the expenses of a few more people, but it didn’t make sense to be in close quarters for a length of time with people we had never met (or people with whom we didn’t want to spend a lot of time).

    To this end, we decided to only invite people we both knew. We had been a couple for 9 1/2 years by the time we got married, so if we both hadn’t met someone by the time the wedding rolled around, they likely weren’t that close to us in the first place. This rationale went a long way to make sense of our parents’ wish lists and help us prioritize their wants with our own. “30 friends is too many for a 95-person guest list” didn’t translate to our parents as well as “this person could not even recognize both the bride and the groom in a line up” or “this person might have changed my diapers, but they do not know who I am as an adult.” Above all, they needed reassurance they would actually know people at our wedding, so showing them the list of all the people that they love who would be there went a long way to get them to realize that the list didn’t need to include everyone they know.

  • Cara

    At the time of our wedding, I kind of just let my parents invite whoever they wanted because they paid for most of it and I was exhausted with everything I didn’t want to fight it. And I did regret letting all these people I barely knew come to the wedding at the time, and maybe for a little afterwards. But now, I don’t regret it one bit.

    My mom just died, and our wedding was the last time she had to really spend time with a lot of those people. I know that my situation is kind of unique, but at the time we had no idea she’d be gone within 9 months. Looking back, it was great to kind of get to honor my parents a bit by allowing them to have people they love celebrate with us, and I am so so so so glad I didn’t put my foot down.

    If we had been paying for the wedding more ourselves, it would have been a lot easier to say no, and it really is dependent on everyone’s situation. If you’ll be annoyed by seeing these people you barely know in your photos, stand up for your vision and give them just like, 10 people or something. But if you know it would make them so happy and you can handle it, it might just be worth it.

    • Kara E

      I’m so sorry for your loss, but am glad that it’s a joyful memory.

  • Kara E

    We had a lot of courtesy invites, but with an out of town wedding, many couldn’t come. Thank goodness, because the end result was something around 300 invites anyway. My compromise with my parents was a reception in my hometown (where I haven’t lived in 15 years). They invited everyone who was important to them and all the family got invited all over again. I was close to about 15 of the 125-150 people there. It was part potluck, part catered by the local grocery store (and turned out awesome), and many parts mom-made (sort of assisted by me)E. It got a little stressful, but wow. And it wound up being one of the first times in YEARS that my dad and all his brothers (many of whom don’t travel and one who lives overseas) were all together–and the last time before my Grandpa’s funeral.

  • Karen

    My initial rule was “all the family, all the friends, but NOT friends of family or family of friends.” This rule made all the sense in the world to me, but my dad wanted to invite a bunch of people from my hometown (several states away) so he could show off his money and power (sorry, but I do kinda think that was his motivation.) In the end, I went through the list of the SIXTY people they invited to my sister’s wedding and picked out 16 that I knew and wouldn’t mind having there, and added 4 more parent-friends. My parents added an additional 8 people that they really wanted that are newer friends of theirs.

    Out of those 28 invites, only 4 are coming. Ha. Guess they weren’t such close friends after all. Now the hard thing will be who to seat them with…

  • JenClaireM

    Oh my gosh, I have so many thoughts on this as the guest list was probably the biggest issue in our wedding planning, and my parents also wanted to invite their friends – a lot of them.

    Like the writer, I wanted a more intimate wedding where we could spend quality time with everyone there. But because I come from a big family and my now-husband and I both have a lot of friends who mean a lot to us, I realized we’d never have a truly small wedding. Still, when my parents wanted to invite 70(!!!!) of their friends, I totally flipped out (in my head, mostly). We had SO many conversations with my parents. I thought calmly and rationally explaining to them why they couldn’t have a huge percentage of the total guest list would make sense, but… no. They did not understand. Or budge much. We spent months on the issue, and it was really stressful.

    In the end, we mostly caved and just went for an “Eff it, let’s invite everyone and hope enough people say no” approach. We all made compromises – with my husband and I and my parents cutting 20 people from each of our lists. But that meant my parents still invited 50(!!) friends. And 40 of them came.

    And this was the part that surprised me: I loved it. They were all people I’d known for huge chunks of my life. They flew from Texas to California to celebrate our wedding and were so genuinely thrilled for my husband and me. It turned out to be really special to have so many people in my parents’ age group showing us so much love and just glowing with happiness for us. In many ways, it felt like they made a kind of extended-extended family. So in the end, for us, it worked to go for the all-inclusive approach.

    It also helped me to read APW and the thoughts Meg and others shared about how much this day means for our families too. The more I thought of it as a family event, the more I could understand everyone’s perspective and needs. And on the day itself, I just felt surrounded by so much love that I was really pleased with all of it – even if I didn’t get to talk to everyone as much as I would have liked.

  • Jen

    My favorite part of this post was “Is it more important to have a small wedding? Or more important to not disappoint your parents? If you decide the small wedding is priority, stick together and stand firm.” We had to make some decisions too, but we tried to always have the discussions behind closed doors and present as a unified front to everyone we spoke with- including family, friends and vendors. It made things so much more final-sounding and also made us both feel really supported in our relationship.

    • Eh

      This goes for all decisions (wedding-related, relationship-related, etc.). It was important for my MIL that we be married in their church (or at least by their minister, or at least by a minister). It was important for us that we have a secular ceremony. These two opposing views do not leave much room for compromise. We knew this was going to be a contentious point and we had discussed it before hand, we stood firm and had a united front. We compromised on other things that were not important to us (e.g. getting married in their home town, not getting married outside or on the hottest day of the year, sending out thank you notes in a timely fashion, inviting people who were offended that they hadn’t been invited to my BIL’s wedding).
      We’re still working on having all of these discussions behind closed doors. My in-laws like to stir the pot (between us and between my BIL and his wife); they think it’s their right as parents since their parents did it to them. They will ask my husband something right in front of me that they know he should discuss with me before answering but they will pressure him to answer. (My BIL and his wife almost cut all ties with the family because they didn’t feel the family supported their relationship, due to behaviour like this and other issues, yet my in-laws still think that this is appropriate behaviour.)

      • Jen

        That’s a difficult challenge. I am glad you are both on the same page to support each other!

  • Steph

    Ugh, I am having a hard time with this now, too, but with the twist that the large camp of people important to my dad who I don’t actually know/have a relationship with are… his siblings. (There are eight of them, all with spouses and/or adult children of their own, some of whom are now married with their own children.) Inviting them all would add more than fifty people to our guest list, which would basically double many of our expenses.

    I’ve lived very, very far away from the state where I grew up, and where he and most of his family still live, for a decade. My fiancé has only visited twice and met a couple of aunts and uncles in the six years we’ve been together. Through the magic of Facebook, I have a clear sense of many of their views on marriage, families, religion, and politics and am confident that these are not people I’d be likely to turn to for personal or relationship support in the future – without my dad, I probably wouldn’t be in touch with them at all. I feel like a lot of the statements about people’s parents’ friends are things I’d say about them. (“I haven’t seen this person in years! They don’t know who I am, as an adult! They haven’t even met Fiancé!”) But… they’re his family. And he is in a financial rough spot, and can’t afford to help us out with the cost of 50+ guests.

    “Is it more important to have a small wedding? Or more important to not disappoint your parents? If you decide the small wedding is priority, stick together and stand firm.” This helps. Large families seem to complicate things so much, though – have there been any special posts about this?

  • For whatever it’s worth, a lot of my parents’ friends were invited to and came to our wedding. They were helping us pay for the wedding, and we weren’t to worried about it getting too big (we ended up having about 160 in attendance, which felt just right). Sure, it felt a little strange to have so many of their friends there, but echoing Meg’s and Liz’s comments above, I knew they have been really important to my parents for years and years. And many of them were couples who had also witnessed me grow up, attending confirmation and graduation parties, supporting me along the way. So having them at my wedding felt like a natural extension of that. Not to mention, we wanted our wedding to feel like a great big(-ish) party where people had a great time, and my parents’ friends definitely did!

  • macaroni

    I understand this, because as someone who comes from a large family (as does my FH) and has parents who are divorced (i.e. 3 sets of parents with friends they want to invite), we struggled with this a good bit. For us, and for our parents, we ultimately decided that inclusivity was better than the alternative. (It helps that our venue is a private indoor/oudoor property, and doesn’t really have a limit when it comes to size.)

    We’re having a big wedding: almost 250 people are invited. But the thing is, I know 75-80% of the guest list, most of them pretty well. I think that’s the hard part – if I wasn’t as close with my parents’ and my fiance’s parents’ friends, I might have felt differently. And we knew from the start that a wedding under 100 people wasn’t possible, since just the family and attendants part of the guest list was over 100!

    My advice is to talk to you parents, and definitely take into account Jean N’s comments about seeing WHY it’s important. If they just want to invite Susie What’s-Her-Name because they went to her Christmas party last year, I’d say it’s safe to scrap her.

  • light0a0candle

    This same thing has been my biggest wedding planning hurdle! We felt very strongly about an intimate ceremony, we agreed to invite all family friends who we agreed had impacted our lives greatly. The kind of family friends where you consider thier kids to be your cousins and you ocassionaly refer to them as ‘aunt so and so’. We also invited family friends who we had spent a lot of time with as a couple. After the guest list was finished however, both sets of parents still had people they wanted to invite. We made this agreement: If both of us have met them, and we’ve seen them in the last year, they can be invited. If You havent seen them in over a year, are you willing to invite them over for dinner so we can get to know them? If not, they aren’t invited. That, surprisingly, weeded a lot of people out. His parents had a couple that was very influential in thier lives ten years ago and they addmited they were’nt really interested in reconnecting with them. Well too bad then, they aren’t invited. Luckily, both of our parents were very suportive and although they gave the guilty puppy eyes, they backed off. Now, we’re three days to go before the wedding and I’m recieving text messages like “you have your numbers now, so can so and so come?” Haha, so frustrating. We’ve really had to draw a clear line and be firm. If you give a little, they see weakness. LOL.

  • jhs

    I also think it’s good to note that “intimate” and “small” are not the same thing. If you have 15 first cousins and 20 family friends who are like parents to you, then you may have a 200 person wedding on your hands that is just as “intimate” as any. On the other hand, your wedding may be 50 people, but if it’s all parents’ friends that you’ve met once when you were five, it won’t feel very intimate. These are relative terms, and should be based on your particular family situation, not arbitrary numbers.

  • elysiarenee

    There’s something to be said for honoring historical
    importance/connections at your wedding but I say a big PISH POSH to
    honouring connections you haven’t any clue about. My friends loving and
    caring about and helping with my son is real and important now but it’s
    still primarily about their relationship with me or my partner not my
    son as his own person. There’s absolutely no reason these years of love
    and help should “earn” them an invite to his theoretical future wedding
    unless they become important enough to him, as his own person, that he
    is aware of their importance at that time.

    It has been mentioned here before
    that upset about perceived exclusion or not giving people certain roles
    is not really about the wedding but that deep down they are sad that the
    relationships with those people aren’t as real and present and
    important to you that you would naturally include those people or give
    them those roles in the first place. That seems relevant here and I’m
    not sure why it hasn’t been raised. Sure there’s all the traditional,
    cultural aspects at play but perhaps also the parents wish that their
    friends were as important to the couple as they are to them. I can see
    why that would hurt but it also seems an unreasonable expectation and
    something that has much more to do with the role the parents friends
    have played in the couples lives and memories (eg if they so loved these
    guys they could have played a bigger role in their lives, they didn’t
    and there’s no reason to fake it)

    • elysiarenee

      After reading all of these comments I feel the need to add another thing. The original APW thesis about weddings being about community was a reaction against horrible WIC notions about “It’s your day!” and I’ve always agreed very strongly with it as an underlying theme of APW. like really really strongly -i’d go so far as to say it’s one of the main ideas I loved about APW.

      I’m having to reconsider somewhat after this post. To me the wedding is an important way for the couple to strengthen and celebrate their community. It follows for me that it is the couple who defines what ‘community’ means for them. This is where people run into all the nitty gritty questions about whether to include people’s partners if you haven’t met them or whether to include people you haven’t seen for over 20 years and so forth. Part of community might be that you can’t very well invite suchandsuch without inviting their sister/child/an equivalent relative from the other side of the family and i guess that’s where the parents guests issue comes in either it’s part of your idea of community that your parents should be allowed to invite people they think are important because your parents are important or it might be more important to you not to have 40 people at your wedding who are not important to you (and I’d put good money on the fact that they aren’t important to the couple or they could have invited them of their own accord)

      There’s a difference between reminding people that a wedding isn’t just about the bride or even the couple and advising people to just make nice and not disappoint loved ones regardless of their own feelings on a particular issue. people pleasing might be more expedient than reaching understanding and compromise in spite of dissapointment but in the long run I think this is actually a much more important relationship skill than playing nice.

      The framing of “Is it more important to have a small wedding? Or more important to not disappoint your parents?” seemed quite emotionally manipulative and cruel because I can’t imagine anyone thinking ‘small wedding’ sounded less trivial than parental dissappointment. wowsers. What if it was another issue than guests that would dissappoint them something trivial about food style or something politically important like the couples desire to mention marriage equality in the ceremony? Just because they are parents doesn’t mean they are right to want the things they do or that their reasons are any better than the couples reasons.

      for some people more guests is just more love regardless of misgivings but for some it might dilute their celebration of the people of are genuinely important to them or they simply might not feel comfortable having people present for something that feels personal who they really aren’t close to.

      • Liz

        “The framing of “Is it more important to have a small wedding? Or more important to not disappoint your parents?” seemed quite emotionally manipulative and cruel because I can’t imagine anyone thinking ‘small wedding’ sounded less trivial than parental disappointment.”

        This is the second time this idea has come up in the comments, so I’m thinking maybe my word choice wasn’t clear or something. I DO NOT think that parental disappointment automatically trumps everything you want. They’re going to be disappointed about some of your wedding stuff- each couple individually needs to decide which times it matters, and when the parents are just going to have to cope. I think that’s more clear when the sentence is read in the context of the whole paragraph, rather than just pulled out to yell about it.

        • elysiarenee

          Thanks for the reply Liz! I didn’t think I was yelling but I accept that the whole paragraph is more nuanced than than those 2 sentences. I think we’re coming from quite different perspectives but I appreciate that you included all sides in the advice even if the advice differed from the advice I would have given.

      • Bets

        “The original APW thesis about weddings being about community was a reaction against horrible WIC notions about “It’s your day!” and I’ve always agreed very strongly with it as an underlying theme of APW.”

        I think APW has answered questions like this one differently:

        For instance, this post has a similar dilemma – parents’ wishes vs. the couples’, albeit with much more drama: , and the answer suggests that the couple examines what’s most important to them:
        “…because once you’ve articulated your values—and how paperless invitations tie into those—you’ll have a clearer idea of whether this is something you want to stand your ground on, and how to defend it. Put it another way—what values do you want your wedding to embody? What are the values that are at conflict here between you and your parents?”

        I think that while the answer does a really great job of asking us to understand where the parents are coming from, and it certainly acknowledges that a small wedding might be important to the couple, the advice to compromise still comes across very strongly. I think the problem is that we’re given us so much insight into why the parents want to invite their friends, but not enough insight to validate OP’s perspective.

  • JSwen

    Not to get super… transactional… about this but I just got a wad of cash from my parents’ friends and I’ve known them my whole life so… I say give your parents a limit. We asked each of our parents if there were anyone we missed after telling them who we were inviting. Gave them each 2 people to add to the list. Everyone’s happy.

  • All forty? All FORTY? ALL forty?

    Man, that number would almost increase my (ideal, everyone we invite comes) sub-100 guest list by a further 50%. I can understand your parents wanting to return the favour to friends who had them invited to their kids’ weddings, but that number is just boggling. My spouse-to-be and I don’t even have 40 friends between the two of us in our wedding list. Surely your parents can understand the difference between having some of their friends at the wedding and having their child’s most intimate and romantic event dominated by strangers?

    No matter how many friends someone has, most people have a much smaller group of people they are actually close to. Perhaps it might help to offer a compromise that doesn’t limit on numbers, but actual closeness. Like… they can invite friends who they have visited or been visited by within the last six months, who have also met the parents’ child at least three times in that child’s adult life? Or if their friends fall into certain groups, such as the old group from uni, the old group from work and the group they meet on the regular from some current hobby, you could say they can invite one of those groups?

    • Actually, that’s a thing. This just prompted me to talk to my other half about this issue in case it comes up, and we ended up with a plan to tackle the issue before it becomes a problem.

      1. We are having an intimate family wedding. This means people considered family by us are the priority, even if that means almost none of our own friends get to come. Our parents don’t get to invite more of their friends than we get to invite of ours.
      2. The point of having the wedding… okay not THE point but one of the driving factors behind us having an actual celebration… is that we want both our families to meet, at least once. With so many of our most beloved relatives living in different countries or simply different parts of the UK to us, our wedding is really the only chance we’ll have to do that while many of them are alive.
      3. We’re doing everything we can to keep the budget for things we don’t need small, so that the things that really matter to us can be done properly. We’re not even having a ring exchange. We don’t want to inflate the cost just for the sake of adding more bums on seats.
      4. We’re both introverts and my social anxiety is bad enough that we’ve built our own ceremony around helping me avoid having to do an aisle walk. The more strangers at the wedding the more likely one or both of us will have a panic attack at some point.

      So our plan is to be pro-active. BEFORE any of our parents bring it up, we’ll mention to them about the guest list and them inviting friends. We’ll give each parent a number of people they can invite, with a caveat that we have to have met the guests at least a couple of times.

  • Erica
  • Liz Kropp

    It’s never “the most practical thing” to go into debt for your wedding. It is practical for a blog whose business model is rooted in the WIC to try to normalize taking on debt.

  • Jennifer Cary Diers

    My husband’s parents actually offered to give us more money to cover the cost of their additional friends. This backfired terribly because it insulted my husband. My husband and I only invited our closest friends to control costs, and he couldn’t believe they’d offer more money to cover their own friends but not his. I had to intervene and mediate. We let our parents invite their closest two or three friends, and that was it. Good luck.

  • Vetties

    We are currently in the middle of a similar conversation. We have invited 5 friends each, fiancé’s parents have invited 2 and mum invited 1. My dad however has decided to invite 40 people (his list has since shortened to 18.) My dad is Indian and believes that the wedding is more of a party and naturally wants to invite ALL his friends who he sees once a year.
    My fiancé and I both want a small wedding but also it is important what our parents’s think.

    We have stuck to our guns and given him a number of 5 people to invite. this may seem selfish but where is the fairness in this? We are inviting family from India but I still feel 40 is too many people. It is a massive comprise but one I hope that everyone will be happy…watch this space!

  • Emily Middleton

    I have an issue where my future mother-in-law wants to invite a number of friends to our wedding. I would like to keep our guest list at about 100. In addition to this I need to keep the budget small (really don’t like the idea of starting marriage in a heap of debt). MIL says not to cheap out on our wedding, but also is not chipping in financially on top of wanting to add a number of friends to the guest list (whom neither my fiance or I know at all). His father and my parents have not added any friends to the guest list so I’m trying to find a way to limit her to perhaps two friends. Any suggestions? Or am I being unreasonable?