Ask Team Practical: Family Rifts And The Guest List

Dealing with family conflict

kelly benvenuto

Q: I have read all sorts of takes on how to make the proper guest list and dealing with parents’ guests, but I have a different sort of problem: How do I deal with my mother nixing relatives from our guest list?

I come from a very small family—you could seat everyone I’m related to at an eight-top table and have room to spare; my fiancé’s family, however, is enormous! My family is very important to me, and I had planned on inviting everyone because you invite family—that’s what you do. I suppose that there is also an element in there where I just want to show that I have this big happy group of people that care about me, too, even if it’s not as large as my fiancé’s.

The issue is probably that there are few families that are really a “big happy group of people,” and mine is no exception. My uncle is not a nice man, and there’s no love lost between us, although I had still planned to invite him. My cousin—his daughter—is my only cousin, and we get along fine. However, neither of them get along with my mother at this point in time. To rub salt in the wound, my cousin did not invite my mom to her wedding a month ago.

The worst part about all of this, for me, is that my brother got to include all of these people in his wedding a few months ago, when the relationship wasn’t sour. My bride-addled brain is bitterly jealous—while they aren’t my favorite people, I feel I would lose out not having them present. My mother has told me she’ll take the heat for them not being on the guest list, but I suspect that they’ll blame me anyway, and that this will be the end of my relationship with them.

My parents are footing the bill, which means my mother will have the final say on the guest list. I am trying to give her as long as possible to decide, but she’s told me she’s almost positive she will demand they be removed from the list. I love my mom, and want to respect her wishes; however, I feel this move will damage my relationship with them much more than it will hers. Can I fight her on this? Is it the right move?

Depressed Reader And a Mother’s Anger



If you want them there, you want them there. I can’t encourage the whole, “I want them there so it looks like I have a big happy family,” thing. You have the family you have. That’ll be the case whether you fake it and pretend everything’s peachy or not. Pretending you don’t have quirks and drama in your family isn’t going to get you anywhere.

But, you want them there for other, legitimate reasons too. Love-tolerating them is enough of a reason. So make sure they’re there. Preserve that relationship, however strained it may be.

So, gulp, yes. That means you need to talk to your mom about it. You can try to reason with her, here. Ask how she’ll feel about this decision a few years from now. Does she expect to always hold this grudge? Does she simply not want them there out of a tit-for-tat, I wasn’t at your wedding, you can’t come to mine, sort of thing? Whatever the case may be, and however reasonably or emotionally she responds, the point is that she’s putting you in the middle of her argument. It’s not your argument; it’s hers. It’s not her wedding; it’s yours. This isn’t the time for her to make some sort of principled point. Forcing you to get stuck in this situation that doesn’t concern you is flat out unfair.
When you have this chat, she might make it all about loyalty. It’s not. No matter what she says, you’re not choosing your uncle over her. You’re choosing them both.

When you have this chat, she might make it all about money. It…well, sort of is. Ideally, if anyone covers the cost of your wedding, they’re willing to pay for whatever choices you make. But often, “I have the cash,” means, “I hold the cards.” You have a few options. Offer to pay for the cost of your uncle and cousin and whatever dates would accompany them. Tell her you’ll pay for the wedding yourself, if she’s really that opposed (I’m guessing this isn’t totally feasible). But your main thing here is to hope that logic and reason win her over. Let her know that Mom, I love you, but this isn’t my fight.
Photo Kelly Benvenuto

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  • alexandra

    Boundaries. You need boundaries. Money has a way of destroying them.

    Tell your mother in no uncertain terms that you plan on inviting exactly who you want, and give her the option of bowing out of paying in that case. And then don’t hold it against her if she decides she can’t contribute.

    And THEN be okay with footing the bill yourself, which will probably mean a smaller or cheaper wedding. This is what I did…my mom is an atheist and I am a devout Christian. We invited most of our two churches (an enormous amount of people) to our extremely religious wedding, which was a very difficult and uncomfortable thing for her. I knew it would be hard for her, so I told her the plan, and said we’d be thankful for anything she chose to contribute, or nothing at all, if that were her choice.

    We were truly okay with the outcome either way. She wound up writing us a check for an amount that was comfortable for her (it was extremely generous…woohoo Mom!) and keeping her mouth shut, and everybody was extremely happy with the arrangement in the end. But it would have been okay if she hadn’t. Cake/punch receptions can be very lovely.

    • Sarah

      Money destroys boundaries. Amen.

  • Kay

    I have a somewhat similar situation – my parents divorced (bitterly) when I was three and it’s been still bitter almost 20 years later. It’s hard having them in the same state, let alone the same city for a weekend and same room for a night. I’m nervous about them both being there, but I can’t do it without them both either. My dad is paying and I’m afraid he’ll want to exclude her from any wedding “honors.” (We’re only preplanning now) I just want them to be cordial for the evening and not cause any extra stress! My goal is to get a picture of myself with both of them – just thinking about it makes me cry. I just don’t want to be mediating the whole time or worried that my dad’s family will clash with my mom. It’s not MY fight, but they bring it down on me.

    • Lindsey

      I have absolutely no experience with this situation, so take my advice as you wish. It sounds like you will need to have a Come to Jesus with both of them (separately) and explain that they need to put aside their differences for one or two nights and be polite to each other and maybe even cordial. They don’t have to take photos together or anything, but they both have an important role in your life and they need to do this for you.

    • Kay

      Hey, I’m a Kay, too! And I have a lot of experience with this particular dynamic. I agree with the Come to Jesus talk. I’ve found that the best way of doing this is to have a few things that you want that you can present to each of them. For instance you mention that you really want a photo together, so sit down with each of them and tell them, “It would really make me happy to have a photo of me with both of my parents on my wedding day.” That gives each of them a chance to process it while framing it as something they can do to make you happy. If both of them react so poorly that you can’t imagine bringing it up again, at least you can deal with that disappointment on a day that you’re less likely to already be emotionally-charged.

      As for the families bickering, you need to deputize someone, ideally a rational cousin/family member, to keep people in check. If that person doesn’t exist, invest in a good maid of honor who can dispense the Death Glare and put Mom at a table across the room from Dad’s family. Having parents who chafe at being less than 500 miles from each other takes some extra resilience and planning, but it can be done, I promise.

    • MC

      Similar boat – my parents are divorced, and it wasn’t exactly bitter but they now live in different states and straight-up never talk to each other, never mention each other to me, etc. The wedding will be the first time that my dad, my mom, and my mom’s long-time boyfriend will all be in the same place and it makes me incredibly nervous – but, like you said, I need to have them all there. My fiance’s family, who is paying, is pushing for a rehearsal dinner/night-before gathering, but the thought of having TWO evenings with the three of them in the same room has literally reduced me to tears. UGH.

      I’m planning on having a talk with both of them and saying that while it may be a difficult emotionally, I am expecting them to be adults and do not want to spend my day monitoring their emotions/actions (which is the role I usually play in my family). And then I cross my fingers and hope that they can act like civilized adults. I try to remind myself that my parents have probably been anticipating this day as much as I have – it’s gotta be something that people who divorce with kids mentally prepare themselves for, right?

      Glad to know that other Adult Children of Divorce are dealing with the same issues – sometimes I feel like a crazy person for stressing out about this so much.

    • Kate

      I hate to rain on your parade, but perhaps separate photos with each of them would be a better option. If someone asked me to pose in a photo with my hypothetical bitter ex, I would probably hide when picture time came around. Even if you managed to round them up, I doubt the picture’d turn out looking very relaxed or happy. A separate picture with each of them could make them feel honored and you could frame it as a gift after the wedding.

  • Kelly

    I also have family related guest list drama (who doesn’t?). My fiance and I are having a small-ish destination wedding and inviting 100 guests. Suppose I have 50 spots.

    My father’s side of the family (limited to his siblings, their spouses, and my adult first cousins) amounts to 42 people. That would nearly cover my entire half of the guest list – without touching my immediate family, my mother’s smaller family (16 people), my half of the wedding party and their significant others, and any other friends or parents’ friends.

    For a variety of reasons I have never had a close relationship with my dad’s family (to say the least). On the other hand, I am extremely close with my mother’s family. My parents and I decided that we would not invite my dad’s family. I feel somewhat guilty about this, but know that it is for the best. Picking-and-choosing, say, 10 people from his side of the family would likely really offend the rest of the family.

    I guess I’m wondering how to handle this in a tactful way. I am starting to get questions/comments on FB about the wedding from relatives on that side of the family. Should I write my dad’s family a letter, explaining that we’re having a small destination-type wedding but would love to have a no-gifts BBQ afterward so that they can meet my fiance/husband? I tend to think I should face this head-on, but my mom thinks she should be the buffer and explain it to everyone (small wedding, out of town, etc.). Any thoughts?

    • Robin

      Ugh, guest list limitations. I know this may not necessarily be helpful since it sounds like you’ve already decided not to invite your dad’s side of the family, but my dad’s side of the family is similarly huge and we made the decision to only invite aunts and uncles, which cut the number for his family down from 30 to about 8.

      How comfortable are you with explaining it to your dad’s family yourself? If you are okay with doing so, I think a letter or even a phone call or something similar explaining the situation and inviting them to a no-gifts BBQ would be nice to receive. If you’re not comfortable or your mother is closer to that side of the family, I don’t really see anything wrong with having her (or your father) explain it to them.

      • Kelly

        We would still be over 20 – several (okay, all 7) of my dad’s brothers have divorced and remarried new wives, but I grew up with their first wives as my aunts. So I would not exclude those aunts, who I actually keep in closest contact with out of anyone! Funny how life works out.

        I feel comfortable explaining the situation to them, and I think it would be best to come directly from me and not my parents. I think my mom just wanted to give me the option of not drawing attention to the issue, and that she would field questions if anyone asked (since she lives in the same town as them; I do not).

    • KC

      I think explaining “small destination wedding” and then having a local reception-y thing for them (and potentially for other locals that either can’t make it that far or who do not make the “small” list cut?) sounds reasonable, as would, say, inviting your dad’s parents (if alive) or forming some similar clear boundaries. I think if your parents are still together, either you, your mom, or your dad could explain the deal, depending on the tact and relationship levels each has available. :-) (what is needed, I think, is tact combined with enough honesty that when/if they see wedding photos, people don’t generally explode because there are more than, say, 10 people there)

      • Kelly

        No grandparents :( Basically my dad’s family is a drama-filled mess that my immediate family usually tries to remove itself from (example: my uncle threw a “no more child support” hawaiian-themed luau on his daughter’s 18th birthday). Plus there are all sorts of sibling feuds, etc., so who knows if the BBQ idea would even work out.

        But you hit the nail on the head – the reason I want to be upfront on this issue is because my cousins will see wedding pics on FB and notice that there were 100 people there, not 10.

        • If the wedding pictures being online is going to cause issues, just keep the pictures off the internet. There’s no obligation to have that posted and if you know that it’s going to make life difficult, keep it to just a few portraits or whatever your favourites are.

    • My mom is from a family of 6 and many of her siblings also had large families. My dad is from a family of three, and I have three cousins on his side. I don’t have a super close relationship with any of my cousins, but am a little closer to the three on my dad’s side.

      I asked my mom if there would be any hard feelings if I only invited the aunts and uncles on her side, but not the cousins, while inviting the cousins on my dad’s side. She didn’t think so. Numbers wise, it works out to be the same number from both sides.

      Would it be reasonable for you to invite your dad’s siblings and spouses, but not the cousins?

      • Ah. More comments happened while I was typing. I see this has been addressed.

        • Kelly

          To be honest, my parents would be very concerned to have several of my dad’s siblings there :) I did make the independent choice to include one aunt/uncle (my dad’s only sister) and one cousin (who lives near me and is the only person from that side of the family who has actually met and spent time with my fiance).

          Beyond that, I did ask my parents if they wanted to trim the guest list elsewhere to make room for some other family members we have somewhat frequent contact with. My parents thought about it, and decided that they would rather have their closest friends there, who have been a special part of my life for years, than cut those friends out to make room for my dad’s siblings and spouses.

          • Claire

            We decided to only invite people that a) we had both met, b) both had a friendship/connection/relationship with, and c) those that we hope to continue having a relationship

            It sounds like a) you both haven’t met these folks, b) you both don’t have a relationship with them, and c) you don’t really want a relationship with these folks any way.

            We did offend one Nan doing this as we invited everyone on the other Nan’s side of the family (aunts, uncles, cousins, kids) because we are very close with them, and not the other side because I’d never met them (not for lack of trying), and we didn’t expect to have a relationship with them past them coming to the wedding. 18 months on, we still don’t have a relationship with them.

            I know it isn’t always feasible to follow these guidelines, however I’m glad we did. We had a fantastic weekend dancing, laughing, and celebrating with our loved ones. No regrets :)

    • Gina

      I agree with the post-wedding BBQ and framing it as a small, destination wedding. Or, you said in a comment that might not work out–how about just letting them know when you’ll be in town and that you’d love to see them to celebrate?

      That said, it sounds like since these inquiries are coming over FB, that’s the means by which you keep in touch with your father’s family? If you can, I would avoid posting pictures of your wedding after-the-fact that make it clear your mother’s family was there–that may result in unnecessarily hurt feelings. I would also make the explanation in person/on the phone, rather than over email or FB.

    • MEM

      This is almost exactly what happened to me- We want a very small and intimate ceremony and my dad’s family is 50 people. The only difference is that I am close with those 50 people. We ended up scheduling a “celebration and blessing of the marriage” that will be a few months after the wedding. I called all the aunts and uncles personally and told them that we were getting married in a small ceremony (just immediate family, grandparents and wedding party) and that we are so excited to have them join us at the party. They all felt better knowing that there would be a small ceremony at the belated reception, blessing the marriage and honoring the importance of community. They also really appreciated that I spoke to them directly instead of having my dad call. Everyone seems OK with this plan, although a tad disappointed. as for money, we are paying for the wedding ourselves with help from my mom and my dad is paying for the party himself. I know you’ve mentioned that you are having 100 people, but I think they would understand the idea that inviting one means inviting everyone and that was too many people- at least my aunts and uncles understood that. good luck to you!

    • Parsley

      Not to open a whole can of worms here, but if the total guest list is 100, is it necessarily true that that means you “get” 50 people? It seems like splitting the guest list in half for each person in the couple is only one way to fairly decide who invites who. Coming from a HUGE family on my father’s side, I have been to many weddings where there were far, far more of us than there were family of whoever an uncle/aunt/cousin was marrying. So, it seems to me that another way to fairly apportion guests would be for each of you to invite people at the same level of closeness or the same degree of relationship. That’s more or less what my wife and I did, which in our case meant that a bit more than half of our guests were my friends and family. Anyway, just a thought. Good luck!

      • Laura

        Agreed.We had 78 people at our wedding, and, well…50 of those were my guests. My husband’s family is the same size as mine, but mine is a lot more close-knit. I had initially assumed we would each get 50% of the guest list, but he was the one who kept having to remind me that he was fine with me inviting more people than he did. Sometimes it’s not even about family drama, it’s just logistics.

  • Robin

    This post comes at a great time. There is a similar situation in my family, where my one cousin and my mother DO NOT get along. It’s more than just not getting along, actually. My mother does not want said cousin at the wedding and I can completely see why – my cousin is a grown-ass but very immature woman with two children who gave my 16-year-old sister cocaine as a birthday gift a couple years back in order to get back at my mother for some perceived slight from years ago. Apparently she wanted to get my sister addicted to drugs to teach my mother a lesson. I know this sounds crazy but I KID YOU NOT. And verbally attacked my mother over the same perceived slight at her own wedding last fall. I get along fine with the cousin – we’re not close, I definitely do not approve of her behaviour and I don’t want her at my wedding, but we’re civil to each other on the rare occasion that we see each other. And I genuinely like the rest of her family (my aunt, uncle, and other cousins) and would like for them to be at my wedding. I really, really don’t want to create even more of a rift in the family over not inviting the cousin and my grandma would be very upset if I didn’t invite her, even though grandma is aware of the cousin’s behavior and is/was appalled by it.

    APW community, any thoughts on this? I know the answer is to probably not invite her, but how do I go about this in a way that minimized further disruption to our family?

    • KC


      One remote possibility: would it be acceptable/possible to invite her, but assign bodyguards to her? (other people who grasp that completely unacceptable behavior is possible and will escort her out of the wedding if anything goes awry?) I don’t know whether your mom more wants to not-invite her because she’s (quite reasonably) mad, or whether she’s more worried about the potential damage. Assigning babysitters/bodyguards might assuage both, possibly, because you’re not treating her exactly like a normal guest, and you’re also reducing the possibility for wreaking havoc. But it might be enough for grandma to be happy?

      • Robin

        Actually that’s a possibility I hadn’t thought about! FMIL offered to “run interference” if I did invite her when I explained the situation… I kind of laughed it off but that’s a valid possibility to keep in mind. With my mom, I think it’s a little of both – she’s mad at the cousin but also doesn’t want any drama at the wedding with her. My mom would probably still be upset if I invited the cousin, but explaining that there was a plan in place to prevent any drama from happening might go a long way toward her understanding my decision to invite her, if I do decide to go that way.

        • Lizzie

          That’s what we did: assigned a few attendants as secret bouncers in case anyone needed to be escorted discreetly from the building. Early in the weekend we introduced them to the likely offenders just in the course of everyone getting to know each other, and they kept an eagle eye/ear out during the festivities. No one had to be bounced after all, but having a plan made us feel a lot better. And just talking about ground rules–what behavior do we expect from guests? When do we decide someone has crossed the line?–was a good reality check.

        • KC

          Seriously, people to run interference: good. (although your FMIL is likely to be very occupied/distracted, so ideally your babysitter/bouncer would instead be someone who is willing to miss parts of things if necessary, and also at least appear physically larger/stronger than The Cousin of Doom – it’s almost never going to come down to anyone actually physically escorting anyone out, but it’s nice to know [and to be able to tell a concerned mother] that it *can* happen if it needs to.)

        • YetAnotherMegan

          I plan on doing the same thing with my aunt and one cousin. She’s a 15 year old brat who’s stuck in the terrible twos with a mother who is a total enabler. I have two aunts assigned to run interference for this special snowflake. Girl is gonna get bounced the minute she makes a scene and if her mother has a problem with it she can go too.

      • AG

        Slightly off-topic, but I’m planning to ask my caterer and planner to keep an eye out at the wedding for my friend who has a drinking problem, and cut her off from the bar if need be. Event planners/ professionals might be helpful in this case, and allow your family to relax and enjoy themselves.

    • Heather

      I don’t know if this helps or not, but I can give you the perspective of having made that choice and looking back at my wedding. I had a family member who I chose not to invite because some of her behavior had offended me and others in the family. I also had the convenient excuse of having a small wedding and not having room for every family member on the list, which helped. In the end my decision was based more on how I would feel if she attended. I concluded that I would be impacted emotionally by her presence and I didn’t want that “energy” (for lack of a better word) at my wedding. She was surprised and a little taken aback, but has since made an effort to curb her behavior a bit (I know I’m being vague on what this behavior is but, in the interest of space…). There have been moments when I feel a tinge of guilt, but it’s followed by a firm belief that I made the right choice. It’s now been two years and I’m not sorry at all. One of the best things about my wedding day was being surrounded by a loving and supportive community and she would have detracted from that. I hope this helps. For me the guest list was the hardest part of wedding planning.

      • SLW

        This was a helpful perspective for me to read, since I’m dealing with something similar. I’m grappling with how to make it clear to a family friend (who similarly brings bad ‘energy’ and upsets members of my family) that she will not be invited.

        A quick question about the family member you chose not to invite: Did you have a direct conversation with them about the fact that they were not invited? How did you broach the subject?


        • Heather

          I did end up talking to her mainly because she assumed she was invited and started making plans to come (which I discovered through my mom). I wrote to her but I didn’t get into all the reasons. I just told her that we were keeping it small and that I hoped she would understand. I really believe this is one of those moments when a white lie is appropriate. It’s enough to not be invited to someone’s wedding, I didn’t see a need to add to the sting. One of the good and unexpected things that came out of the difficulties of a small guest list was the other extended family members who not only were understanding about not being invited, but still sent gifts and cards. I was so grateful for those who demonstrated such graciousness.

      • Robin

        Thanks for sharing your experience! Although I am mostly concerned about how my grandma and mom will feel if I invite or don’t invite my cousin, obviously how her presence would affect ME is an important thing to consider.

        • Heather

          Exactly. I looked for a balance between my parents wishes and my emotional needs. My folks were paying, so I wanted to respect them as much as I could. But there were times when I asked them to recognize that this was my wedding day and there were certain things I needed to have control over. If there was something that was particularly hard for my mom to accept I would ask her to think of it as a gift to me, a way she could help me have the wedding I really wanted. Glad I could help!

    • TeaforTwo

      Unfortunately, I don’t think there is a way to minimize disruption while not inviting a particular family member. It makes a strong statement that the person isn’t one of your people anymore, and I understand why it would hurt your grandma, and presumably her parents and siblings. They’re all rooting for her to change and get better, and cutting someone out of the family rarely improves their outlook and behaviour.

      We have one couple who are particularly difficult, and verging on despised by some family members. But even though a cousin of mine left them off her guest list, I thought it was too pronounced and hurtful. We’ve invited them, seated them away from anyone with whom there would be a flare-up, and have told the bartenders to feel free to cut them off. There will be 148 lovely people at my wedding, so I don’t have to see those 2 for any longer than it takes them to go through the receiving line.

      • Robin

        Thanks for sharing another perspective on this… we’re having a smallish wedding (55 people). If it was bigger I don’t think I would be thinking this much about it because like you said, I could arrange the seating so there would be minimal interaction.

  • Katie

    It sounds like you’re already far into the planning, and therefore, the contract signing and depositing, process. It might be hard to re-set your boundaries now. I mean, you kind of already DID set them when your parents offered to throw you a wedding, and you accepted. In the end, they are the hosts of the party, and it is in your honor. It sounds like the best you can do is appeal to her sentimentality, unless you are OK with cancelling everything that’s been done so far and losing the deposits your parents have paid. THAT might seriously damage your relationship with THEM.

    My friend had a similar situation when she got married, but it was an aunt instead of an uncle. In the end, she explained to her mom that she was really hoping that she and her cousin could keep a family relationship for the future. That, because the family is so small, it was really important to her that her kids got to know their cousins. And that she was very afraid of losing the opportunity for that to happen if they were excluded from the guest list. And even though HER cousin didn’t invite their side to HER wedding a few months prior, it wasn’t about the cousin and revenge, or whether or not her cousin cared that their future families might not be close. It was about the fact that my friend cared about those things.

    That worked. Also, seating them as far away from the mom as possible at the reception.

    Good luck!

  • Elizabeth

    I was lucky. On my side I get along with all of my family members (my mom’s sister and brothers don’t talk). My cousin was married last year and the only cousins that came were me and my sister (and no aunt’s or uncles from my mom’s side). She wasn’t even allowed to invite my aunt’s family at all (and I think she was only allowed to invite my other uncles’ family because he lives far away and her parents figured he wouldn’t come). I invited everyone to my wedding and the only cousins that came were her and her brother (her parents and my aunt showed up, but my other uncle didn’t).

    On my husband’s side we have a tense relationship with his brother and SIL. My father even questioned if we wanted such a poisonous person (my husband’s SIL) at our wedding and suggested that we not invite her (then he found out that she is married to my husband’s brother and agreed that we had to). Over our engagement we tried to mend fences with them (his brother was supposed to be our Best Man) but they were unreasonable (they kept bringing up stuff from over a year before and refused to move on) and they kept making excuses not to sit down with us and talk about things in person but then they said that they wouldn’t go to our wedding unless we sat down and talked about things in person (this was a demand a week before our wedding when we live an hour away and we don’t have a car and we were busy with wedding stuff). She didn’t even book the day off work (so the demand to talk to us in person wouldn’t have made a difference and all of the other work we put into mending fences was in vain). Through the whole process we made it clear to them we wanted them there (despite her telling us that she was only invited because she is married to my BIL – which is true on one level since I wouldn’t know her if she wasn’t) and that if they decided to come they would be welcome and there would be food. My BIL did show up at the ceremony but he didn’t participate, and he didn’t come to the reception.

  • april

    “My mother has told me she’ll take the heat for them not being on the guest list, but I suspect that they’ll blame me anyway, and that this will be the end of my relationship with them.”

    Yeah – not inviting someone to your wedding (barring a very good reason, e.g. you’re planning a small/intimate wedding and legitimately cannot accomodate more guests) is a pretty good way to end a relationship with someone. On the other hand, inviting an estranged relative to your wedding can be a pretty good way to begin mending relations.

    So I’m with Liz here – invite the uncle, reassure your mom that she doesn’t have to interact with him at the wedding, then make sure he is seated as far away from your mom as possible during the reception.

  • S

    “I suppose that there is also an element in there where I just want to show that I have this big happy group of people that care about me, too, even if it’s not as large as my fiancé’s.”
    Mostly I just want to say that I hear you on this. I have a small family too and growing up i found it difficult not to compare our situation to that of friends who had huge families who lived locally that they could celebrate birthdays, Christmases, graduations etc with. My extended family live a 10hr drive away, and although we get along reasonably well my immediate family was never able to see them that often. I think these celebrations for me often highlighted our isolation from them and felt somewhat lonely. My SO’s family in contrast is huge, and when we first met I was really excited by the prospect of being part of that. However the reality is that they are kind of crazy and my SO has a very strained relationship with most of them, including his parents. I doubt that we will end up inviting more than 6 of them (out of 50-60 people) to our wedding.
    Accepting that ‘you have the family you have’ is great advice.. I just need some time to figure out how to put it in to practice.

  • kt in kc

    As APW states, no family is without drama. My parents divorced 12 years ago. My father has moved on with his life and is happily remarried to a very lovely woman. My mother has not allowed herself to move on, unfortunately (long story). When I was married this past spring, my relationship with my father was wonderful. My relationship with my mother was strained at best.

    When I became engaged, I fretted for months about how to reconcile the situation. Should I invite my mother, given our relationship (or lack thereof) and her intense resentment over the divorce? My stepmother even graciously, selflessly suggested that she not attend the wedding, if it made my mother more comfortable to attend. When she suggested this, curtains parted and the birds sang:

    I realized that this was MY (and my husband’s) wedding. It was a giant, public celebration our love, in front of all our families and friends. It was a new chapter to a wonderful adventure ahead. Why in the world was I trying to burden it with extra baggage? Even worse, why would I accomodate my wedding for one person who had more anger than love in her heart, at the expense of someone else who dearly loved me? I would be the only loser, in that situation.

    In the end, I invited everyone: my father, my stepmother, my mother, and even my brother with whom I also had a strained relationship. I left the choice – and responsibility of moving on, of growing up and forgiving the past – entirely with them. I wanted to send the message that I, for my part, loved them all and wanted them in my life, regardless of how they felt amongst each other. How they felt amongst each other was their obstacles to overcome, not mine.

    So what happened? My father and stepmother came to the wedding and were happily involved in everything from gown shopping to rehearsals to clean-up. My husband and I had the wedding we dreamed of: a celebration with all our beloved family and friends, and a weekend of memories to treasure dearly.

    My mother and my brother did not come to the wedding. I do not resent them for not coming, because I gave them that choice, but I do feel incredibly disappointed that they could not let go of their hatred, anger and resentment and move on. I had thought they were better than that, and I was wrong. It hurts to be wrong, but it’s a small hurt compared to the immense joy my husband and I get from remembering our wedding, and knowing how many, many other incredibly wonderful friends and family were there to express their love for us.

    • KEA1

      I am so sorry that you had to walk that path, but I am so impressed at how you’ve come to terms with things and VERY glad that you were able to have a wedding day filled with the love you deserve! %)

  • Family Drama

    Ugh family… As I explained to my sister-in-law’s mother (yes, my brother’s wife’s mother), she and her husband had rated invitations to my wedding OVER some of my blood family members. After all, I see them and like them (and my SIL’s father and his wife) more than my mother’s side of the family!

    As it stands, my aunt and uncle, whom my mother has a very strained relationship with and I have none to speak of but for the coincidence of birth, will be invited, as will her oldest daughter, but her ex-con, drug abusing youngest daughter and her husband will not be. Considering that said cousin got sent to jail, released, married and had a kid and no one even TOLD my family is enough reason to sever all ties. But I won’t. I can hope that they don’t come, though.

  • SMD

    “When you have this chat, she might make it all about loyalty.”


    My mother is doing this to me. She has more-or-less explicitly stated that her involvement in my wedding will be “minimal” if choose to invite a family friend who she despises. Backstory: The family friend is my mother’s former best friend with whom she had a major falling out. The problem is that I grew up calling this friend “aunt” and still feel close to her. She’s generally not a good person, though, and my mom has every right to dislike her. (However, it’s worth noting that I don’t dislike her — she never did anything to upset me personally, just my mother.)

    So, my choices are (1) to invite the family friend/aunt anyway, and royally piss off my mom (who can hold a grudge like no one’s business), or (2) to NOT invite the family friend/aunt, forcing me to have an awkward and upsetting conversation with her about it. My biggest concern is that I know I will hurt her feelings. (To be honest, her absence on my wedding day wouldn’t be the end of the world for me, emotionally. It’s just that I know this will upset her.)

    The fact that she isn’t technically family makes it more difficult to justify her inclusion, particularly against my mother’s wishes. What’s the right thing to do? :(

  • anon

    I want to offer my sympathy on this one and maybe disagree respectfully with some of the opinions expressed so far. For me, my wedding was the one time in my life where I wanted to pretend I had a big, happy family. My sister didn’t come to my wedding and it was humiliating. My husband looks back and remember our wedding fondly, but that’s because all his people came. I loved finally being married but our wedding was very painful for me. So when DRAMA says she wants there to be one day where she can just feel that her family is normal, I say why the hell shouldn’t that be okay on your wedding day? Maybe it won’t happen but wanting it to be a certain way is totally normal and a valid feeling to have. Wanting your community freaking there when you say I do is a reoccurring theme at APW. I also think it can be naive to assume that there isn’t a bit of pretense happening between relatives who may be meeting for the first time. Again, ideally all these people would know each other and have a lifelong history but in reality your Aunt may be meeting the groom for the first time.
    Also, in a perfect world, you would be able to stand up for yourself, pay for your own wedding, get the people in your life to stop acting like asshats. etc, but we all know it doesn’t usually play out like that. Everyone seems so quick to say “just pay for your own wedding” but what if she can’t? It’s not always that simple and I dare say, in some cases, it’s not always plausible. And, let’s talk ugly truths for a minute: some people want the exact wedding the WIC says you should have. There are some families where “keeping up with the Joneses’ is very important as well. Not everyone wants a backyard wedding or champagne and cake reception and so they let their parent’s foot the bill. You’re saying they should then compound matters by being rude to the people with the check book? I don’t get that. For the record, I paid for my own wedding but if my parent’s had been generous, I would have taken their wishes into consideration and this would be a hard decision.

  • Laura

    We made the choice not to invite certain family members, but the decision-making process is painful no matter what the outcome. Despite my now-husband being a reader in his cousin’s wedding just a few months prior, we decided not to invite that family (aunt, uncle, and three cousins) to our wedding. Sometimes, family members do unforgivable things (in this case, that would include embezzlement from a family business, lies, deceit, etc.).

    For us, it simply came down to the following question: When looking out at the people gathered to celebrate our wedding, will it bring me joy to see those faces or will it cause anxiety/stress/unhappiness? My husband was adamant that those family members not be invited after the way they had treated himself and his parents. After a lot of back-and-forth, my FIL agreed not to invite them (it’s his brother’s family).

    The one thing I would ask your mom to consider is whether she wants to permanently cut them out of her life. When we made the decision not to invite my husband’s family members, we knew that it was for good. We haven’t spoken since. Not getting invited to a wedding often causes a life-changing rift in the relationship, and there’s no turning back. I would advise you to make sure your mom truly feels that such a drastic step is warranted.

    At the end of the day, it’s your wedding and your relationship with your relatives. If you don’t want to jeopardize that relationship, nobody can make you.

    • Karen

      Excellent question: “When looking out at the people gathered to celebrate our wedding, will it bring me joy to see those faces or will it cause anxiety/stress/unhappiness?” That’s what it comes down to for me as well. We don’t have an obligation to invite everyone, even if they are blood relatives.

  • Nora

    We’re dividing our ceremony from our reception for similar reasons. My family is large and generally harmonious, but my FH’s family is smaller and has a lot of drama. We decided to limit our ceremony to only immediate family and our best friends, and then having a big backyard pizza picnic the next day for all the extended family, family friends, old college buddies, etc.

    I’m sure we’ll still have some drama in between his immediate family members, but hopefully the small group will encourage them (via peer pressure) to be civil, because any childish shenanigans will be painfully obvious. I couldn’t care less if they spend all the reception sniping at each other and sulking… I’ll be happily eating pizza and playing bocce ball with my cousin’s kids and ignoring them :)

  • Anne B

    We haven’t told my granny that we are even getting married yet because of family issues. My dad’s brothers (and family members) have been estranged from our family (and each other mostly) for decades now. Out of an effort to mend fences my sister invited them all to her wedding. Only one uncle came, and he gave a very inappropriate speech (unasked) that upset my mom, and he went out of his way to make me feel uncomfortable. My cousins, who my sister had talked to on the phone around the time of sending out the invites at which point they said they would make it, didn’t RSVP either way and didn’t show up. One of the cousins, my family flew across the country just 2 years before to attend her wedding. Then we found out from my granny that they were not busy or anything, and that she visited them on her way home after the wedding. No cards sent or anything. The other uncle didn’t send a card either.

    My granny likes to pretend that everyone is happy and friendly and that the uncles behave appropriately – apparently a card was to expensive for the one uncle to send, even though the brothers had each just received large inheritance. We don’t want to tell her about the wedding and then have to tell her that none of the family will be invited to my wedding. I just can’t stand the thought of seeing them out there, and have to worry about how they have hurt my sister and my mom, and what my uncle might say that would ruin the day.

    It’s going to be a major family fight when we tell her, but what can you do. She lives in a delusion, and isn’t the nicest person ever.

  • I was concerned about this concept in a different way. My Grandpa on my Mom’s side is well, a king bull-shitter. We certainly don’t have a good relationship with him and haven’t seen him in several years. My Mom didn’t want to invite him. So we didn’t – under the caveat that if he were to contact me about the whole affair I would direct him to her for explanation.

    Well, we didn’t invite him and he never asked why. Which was pleasantly surprising. I know DRAMA wants to invite her contentious relative, but for anyone who doesn’t – sometimes the person you don’t invite understands, at their core, why you didn’t and won’t necessarily address it. My mom was more upset about not inviting her cousins because my Grandma hasn’t spoken to their mother (her sister) in over 5 years, but that was her fish to fry, not mine.

  • Jennie

    I`m glad I stumbled across this post today. I have a complicated family situation myself. I can see by all the responses to this post I`m not alone! lol. I honestly think their are very few families that don`t have some kind of drama. Although, some more so than others.

    My fiancé and I have just started planning our wedding and the first thing we did was come up with a guest list. I feel very lucky that my fiancé (groom) parents have offered to pay for the majority of our weddings costs. We are also paying for some things ourselves. My mother is not in a financial position to help us at all. Once we had the list we planned a trip to visit his parents (5 hr drive) to discuss it. My fiancé has a large family and I have a small one.

    The one thing I`ve kept in mind is the idea of compromise but only to a certain extent. My mom has one sibling that has two kids. I have no issues with my mom. I like my aunt, uncle, cousins, their spouses and kids. So, no problem there I invited everyone on that side. I know they won`t all come as they live in the USA (I live in Canada) and the trip involves flying.

    My father and are estranged and have not spoken in 15+ yrs. I do not want him at the wedding, period. I`m not budging on that one. The problem being that I have had some contact over the years with my Uncle (dad`s brother), his wife, and my 3 cousins. I considered not inviting them because in the past I have felt some pressure from them to contact my dad. Also, about 4 yrs ago I had a huge blowout with one of my cousins. We haven`t spoken since (her choice not mine). I`ve decided to invite them. Even though my Aunt and Uncle and I are not as close as we once were, their home was like a second home to me growing up. One of their daughters ( the cousin I had the blowout with) and I were almost like sisters when I was a kid. I felt I couldn`t invite my cousins brother and sister and not invite her. And at this point I`m not angry anymore about what happened between us – even if she is. Again, I don`t think they will all come as they live on the other side of the country. If they do that`s okay. I can be polite to those I don`t really want to really talk to. I figure I will be busy with all the other guests anyway. It might be weird for my mom to see them after 20 yrs (after my parents divorce) but there isn`t really any bad blood between them either. The fact that ALL my family members live outside or across the country, or out of town seems to be a big plus at this point (hee hee).

    We wanted a small wedding. 50 people max for two reasons: we both didn`t want to have a lot of people we didn`t know attend and to keep costs down. My fiancé and I live in a resort town where people often travel to have destination weddings. So we wanted to have the wedding where we live to take advantage of our unique situation, i.e. having a beautiful destination wedding without us having to go anywhere:) But one disadvantage is having a wedding where we live is it will be more expensive = smaller guest list.

    My future in-laws were fine with the guest list but my fiancés mom wanted to add a few people. Since they are paying for a large part of the wedding I was fine with that. But suddenly a `few people` turned into a lot more. We have to invite this person if we invite this person etc… I told her (politely) that I thought we were getting into `inviting a lot of people we don`t know territory`. She persisted. She understood what I was saying but what was she suppose to do as they have a large family? Note: She also told me that while they were happy to help with costs the wedding had to be a budget one and nothing too extravagant.

    At that point I asked my fiancé’s dad what he thought. Lucky for me he thought we should invite some of the extra people but not all. He told his wife that if anyone asked to tell them it was a small family wedding. Eventually she agreed. Our guest list is approx 55 to 60 guests. A bit bigger than we wanted. It was a compromise we felt we had make to keep the peace. But at the same time my fiancé and I still feel were staying true to what we want at our wedding. The only drama with my fiancés side of the family was his father said if we invited his sister and family he wasn`t coming. Since his dad is in poor health we decided not to invite her. Not that big of a deal since my fiancé isn`t close to her anyway.

    I don`t think it`s possible to make everyone completely happy.

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