How Can My Parents Ignore My Wedding?


AAPW: How can I tell them how much this hurts?

by Stephanie Kaloi

Q: I’m getting married to my partner of two years in five months. We’ve both come a very long way in coming out to our families (in my case it took multiple times), meeting each other’s relatives as partners (from two different countries), and just getting as close to a “normal happy engaged couple” as a we can. My partner’s family is extremely accepting of us and is excited and helpful about the wedding (which will take place in the city they live in). They’ve gone above and beyond to already make me feel like I’m part of their family.

My parents, even though they like my partner, come from a country where same sex marriage is unconstitutional and where most non-straight people I know are not out to their families. Let’s just say telling them I’m getting married to a woman was a very heavy conversation. I’m still not even out to most of my extended family, let alone gotten around to inviting them to the wedding. Still, I invited both my parents, promising to cover their flights and stay. All they need to do is show up and be nice.

While my father is down to coming to the civil ceremony (which will last fifteen minutes), he says he would rather not come to the party. His reasoning is that he’s not a fan of big gatherings of people, even though the wedding is relatively small: seventy-five guests. My mother, however, refuses to even travel to the country we’re getting married in. All this she has told my father, who relays the information. In conversations with me she hasn’t broached the subject, and she acts as if my prospective wedding doesn’t exist and everything is normal. I guess I should have been prepared to deal with such outcome of events from the get-go, and I am happy my father will attend at least part of the wedding. My sister will be a witness/maid of honor, so I won’t be completely without family members. I’m hurt, but I want to make sure this does not ruin my fiancée’s and my big day.

So do I insist my father try to attend at least part of the party? How do I deal with people’s expectations and avoid painful conversations with regard to my family’s absence at the wedding? My partner’s family is very much looking forward to meeting my parents, and I still haven’t had the heart to tell them this may not work out the way they’ve been expecting it. I will probably still plan for two extra seats at the party and two plane tickets, just in case, or is this just me being in denial and leading myself on? And finally, how do I communicate to my mother how painful her actions are to me and get to an emotionally okay place before the wedding?

—E

A: Dear e,

Holy wow, do I want to hug you right now.

But here’s the thing. You and I both know that though all the digital hugs in the world would be a nice thought, they aren’t going to do much for your current problem.

The way I see it, this is a two-fold situation. There are two major issues that need to be handled with swiftness and grace.

First (though not most importantly), you have the expectations of your wedding guests and your partner’s family. Obviously, all of these people are extremely happy for you and looking forward to meeting your folks. It makes sense that your future in-laws can’t wait to connect with your parents, and I can only barely begin to understand the anguish that you’re experiencing, knowing full well that this meeting will probably never happen. Having said that, I think it’s entirely possible that once you explain the situation to your fiancée’s parents, they’ll understand. It’s a shameful thing that in 2016 we still have families who opt for ripping themselves apart instead of accepting and loving their children in spite of/because of their sexual orientation, but that’s the case. While your fiancée’s parents might be let down and disappointed, something tells me that they may not be shocked. As for the rest of the wedding guests… ultimately, who cares? One of the best things you can keep in mind about any aspect of a wedding is that you don’t owe anyone a single piece of your emotional life. You can choose what you do and do not disclose, and an easy “She/They couldn’t make it” should suffice.

The second (and likely most important) issue is that of your relationship with your parents. It sounds to me that you think, or at least hope, that despite his reservations, your dad might be talked into attending the entire event. If you think he will, then I say go for it. Just open up, lay it out, and let him know what it would mean to you. Worst case, you’ll end up exactly where you are now. Best case, he comes. I spent some time trying to rationalize and empathize with your mom’s perspective and couldn’t, and I imagine that you have probably done the same. Of course, you know her far, far better than I do… which probably makes her lack of support unsurprising, but painful nonetheless.

The issue with your mom is tougher. Because, you know, parents are supposed to be able to support and love their children, and put their happiness ahead of their own issues. But we both know, that doesn’t always happen. So, if you haven’t already, I absolutely suggest finding a therapist in your area who specializes in adulthood familial problems. I say this because therapy sessions have been where I’ve gotten the best advice on how to deal with my own family-of-origin problems. While I love talking to my husband about problems and things that have hurt me, I think there’s something freeing in unloading everything onto someone you can leave. If therapy isn’t your thing, then that’s when I would suggest what you’ve likely already done: speaking for hours and hours with your fiancée, who can hopefully help you distill your feelings into something you can say to your mother. Because here’s the thing. Not coming to the wedding—in fact, flat out refusing to even talk about it—is a serious form of denial that doesn’t stop with the wedding day. Is your mom going to respect your new family (and possibly, kids), or does she plan to pretend they don’t exist, either? Your mother’s denial of your life is bigger than your wedding, and it’s worth bringing it up to her that if she denies your life now, she’s denying your life in the future, too. Chances are, it’s not going to change her position, but at least you won’t regret things left unsaid.

Since it sounds like you won’t feel good unless you know you’ve provided tickets and place settings, just in case, if you’re in a position to do so… go for it. I’m rooting for a magic, end-of-the-movie moment filled with hugs and happy tears, and I hope you get it (with or without your mom).

IF YOU WOULD LIKE TO ASK APW A QUESTION, PLEASE DON’T BE SHY! IF YOU WOULD PREFER NOT TO BE NAMED, ANONYMOUS QUESTIONS ARE ALSO ACCEPTED. (THOUGH IT REALLY MAKES OUR DAY WHEN YOU COME UP WITH A CLEVER SIGN-OFF!)

Stephanie Kaloi

Stephanie is a photographer, writer, and Ravenclaw living in California with her family. She is super into reading, road trips, and adopting animals on a whim. Forewarning: all correspondence will probably include a lot of punctuation and emoji (!!! ? ? ?).

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  • lady brett

    i don’t know if any of this will be helpful, but i’ll share a few things from our gay wedding (our immediate families are super supportive, which makes the whole thing a lot easier, so…).

    i didn’t invite one side of my extended family. i couldn’t handle the idea of coming out via wedding invite (and, more realistically, the possibility that my grandad/favorite person in the word wouldn’t be okay with it). cowardly on all counts, and i felt very guilty/weird about it for quite a while, but 5 years down the road (and my grandad having passed, and being out to the rest of that family) i’m pretty sure it was the right/best decision.

    the other 3/4 of our extended families were invited, but didn’t come due to the gay (mostly). and it has been interesting to see how people have and haven’t changed since then. one aunt i think actually regrets not coming. a grandmother simultaneously invalidates our marriage and started counting us both as family because of it (a lot of people did this to a smaller degree of hypocrisy, actually). but the most interesting (and sad) thing i’ve realized (since having kids) is that most of the folks who couldn’t bear the non-traditional-ness of our gay wedding can’t really support anything else about our lives either and for the same general reasons (which i mostly already knew, but is pretty awful to see with our kids being kind of only viewed as partial family – though i will say this is not everyone, and not done to a degree that the kids notice at the moment).

    and, for me, the fact that everyone who did come to our wedding was thrilled about it was better than having more family there. (i can for sure see how this would be a lot tougher with closer family though.)

    anyhow, good luck on having a lovely time however things work out.

    • toomanybooks

      How did the not-inviting-your-grandfather work out – did everyone keep the wedding and any queerness regardless of the wedding from him so that he just never knew? Was he your only surviving grandparent? Was he expecting to go to your wedding someday?

      I ask because I only have one grandparent left, my grandmother, and unless something has changed, nobody’s told her about my wedding next year. I’m wondering what would be more disappointing to her – finding out that her granddaughter is gay or missing her granddaughter’s wedding. She’s always said she wants to live to see my wedding, and I always wanted to get married fairly young, so our plans were pretty aligned until I realized that I wanted to marry a girl, and now I’m just not sure what to do. We don’t talk a lot and live in different areas of the country so I guess I’m wondering what would even be affected by telling her (on the chance that it doesn’t go well). I’m also worried about coming out to people via wedding invites.

      • another lady

        Maybe ask the family on that side how they think she will react and how to broach the subject if you do tell her. We only had 2 surviving grandparents around when we got married, and they were not able to make the trip or come to the wedding. We were able to show them a video and pictures next time we visited them. But, before my other grandmother passed, there were a lot of things in the family that people just didn’t tell her, and she was not really affected by it. For example, she never knew that I ‘lived in sin’ with my boyfriends at the time. The family decided that some things would be too hard for her to accept or would be too upsetting to her in her old age and ill condition, so we all just agreed to not tell her certain things. But, this may vary for your family or grandparent.

      • Eenie

        “so I guess I’m wondering what would even be affected by telling her” – Your opinion of her if she doesn’t support you or come to the wedding. That’s the real risk. Exactly what @ladybrett:disqus explained above.

      • lady brett

        yeah, the living in different parts of the country and only seeing them every few years was integral to that. so, the only folks who knew both my grandparents and my wedding/queerness were my folks, so there wasn’t much of a gossip chain to worry about. i did have the advantage of having always been the weirdest fucking weird person my poor grandparents (on that side) had ever met, so i don’t think there were a lot of expectations on their part (although there was definitely hope, lol).

        the last time i saw my grandad, we were standing around with family and he announced “well, i don’t guess i’m ever going to see *this one* get married!” i accidentally just said “i love you grandad!” really loud and gave him a big hug. so, that was a little awkward. and sometimes i worry about the relationship i might have missed out on had they been okay with it, but i still feel like the degree to which i couldn’t handle the rejection if they weren’t was larger, and i did the right thing to keep the relationship we had (if not the ideal thing).

        (this shit is so weird, because 98% of the time my queerness feels so irrelevant, and it is so strange to see the few ways in which it is *huge*)

      • spinning2heads

        Commenting even though this thread is old, which I don’t generally do, because likely this issue is still current for you @toomanybooks
        We opted to invite my grandmother. When I came out to her (shortly before the engagement) she said “It’s not too late to just tell everyone it was a phase.” When we announced the engagement she said “You can’t expect me to be happy for you.” But this story has a happy ending. Because after a few conversations with my dad (her son) and others, she gave us a lovely gift, came and danced at the wedding, and now is so proud of her great-grandchild. Never underestimate the human capacity for change.
        I’m not saying this will necessarily happen in your case, and I did lose other family members in the process, but I think it’s worth holding out the possibility of sharing your wedding with your grandmother like you planned as a kid.

    • E.

      The kids as only partial family really resonated with me, in my case it’s compounded by being stepfamily as well, but that really clarified my relationships with my stepmom’s (mom’s wife) family. I hope for everyone’s sake that that dynamic changes for your family because it is tough!

      I know this was totally not the point of your comment, but that just gave me so much clarity (and a few tears)

      • lady brett

        yeah, mostly the plan is: fuck it, we can find other people to be important to our kids. my honey had a really close-knit extended family so i think it’s a harder loss for her than for me, where that’s not really my “normal”.

  • brooksienne

    “Having said that, I think it’s entirely possible that once you explain the situation to your fiancée’s parents, they’ll understand.”

    Absolutely. Unless they’ve been living in some ultra-liberal utopia cave dwelling your partner’s parents will be old enough to remember when being gay was barely acceptable, if at all. Please don’t worry about disappointing them – YOU are NOT the one who is causing the disappointment.

    As to you parents – ouch. I am glad your father will at least attend the ceremony. If he really isn’t up to the reception, perhaps you can introduce him to your partner’s parents beforehand? Perhaps the rehearsal dinner? Or a simple lunch? I wouldn’t try to force him to do anything he doesn’t want, but definitely tell him how much it’d mean to you for him to attend the reception.

    For your mother, if it were me I’d write a letter. First, acknowledge how this must be a shock to her, and that your life is not what she imagined it’d be. Then explain as lovingly as possible about how much it hurts that she doesn’t acknowledge your relationship, and that it would mean a lot for her to do so. Unfortunately, it’s ultimately up to her.

    Finally, if you decide to find a therapist to help you deal with this, not only look for a therapist who understands family and LGBTQ issues, but if possible find a therapist who understands cross-cultural issues.

  • NK

    You may come to find that if your mother doesn’t attend, it doesn’t bother you as much as you expect (and that’s okay!). One of my parent’s didn’t come to my wedding, and surprisingly I found I had an attitude of “I don’t want people around that aren’t genuinely happy for me today.” In my case, I have a strong relationship with both of my parents, and found that following the wedding, this became a non-issue. We don’t discuss the parent’s non-attendance or direct recognition of our marriage, and in turn, my partner has become include and accepted as part of the family. In my case, I think my willingness to let it go and be at peace with it made a huge difference, and I was very fortunate in how it worked out. Hopefully, whatever the outcome, you are as well.

    • Helen

      Same experience here for my wife and me. We invited everyone from her very Christian family, but made it clear that their attendance would constitute an edorsement of our relationship. If they couldn’t do that, that was ok and we could all still be friends. Thankfully, her mum and a brother decided to come and we’re still very connected to the remaining family members who decided they couldn’t come. it hurt, but we didn’t want this moment in time to define our long term relationships.

      • Stella

        Wow, this is so gracious of you! I think I would struggle to react like that but I wish I would be able to!

        • Helen

          It’s my wife’s graciousness really. Also, we’re so conscious that understanding and acceptance is a journey. They knew very few (if any) gay people, not withstanding their religious perspective. Rather than run in yelling “I’M QUEER AND DEMAND ACCEPTANCE”, we sit quietly and authentically: “don’t mind us, we’re just over here being great people, and also super married to each other. No threat at all; let’s be friends”. Then hopefully they’ll begin to see gay people as another of those things that might actually have only been contextually problematic (or a translation error) (see: shellfish, getting remarried, stoning naughty children, mix-fibre cloth, shaving temples, touching women on their periods etc, etc)

    • Val

      Surprisingly, that’s how my day ended up shaping for me. I was all kinds of hurt about my parents not attending our wedding, even though I KNEW that was definitely not happening in my conservative Christian family. I mean, I also didn’t want people around who weren’t genuinely happy (or at least able to fake it, lol). But I was still very hurt about it. However, the day of? I was just full of my partner, and radiating from the love everyone was throwing right back at me, that I was more than totally okay with it. My parents and I are extremely close, so I would have loved for them to have wanted to attend my wedding, but their love of God is their life to live, and that’s okay with me.

    • Arie

      I’m really glad to read this. I have a similar attitude, which was “only supportive people at the wedding.” It’s important to us to keep it small, and I kept thinking: I could invite this family member who disapproves of my life and has not been supportive, OR I could invite a friend who has been awesomely supportive of me and my relationship. When faced with that decision over and over again, I kept picking my friends. I doubt I’ll regret it, but I’m still glad to see that the same kind of mantra worked for you.

  • Eenie

    If the fiancee’s family have been so supportive thus far, I bet they’ll be supportive no matter what happens with the LW’s own parents. It sounds like the LW needs them to stop expecting to meet her parents, so ask them for that! They probably think they’re being super welcoming inclusive in laws and have no idea that their comments are coming off as anything other than that. All the other guests don’t need to know the nitty gritty details of the situation of why some people didn’t show up, you have the built in excuse of travel if you want a white lie. Lean on the people that are showing up for you now, leave room for your parents to show up for you on the day, and lots and lots of internet hugs to you. I really hope your parents come through for you.

    • another lady

      I agree with Eenie about telling the in-laws about the situation with your parents and having an easy/simple/quick response for why your mom or dad or other family members are not there during the wedding festivities. Something that won’t make you upset or emotion would be best – even if it is a ‘white lie’. I have also found that people don’t usually ask about those who are not at a wedding, they just enjoy the people that are there celebrating with them. Also, I am straight, but do not have the best relationship with my parents. They actually told my in-laws, who were planning the rehearsal & dinner the night before, that they could not attend. They ultimately showed up for the actual events, but they have no interest in hanging out with my in-laws or other ‘new’ family members that are not my husband. If they happen to be at the same event, they will make small talk, but that’s about it. My in-laws are super nice and supportive and have great relationships with their other kid’s in-laws and extended families, so they don’t really ‘get’ why my parents are not interested in that. But, I have told them that my parents are not like that, and I sometimes pass on the offers to get together, but my parents have yet to reciprocate or take my in-laws up on the offers. I have told my in-laws from the time we were engaged that is just how my parents are, and they are not going to come to the BBQ or go out to lunch or xyz, but thanks for thinking of them and us. So, I think you can do the same with your future in-laws. The next time they bring it up, sit down with them and lay out how things are with your parents. “Thanks so much for the offer, and we/I am so glad that you guys are supportive and want to get to know my family. But, my parents are not supportive of my/our lifestyle and are probably not going to want to do xyz when/if they come to the wedding. Please don’t take this personally, but my dad is probably just going to come to the ceremony and that is all he is interested in doing. We are just so happy for the support and help from you guys!”

      • Marie

        I can second that people likely won’t ask a whole lot about people who don’t come. My husband’s father wasn’t at our wedding, and no one asked about it. His family basically knew why he wasn’t there and my family and out friends didn’t know if he existed or not and didn’t care much. My parents had a bit of an issue with him not being invited, so I agree that you have to tell immediate family what’s up, and it’s probably best to be prepared with what you’ll say, but it’s unlikely to be a big thing. That said, you know your people, so maybe it will.

  • Erica G

    Something similar to this (the mom thing) is happening to one of my friends who is getting married in October, I will definitely share this article with her!

  • Katie

    I think it’s so awesome that your dad is going to actually fly out to see you be married. He’s doing that even though his own life partner is totally against it. There must be quite a bit of tension around that decision! Can you imagine how your mom will actually feel if she ends up sitting in some far away country by herself while your dad participates in the ceremony that I’m sure they both wished for you? Not that that will make you feel better, it’s just needlessly sad. And, moms, man. Moms. Moms do such a number on us all. This is obviously much much worse than the ordinary APW mom issue, and my heart hurts for you. I hope that time heals her heart and teaches her acceptance.

    Maybe your dad is saying no to the party because he’s uncomfortable with the idea of attending without your mother. I’m not sure if there’s a language barrier or something like that also in the mix here, but if he only knows your sister and you, and the two of you are going to be busy, he might be worried about being on his own. Maybe let that part go for now, and ask him to come out a couple days early so you can arrange that in-law dinner, and maybe he can tag along with you or your sister and meet other guests as they arrive? You might find that he decides for himself he wants to go to the party after that.

    • another lady

      I agree about your dad being pretty … brave… for going against your mother and coming to the wedding (assuming they are still together). I would give him props for agreeing to attend and accept it for all he is willing to do. But, he might surprise you and decide to do some things once he is there and your mother is not pressuring him about certain things. I know that my dad is very different when my step-mom is not around and he is doing things with just his kids! But, don’t get your hopes up or push too much. Take when you can get on this one.

    • Elinor

      I just want to second this about how great it is that your Dad is going to attend. Even though I have a great relationship with my parents, I know for sure that my Dad wouldn’t attend something that my Mum was super against and vice versa (not that that’s necessarily right I know.. but still..)
      I also agree that maybe your Dad is just saying no to the party for all the reasons Katie suggested. Again.. my parents wouldn’t be used to attending things without each other. Likewise, people get very panicked at the thought of attending a party full of strangers where the only people they know will be really busy. And he could be worried that the first topic of small talk will be ‘so where is your wife?’ If you can abate his worries on these fronts, I bet he will be much more open to the idea of the party.

  • Rowany

    A friend of mine is in an interracial marriage, and her mom was definitely slower to accept the reality of their relationship than her father. Like the OP, it was less about the partner and more about what her friends and family thought about her. I wonder if there are any liberal-minded family friends or relatives OP could talk to who could “inception” the mom by talking about the wedding in a positive light.

  • Elinor

    My Mum gave me some great advice recently when I was stressing over people’s expectations and possible painful conversations at my upcoming wedding (regarding a totally different problem to the one the LW has) ‘everyone who will be at the wedding is on your team’. Aka. don’t worry about awkward conversations: no one will try to cause you hurt on the day, everyone there loves us, you don’t need to explain too much.. especially while you are standing in a wedding dress!
    Also, I think your relationship with your Mum will continue much the same after the wedding if you let it (good and bad). Weddings don’t need to be a hard stop / make-or-break moment for a relationship if you don’t want it to be. She might just take a few more years to come around or if you have children she might change her mind totally (happens all the time!!) or else if same-sex marriage becomes legal in your home country, she might change her mind (different generations have such fearful respect of the law sometimes).
    Best of luck with it all

  • EF

    Another note of support here. My parents didn’t come to my wedding. They didn’t send a card, they don’t speak of it. Whatever. (dynamics were more religious than gendered. they have NEVER been happy with how un-feminine I am, and sent me to a ‘therapist’ and camp to be a girl when I was very young. unsurprisingly, it didn’t stick, these days I identify as agender attracted to men. married a cis man.)

    But what I really want to say is, the day of the wedding will be fine. I was SO, SO worried someone would say something about my lack of family. But no one did, and it’s because I *did* have family there: my remaining foster dad was there, my best friend was there along with his father, friends from four different countries flew in. That’s family.
    But it’s easy to say that now. On the day, I was constantly close to tears (and also down with the flu, so) over what people would say. I actually gave the assignment of asking people to leave if they got snotty to a friend who works as a bouncer — and he did not need to use this power, but it was a big help to me that it was there at all. Other friends had other minor, extra-supportive roles — like if I was talking to inlaws for too long, a friend was watching to whisk me away (I knew it would be difficult to talk to partner’s family that day, too). so building in buffers was helpful.
    I did have a lot of hope that my awesome aunt, who attended, had brought a card from my parents or my siblings. I had hope they would send a gift, with regrets they couldn’t come. I wish I had not hoped for that, as it hurt so much to not be acknowledged.
    As for other logistics — we’re pretty introverted but had the same size wedding as you, I think the final tally was 74 or 72 guests. We walked into the ceremony together (which we got a lot of positive feedback for!). We didn’t have dancing (neither of us dance) so there was no question about the traditional dances with parents. And we mixed tables (as we are bi-national too) so people from different parts of the world sat with each other, so I think for the most part, those who weren’t necessarily ‘in the know’ simply didn’t notice I didn’t have parents there.

    But yeah. It will probably always sting a little. It gets better, though.