Q: Dear Amy,
I’m in the early stages of planning our wedding and I come from a broken family.
My dad remarried; my mum had a same-sex relationship for thirteen years, which then ended very badly. For some time I didn’t keep in touch with my mum’s ex, who was a prominent part of my childhood and formative years. This was because Mum always said it was a betrayal of some kind to her. Bear in mind the ex has not stopped her daughter from staying in touch with my mum.
Now I am back in touch with mum’s ex, who I still refer to as my step-mum. I really want her to be there, but my mum is the drama-llama incarnate and will kick up a huge stink. Mum has some diagnosed personality disorders, which cause her to see everyone as against her, have extremely disproportionate outbursts of anger to things, and struggle to see things from other perspectives.
I’m also concerned that my step-mum will say she’s fine to attend and seeing my mum won’t bother her, but when she finally does, she will have a panic attack as, according to her, she was abused in that relationship. She is not very good at poker face, and is a very emotional person in general.
I’m also concerned, given my troubled history with my mum, that I’m “acting out” by wanting to insist the step-mum attend. Like, I’m digging my heels in because it’s a chance to assert myself (not a common experience one gets to have with our mum).
Having said that, if not for my fear of Mum’s reaction, I’d have my step-mum there in a heartbeat. I just keep going around in circles on this one when I’m normally pretty resolute, and if I do invite the step-mum, I’d need to give Mum a year’s warning, so I want to sort this out sooner rather than later.
Is this something I should compromise on for the sake of the peace, or do I have the right to invite my step-mum and tell my mother to just wear it?
—Too Many Mums
A: Dear Too Many Mums,
I’m going to answer your last question first: Yes. You absolutely have the right to invite your step-mum and tell your mum to deal with it. You can take the position that they are all adults and they are welcome to come and behave, not come, or come and misbehave and be asked to leave. But I don’t think it’s really the best thing for you to do.
Your mum sounds like an epic handful, and I’m sorry, and I’m sure this won’t be the only time it’s frustrating to be managing her feelings about your wedding. From your description it sounds like you’re pretty guaranteed to have some sort of dramatic fight about your wedding, but I don’t think it should be this one.
Step-mum seems like a reasonable person. And as a reasonable person who married someone with kids, got a divorce, and then those kids fell out of her life for a while because her divorce was, like many, a bit emotional—not being invited to your wedding won’t be a surprise. Sad, absolutely. But the kind of sad she probably saw coming. I think instead of setting yourself up for a year of stress, just be honest with her! “Step-mum, I love you and I’m so glad to have you back in my life. I would have loved to have you at my wedding, but I’m sure you understand that with Mum the way she is, that just isn’t possible. I’ll be thinking of you, and if you’re up for it, I’d love to take you out to celebrate just the two of us.” Honestly, if she reacts to that with aggressive drama, she’s not guilt-free in this situation.
As for Mum, I think you’re going to have lots and lots of opportunities to practice setting boundaries with her through your wedding planning. And the first one I’d do is establish that no, you do not need to give her a year’s notice of anything. In no way is that helping; it’s just giving her a year to make you feel bad about it. I encourage you to be vaguely pleasant about details. “But surely you’re having proteas and if you invite Auntie Yvonne she must sit at least fifty people away from me and if anyone dances the nutbush I am leaving.” “Not sure about those plans yet Mum, but I’m really looking forward to being married. Sorry, must run, I think that the cat’s gotten stuck in a tree again.”
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