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Ask Team Practical: Parents’ Blessing

I’m at a bit of an impasse before even beginning wedding planning! My problem is beyond that which should be solved in an internet forum and will likely require professional counsel. Nonetheless, I am sure we are not the only couple to experience not receiving a blessing in marriage from parents. This is the stuff of many novels and movies, where some cultural or religious difference or sexual preference leave parents with varying degrees of disapproval. Our disapproval seems to be on a rather extreme end of the spectrum. I am hoping for the everyone-ends-up-happy, love-conquers-all ending. In the meantime, however, my fiancé and I are struggling to figure out how to proceed forward with our desire to get married.

We’ve tried talking to my parents to resolve differences, which didn’t seem to budge. They didn’t formally say, “No, you shouldn’t get married.” It was more like “We think you should wait and consider things more.” All other family and friends are super excited for us, and we ourselves feel ready to take that step. So, we tried saying f*ck it, let’s go forward anyway (we formally got engaged), which has resulted in a wider, more treacherous river to cross if we want to have a good relationship with my parents. We’d both really love to have my parents’ acceptance and blessing in marriage and want to stay close to them. I’m afraid that getting married without my parents blessing would leave me unhappy and start our marriage out on the wrong foot. Do you have any advice in this predicament?

Troubled Child, But Y?

Dear TCBY,

Don’t fret about starting your marriage on the wrong foot. Your marriage is what happens between the two of you—not what outside forces are attacking (unless you let them get in between you, which we’ll address in a sec). By getting married, you’re building a team of two, and your parents (poor dears) are outside of that team.

So, how do you protect your marriage from those outside forces—which aren’t always frienemies like parents, but also can range from evil finances to villainous legal issues to just plain old stress at work? Talk about stuff. That’s a big one. But also, don’t confuse outside turmoil with issues between the two of you. Put another way, don’t take what your parents are saying out on each other. Make sure your partner knows that these feelings your parents are vocalizing aren’t reflective of your own. And make sure that you, yourself, understand that it’s not your partner’s fault if your parents are acting like jerks. You guys are on the same team, handling this other stuff together.

But I’m jumping ahead of myself. Let’s talk about your parents. In fact, let’s visit things from their perspective.

Now that you’re grown, you’ve gotta realize that some of your decisions are going to seem “thoughtless” and “reckless” to your parents, who are no longer specifically privy to every thought process. I mean, assume you’ve told someone what you thought, and they nodded right along, and then you turn around to find they did exactly what you said wasn’t a good idea. I’d feel sort of like my opinion wasn’t heard and didn’t matter. So, give that sit-down chat another try. This time, instead of focusing on trying to find a compromise, just explain what you’re doing and hear their concerns. Sometimes it’s helpful to just know that your thoughts have been heard and considered, even if someone makes a different decision in the end. There’s a vast difference between valuing an opinion and agreeing with it, and right now maybe you should make sure your parents know their thoughts are valued. I mean, they said, “Wait and consider things more.” Just let them know that you’ve heard them and considered things.

The other reason this chat would be good? Your parents stinking love you, I’m sure of it. And after all that time of raising you, they probably have a pretty good understanding of who you are, and might have an inside track on your relationship that the cheerleaders around you don’t. Beyond all that, they’re older and experienced and smart. They really, actually might have a thing or two of value to say. I’d really encourage you to hear them out, consider what they’re saying, and dig down to figure out if there’s any wisdom or merit that you’ve overlooked while you were wrapped up in all the squishy love feelings.

But there’s also a good chance that their disdain is coming from a place of impracticality. Our parents, those sweet old folks, they sometimes have such rigid and unrealistic expectations for us kids. They could be getting hung up on some long held dream of, “But I always thought she’d marry a doctor, ” or, “Uggggh, but he has tattoos and holes in his ears…” (that last one might be rooted in my own experience, possibly). You don’t really know if their thoughts are valid or not until you hear them. And the difference between, “He’s incarcerated for embezzlement,” and “Well, his laugh is sort of weird,” can be pretty important.

Eventually, at some point in your life, your parents are going to disagree with your decisions. And sometimes, because they’ve gotten so used to being able to tell you what to do, they forget that they don’t have that right any more. Sure, we always hope that when they disagree with us, it’s about something not quite so big. But what I’m saying is that even if you avoid upsetting them in this instance (skip the marriage or hold off for a few years, or whatever the case may be), that doesn’t mean that there won’t come another point in time where they hate your decisions and it causes a rift. So, if you hear their thoughts and decide they’re invalid, let yourself off the hook for making a stink in the family. This is just the beginning. Oh, stinks will be made.

You can’t control how they behave. If they’re willing to use this decision as an excuse to go without talking to you, for example, or for skipping the wedding or whatever—well, like I said above, it’s worth really digging into “why.” Parents are usually pretty reluctant to do that sort of thing. But after that, you can’t be concerned that their behavior is your fault, or a result of something you did. Just like you’re an adult making your own decisions now, they’re adults choosing how they act, too. The ugly truth is, that doesn’t mean it won’t hurt, but it might help absolve some misplaced guilt.

*****

Team Practical, have you had to handle folks who didn’t approve of your marriage? What do you do when facing disagreement over such a big decision, with people so important to you?

Photo by Jesse Holland Photography.

If you would like to ask Team Practical a question please don’t be shy! You can email Liz at: askteampractical [at] apracticalwedding [dot] com. If you would prefer to not be named, anonymous questions are also accepted. Though it really makes our day when you come up with a clever sign-off!

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