Q: I come from a very small family, and all of my grandparents have passed away. My mother is an only child, and my father does not speak to his sister (long-ago family issues). Basically, my parents have always taught me that if a family member is abusive or cruel to you, there is not an obligation to keep in touch. I have absorbed this over time, and I feel fairly confident that family is important, but there can be a time when you need to distance yourself from them—and that’s okay.
My parents are inviting four people to our wedding, and this was kind of what I expected. They don’t have a ton of close friends, and they really just wanted to focus on us. My fiancé and I also wanted a smaller wedding, so this worked well for us. My parents are contributing about half of the overall budget for the wedding, with my fiancé and I contributing about a quarter of the budget. His parents are contributing, as well.
When it came time to make the guest list, my fiancé’s parents sent him a list of about sixty people, marked as “likely to come,” “may come,” and “unlikely to come.” I didn’t know most of the people on the list, so I left it to him to respond. He cut a few people out, who had been outright mean to his family or who he genuinely disliked. But, he sent back about thirty people that we would like to invite, including close cousins, grand-uncles and aunts, and a few others.
His parents surprised us, in that they were furious. They said that we needed to invite everyone on the list, or immediate family only. I really wanted a compromise, but they said that it would upset too many people if only some cousins were invited and not every cousin. I am unfamiliar with this kind of family dynamic, so I kind of had to trust them on this one. With my parents footing the majority of the bill, I didn’t want to invite fifteen times as many people as they are only to please my future in-laws. At that point, we decided to just invite immediate family, and move on from there.
We then found out that his maternal grandfather had found out about the list, and his brother (to whom he was not speaking for about fifteen years) was not on the list. This grand-uncle, unfortunately, has also been quite racist and cruel to others in the past. My fiancé’s grandfather was so upset that he has been boycotting our wedding ever since. He only recently agreed to come, and that was after months of berating my future mother-in-law and attempting to tell other invited guests not to come.
The trouble is, my future mother-in-law keeps bringing up the guest list. She tends to be a bit passive aggressive, so she’ll say things like, “Well, it’s normally polite to invite people you don’t know.” I have mentioned several times that we gave them a compromise list, and we would like to invite more people, but they continue to refuse that option.
My main question is, how can we come to an agreement that doesn’t hurt anyone? I honestly just wanted a small wedding, and I’m pretty introverted, so having many people that I don’t know at the wedding makes me nervous. But, I want to start out on the right foot with my fiancé’s family and be as inclusive as possible. Thanks for any help you might have!
It’s easy to paint your mother-in-law as the bad guy here, but you’ve seen yourself that you aren’t the only folks impacted by your guest list choices. Ultimately, sure, who’s invited is up to you. But as just demonstrated, your in-laws will also hear about it, suffering repercussions for unpopular decisions. And chances are, your mother-in-law knew that. This stuff is all a matter of intricate family dynamics that have evolved over time.
You’re making choices about names listed on a page, faceless people you’ve never met. But there are actual people attached to those names, actual relationships and feelings behind that list. You admit yourself that the reason your side of the guest list is smaller is not just by choice or perspective, but because your family is smaller. Because your mom has no siblings, does that mean your in-laws are restricted from inviting theirs? Splitting guest lists evenly or based on contribution can be downright arbitrary when different folks simply have differently sized families (and man, it makes me sad that every guest list question is bound to mention the financial contributions). You’re definitely allowed to cut anyone who was abusive to you. But it gets a little blurrier, a little foggier when lines are drawn based on, “He was mean to me awhile back,” or “I’m inviting first cousins, but not that one who I don’t like as much.” Blurrier still when your rationale is, “Well, but my parents only got four invites.”
You’re certainly allowed a small wedding. I’m not suggesting that you need to cave to the entire list of sixty. But, I would encourage you to help your in-laws understand why a small wedding is important to you (or at least send your partner in there to let them know). Then try to make them feel heard. It sounds like you’ve tried to do some form of this, but just in case you haven’t, give mom-in-law an estimate you’d like to stick to, and ask her to help you whittle the list to something in that range. I understand her point that “some cousins but not all cousins” will hurt feelings. The “if you invite first cousins, you invite all first cousins” rule is really common in large families. But, maybe she has a better idea of where to draw lines (other than the knee-jerk, “invite everyone or no-one!” which I’m guessing she just spat out of surprise). If she continues to insist on all or nothing, at the very least you tried. And brace yourself, because even if everything goes smoothly and she finds a compromise, your mother-in-law very well may continue to make snide, passive aggressive comments about it. Passive aggression is inherent to some models of mother-in-law.
It’s easy to get frustrated that our parents take the guest list so personally. But that’s because it is personal to them. Their child’s wedding is personal to them, their families are personal to them, and the way their families celebrate large events is personal to them—and new to you. You can definitely stand your ground here, hold the line on that tiny wedding. But at the very least, do it with compassion, instead of resentment. With understanding that your mother-in-law is going to catch some flack, and these are people she knows and loves.