A Mother as the Bride

Today you’re in for a huge treat. To further our ongoing discussion of family in relationship to weddings, we have a post from a mother and daughter who got married within a year of each other. The first post is from Nena, talking about her engagement and wedding. Then this afternoon, we get a post from Erika, Nena’s daughter. (Erika just got married this weekend, so stay tuned for a wedding graduate post.) Hopefully, just like yesterday’s post, which made us think about our relationships with our fathers, today’s posts will help us unpack the often complicated relationships we have with our mothers. Plus, I hope it will make us each think about finding joy, even when we least expect it.

This past year, our family had two engagements and a wedding to celebrate.  Except that I, the mom, got engaged before the daughter, reversing the usual order of things. As a divorced mother of three daughters, the youngest of whom is a special needs child with a lot of challenges, I was entering the later phases of my life content but not thinking I would ever marry again. I had a job I loved with fantastic colleagues, owned my own home, had found help for the care my youngest daughter required and was watching my oldest two daughters blossom into wonderful, interesting, adventuresome young women. Then, the unexpected came along. One day, a colleague at work asked me if her uncle could email me. My immediate response was absolutely not. I was too afraid to open that door, much less walk through it. But I was also trying to confront my fears and looking ahead to the rest of my life, alone. So, after a week of really thinking about it, I went back to her and said yes. I figured I could block him if it turned out to be too weird. Well, you can probably guess the rest. The first email consisted of a charming story about his oldest daughter, and the thread grew from there. Funny, quick with a comeback, great vignettes, loving, family-oriented—his personality was all there. Then the inevitable question—can we talk? Talking led to meeting, meeting led to dating and dating led to living together. This was over a period of five years, during which our respective children approached the new relationship with varying degrees of emotion—from complete hostility to guarded acceptance.

We talked about marriage—he was gung ho, I was not. But it rarely got past the discussion stage. I was perfectly content to continue our relationship, with dual households, forever. But then gradually my thinking began changing. He was wonderful with all my daughters, especially the youngest one, and brought a joy and lightness to the family that had been missing for a long time. We started entertaining and laughed a lot when we were together, and my friends loved being with him. It felt good. Then over the course of the same five years, my oldest daughter met a man who would eventually become her fiancé, and my middle daughter began dating someone seriously. They both had a fear, borne of the divorce, of relationships not lasting, and there were many long discussions about the “there are no guarantees in love or life” issue. But they slowly took the plunge and committed to making their relationships work. My boyfriend and I continued to grow closer, living like a married couple, but not officially. We actually took the first steps in looking at wedding rings but I honestly thought nothing would change. Then Christmas Day, to my surprise and joy, in the middle of opening presents, he pulled a little black box from the tree, got down on one knee and asked me to marry him.

I looked at my daughters whose eyes beamed with happiness, asking them if it was okay. They said yes, then I said yes, and we all cried together before popping the champagne corks. (Unbeknownst to me, he had called them and asked their permission to marry me. That one thoughtful act almost meant more to me than the actual proposal because he knew that if the kids were not okay with our getting married, it wouldn’t work.) We were able to celebrate with a beautiful wedding with just our kids last Thanksgiving. An engagement and wedding down, an engagement to go.

Not too long after our wedding, I received a bouquet of flowers and an email from my eldest daughter’s boyfriend. I was puzzled. Unable to ask in person he sent me a video requesting permission to marry my daughter. As I watched it in my office (still not suspecting the content), tears of joy welled up in my eyes. My daughter’s engagement brought nothing but happiness. Her fiancé will be a loving, supporting spouse, and he will match her every step of the way. They are stronger together than they are apart and will have their bumps in the road as does every couple, but I have confidence in their ability to weather storms. They are getting married this month, just 8 days before our first anniversary.

What I didn’t realize was how much my engagement and marriage meant to my daughters in terms of recreating a family. As long as my now husband and I were just dating, the relationship had the same temporary sense that any relationship of that nature represents. With our wedding weekend, and the accompanying celebrations, we have become a new, enlarged family. Our children have a shared experience and will have more. And we, respecting their wishes by not rushing into marriage, have made the right decision for everyone. I don’t think children are ever “ready” to see their parents enter into a new relationship, but because we took our time and gave them their space, we feel like we made the right decision. We are proud of our children and love them all. And for us, life just keeps getting better.

Photos by: Nena’s Personal Collection

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  • Well good morning! What a delight.

    I normally cringe when hearing about asking permission to propose but him asking your daughters was clearly the exact right move. Loved hearing this perspective!

    • I like to think of it more as asking for their blessing. My fiance talked to my parents, but I think it was more of a statement (“I am going to propose to your daughter.”) than a question (“May I propose to your daughter?”). I thought that was a nice modern compromise to the traditional request.

      I agree that the “asking permission” in this case was adorable. He sounds like a very sweet and thoughtful husband and step-father. Congratulations to your whole family, Nena!

  • Alicia

    Wow, I was just thinking yesterday that there should be mother of the bride posts. This one takes that a step further. Very sweet.

  • My mother has been in relationship for about ten years now and even though it was a battle at first (all of us kids were in high school at the time and were angsty ill-behaved little brats about the relationship… in particular me), we’ve all grown to accept it…. to varying degrees, of course. But it seems like they’ve never gotten over our angsty teenage reactions a decade ago and they are so careful and cautious about bringing the two sides together. And I personally just wish they’d make it official… so we could just start acting more like family. Because after this long, we basically are anyhow but it’s like there’s a line drawn in the sand between the kids on both sides. And I’d love to erase that a bit.

    • mimi

      Could you send her this post as a nudge?

  • “What I didn’t realize was how much my engagement and marriage meant to my daughters in terms of recreating a family. As long as my now husband and I were just dating, the relationship had the same temporary sense that any relationship of that nature represents. With our wedding weekend, and the accompanying celebrations, we have become a new, enlarged family.”

    That’s the funny thing about marriage, I think — even though my husband and I had been together for seven years on our wedding day, the act of officially becoming a family in front of witnesses was extremely powerful. It’s just the two of us, but I can see how adding children into the mix would strengthen that feeling even more. It may be true that there are no guarantees in love, but developing such a strong foundation of support from friends and family is a good start.

  • Marguerite

    What a wonderful post! Thank you for sharing it with us. Congratulations to your new family!

  • I loved this! And I am incredibly respectful of both Nena and her husband’s approach to all the kids involved. My mom (who was divorced when I was 3 and never dated) met and married my stepfather within 6 months, during my senior year of high school. Needless to say, it didn’t go over well. Fourteen years later and we are all peaceful, but there were some major hurtful and angry bumps in the road that I sometimes wish we could have worked out before they got married, so that we could have all celebrated the marriage from the start. It sounds like this family did work through all those things, and I love that picture of such a gorgeous blended family. Congratulations to you, Nena!

  • saveroomforpi

    Congratulations and Happy Anniversary/Thanksgiving!

  • Karen

    This was a truly wonderful post, a great reminder of what marriage and weddings are about. It is incredible when you find someone who makes you believe in love again. Congratulations to you and your family.

  • Victwa

    Thanks for this post. I’m engaged to a man with two children from a former marriage, and I think there are many issues with creating a stepfamily that set a stepfamily marriage apart from a “traditional” marriage. (Although stats show that this may become the “norm” in future years…)

    I am happy that things worked out well for this family. I do wonder, however, (and I can see this being a completely unpopular question) when it becomes reasonable to move ahead despite the objections of the children involved? In my situation, the kids seem to be about as fine as could be expected with our situation. They are accepting of me and didn’t really bat an eye when their dad said we were engaged (well, the 5 year old wanted to know if he could wear his ninja costume to the wedding), but I know this isn’t everyone’s experience. As mentioned above, many kids resist their parents getting together with someone or marrying for years and years. I do think it’s sweet that the husband in this post asked her daughters if he could marry their mother, but what if they had said no? What if the mother was not content to continue their relationship in dual households forever, but the children were (and perhaps preferred it that way)? Should the mother then bend her wishes to her children’s?

    I absolutely get that stepfamilies are a complicated, messy, emotional minefield of feelings (trust me, I’m living it right now), and it’s so much more than just two people coming together who chose each other. It’s people coming together who DIDN’T choose each other, and that’s tricky. Very, very tricky, and the mush of feelings is different for everyone and has lots of ties to the previous relationships and families and how all those issues were (or weren’t) resolved. However, when does it become reasonable for a parent to not sacrifice their happiness for their children’s? Is there a reasonable point for a parent to say, “I love you dearly, children of mine, and I’m sorry you’re not on board with this. I’m interested in what it would take to help you accept this relationship, but ultimately, I choose this relationship because this human being makes me divinely happy and supports me in countless ways, and I want that in my life, and I want to commit to my relationship with this person publicly.”

    • I don’t think there’s any hard and fast rule for that line. I agree that we can’t always put the needs of our children before our own but only a mother can know what she thinks is the best timing to make that leap into putting herself first (especially since she’s the one who will deal with the fallout).

      I completely agree with your post, I just don’t think there IS an answer.

    • “It’s people coming together who DIDN’T choose each other, and that’s tricky.”

      I understand that it’s kind of heightened in a step-family situation, but this could be said about any marriage. My parents will be gaining a son-in-law that they didn’t choose and vice versa with his parents gaining a daughter-in-law. Fortunately both of our families are happy, but that’s not always the case. Actually, I would love to hear from any APWers who have been in that situation (having a parent who disapproved of or disliked their partner) and what they did about it.

    • cosmic

      Thank you for posting this. I am myself engaged to a really spectacular guy who comes with three teenagers. They are great kids, but you know…they’re not mine. It is really testing our relationship to the limit, since I feel like I am defenseless, not having any children of my own to feel like I have a “team”.

      We constantly go back and forth over when to go ahead with our wishes and when to consider the kids’ needs. There is no clear answer. I wish I knew myself what to do half the time. Or even all of the time.

      I have never felt as lonely as I do *sometimes* (NOT all of the time, we largely get on really well, but when it is tense, it is severe) in this family that we are trying to cobble together. I am grateful that the children have been as accepting of me as they have, and I in turn try and do my best to be accepting of them. But in the end, their dad is sometimes caught in the middle with only enough of him to go around, and as the adult I often find myself having to suck it up.

      It’s hard, really hard. I am glad to see such an inspirational story here on APW. Thank you for publishing it. In fact, I really wish there were more stepfamily sorts of topics, after all every single wife-to-be here could end up in this situation some day, you never know. If there are any other APW stepmonsters-in-the-making out there that are interested in clubbing together for support, I would very enthusiastically try and find a way to set something up. Because this wedding thing? That’s the easy bit. For proto-stepmums, sometimes we don’t think we’ll ever even see the aisle.

      • Victwa

        I’ve actually been doing some writing on this topic/my experience in the past few days, with the thought of sending it in for APW’s “wedding planning blogging until 2012-2013” person for this precise reason. I agree.

        I’m also totally down for the stepmonster-in-the-making group. (As an aside, have you read Wednesday Martin’s “Stepmonster?” SO. AWESOME. Really saved my sanity.) It absolutely feels lonely sometimes. Even when, as you say, the kids are great and overall accepting of you and your relationship with their father.

        • cosmic

          I thought the same thing about putting some scribblings together, but things are so unstable here lately in my humble abode (holiday negotiations, nuff said). You should definitely go for it. It is a voice that needs to be heard. I *never* imagined myself in this situation and yet here I am!

          Stepmonster is a GREAT book and it was the first one I read that REALLY made me feel like it wasn’t me taking the crazypills. I immediately handed it over to The Man as required reading so he could see where I was coming from when I had problems he couldn’t even nominally see, and I think it also helped him a lot to see that I really wasn’t making things up to cause drama.

          I will have a think about how to do this group thing. I thought about blogging about it, but airing my family woes online doesn’t appeal and it isn’t fair on the kids anyway. And I’d put my email address up here for you but I am scared of the spam monsters! Maybe something via facebook with APW’s help?

          • Victwa

            I would– I just don’t know how to make that happen…? Ha– it would probably help if I “liked” APW on facebook, for a start.

    • I don’t think there is a solid answer as Contessa says, and sometimes you may have to ignore the outcry from the family.

      An example: My mother and father divorced. My mother had met her soul mate, who also happened to be another another woman.

      I was 16. This was not what I had thought should happen. In fact, I have very clear (now embarrassing memories) of telling my mother that she should put our happiness above her own. “How could you do this to us?”

      What I learned from this experience (as an adult looking back) is that my mom had a right to be happy and that she hoped her happiness would lead to an even more loving family (it did with time). Had anybody asked me, I would have said no, but they would’ve needed to ignore me.

      I think that asking is a gesture of collaboration and respect for the family. My soon-to-be-husband asked both of my parents if he could marry me. Of course I was in charge of that decision, but my parents appreciated the collaborative effort and acknowledgment that we would be joining families.

    • charmcityvixen

      I am in the same situation — met an amazing man with two kids from a previous marriage. Although the kids like me (his daughter says that I’m her favorite! I think it’s because I paint her nails and color pictures with her though…), it’s still tricky navigating a situation like this.

      • This is Erika. The kids part was tricky. My mom and her man made is easy and casual for us…”oh x and y are stopping by tonight on their way to the airport, if you’re around.” something like that. It was never made to be a really big deal, which I totally appreciated. The thing that was different for us, than what I’m reading here, is that we are all adults, all around the same age, in our mid-20s. So there was no “whose house do we live in?” types of questions. Which made it a LOT easier for me. And now that they are married a relationship between all of us has NEVER been forced. We try to get together as one big family once a year and just enjoy each other. Because I was older I’ve also never felt like they were my step family….just new friends. And we’ve just been blessed with the fact that we all get along.

        I would say to all of these comments that THIS is the tough stuff. There is a 5 year old in all of us, no matter whether we are the mother, father or child. If we are the step parent, we want our teammate/husband/partner to be on OUR team and stand beside us and back us up. hmph! But if you are the child, you want to come first in your parents eyes, not second to this guy/lady that just walked in the door. I think TALKING here is key. Checking in with the kids, talking about everything with a family, setting some ground rules and not putting any pressure on anyone to get along. At some point 99% of us grow up and realize that if two people have a happy and healthy marriage, then we should get behind that.

        And as to what would have happened had I said no to my mom’s husband when he asked if he could marry her…..? I’d be lying if I said that before that moment came I thought of saying no, or at least the 5 year old did inside of me. But the happy, 20-something, mature woman in her own wonderful relationship knew this was right. And if your kid ever did say no? Well then weigh how important that is to you….sometimes I think its great to watch your parents have complete conviction in their decisions even if you have a hard time with it. You not wavering in deciding to go forward with your marriage sets a great example.

  • As the daughter of a parent who remarried with highschool-aged kids, I want to give props to you and your husband for taking such consideration of your children throughout this process. Trust that they love and accept your marriage (you’d know if they didn’t!), and appreciate that. Best wishes to your ever-growing family!

  • Sara C.

    First, Congratulations! Second, I feel like this one should have came with a tear warning! Though I am the type to normally get misty at one happy couple finding each other, here we have three :-). I am so glad you took a chance with your-now husband, and I love the proposal. My fiancee surprised me by also asking amid the Christmas presents and it was so thoughtful he’d already asked for everyone’s blessing – a very happy day!

    • Laurel

      I totally agree. A tear warning would have been a good thing!

  • I love this so much!

  • carrie

    I love this! This makes me so happy – congratulations to all of you!

  • I really loved reading this. I too had a tough time when my parents first started dating other people after their split (I am ashamed to admit I may have briefly acted like a teenager about it) but luckily I came around quickly enough to realize they had both found some lovely people. It gives me hope to read about what a wonderful new family you’ve created and how much happiness you’ve found. I can only hope my parents find the same.

    Thanks for writing this.

  • Kids just want to see their parents find happiness. I know that’s what I want for my own mom who is divorced. I don’t know if that will mean marraige for her or not, but after all the time she/we spent feeling sad over the divorce, happiness is worth a lot. Mazel tov to you, Nena, and thank you for sharing your story!*

  • When my mother chooses someone to spend the rest of her life with (she’s been divorced about 12 years now) I only hope that I can manage to be as gracious as your daughters were.

    I wish you all the world of happiness.

  • What an amazing post, thank you for sharing. And happy anniversary!

  • I just wanted to say thank you SO much for all of the love APW community. My mom and I are honored by all of the discussions and comments. Hope you all had wonderful Thanksgivings with your families….however you all get together and celebrate. Much love!

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