Interns Return: Zen, On Traditional Parents

My parents aren't coming to the wedding...because of paperless invitations?

Should I take my family's wedding wishes into account? | A Practical Wedding (1)

Q: Dear APW,

I am trying to have a non-traditional, authentic wedding that represents what me and my fiancé value. This includes paperless invitations, the writing of our own ceremony and vows, and the elimination of certain traditional things (bridesmaids/groomsmen, wedding cake, white wedding dress, etc.).

My Filipino parents, however, come from a very traditional Catholic background and are appalled that we are deviating from the norms. When they found out that I was doing electronic invitations for some of our guests, they informed me that I was selfish, not thinking about anyone else, and that they no longer wanted to attend our wedding. I am heartbroken that a seemingly trivial thing (the format of invitations) has caused my parents to decline my wedding invitation. Furthermore, the invitation issue should be the LEAST of their concerns… there are far less traditional aspects of our wedding than that.

My question is: am I truly being selfish? To what extent do I have to take other family member’s wishes into account when their values are totally different from mine?

Yours truly,

A: Dear Jennifer,

No, you are not being selfish. You only have to take family members’ wishes into account to the extent that you want to, and are comfortable doing it.

You and your parents can have totally legitimate values that nonetheless clash. That doesn’t make you a bad person, or inconsiderate, or any of the mean things your parents said. Your parents’ views on invitations are neither right nor wrong, but the way they are acting about them—by threatening you with non-attendance at your wedding—is unreasonable and unkind.

That said, at the moment it looks like you may either have to compromise on this point, or accept that your parents may not come to your wedding. I don’t know the situation, you, or your parents well enough to know what the most desirable outcome would be—short of their changing their minds and being totally fine with paperless invitations and all the other cool stuff you’ve planned, which is probably not going to happen.

But here are some questions that might help you decide what the most desirable outcome would be for you, and some suggestions for how you can get there.

What’s It All About Anyway?

Why is having paperless invitations for some of your guests important to you? How does it represent your values? I am not asking this as a way of suggesting that you ditch them, but because once you’ve articulated your values—and how paperless invitations tie into those—you’ll have a clearer idea of whether this is something you want to stand your ground on, and how to defend it.

Put it another way—what values do you want your wedding to embody? What are the values that are at conflict here between you and your parents?

To be honest, on pretty nearly every point relating to the wedding where I disagreed with my family that badly, I gave in. But that’s because (a) my parents were mostly cool and never threatened to boycott my wedding for any reason, and (b) from the outset I had decided that my wedding would be about family and tradition, so that made it pretty obvious which option to go for in any disagreement.

If the values in conflict here are economy/convenience/environmental-friendliness (you) vs. we are scared people will get mad at or judge us (parents), that’s something you can work through. If the values in conflict are economy/convenience/environmental-friendliness (you) vs. we want to control you and your wedding and this is only the beginning of many unreasonable demands (parents), that’s going to be more of a problem. Which brings us to the next question…

Put Yourself In Their Shoes

Why are your parents upset? You mention you are doing electronic invitations for only some of your guests—I assume these are guests for whom electronic invitations are convenient and appropriate. (I had friends who kept losing their invitation cards and texting me to check what the dates were. A Facebook event invite they could sync with their smartphone calendars would probably have been easier for them!) Do your parents not understand this? Are they worried your guests will be offended? Do they think paperless invitations will make them look cheap, or that their friends will judge them?

In the corner of Asia I come from, people have increasingly more control over their own weddings, but it’s still the case that if a wedding sucks everyone assumes it’s because the couple’s parents don’t know what they’re doing. No blame attaches to the couple—it’s basically the parents’ responsibility to get the etiquette right. Obviously that puts a lot of pressure on the parents! I don’t know if that’s what your parents are worried about, but it’s a possibility.

And while invitation format is a bad reason to tell your daughter you’re going to stand her up on her wedding day, it’s not necessarily trivial. Traditionally—and people still do this—the right way of inviting people to a wedding in my culture, and other Asian cultures, would be to actually visit them in person, and ask them to come. I know people whose relatives have been seriously offended at not receiving a visit, and threatened not to accept wedding invitations as a result.

These things do matter. It’s not about the format, but about the respect and consideration that is being signaled—and if you are not aware of the finer points of etiquette of a certain culture, you may not be aware of the signals you’re giving off. Maybe your parents are right in a way, and everyone they know would be offended and hurt by an electronic invitation. And while the people you are inviting will probably be fine with it, maybe your parents don’t get that.

Getting Down to brass tacks

You may want to sit your parents down and try to get them to give you concrete reasons why paperless invitations are so terrible. What are they actually worried about? It may take multiple conversations before you find out the real reason (it can be hard for parents to explain their reactions to their kids when there’s a cultural gap on top of the existing generation gap). But if you manage to get at a real reason, that may help you figure out a compromise, or a way of reassuring them.

Of course, this advice about talking and listening and reassuring and compromise will only really work if your parents are decent people who want to work this out. Maybe they are, and they only said they wouldn’t come to your wedding in a fit of temper, which will pass if they feel listened to and taken account of. But maybe they don’t actually want to work it out. Maybe they want you to knuckle under and they are willing to do whatever it takes, including emotional blackmail, to make you do it. Either way, you’ll want to set some boundaries with your parents over the wedding. Check out Captain Awkward for really useful, practical advice on boundary-setting. Her post about training her racist grandpa not to send her distressing emails is a classic example—while it’s a different situation, sometimes that is just how you have to deal with relatives who have fundamentally different values from you and insist on shouting about it.

If you can’t reach a compromise with your parents or resolve the disagreement some other way, be prepared for them to stick by what they have said and refuse to come. Let’s be clear here—if that is their decision, they will be JERKS. But that is on them. No matter what they say, it is not about you, and it is not your fault. They are the ones who decided not to attend the marriage of their daughter.

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  • Tristan Salazar

    I don’t wish to unduly complicate matters, but this may be something of an exploratory interference on their part. Even if they’re not doing it conciously. If you back down on this point, it might be that you’d back down further along the line. Just how non-traditional is this wedding? Only you know your parents, but you may find you need to stand your ground, if only to set an example, and then figure something else you might give way on (or invent something to give way on) so as to maintain the peace.

    Oh dear, that all sounds a tad Machievellian, doesn’t it?

    • Laura C

      Machiavellian maybe, but quite possibly accurate. Obviously she should do her best to talk it through with them and figure out what’s going on, but “give an inch and they’ll take a mile” is a saying for a reason. It’s not always true, but sometimes it is, and figuring out if that’s going to be the case is important. And, honestly, if that’s going to be the case, if you’re going to be fighting every single thing all the way through, you want to know so you have an approach from the beginning. Am I going to gut it out, battle by battle? Am I going to just give in on a lot and would it be easier to do so all at once now? Should I just not tell them anything about what’s going on and let the wedding be basically a surprise for them, rely on the fact that it’s my wedding to overcome, in the moment, the stuff they don’t like?

    • Alyssa M

      It seems a bit far to say they won’t attend on an “exploratory interference” though, doesn’t it? I’m lucky enough to come from a family that is very direct, so maybe I just don’t get these kinds of battles, but since THIS is the issue they’ve chosen to take this stand on, wouldn’t it be best to compromise on this specific issue?

      • C

        Perhaps I’m speaking out of turn, but as someone from an Asian background: this type of extreme threat from my mother occurs on a regular basis. (I’ve been disowned more times than I can count.) I do not think this is an issue worth compromising on.

        • Christina

          I’m not Asian. But my husband is, and we recently got married. It was an uphill climb, and there were multiple issues on which she threatened to not attend, completely disregarded everything we said, or erupted into a verbal slaying the likes of which I have never seen. It’s always VERY all or nothing with my mother-in-law, and she frequently results to extreme threats or verbal mud-slinging. I find it all very hurtful and unnecessary, but my husband grew up with it and it was hard for him to see my perspective on her behavior and to help set boundaries with her.

    • TeaforTwo

      I’m all, one hundred percent, for setting boundaries and not backing down, but I think it’s important to do it only on the things that are actually important. You’re right that what happens here may set a precedent, but it may be the precedent of “we won’t be bullied” and it may also be the precedent of shutting parents out of something entirely. One is better than the other.

      I will offer this perspective:

      My mother died when I was young, and my dad is a lovely man who was overjoyed that I was getting married, gave us some very generous financial support, wrote a lovely speech and otherwise had very little to say about wedding planning, other than the occasional “I wish your mother were here to be more involved…I’m sorry that I don’t know anything about wedding planning.”

      In many ways we’re lucky to have avoided battles I read about here on everything from invitations to centrepieces, none of which he cared about one whit. BUT. The end result of that was that in many ways I felt like I was hosting the party, and hosting a party is a very different job from getting married, which takes up a lot of emotional bandwidth on its own. Weddings are an etiquette minefield, and although I loved my wedding, I did do a lot of worrying about whether people were having enough fun, were miffed that we didn’t have a receiving line, felt welcomed enough, etc etc etc. I would have LOVED to abdicate that responsibility to my parents. So when Zen says that in her culture, blame attaches to the parents for wedding faux pas…that sounds kind of great to me.

  • TeaforTwo

    This has nothing to do with boundaries, but I just want to say that inviting people to your wedding with an in-person visit is SUCH a great tradition. One of the things that I still feel the most ripped off about on my wedding day was that after the effort that people had made to come and celebrate with us (even those who lived nearby had to contend with a massive blizzard!), we hardly got to see them at all. There were a couple of folks on my husband’s side whom I had never met, and didn’t even get to meet at the wedding, and vice versa. They were mostly friends of our parents, but it would have been so nice to have a cup of tea with my mom’s friends and introduce them to my husband a few months before the wedding.

    • Gina

      Oh gosh. Yes. I had so much post-wedding angst over not being able to meet everyone on my husband’s side, and not being able to spend sufficient time with everyone on my side. I felt horribly guilty that people had made such a huge effort to be there, and I hadn’t adequately recognized their presence.

      There are no do-overs, and everyone scatters the day after, but I’m still having a hard time coming to terms with this. The only uneasy conclusion I’ve reached is resolving to keep in touch with and visit those people in the months after the wedding.

  • Anon

    The response has lots of good points about the cultural context of the invitations, and that may indeed be a very important thing in this situation. Were such a situation occurring in my (American, very Catholic) family, however, the real issue would be about marriage outside of the Church in a self-written ceremony, and the invitations might just be the illogical straw that broke the camel’s back.

  • Violet

    Oh, Jennifer, this sounds so tough. Hugs!

    I wonder about a few things. One is that you say you’re “trying to have” a wedding that suits you and your fiancé. I was curious about the choice of wording, and if it implies any underlying feelings of either a. being open to compromise and discussion and/or b. fear that your parents will get their way regardless of what you want. Are you and your fiancé truly decided and the task is now to either convince your parents or accept they won’t come? Or are you guys open to changing positions? Either way, it might be helpful to your parents if this were clear.

    I also am wondering if they know the extent of the non-traditional things by now, and are only harboring feelings this strong towards invitations, or if the invitations are simply the first thing to come up on their radar. The first one (to me, at least) would imply that they’re trying to be accommodating and in return they just want this One Thing. The second one would imply that a general discussion regarding the wedding overall would need to happen, as they’re only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

    This is so hard because especially with religion, there often is no compromise. I can imagine for some Catholic families, if a wedding doesn’t happen in the Catholic Church, the ensuing marriage simply does not exist. If this is the case with your folks, it’s going to be challenging, and having more time rather than less to process might be helpful.

  • js

    My sister didn’t come to my wedding, she bailed two weeks before. I don’t think I’ll ever get over it. I have so much empathy for this situation. It’s heartbreaking when family disappoints you like this.

  • AG

    My mom gives a great piece of advice when I’m in a tough situation: Think about what you want the end result to be. It seems obvious enough, but sometimes thinking about the “what” over the “how” or “why” can really help simplify things. If, at the end of the day, you want to feel like you’ve done all you can to reach out to your parents, then maybe some compromise is in order.

    Early on in our wedding planning, my MIL added a ton of people to our guest list without asking, and then refused to remove anyone from the list, saying she’d already told them they were invited. I was pissed. I was mad that she didn’t respect us enough to ask, I felt manipulated, and she had violated one of the things B and I had agreed on – that we didn’t want people we didn’t know at our wedding. In the end, I agreed to invite them. Not because I was OK with how she went about it, but because I felt that friends are important at a wedding, and if her friends are that important to her they can come. A few months later, she tried to plan some decor things that I’d already said I didn’t want. In that case, I put my foot down. I didn’t feel like my decor choices would keep her from enjoying the wedding, and I wanted to both stand up for myself and create a style that feels like me and my fiance. Granted, at no point has my MIL threatened to miss the wedding, so your situation seems a lot stickier (and more heartbreaking), but it is good to keep in mind that you can compromise on some points while sticking to your guns on others.

    • Eh

      I totally agree with this: “If, at the end of the day, you want to feel like you’ve done all you can to reach out to your parents, then maybe some compromise is in order. ”
      We had issues with my BIL/Best Man and his family. My husband and I decided that we wanted them at the wedding and we wanted my BIL to be Best Man (he asked that he be fired as Best Man). We worked towards that goal. In the end it didn’t work out (he came to the ceremony but didn’t do any Best man duties or attend the reception) the way we wanted but we know that we did what we could (short of kidnapping them and forcing them to talk things out with us).

    • Lindsay Rae

      My MIL did the exact same thing at our engagement party.. even down to the “well I already texted them to save the date…” We were upset, but like you, came to terms with it. When we were dealing with the wedding guest list, we made everyone agree not to talk to anyone we are potentially inviting until it was decided and the invitations sent. In the end our guest list is still higher than we would have wanted, but we have come to terms with that too… thinking it’s better to compromise and have everyone happy than to stand our ground and have a smaller guest list by 20-25 people.

  • AMS

    This sounds so very much like my parents’ reaction to our wedding. We were engaged for almost three years, which allowed for plenty of time for conflict between our wishes and their expectations. I was also raised in a very Catholic family, and when I broached the topic of a destination outdoor wedding in the mountains with my parents my mother stated that “it’s not a marriage if it doesn’t begin before God and a congregation.” It felt like it took most of the three years to convince her that as someone who hasn’t practiced Catholicism in over ten years marrying a man who has never been religious, getting married in the mountains (where we both are at peace and our best selves) with 50 of our closest friends and family WAS getting married before God and a congregation. We compromised in ways that still felt true to us. We had readings, but they were secular (an excerpt from a Vinyl Cafe story). We asked the gathered community for a blessing, but in a non-God-heavy way. And both my parents walked me down the aisle.
    My mom, in particular, also had concerns about other aspects of the day. We weren’t having a wedding party, just a friend standing up for each of us? And no specific colour scheme? I wanted to do my own flowers?? We wanted cupcakes instead of a wedding cake? In the end, we compromised over things that weren’t as important to us (my mom had mostly free-reign over the decorations for the reception, and made boutonnières for my husband, his “best man” and the families). We stuck to our desires for things that were important, like the ceremony and the location. And the rest of it? Well, there was a bit of conflict in the days leading up to the wedding, and day-of as well, but our wedding turned out great. And we didn’t tell my mom that I went rock climbing in my dress until a couple of days later when we could show her the pictures…good thing too!

    • tashamoes

      A Vinyl Cafe story? That is so neat. Which one did you use?

      • artfulword

        I’m also interested in which Vinyl Cafe story!

      • AMS

        From the story “Holland”…
        “On the plane, Dave carried the toy in his lap. He was being so careful not to knock it as he stood up to leave that he snagged the sweater Morley had knitted him on the side of his seat. He had taken four or five steps before he realized what had happened. The sweater had begun to unravel behind him. There was a strand of blue wool hanging from his waist that almost reached the floor. When he caught up to Morley he was clutching the wooden toy and the line of wool was dangling behind him like a tail. He didn’t know what to say, so he didn’t say anything. He thrust the toy into her arms and turned around. They both stood in the middle of the walkway staring at the sweater. The man behind them said “excuse me,” and people started to push past them. Morley reached down and gathered up the line of wool. They started to walk through the airport-Dave a step ahead of Morley like a kid on a line. They walked that way to the luggage carousel and out to the taxis. And they still walk like that today – attached, drifting apart sometimes, but never so far apart that one can’t reel the other back.”

    • Sara G.

      Love this! We are getting married in the mountains too. Which is so appropriate for us since we love hiking and camping, and we live in Washington so it would be almost a crime not to get married outdoors in the summer. :P
      P.S. I would love to see your rock climbing pictures… I’m trying to convince my fiance that we should hike up the mountain behind our ceremony venue in our wedding clothes, but he’s very nervous about it.

      • AMS

        I don’t know what the protocol is for sharing, given that our photographer isn’t an APW sponsor or anything, but I’d be more than happy to link to her FB page or blog to show off the climbing photos. Anyone know the correct procedure?

  • Liz

    I don’t know your parents, so I can’t give you any certain advice, but when I was faced with similar demands I found that it’s best to stick to your guns on the things you KNOW you are right about, the ones that will have long term consequences, and give in on anything else that you can’t come to a reasonable compromise on. When you are planning your wedding things like invitation format seem really important to creating your perfect day, but when it’s all over the only thing that matters is the people that you spent the day with. You’re parents have spent your whole life raising you, caring for you and worrying about you. This day really is just as important to them as it is to you.

  • soothingoceansounds

    Welp, now that I know about Captain Awkward, my chances at productivity this afternoon have dipped considerably. Thanks for the link. Great advice!