Surviving Wedding Planning: The Emotionally Absent Mother

Last year we ran a piece about The Motherless Bride, or how to get through wedding planning without your mom. The second we ran that it became really, really clear that we needed someone to step up and write about how to survive wedding planning with an emotionally absent mother, as that posed a huge set of totally different and equally painful problems. Well, it turns out that the woman willing to step up and be the brave face on this was Morgan, who has already written about getting married right after her father died. So, from a woman that deeply understands what it’s like to have a parent that has died, and a living parent who isn’t able to be emotionally present for you, here is a hand to hold to make it through.

Let me start off by saying that I love and admire my mother.  She’s run her own business from home for almost 20 years, and has bounced back from various failed side projects.  She worked and thrived in a male dominated environment for years.  She’s smart, capable and resilient.  She also makes me want to stab myself in the face after I spend a couple of hours with her.

She’s hypercritical, completely self-UNaware, insecure and condescending.  She is rude to me, my husband, and about everyone we know.  She still has the ability to make me feel terrible about myself or send me in to a rage with just a few choice words.  I’ve never really felt that my mother had my back.  Something pretty awful and messy happened to me growing up, and she always, always sided against me, in favour of “keeping the peace,” even after the police were involved.  I spent a year in therapy just dealing with that anger, and I think we can all agree that maybe a year wasn’t enough.

The wedding really brought everything to a head, of course.

When we announced our engagement, my mother looked at the ring for a long moment, and then offered wan congratulations.  My parents left shortly after.  She later told me that the large diamond looked grey under the light and she thought it wasn’t a real diamond and that’s why she wasn’t happy.  Yeah, right.  This is the woman who told me, when I explained that I was planning on ending a long term relationship, that I should stick with that guy, get married, have a couple of kids and that way when the (probably inevitable) divorce happened, at least I would have kids out of the deal. (While also managing to imply that if I didn’t marry him, I would never find anyone else, being all of 26 and homely, or whatever.)  My father told me that he’d been afraid for years that the guy would break my arm or worse, and that leaving was clearly the smart call.  He always was much more supportive of me.

I knew I could never go wedding dress shopping with my mother – my self-esteem could never handle the battering and her need for me to agree with her critical comments.  So I went dress shopping first with a friend, and then with my sister.  When I was down to two final choices (two almost identical dresses), we brought my mother to see. I felt that while we were never going to have a *moment* with the tears and the hugs, I at least wanted her to feel involved.  (Or at least not be able to insult my choice on the wedding day.)  So there I am, all dressed up, tiara and veil on, feeling pretty and bridal, waiting for some maternal approval.  My mother stares at me for a long time, and her only comment?  “Your elbows are too brown, you should moisturize more.” (This, from a woman who washes her face with ‘Head & Shoulders’ shampoo.)

The wedding itself wasn’t much easier.  She was four hours late for the hall set up and rehearsal, and she had half the stuff in her car, so we were stuck waiting.  Then she b*tched about how we were doing things.  Morning of, she got her hair done with us and then bailed on everything else to go have lunch with a cousin.  She wouldn’t give her speech, but that was almost okay, because we’d already figured out what we would do if she toasted my husband by my ex-boyfriend’s name, which was sadly a fairly real risk.

And now, 8 months later, she still brings up the wedding almost every time we talk, and complains about something we did, or insult-compliments something, or tells us she wants us to do it again so she can be more emotionally present this time.  Which at least suggests she knows she did something the wrong way, but still?  No.

I’m no expert on what you should do if you have an emotionally distant or toxic mother.  I just want to say that I’ve been there, and it sucks, and I’m sorry that you’re going through this.  I affirm you!  I do have a couple of suggestions though, mainly based on the ‘be smarter than me’ principle.

  • It’s okay to grieve. Having an emotionally absent parent, for whatever reason, is hard.  In some ways, it can be harder than having a dead parent, because then you can keep hoping for a change, and there’s always a chance for a new hurt.  Having one of each?  I wish neither on anyone.
  • If you know it’s not going to happen, don’t try to force the moment. I knew my mother would be mean when dress shopping, but in the desire to have a Hallmark moment, I asked her to come and got burned.  I knew it was coming, and asked her anyway.  Be smarter than me – don’t set yourself up for failure.
  • Protect your heart. I’m not saying you have to be totally closed off to your mother, but if you think nastiness is coming, prepare yourself.  Let your friends know and make them run interference.  Sneak a flask in your purse.  If you have a father willing to intervene, ask him to.  Make your bridesmaids snap you out of a negativity funk, if you find yourself sliding into one.  Don’t delegate tasks to her, if you think she’ll flake out.
  • No one can replace your mother – for better or worse, she’s your mom. But! People can replace her in tasks that “traditionally fall to the mother of the bride.”  I am lucky, and I have an amazing mother-in-law, who did things like organizing breakfast on the wedding day and talking me off (planning related) ledges and telling me I looked beautiful.  Maybe it’s a sister or a bridesmaid or a friend who keeps offering to help.  People will step up, if you allow/ask them.  Go wedding dress shopping with someone who will be honest but kind about dresses (or at least, make you try on absurd ones for the giggles), have your uncle give a toast, have your bridesmaid do up your dress, and so on.

I kept wishing for something to change.  Hell, I still do.  Maybe it will – maybe in 10 years I’ll look back and laugh.  I’m not going to give up hope, but I sure am pulling back further and further, to protect me, and my baby family.  And really, I think that’s about all you can do in these situations.

I’m not really sure how to end this, so I’ll give David the last word, because he is able to be far more objective about his mother-in-law than I am about my mother.  “Few people should just give up on their mother ENTIRELY either in every day life, or for the wedding.  In my opinion that would have only made things worse, and there would be no chance at salvaging a relationship afterward.  The sad part of a “distant” parent is that there is that hope that things will change, but without that hope (and the pain that goes with it) there really is no parent left.  One has to hold on, regardless…  Others I’m sure would say to run away, and let the relationship die, but I think those people have gone through different circumstances.  Your mother does love you.  She just has no idea how to show it or act on it – whatsoever.”

(Addendum:  It’s been several months since I wrote this, and there’s one thing I realize I didn’t stress enough here: boundaries.  Set them again and again and again.  Every time my mother brings up the wedding, I shut down the conversation.  Every time she starts commenting on my appearance in any way, I change the topic.  When she’s rude to my husband, I call her on it.  I’m also learning to make plans for side-by-side activities – no one can complain that much while watching a play, you know?   I’m not trying to close off my heart to her – just remove her ability to be a voice inside my head; in order to protect me, my husband, and my baby family.)

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  • Caroline

    I wish I had more time right now to fully share the whys of why I love this post. But I F*ing love it.

    It reminds me of the millions of times my mother has said to me “Your father cares about you, he just lacks the capacity to show this like a normal human.” Which is important to remember, but not as important as protecting yourself and your family.

  • Thank you!
    I planned to get married before and it all fell through mainly because we had no support. My Mum offered to buy my dress but would only start looking after I had lost a certain amount of weight. But my M-I-L to be was so ready to help. My big Sister was excited from the get go.

    This time round thanks to some eye opening from APW the wedding is on because we want a marriage it doesn’t matter about money and if other people wish to be included we’re happy for them to be, but the strange thing is that when I told my Mum yesterday she was so happy, she even said she was emotionally ready for this now (I have almost the same relationship with my Mum as Morgan on most days) I was completly shocked we have never been close. But this time M-I-L to be has stopped talking to me and walks out of the room when the wedding is mentioned. But my Sister is just as excited and willing to help.

    So I’m taking your advise my Sister knows my mum all to well so she will be my protection and go to lady.

    Thank for this amazingly well timed post.

  • A-L

    Even though your wedding has past, I just wanted to send lots of virtual hugs your way, for what you dealt with, and continue to deal with. Thanks for sharing.

  • Sarah M

    Wow. Great post– and thanks to Morgan for being willing to share (two) such a raw experience(s).

    I don’t have experience with an emotionally distant mother, but I think that Morgan raises a great point here: “The wedding really brought everything to a head, of course.” Spot on. I think it’s crucial to keep in mind that although your wedding is a life-altering day for you, it isn’t necessarily for other people. Meaning, people will act how they’ve always acted and you should try to keep that in mind– my MIL is not known for doing anything promptly, so I only asked her to do things as long as there was tons of time to get it done and I wouldn’t be too upset if they didn’t happen at all or not the way I wanted them. Morgan really said it when she said don’t set yourself up for failure. Do people change? Yes. Will they change because of your wedding? Probably not. Plan accordingly.

    • Mallory

      “Do people change? Yes. Will they change because of your wedding? Probably not. Plan accordingly.”

      Yes! These ideas and issues span way past just mothers. Siblings, best friends, grandparents… we can’t expect more from people just because it’s a big day for us. But from my experience so far, there are usually other people who are willing and would love to fill those voids in our planning process if you let them.

    • Absolutely. I’ve often thought about submitting a “Your Wedding is Not a Rom-Com” grad post with exactly these thoughts. My mom and stepfather weren’t invited to the wedding, and that was ok! With everyone! Because as much as we’d like to hope, or see in movies, weddings (to me anyway) don’t just magically make people and relationships A-OK again.

      • Denzi

        I would looooooooove that grad post, Mandy. So much. You should DO IT.

      • Jenny

        Wow Mandy – you summed up what I’ve been feeling. ‘The magical day’ doesn’t undo the hurt, or unlive the experiences with them. And if you think it will, you must know you are kidding yourself.

      • meg

        Do it. I want someone to write a “Your LIFE is not a Rom-Com” post as well.

  • This is an amzing post – I feel like you wrote it just for me, and on that note I’m now going to ramble on about my own parental situation for a moment.

    My dad doesn’t think we should have a wedding, just a quick dash to the register office (UK version of City Hall) and be done with it. We’re churchgoers and feel that we want to celebrate the change in our lives that the wedding will bring with a service and a reception.

    There’s no happy medium on this point. He just hates that we’re having a wedding in principle.

    My mother moved abroad about 10 years ago. The difficulty with that relationship is not worth elaborating on, but the other week I said something that I’m fairly sure will have done irreperable damage. Why did I do this? Because it’s my truth, which I genuinely felt I had held back for long enough. This came out of a conversation about me missing her (due to living abroad) during the wedding planning to which she said there’s something wrong with our relationship and she doesn’t want to be all buddy-buddy with me.

    We actually haven’t spoken since. I knew she thought that but it still hurt to hear.

    My fiancé is terrific through all of this. He’s been doing his best to help me stay calm and for us to move forward with the planning and the doing despite my parents’ disgust at our wedding plans.

    • Jenny

      Hang in there. My mother and I aren’t speaking either, by my choice to put up the boundry and stop listening to her manipulation.

      One day you may speak again, and that will be okay.
      And, you may not – and that will be okay, too.

      (At least this is what I tell myself on the hard days…)

      • meg

        Yes. I’ve seen some of this play out in my family and the not speaking was important, and it made the later-speaking work.

        • Class of 1980

          Because silence is LOUD.

    • sending you a big virtual hug. I’m way too far away for anything else.

      • Thank you Lois, and to all who replied to my rambly comment…

        It means so much. It’s like the gloomy underside of wedding planning. All the things that have been wrong are now thrown into sharp contrast.


  • Situations like this can be extremely rough so a huge thanks to Morgan for articulating it so well. Even though there’s no definitive way for everyone to deal with situations like this, those tips on how to deal with it are a huge help. Especially the last bit about boundaries. Coming from someone with an emotionally distant mother and mother-in-law, wedding planning can be a nightmare, but setting up boundaries that help to protect myself and my now-husband were essential to our survival. We realized eventually (much later than I would have liked) that we can’t change how other people behave, we could only alter how we reacted to their negativity. Once we stopped trying to satisfy our mothers who were never likely to be happy with our choices, the wedding became a whole lot less stressful. Like Morgan said, having great support all around you is the best way to cope with something like this and I don’t know what we would have done without our support system of friends, siblings, and grandparents.

  • Thanks, Morgan, for sharing. Lots to think about today, because I think this post applies to Life, and not just weddings.

    • I wholeheartedly agree—your story struck a chord with me, Morgan, and I’m years away from getting married.

      I’ve been going through some rough times with my emotionally distant father, and I can’t express how reassuring it is to read this post. Thanks so much for having the courage to write it.

  • I love that this post had an “I affirm you” in the middle of it!

    It’s also really interesting to hear your husband’s point of view, because throughout the whole thing I’d been trying to guess what his response was to all this, as his is a situation I can somewhat relate to. He sounds like a very wise man. (I’m working on upping the wisdom/maturity in my own relationship with my mother-in-law…)

    • Morgan

      He does a lot of eye rolling and rum drinking. When he has a few drinks, he gets really good at talking right over my mother, so I encourage it. Makes things easier…

      He is also a very patient and kind man. Which really is the key, I think. :)

      • meg

        Eye rolling and rum drinking is also key, if we’re being honest ;)

  • Trudi G

    Morgan, I felt like I was reading my own life story here. Thanks for sharing!

  • Zan

    This was a really wonderful post, you are clearly a sharp and insightful woman with a good sense of self (and humor!) to keep you afloat.

    So even though your mother sounds difficult (to say the least) she did something right, because look at you! You are clearly awesome.

    I affirm you too!

    Thanks for being brave and sharing Morgan.

    • Class of 1980

      Zan, that is a nice compliment, but I can’t help but think Morgan is awesome IN SPITE of her mother . . . which is even more admirable if you think about it.

  • Ali

    This post was very helpful for me, even though my situation is better described: Surviving Wedding Planning: The Emotionally & Verbally Abusive Father.

    Boundaries are very important!

  • Amy

    Thank you for being brave enough to write this post. Its amazing that no matter how well we know our parents we somehow magically think (or hope) a wedding will change things. My mother was very difficult while we were planning our wedding, and I pulled much the same dress strategy as you did. Granted, my mother did eventually concede that I looked pretty in my dress, but only after she realized I was not going to give in and buy the one she wanted.
    The support from other female friends/family members was key. I am forever grateful to my bridesmaids for running interference/getting me drunk when necessary/and always always letting me bitch about my mom. Sigh.

    • Amy, I think you bring up a really valid point here: your mother wants you to do what she wants.
      I think Meg wrote a post on shame, and how people-including our parents- do and say mean or sharp things to get us to do what they want, or make them feel better about themselves. It’s about them, not you.
      I love my mother, but the first thing she said about my wedding dress was that it was made of cheap lace.
      It stung, but the fact of the matter is she said it because she wanted me to wear her wedding dress, when I was choosing to wear my grandmother’s.
      It helps me to figure out why the mean thing was said, and bounce it right off so it reflects on them, instead of absorbing the negativity.

      • Amy

        @Brindey – I think you have a really good point – my mother wanted things the way she wanted them. The difficult part for me was realizing that she chose not to see how that impacted me and my fiance, or she simply didn’t care.
        I think it was also hard for me to wrap my head around having to bargain with my mother or flat out go around her in order to achieve aspects of the wedding that mattered to my fiance and I. It was very strange having to treat my grown mother like a cranky toddler who was having a meltdown i.e. – giving her reasonable limits, and consequences to behavior while taking her out of problematic situations. It worked well in the end, but honestly I still resent having to spend so much time and energy managing her.

      • ellobie

        WTG Brindey! You’ve actually gotten to the place all of us with stinky parents need to get to – the place where our parents can be the way they are without negatively impacting us. It is such a long, hard road (I’m still on it) but I have to believe I’ll get there eventually!

  • Emma

    What a mature, insightful and well-written post. This is a good read regardless of your parental situation, and I personally am astounded by Morgan’s ability to be so smart, rational and genuinely kind in her writing about something so upsetting. Bravo!

  • Cody

    Oh gosh, this post is really important. You know, luckily, I have supportive parents, and my husband has supportive parents, but we dealt with the surprising lack of support from our community of friends. I absolutely know that not having friends to support you is not the same as not having a mother to support you. But no matter who you have in your life that you expected to be your cheerleader and then so wasn’t, will be disappointing and you’ll probably need to follow Morgan’s advice for.

    • meg

      That’s actually a really important point, and one that I hadn’t really thought of. Effing unsupportive friends, GRRRR.

  • Thank you so much for writing this, Morgan. I know there are many people out there who deal with this sort of thing all the time, but it’s always a relief to be reminded that I’m not alone in the emotionally distant/toxic parent arena. Although your entire post was fantastic and true, the part I especially get is where you said, “I’m not going to give up hope, but I sure am pulling back further and further, to protect me, and my baby family. And really, I think that’s about all you can do in these situations.” I went through a period where I distanced myself from my emotionally challenged father, when his alcoholism was at it’s peak and he was just… toxic, in every sense of the word. I didn’t see him for over two years, and only spoke to him occasionally. It was a self preservation thing… I was too sad and too hurt to see/hear him in that state, and I couldn’t do anything to help or change him because he didn’t want to help or change himself. So I distanced, to protect myself, because bashing my head against that wall was never going to yield different results. And then, he died, six months before my wedding. And you know what I felt? Relief. I still do, that he’s finally at peace, and so are the rest of us. I know this is a bit different from your story, but parts are very similar, and I just wanted to say thanks for writing something so real this morning. I can definitely identify. Do what you’ve got to do, I affirm you! :-)

  • New York Lady

    This post rocks my socks off. My mother is kind of the opposite of yours, in an equally exasperating and emotionally distant way. She is queen of da nile in terms of the terrible financial situation of her and my father. My fellow and I and his family are busting our hineys off to alleviate their burdens by paying for the whole thing ourselves (though its in her hometown and with most of her attending guests, both are which on the other side of the country from the rest of us). Despite this, Christmas was basically a parade of her promises and even mentioning in front of other family how she couldn’t do this or that because of the wedding she had to pay for. Talk about a idiot burn.

    She has a long train of broken promises, and when anyone mentions these things to her she is quick to become the victim. Though I knew she wouldn’t come through financially I had really hoped to have her around emotionally. Perhaps it is her guilt combined with my anger at her lack of reality that keeps her distant. Whatever the reason, thanks for the words of wisdom. Somehow I have to find a way to keep the relationship going without expecting anything in return.

  • Claire

    As I’ve been prowling blogs and message boards for ideas and information about planning my wedding, I’ve felt like all the “normal” people have had a smooth, easy time with this and all those who have difficulties with family are somehow low class or trashy. I’m so, so relieved to read this post. I think I’m pretty normal…I just have an abnormal mother. I haven’t felt like I can talk about what I’m going through with anyone because the problems are like the ones described here.

    Thank you for articulating all of this. It’s really nice to know I’m not alone.

    • Alyssa

      I’d say that’s less because all those “normal” people had a smooth and easy time, and more that they’re just not talking about it.
      Which is a shame, because they probably feel more alone because of it. Which they’re also not talking about. Vicious cycle and all that.

      You are SO not alone. Even among those of us who didn’t have an emotionally absent mother. We may not be able to empathize, but we sympathize and send big hugs and possibly booze your way. :-)

    • Lethe

      I know what you mean! Sometimes it’s hard for those of us with emotionally absent parents to talk about it because we can meet with a “there must be something wrong with YOU if your family is so dysfunctional” attitude. Often people feel uncomfortable when they hear sad things, so they shame others into silence. But that’s why spaces like this are so valuable, where everyone is open to listening and affirming that this is actually a common experience, and there is nothing wrong with you if you are going through it.

    • anonymous

      you are not alone. :)

    • Those “normal” people who seem to have smooth and easy times planning don’t. When you are prowling blogs and message boards, especially the “pretty” ones, people don’t talk about these hard issue. The fact of the matter is that I think everyone has at least one hard issue they have to work through while planning. They just don’t talk about them publicly like we do on APW. You are definitely not alone.

      • Amy

        I think its very true – everyone has some difficulties planning, how can you not?
        To me, the heart of this post is how difficult it is to have those issues be not just with your family, but with your *mother*. The one person who is supposed to be over the moon helpful/loving/supportive/etc during your wedding. A wedding is so often portrayed as the ultimate mother/daughter bonding ritual. And it is really, really hard to come to the realization that she is just not going to be there for you in the way that you super-secretly hoped she would be. And its difficult to make yourself realize that its not about you, its about her. And even harder not to hold anger, disappointment, and sadness when your mother doesn’t do all the things the mother of the bride is “supposed” to want to do.
        I know all family issues are difficult, but this one just strikes me as one that is particularly difficult for brides to come to terms with.

        • I absolutely agree. This situation is especially difficult because there seems to be a constant hope (at least for me) that the emotionally absent or critical mother will come around. It just seems like there are so many additional ways or moments to get hurt over and over and over.

          • ellobie

            I think, too, that in “look back” posts, people don’t WANT to think/talk about it. I WANT to remember my wedding as the happy, joyous, full of love and fun day that it was! In the end, yeah it SUCKED that my mom was such a jerk throughout the entire planning and the day of, but she was the one who lost out. She was the only one who didn’t have a blast, because she was so concerned with herself and finding things to gripe about.

            I could write a book about all the things she promised and failed to do (make my dress, make the cake, help with the food, help with ANYthing), all the things she did to make my life miserable (decided to move cross-country on the day of my Virginia shower; decided to invite herself and my aunts to my bachelorette party the day of my Illinois shower), telling her friends it was fine to bring their kids even though we were not inviting ANY kids…

            But, I can totally relate to people who want to just forget about all that CRAP and cling to the good bits.

            I absolutely affirm Morgan for sharing this, it is so important for those going through it and those who have been through it. But I also can’t be pissy with the people who choose to focus on the happy bits.

          • Ellobie — That’s a good point. After this whole thing is over, I am going to want to push the pain to the back of my brain and focus on the joy. I don’t begrudge any other woman who does the same.

            I am really thankful for Morgan stepping up to write this because so many of us feel alone in our struggles.

        • ka

          “A wedding is so often portrayed as the ultimate mother/daughter bonding ritual.”

          This is so true—and so stupid! It’s another one of those wedding myth *shoulds* designed to make us feel shitty about things if they don’t go a certain way.

        • Class of 1980

          Agree, Amy.

    • tupelohoney

      Morgan, thanks for sharing. Mom issues can be tough to deal with. And it’s normal to have them, from my and my friends’ experiences anyway. Here’s a small example from me (and I realize this pales in comparison to more serious emotional issues), I wanted my mom at my final fitting both to see the near-final product and for her and my sister to know how to do the bustle, in case my sister needed help. My mom decided not to come and told my sister that “the mother of the bride should not be tying the bustle”. My mom was lovely at the wedding, but there were moments like this leading up to it. Most of us have been there!


      There is no ‘normal’. Seriously, if you ever got into a conversation with someone who appears to be in a ‘normal’ family situation, you would learn that everyone has some life situation/family member that doesn’t fit into an episode of Leave It To Beaver.

      We’re here for you Claire, to celebrate and laugh at the ‘abnormal’ in all of us! My mother grew up with a very difficult mother situation (so bad I’ve never met my grandmother) and she always told me you can’t take the crazies seriously or else you’ll go crazy yourself! My partner and I tend to look at our life as a sitcom and we get a lot of laughs when in difficult situations.

      • Morgan

        My family always looked pretty normal on the outside, but appearances lie. :) To quote my favourite author again…

        “All families are psychotic. Everybody has basically the same family – it’s just reconfigured slightly different from one to the next.” — Douglas Coupland

      • schmemily

        YES, exactly. “Normal” is a construct with no reality-based counterpart.

  • Maureen

    LOVE! Your first paragraph completely (COMPLETELY!) described how I feel about my mother, both in daily life and on my wedding day. I affirm YOU!

  • Katie

    They says weddings bring out the best and the worst in people. In actuality, they just bring out people! People are going to have opinions. People are going to have comments. And, people are still going to be the people they are, no matter who is getting married.

    What a brave post. My mother is not emotionally distant, per se, but wears the pants in our family and been more of the ‘stiff upper lip’ type. When my engagement to my long-time love fell apart, she made a comment like ‘don’t bet the farm’ that he’ll come back to you. Great Mom, thanks for the support. I know she was hurting too, and not the most comforting of people. I eventually had to confront her and say, you know, ‘you have had my back, but you have not been kind.’

    It’s tough navigating this type of issue, but I think your advice is solid. When it comes to it, you just have to stand up for yourself, your spouse, and don’t let negativity stand in your way.

    • I think thats a great point, “You have had my back but you have not been kind.” I try and remember that we all communicate differently, and sometimes it is really difficult to keep that in perspective.

      I had a lot of miscommunication with my parents early on, when I was combining wedding planning issues with quitting my job to move back to the US (with no job on arrival lined up, which was “not very responsible.” Was it yesterday someone commented that their parents were OK if they were unhappy as long as they had a good, stable job? Yeah.) But I think we finally expressed ourselves in ways that were at least understood by the other party, and we just moved on. My parents are really great, but we do have our moments, and sometimes they show their “support” in interesting ways.

  • I just have to say that the advice about planning “side by side” activities may be the most helpful thing I’ve read in a long time. I’m going to have to implement that – in a completely different situation, but still one where it may be extremely useful. Thank you!

    • Agreed. This is a great tactic to downplay criticism.

    • suzanna


      I also like to look at some of those very special people in my life as sheepdogs. Have you ever met a sheepdog that didn’t actually have sheep to herd? They go bats*$t crazy because they have nothing to do–running frantically in circles and snapping at people randomly. Sound familiar? You have to give them something to do.

      As Morgan said, you have to be careful about this–can’t give them something too big or complex or important. But you have to ask them, and let them know how much it means to you, and how glad you are that they’re taking care of it (I’m not being sarcastic–these appreciations are real and true, just maybe not in the way the receiver takes them). And then the sheepdog is calmer and is involved and you are happier too.

  • I love this post, thanks for being so strong and sharing your experience with us. My mom is a version of your mom, and I can’t say enough how much setting boundaries has helped. Sure she made me cry tears of frustration many, many times during our planning process (and afterwards when she kept telling everyone we were going to hell because we support gay marriage, but I digress), but setting limits of where and when she could be involved and how much information she was given really helped.
    It is hard to have someone in your life who is toxic, but it made the power of our “baby family” even stronger. My favorite part of my vows was saying to my husband that “you are the family I’ve always wanted” and it was important to me to say that and feel that.

    Sorry for the novel, this just really hits home with me.

    • Rasheeda

      “you are the family I’ve always wanted” I LOVE THIS!

      • meg


  • Alyssa

    Morgan always astounds me with her honesty and wisdom. Thank you so much for this post.

  • Throughout a year of wedding planning (we are now in the last leg of it) I have read hundreds of wedding posts and very few have made me well up… this is one of them. My mother has been absent 100% throughout our engagement but that is due to the necessary boundaries that I put up. With mothers like ours you constantly hope something will change but you realistically know that you have to protect yourself and limit the amount of chances you give (because they only equal more pain).

    I have to give my mother props for not being critical at all in the two exchanges we have had about the wedding. I know she had to try extremely hard (after all, I am marrying a woman… not at all what she had hoped for me). And if things were different in my circumstance (if I were thin, if I were marrying a man) I really don’t think anything would be different in regards to my relationship with my mom. I am grateful for what I do have: loving friends, other supportive family members, and a mother who is going to be at my wedding “without one complaint.” What else could a girl ask for?

  • clampers

    “I’m not trying to close off my heart to her…”

    You are a bigger person than I am. Much respect to you. After years of family dysfunction, it is very difficult for me not to close my heart off.

    But then it’s a vicious cycle: My family member obviously doesn’t care about having a relationship with me. So then I say, “Eff it. I don’t care either.” Then I feel terrible for not caring, because isn’t that awful? Not to care? And then I just don’t care to try with the relationship because my family member obviously doesn’t care. And we’re right back at the beginning, and it starts all over again, and doesn’t ever stop.

    So, my point is, major props to you for your maturity and balance (not all of us can do that). I know that it is super difficult to pull yourself up out of that, so you have all my respect.

    • Caroline

      Sometimes you have to close your heart off. I’ve heard enough people say that your parents are people, and sometimes people can be very damaged. I had to cut ties to my father a few years ago, angering my uncle and my mother, despite the fact that the both new how dysfunctional he is, and neither of them really speak with him for this reason.

      I still have hard days where I think about whether or not I’ll know if he dies, and it tears me apart sometimes, but you have to remember that emotional abuse comes in many forms, and it takes incredible strength and resolve to free yourself from it. It’s taken me a long time to learn that, and since then I have found incredible joy in my life.

      So my point is that there are degrees of distance that a person might need. Don’t be afraid to cut ties if your relationship is one way only.

  • kristen

    i LOVE this post, especially your addendum! this is so applicable to ANY relationship – setting boundaries, but doing it in love. i love how you stated it, “I’m not trying to close off my heart to her – just remove her ability to be a voice inside my head; in order to protect me, my husband, and my baby family.” Wise woman, you are.

  • I don’t think I’ve ever commented on APW, but I’ve read it for what feels like such a long time. Morgan, I had to delurk to say THANK YOU to you. Thank you for saying “I AFFIRM YOU!” Thank you for saying it’s okay to grieve.

    My mother, who I know loves me, was incredibly difficult to deal with during my wedding planning process (I got married this past May). At the wedding she was sitting at the same table with my in-laws, and my mom was going on and on about how she wished I never met my husband, and how she wished I just moved back home (‘home’ being Massachusetts, but I live now/my home is now in Chicago).

    We (stupidly) let my mother throw us an ‘after party’ for our afternoon wedding, and B (my husband) and I decided – and very clearly made known – that we were only staying for an hour, because we would most likely be tired and want to just spend time with each other. After the hour ‘was up’, I made my rounds and said goodbye to everyone (literally – every. single. person.) and she made this huge scene about us leaving, and leaving her. It was very awkward.

    The next day we had to go back to my parents house to pick up a couple of things that we lost, and my plan was just to run in, say thanks again, grab the things and RUN. But no. She made my husband come inside as well, and in the living room, in front of my father, grandmother, uncle and cousin, berated us for our ‘terrible behavior’ at the after party yesterday, and how rude we were, and a million other completely skewed things. It hurt because I could tell she was REALLY saying “I love you, and you’re growing up, and I’m afraid of change and I’m afraid of you leaving me”, but she did not articulate those things. Instead she was incredibly hurtful and said a million things I’m sure she doesn’t even remember, but I remember every word. Then, as we were walking back to the car, she grabs my arm and starts SOBBING (I’ve never seen her cry like this, not even after her parents’ deaths) saying “Don’t leave me! Don’t go!!” over and over and over. I had to pull myself together to not cry and reassure everyone that everything was fine, I wasn’t “going anywhere”, I was still their daughter, etc etc. My dad even started crying! Finally, when we were a few blocks down the street and they couldn’t see us, I started sobbing. I was angry, hurt, shocked, grieving, – every emotion I WASN’T expecting to have after my wedding. We were driving from Massachusetts to PA that day, and I literally cried for 3 hours straight. And then I cried for some part of every single day for the next three weeks. I felt so guilty for being unhappy and crying, because I really was truly in love with the most incredible man, and being with him brings me true joy. Thankfully, he understood that I was grieving my parents actions, but it was still hard when people asked how much we loved married life, because as happy as I was to be with B, I was so depressed and hurt by my family.

    Wow, this is way longer than I ever anticipated. I’m a little embarrassed, but I wanted to write it to affirm with Morgan that ladies – you are not alone!! It was very hard at the beginning, but I had the most incredible support from my husband, and my close friends who really knew what was going on. It gets better each day, and my mom and I are working on having a better, healthier relationship (although we haven’t talked about the wedding day/day after yet…) – and I couldn’t agree more with Morgan in saying BOUNDARIES ARE EVERYTHING. Protect yourself and your baby family, because ultimately that is what is most important.

    Thank you again, Morgan, for your bravery and strength. Thank you.

    • anonymous

      Thank you for this post. It couldn’t have come on a more perfect day for me. My mother is coming to town to go dress shopping with me TODAY and I’ve been dreading this day since I got engaged.

      I’ve worked very hard over my adult life to mold myself into a successful human and I’m very proud of myself. I’ve consciously taught myself to be someone who is capable of having normal, loving relationships with everyone from my fiance and his family to all of my friends.
      I’ve had to teach MYSELF this because my mother and father are BOTH toxic in their own way. They’re toxic towards me, they’re toxic towards each other (they’ve been divorced since I was 6 months old) and they’re toxic to most of the relationships they’ve ever had, romantic and otherwise.

      The wedding process does bring out all the things that have been swept under the rug. It shines a big ol’ spotlight on all the areas that our relationships with our parents don’t match up. Who walks you down the aisle if your father will be at the wedding but was physically abusive to your mother when you were young? Who pays for your dress if your mother can’t even pay for the gas to get to the dress shop. Who gives the toast at your wedding when your father can’t seem to get through a “hello” without offending someone? Where do you have your parents sit at the ceremony and recepetion if, for your entire life, they haven’t been able to be in the same state?

      I’ve worked very hard to have relationships with all of my family members individually, but now that they are all going to be in the same place at the same time, I’m totally freaked the F out. My in-laws are aware of my situation, but I feel like I might as well wear a cellophane wedding dress because all of the issues that I’ve been trying to sugar coat for years are going to be completely transparent.

      When you have deeply rooted family issues, it is EXTREMELY hard to give a damn what your colors are, or what the topper on your wedding cake is going to look like.

      • anonymous

        i’d like to “Exactly” this about 500 times. And send hugs. And my wedding dress made of cheap lace because I don’t really care about a stupid dress. (Meg, I will happy add it to the Sisterhood of The Traveling Dress. Somebody else should enjoy it.)

        • anonymous

          um… happily add…

      • Class of 1980

        Anon, I’m just so glad to hear that you’ve taken the responsibility to work on yourself so that you will not repeat your parent’s pattern.

        If only your parents (and my father) had done the same!

      • Grateful Anonymous

        I can’t “exactly” this enough, either. I’ve been “meh” about details for months and I feel bad! My girlfriends are more into it than I am! You’re so right though: who cares about all that piddly stuff when you just want to get through the day in one piece?

      • mabel

        I can totally relate to this, except that my parents are still married. There must be something keeping them together, but they really do seem to hate each other (and me, sometimes). My solution to these things was to buy my dress myself, online. Not have anyone walk me down the aisle, and we are also not having toasts. Not specific ones anyway. Our friends can get up and say whatever they want. We are also delegating a team of 3 guys who will say anything and who support us 1000% to kind of wrangle my family if they get out of hand. I am also trying to take pleasure in the details with just myself, my guy, and my best girl friend. Apart from one giant email detailing what traditions we will NOT be having, all wedding planning communication is shut down with my mother. If I let her know details now, she will berate me for 9 months. If she finds out the day before, it’s too late and she will have to shut up and deal with it. If she complains the day of, well then she is the one who looks like a jerk and I can hopefully ignore it. The truth is my heart closes more every day, and I refuse to feel guilty about not meeting my abusers halfway.

    • Glad you chimed in . . . no need to be embarrassed here.

    • ellobie

      Ha! I still have the letter my mother wrote me when I was moving from Virginia (where she, my brother and sister all live) to Chicago. It is scathing and basically says:
      I WILL fail and then be stuck in Chicago with no one to help me.
      I will never find a husband.
      The friends I have in Chicago will let me down.

      I still read it from time to time to remind myself of what a nut she is. I even showed it to my husband to help him understand how she operates. ;) And my Chicago friends? Yeah, we’re heading to Puerto Rico with them this Friday for a week of fun in the sun. Oh, and I’ve never been homeless or jobless in Chicago and am more successful than I could have dreamed!

      • Laura

        You got a crazy “you are doomed to fail” letter too?! Man, I thought I was the only one. And yes, it helps people to understand I’m not exaggerating about her when you can hand them written proof.

        Good for you that you can read it as a reminder. I’m not quite at that point yet– I still get so upset reading it. (And it was written 7 years ago!)

        • Class of 1980

          Reminds me to keep my father’s letter.

          Hey, I’m 52 and not immune from the crazy parent one iota. Prepare for the long haul, girls.

    • Kess

      While my story isn’t nearly as extreme (although I haven’t gotten married yet!) and my mother was actually very good about it, I can relate. I can’t imagine just how difficult it must have been though.

      When I went to college (not my freshman, but sophomore year) my parents dropped me off, although that is a bit of an excursion as I went to college 9 hours away from my parent’s house. When it came time for them to leave, my mom just started bawling. She hadn’t done that when I first left for college or ever for that matter, so it completely scared me. She tried to stop but couldn’t and she basically had to run to the car because she didn’t want me to see her like that.

      I’m a little worried about how she’ll react when I do get married. I hope that she’s got it out of her system!

  • Grateful Anonymous

    ((Sorry about using a moniker instead of my real name. I simply cannot risk being identified))

    This post couldn’t be better timed for me. Thank you SO very much for writing and for publishing this story. I’m so sorry you had to bear this, and I really admire you for approaching it so squarely and calmly now.

    I grew up in a perpetual state of fear and guilt, brought on by what I can only describe as emotional abuse. Only now, approaching thirty, am I recognizing that my wildly vascillating self-esteem, difficulty in trusting people, and inability to emotionally relate to others are related to my upbringing. Morgan is so right in observing that weddings make everything come to a head. After receiving my own “wan congratulations” last May from my mother I feel like my state of mental and emotional health has been quickly spiraling downhill. I have tears in my eyes simply writing this to all of you (and I’m at the brink of tears most of the time, even when it’s not that time of the month!). Her own vascillations between expressing a desire to help and guilting me about everything from date to location to my choice of dress to MONEY make me want to cut her off entirely. I’m just doing my best now to keep my cool until after our June wedding…after which I’ll be able to afford the therapy I’m pretty sure that I desperately need. It’s my last intention to hijack this thread, but if anyone has gone to a counselor for “mom issues” I’d love to hear any advice or thoughts.

    • ellobie

      Oh girrrrl. I’ve been in/out of counseling for the past 12 years, most of it focusing on my relationship with my mom. If I can say anything, it’s that you should not wait til after the wedding to go. If at all possible, go NOW! The sooner you get started, the sooner you’ll be feeling better about it all.

      I would also highly recommend the book, The Dance of Anger. Even if your relationship is not angry, it has helped me immensely in navigating the stinky parent relationship issues and learning how to keep crazy mom out of my head and setting boundaries and … Yeah, great book.

      • firewings

        I concur: Dance of Anger is really, really great.

      • some girl

        I also recommend therapy before the day of the wedding. it helped me with my relationship with my fiance, with myself, and helped me deal with people who expected me to invite my dad to my wedding even though we weren’t talking. i recommend “The Drama of the Gifted Child” (it’s not about “gifted and talented children”– google it, it’s by Alice Miller, for children who grow up being the mother)

    • Virginia

      Honey, I feel for you. Please, like Ellobie said, start counseling now! I have also been in and out of counseling for 8 years — almost 100% about my mom. While I’m not done yet, I’m a heckuva lot better than when I started.
      I know that every penny you have right now is probably going towards wedding planning, but if you can, do some research (your health insurance might cover a couple sessions, and after that you can find community places that do sliding scale rates based on your income and will work with your budget) and find a professional to talk to. Your wedding is important, but your mental and emotional health are too! Your relationship with you fiance will likely improve once you are doing better, and you will be better able to handle the special kind of stress that wedding planning brings.
      Mom issues are the worst, and I’m so sorry that you have them. I recently moved from Chicago to Providence, and people looked at me like I was crazy when I said that being roughly a 16 hour drive away from my mom was a perk! Don’t let anyone on the outside make you feel guilty about doing *whatever you need to do* to balance your mom with your sanity — guaranteed, if they try to make you feel guilty, they don’t understand.
      So here’s my advice: bubble baths, cry-fests when you need them, keep good friends and your great fiance close, and remember: you don’t have to answer the phone every time she calls! All the best to you, my dear. I hope that you find some peace soon.

      • Morgan

        “You don’t have to answer the phone every time she calls.” YES! This is why caller id is the best invention. Also, learning that you don’t have to return calls if you don’t want to, and that you don’t have to make plans with her if you’re not in the mood… yes. Yes.

    • Lydia

      I saw a counselor weekly when I was in high school. I wasn’t there just for mom issues, but having someone to talk with about my relationship with her objectively was really helpful.
      My counselor helped me find ways that I could interact with my mom that could have a positive outcome for both of us. She also suggested specific strategies I could employ when I had particular problems. I still use the skills I learned in counseling when I interact with my mom.
      I would really suggest finding a counselor before the wedding, and working with them to hammer out what you can reasonably expect from your mom and how you can respond to/put up with her erratic behavior.

    • suzanna

      I second and third the advice to start counseling sooner than later. All that crying you’re doing, or just about to do, well you might as well get it all out while someone who knows what they’re talking about is listening! It’s absolutely worth it. Find a support group if you absolutely can’t do therapy.

      I’ll also recommend Codependent No More by Melodie Beattie. It was originally written for the loved ones of alcoholics/addicts, but dang if the same principles don’t apply to most of us with wackadoo parents.

      Like others have said, just know that you’re in charge. You’re in charge of your time, your energy, and how you react to things. Easier said than done, I know. But take it from someone who’s been there–you cannot continue to let her have this effect on you. Big hugs to you–I know you can do it!

  • I don’t have much to add, but I do want to thank you for such a brave post!

  • Lethe

    Thanks, Morgan, for sharing your story. As another person with (two) emotionally absent parents, I have to agree: boundaries. It took a long time for me to not feel guilty for cutting myself off from my parents in certain areas, but it’s part of the process of learning how to focus on your OWN feelings instead of always being involved in managing their feelings. Other people will do what they want to do; you can’t control or change them, you can only control your own choices about how you respond.

    And setting up boundaries often means decreasing contact, but it can be more than that too…even well after I had come out to my parents, they made it clear that I should not come out to the rest of the family because it would make them embarrassed, etc. So part of my wedding planning has been to be completely open to my family, sending invitations to everyone including the relatives who I know disapprove for religious reasons. For me that was a new healthy boundary: my relationships with the rest of my family are MY private relationships, and it’s not my parents’ place to dictate the terms of those relationships.

    It’s tough, but to everyone else on here dealing with emotionally absent parents – we will all get better at it, one day at a time.

    • Yes yes yes!!! SO much of becoming a baby family has been about establishing myself as an adult in my family, with my own personal relationships with each of my family members. It has been a learning experience for me AND for my mom, who sometimes has trouble recognizing that I am adult with my own relationship to her siblings that is separate from hers (including emails, phone calls, visits, etc). It’s not easy, but it has helped me to set my own boundaries and feel more comfortable speaking out instead of feeling like I’m perpetually at the kid’s table.

      This was such a brave post, and has sparked such brave discussion. Thank you all.

  • Class of 1980

    Morgan, from your story, I’d say your mother was more toxic than emotionally distant. Especially when she sided against you in a matter that involved police, rather than protecting you as a parent should.

    My father is toxic and I’ve cut him out of my life recently for the second time. He is not good for my health or peace of mind. My sister has cut him out of her life for years at a time.

    One time, in the middle of an unrelated conversation, my father looked at me and abruptly said “I know I wasn’t a good father. Do you think I don’t know?” You would think with such consciousness, he’d take responsibility and get help for himself.

    Some parents are only parents in the biological sense. Other than contributing DNA, their actions don’t fit the definition of “parenting”.

    I guess everyone has to find their own way through this particular jungle.

    • Morgan

      You’re not wrong about the toxic part – some of the time. I’d say she was pretty toxic for most of my teen years, and I’ve given myself permission not to forgive her for a bunch of stuff. But. Some of the time she’s not toxic or distant – sometime she’s nice and genuinely fun to be around. I could have made the choice to cut her out at 18 that I couldn’t at 28. Because things changed. Which is, of course, the eternal tease: but it might get better! And yeah, some times it does, and the good bits stop me from cutting her out entirely.

      Though all cards are off the table when we have kids. I have no clue how she’s going to react to that, and it does scare me. Beacuse I know that’s when the judgy is going to come out full force…

      • Class of 1980

        I don’t look for my father to change. In 74 years, in spite of having a few better moments, he has not changed overall. I don’t think he can change without therapy and possibly medication.

        Putting up with his behavior is just like enabling an alcoholic. No sooner did I cut him off, than he had his wife contact my sister who was still estranged from him and offer her the chance to go on a fabulous trip with them. As long as one of his girls is around, I think he convinces himself he’s okay.

        If your mother treats your children anything like the way she treated you, then it will be your job as a mother to shield them from her. You can choose to put up with the crap for yourself, but I don’t think you’d want to choose it for them.

        It would be like trying to grow water-loving flowers in the desert. The children will wilt.

        • meg

          That said, we had a relationship like this in my family, and the grandkids relationship was fine. The toxic bit was mother to daughter, but not grandmother to granddaughter. So. You never know.

          • Class of 1980

            I’m naturally cautious because of the examples I’ve seen. A friend is having this problem with her mother-in-law being mean to her children. She’s had to protect her kids from grandma.

            My father was fine with his only granddaughter until she grew up. Once a person is free to make their own life and decisions, he can’t handle it.

            As a child, she loved her grandfather. As a 25-year-old, she dreads every interaction with him.

            I’d say the best advice is to watch them in “grandparent mode” and step in if you need to.

    • Morgan

      Oh, also! My father, a few years before we knew he was sick, did apologize for a a major parenting mistake he made. It was pretty powerful for me to hear that, and while it didn’t *fix* anything (because it was connected to the stuff in my teens), it did help our relationship.

      Of course, part of me hopes my mother will one day do the same, and that’s never, ever going to happen. So. Yeah.

      “I don’t think anyone ever gets over anything in life; they merely get used to it.”
      — Douglas Coupland

  • Vee

    Morgan, thanks for sharing this difficult story. I admire the strength you must have (and the strength you must have developed) to get through your wedding at such a hard time in your life. I think your advice applies to not just emotionally distant mothers in the way yours is, but the way mine is, too.

    My mother is emotionally distant because she’s basically just a 45 year old teenager. When I tried to take her dress shopping with me, she showed up with a massive hangover and tried to rush me out so we could go have lunch and drink a beer (the only cure for a massive hangover, as you know ::rolls eyes::). She later told my grandmother how intolerable dress shopping was (for her, of course – I had to keep telling her to help me get in and out of the dresses!) and how long it took, so I never asked her to go again. My mom was my maid of honor, and so I also had to basically plan my own shower. She went with me to the first meeting with the caterer and never lifted another finger (at least I knew from the beginning not to entrust it to her completely, even though I’m aware that it’s totally “tacky” to plan one’s own shower).

    I had to learn by the end that just because she’s my mother doesn’t mean that she has to fill some kind of emotional void in my life. I can sate myself elsewhere, it’s just hard to come to terms, sometimes, with the fact that your own mother cannot be the emotional rock that some other mothers find it natural to be.

    • Class of 1980

      Your mother does owe you. She is supposed to fill the role that she created by giving birth to you.

      Don’t beat yourself up for wanting what is natural.

    • Lethe

      Ugh! My pet peeve acquired after being introduced to wedding-world: the way “tacky” is wielded against us to shame everyone whose circumstances deviate from the average!! We should enforce a moratorium on calling anything “tacky,” ever!

  • I have a lot I’d like to say, but I don’t think I can articulate it at the moment. I’d just like to say thank you for writing this because it really struck a chord in me. I can’t imagine dealing with both the loss of a parent and an emotionally distant one at the same time. You are clearly one amazing lady.

  • Morgan, thank you so much for your brave and wise post. This is the reason why I love APW. Smart women are brought together to talk about the emotions and trials that are NEVER discussed on other wedding planning blogs. I am so grateful and proud to be able to hear these women’s stories.

  • V

    Thank you Morgan. Thank you.

    I love “do not force the moment.” I also decided to invite my mother to see my dress. She fell asleep. And by “fell asleep” I mean “literally passed out in the chair of the bridal store because she had taken too many unprescribed pain meds.”

    So I also adore “it’s okay to grieve.” Because even though my husband and friends did everything possible to make those stereotypical mother-daughter moments avoidable or survivable – they still happened. And sometimes then and sometimes now, 6 months later, I notice those moments and feel sad for them.

    I would add one other piece of advice – embrace other-mother figures. I’m fortunate enough to have the most amazing woman alive as my grandmother. While she wasn’t in strong enough health to be there for all the wedding planning and wedding day moments I would have liked… I will never forget sharing a special moment with her during the “passing of the peace” section of the ceremony. And my mother-in-law – we bonded over my atrocious sewing machine as she helped me sew silk covers on 100 programs the day before the wedding. She taught me how to tell when the ham was done for the rehearsal dinner. She made like 20 punds of lasagna for the day before the rehearsal dinner. Perfectly and wonderfuly motherly! And I love her for it.

    • Class of 1980

      It’s funny, I didn’t “well up” as others did when reading the post. Having one toxic parent, it just made me feel angry. Been there; done that.

      But I did well up at the thought of the other women in your life who were there for you.

    • Anonymous, Sorry!

      Agreed…embrace other women in your life that are willing and able to step up and be amazing and reliable. This has helped in so many ways…although I still get a twinge of guilt when I think I’ve gone to someone other than my mom for a motherly task…You gotta make do with what you have and it is never a bad thing to include wonderful role model women! I view these other women as mentors, and it’s often times easier to talk to them about important things. :)

    • LPC

      Embrace other mother figures because some of us love to be motherly and you do us a favor when you let us do just that.

      • Class of 1980

        YES. Some people have a lot of love to go around. Let them.

  • Laura

    I cannot tell you how much I needed this post today. I am going to be getting engaged soon (ie in a couple of weeks eeeee!) and have been dreading the whole thing because I know how my toxic mother will react (or non-react as the case may be. I told her we were thinking about getting engaged and there was silence. Not. A. Word. So I got up and left.)

    It’s so hard to always be confident in yourself and your choices when you have that kind of toxicity around you. I try to minimize as much as possible, and remind myself that this is the hard part of becoming an adult. I know she is needling me and pushing my buttons in the hopes that I will bend and break. I am trying desperately hard to not let that inflltrate and permeate my impending engagement.

    So THANK YOU! I always feel ashamed that my wedding will not be the glorious, blissful experience that others seem to have (even if it’s just my projections). I am so proud of everyone here who is living with and dealing with a toxic or emotionally absent parent. So proud. Thank you, APW, for making me feel like I am worth it and deserve happiness in my wedding and life.

    • LV Anna

      “always feel ashamed that my wedding will not be the glorious, blissful experience that others seem to have (even if it’s just my projections).”

      I am a longtime reader and lurker, getting married in May (eep!), and I have to say something about this comment you made: your wedding WILL be the glorious, blissful experience that others seem to have, because you and your future spouse are doing everything to make it that way.

      Don’t sell yourself, and your power to create the meaningful, beautiful and personal marriage you deserve, short.

      • meg

        And you know what? If it’s not blissful, that’s ok too. There will probably be some painful bits, but if you choose, you can often let the joyful bits win. Even if they only win over time.

    • Re: “I always feel ashamed that my wedding will not be the glorious, blissful experience that others seem to have (even if it’s just my projections)”–I know exactly what you mean, but don’t let it overwhelm you, if you can help it.

      My situation is weird/hard because I used to have an incredibly close, supportive relationship with my mom, before (for lots of reasons) she pretty much started to fall apart over the last 5 years. So for me, dealing with all the negativity and emotional absence, and mild disgust, and active disinterest was especially difficult because I felt like I needed to keep it a secret. And now that I’m dealing with it with my real support network, it remains difficult because it feels like a betrayal– like I’m putting her meltdown on display and not protecting her the way I should. Which is also something that I end up feeling ashamed about, not just that she doesn’t care about this major life event.

      But even though I’m having a hard time dealing with the shame aspects of all of this, I’m really focused on moving through it. I hope that in your engagement, you can use your fiance, your girlfriends, etc–the REAL family– to help you plow through to the wedding day too.


      • Laura

        Huge thanks to both of you :)

      • Class of 1980

        If your mother has always been supportive and is now acting out of character, I’d cut her some slack.

        See if she needs medical help or therapy. You probably have something worth saving.

        • We had a big, sobbing blowout a few weeks ago when I could see her in person and try to work through this thing with her. It was ugly, but I like to think it at least planted the seed. You have good instincts, 1980–I did encourage her to get back into talk therapy, and have a convo with her psych about dosage, etc.

          Also, APWers–I heart you all SO MUCH for being a place where I can share this and not be nervous/scared.

          • Class of 1980

            Yeah, any of us might go through something sometime.

            I’ve heard of normal people going off the deep end only to find later that they had some growth in the brain. Once removed, the person is back to normal.

            I don’t know what is up with your mother, but it’s worth investigating.

  • I honestly wish I had taken your advice before I had my wedding. My parents were emotionally absent because they’re divorced, hate each other, and made the whole day about how much they hate each other. It was painful, but really, I should have expected it and protected my heart. That is great advice, and thank you. I think a lot of people needed to read this post. You are very brave and awesome for doing that for everything. Thank you.

  • Morgan, you have written a couple of amazingly honest and brave posts for this community. Thank you so much for your generosity; I hope a lot of women find comfort and support in your words.

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  • I’m another one this post speaks directly too. I’ve found this whole wedding thing is a big balancing act. Over the years I’ve learned how to manage overly-harsh parental criticism and anger. A lot of the time it means being the bigger person and forcing yourself to let things roll off your back. Rationally I know that wedding planning shouldn’t be any different.

    But something inside me really hopes that my parent can rise above during this time. I earn for emotional closeness. And sometimes it seems like there is a breakthrough where I can confide. But in reality this process isn’t any different than every day. In fact it’s amplified. I’ve found that my such strong desire for a breakthrough has opened me up to more heartache than normal. I really wish I could bring down my walls, but they were there for a reason originally. I keep bringing them down, getting stung badly, and then putting them up. The cycle keeps repeating. It doesn’t help that I’ve had a long engagement. It’s dumb of me to have unrealistic expectations, but I think it’s natural.

  • Sarah

    Oh, this. This is hard. Thank you, Morgan, for being so brave.

    I have such a similar experience. My mother and I have never really gotten along, but we’ve had our moments. I had such high hopes, when we announced our engagement and she was thrilled and supportive and wise. I really should have known better.

    Early on in our planning, it was made clear that I need to do things her way, becuase “that’s how it’s done.” From big things like who we were choosing to marry us, to little things like wearing white shoes instead of the dark brown ones I’d fallen in love with. Every thing we chose “wasn’t good enough” or “was a waste” and she began to make decisions for us, completely against what we wanted, without our knowledge. Everything was critizised, and we were ALWAYS found wanting.

    Dress shopping was a nightmare. I flew into town to go with my best friend (who acted as a buffer whenever she could), sister (who tended to take after our mom, until she was called out on it), aunt, and mother. The plan was to go on Sunday, but they (minus the best friend) badgered me into going the day before. I spent several hours sobbing in a dressing room because she kept telling me I wasn’t pretty enough to wear that dress, or was being badgered into continually trying on dresses of her chosing, that were nothing like the gowns I was gravitating towards. When I brought it up to her that night, I was berated for behaving so poorly when she was “trying to do so much” for me.

    Our planning ended up being several cross country trips, which ALWAYS ended with me calling my fiance, sobbing to him that I wanted to come home. I hadn’t felt so small in many, many years.

    Three days before our wedding, I had it out with my family. As in, a screaming, sobbing, slap-across-the-face fight. The night ended with me sitting in my mom’s lap while we both cried. I honestly, honestly thought she realized, at that point, how much she was failing us. She certianly seemed to.

    And yet, the morning of our wedding, she showed up at the hotel, flew through my room, and was gone before I’d even had a chance to shower. I didn’t see her again until 10 minutes before I walked down the aisle. She left all her things (and the belongings of others she was responsbile for) in the room we needed to check out of before the ceremony. My 2 best friends (my MOH and our reader) and I spent the 2 hours we were supposed to be at the venue relaxing and taking photos clearing the room as quickly as we could … in our curlers. On top of my anger at that nonsense, I was completely let down by the fact that my mother wasn’t around to be excited with me for my wedding day. When I did see her again, she was dashing out a venue door, leaving me to get into my dress on my own (this is where the sister came to the rescue … thanks, sister!). Being that sad is NOT the way you want to start your wedding day.

    Since then (we’ve been married 6 months), things have changed very little. We’ve been scolded for not being able to say hello to everyone at the wedding, and for not showing up for brunch the next morning (something no one told us about, though she’d planned it). We’re scolded for not bending over backwards for people who treated us poorly (though we’ve thanked them for their help multiple times), and treated generally like we’re bad children. In the past few months, her focus has become my sister’s pregnancy, but even THAT ends up being something to yell at me about (she pressures me to pressure my sister … what?). I can only imagine what my sister’s dealing with, living in the same city.

    It’s tough, definitely. But what Morgan said is true … you can do things to make it easier. If your relationship has always been troubled, DON’T expect a wedding to change anything. Surround yourself with people who DO support you … they’ll help ease the blow, provide a buffer, and give you someone to cry with, if you need to. Hold tight to your partner … they’re in this with you, remember. And set boundries. A big one for me, right now, is shutting down the conversation when her thoughts on my sister come up. No, it’s not improving my relationship with my mom, but it IS helping me to stay sane, and away from the negative emotion that would come up if the conversation continued.

    Hang in there, ladies. And remember … if you need support, we’re all here. =)

    • Laura

      “When I brought it up to her that night, I was berated for behaving so poorly when she was “trying to do so much” for me.”

      THIS. Growing up with my mother, I would routinely get the “you’re an ungrateful child” speech and the silent treatment for no reason at all. I’m sorry you have had to go through this too, but it sounds like you are able to look at the situation through an objective lens, which is great. Please try not to feel so small, I know it’s hard sometimes, but you have a loving husband and a loving APW community!

      • Sarah

        Oh yes, it’s a pretty constant refrain, and always has been. Knowing what it’s like … I’m so sorry you heard it, too.

        Some distance from our last interaction (and the wedding) has seriously helped. As has having my husband here to support me. APW certainly helps as well. =)

    • Class of 1980

      SARAH SAID: “I spent several hours sobbing in a dressing room because she kept telling me I wasn’t pretty enough to wear that dress, or was being badgered into continually trying on dresses of her choosing, that were nothing like the gowns I was gravitating towards.”

      A mother who loved her daughter would think she was a beautiful creature, even if she looked like a frog. It isn’t you; it’s her.

      I guess your sobbing didn’t give her pause? I’m sorry you were abused that way.

      • Sarah

        Thank you. That means more than you know.

        • Class of 1980


  • Christina

    I’m getting married in July, and have been going through many of the same things you wrote about. While I know I can’t change my mother, I appreciate your tips on how to change how I act towards her, and just affirming that I’m not a total bridezilla if I get upset that she has done absolutely nothing to help me plan this. Thank you =)

  • Meriel

    Thank you so much for this post. I’ve struggled for years with my relationship with my mother, and it’s really come to a turning point in the last few months while I’m planning my July wedding. She left when I was a young child, and I was raised by my father, although I always had lots of phone calls and visits with my mom. I recently realized that I’m just never going to get what I need from her, so I need to stop putting myself in positions where I am held emotionally hostage by her, with the dim hope that if I let her walk all over me and suffocate me she will finally love me the way I need her to. I’ve been so lucky in having the support of my future mother-in-law and father-in law, who both came from difficult families and understand and support what I’m going through. I have always identified as a “motherless child” even though my mother was alive and well and living a few states away, and I’ve found myself more depressed about our relationship and her relationship with my father (not a good one) during the wedding planning than in years and years. My father is adamant that he does NOT want my mother walking me down the aisle with him (in Jewish tradition, both parents walk you down the aisle) and he has been very sensitive that she might get equal parenting credit as him at the wedding, which just makes everything really touchy. I DO want my mother involved, even though there’s obviously a disconnect between us and I definitely agree with what Morgan said about keeping yourself safe. It’s so hard to not put yourself totally on a limb with the hopes that your mom will come out and join you, but in my experience it doesn’t usually end up the way you expect it, and you have to make sure to protect your core emotions. Thank you Morgan, for writing this post and thanks Meg for featuring it.

    • Class of 1980

      MERIEL SAID: “She left when I was a young child, and I was raised by my father, although I always had lots of phone calls and visits with my mom. I recently realized that I’m just never going to get what I need from her, so I need to stop putting myself in positions where I am held emotionally hostage by her, with the dim hope that if I let her walk all over me and suffocate me she will finally love me.”

      Your above sentence says it all. LOVE doesn’t desire to walk all over anyone.

      A person who could walk away from their own small child will hardly be concerned about providing love to a young woman on the verge of marriage. Some people are pathologically unable to love other people. It has nothing to do with you.

      Your in-laws are a blessing. Embrace them.

      • Meriel

        Thanks for your support, it means a lot!

    • anonymous

      i’m in similar position re: dad’s views–which I do respect because they are true. But that doesn’t make the situation any easier. Big hugs.

      • Meriel

        Big hugs to you too. It’s tough to respect our parents’ experiences and also have them not put us in the middle.

    • LadyLibertine

      Just wanted to say, I feel you on self-identifying as a ‘motherless child’.. but my mother wasn’t absent from my raising- she was all over, under, within and around it to the point that I wished that I could just disappear and float away and allow her to step into my body and live my life for me. SHE grew up having a deaf mother and so she explained to me that that’s why she screamed at me so much and repeated commands so much when I was growing up-because she was used to not being heard. Hmm.

      Now that I’m trying to plan my wedding with her, I think I know how it feels having a deaf parent. She wants every single thing her way and seems only to pretend to be interested in what I want. I think she only asks so that she can then present what she wants, rebut my opinions of it, and defend against any negative comments about it. I’m a litigator who argues cases and searches for defenses to arguments all day long and I find her method of ‘wedding planning’ to be beyond exhausting.

      I just keep asking myself, who in God’s name could find wedding planning ‘FUN’? It’s a horrific nightmare! It’s the opposite of fun. Constant debates over minutia that all costs too much money anyway and is designed to please other people? Yeah! Fun! I’m on the verge of just saying forget it- it’s not worth it. And all that BS that the Wedding Industrial Complex and TLC has sold us on about it being some magical day and the warmth and fun leading up to it makes me really mad because, despite my knowledge of my mother and our relationship, I guess I still kind-of fell for it. Sigh.

      Something awesome that another poster wrote, that I’m going to try to live up to: “I guess weddings crystallize our sadness about not having the kind of parents we wish we had. A wedding can’t make our parents rise above their nature, in fact it may bring out their worst. But maybe our weddings can be a personal milestone/growth opportunity for us daughters, as we take whatever steps we need to ensure that our parents’ misery doesn’t undermine our happiness, on our wedding day or any other day.”

  • Leona

    I’m all weepy now because this really hits home for me. To Morgan and everyone else who has commented in similar situation, I’m so sorry that I’m not the only one with this kind of pain but I rejoice that so many of us are different and better in spite of it and that so many are echoing that there can be healing.

    I, too, live with a sometimes-toxic, sometimes-absent-minded mother and have had to seek therapy for moments when I truly felt I did not love her. The wedding planning process was profoundly difficult for me because I moved back into my parents’ home while trying to save money for the wedding and also because my parents were paying for the bulk of it. For people with critical parents who are paying for the wedding, setting boundaries early on is a must. I suggest getting a grip on what your budget is and outlining who will be making what contributions and also making it known that you will ultimately choose whatever is right for you with or without their consent as long as it doesn’t go over their budget.

    What really touches me about all this, though, is that my husband and I very nearly eloped to avoid all this agony but we decided instead to look at it as a way to establish ourselves as our own team and family. He stuck up for me when my mom was bearing down and I was bawling on the phone and I protected him by not allowing certain family members to hang around on the wedding day. In the end, I have this beautiful picture of a moment in our ceremony with all our family gathered around us with heads bowed, praying and holding each other and when I look at it, I feel victorious in a way because I feel like we won that moment. We conceived it and fought for it and cried over it and no matter what anyone did to stop it, we made it happen.

    Now, unfortunately, we still have to struggle as our own family because my husband’s estranged father is in his last battle against cancer. While Hubs is trying to repair their relationship, his dad can’t seem to make it past his own guilt to embrace him and continues to distance himself. With his whole family in various stages of grieving, I sometimes have to run interference against angry assaults and accusations. I cry with him and pray with him and yet, I still don’t know how to be a real comfort because I’ve never lost anyone, much less someone I so desperately want to be close with. If anyone has some advice for me, I am definitely all ears.

  • Melissa

    Thank you for bravery and honesty and insight. Thank you for perspective and hope. Thank you to daughters everywhere.
    Thank you for reminding me to be a little humble and a little grateful even though I’ve been crying all weekend because my family is not making this wedding easy (life-defining divorce on both sides of the aisle), but my most important emotional needs are definitely met, and I should not forget that.

  • Jo

    This post is brilliant! Thank you Morgan, and APW.

  • Marguerite

    As someone with a toxic parent, you have many virtual hugs from me. I applaud you for being so brave and creating a great baby family.

  • LPC

    Wow. I am so sorry.

    As a mother myself, one thing keeps occurring to me. Does your mom think she is a good mother? Does she live in a completely different reality than you do? Because I cannot imagine how anyone could acknowledge this version of their own behavior and continue to act this way. I cannot imagine how one would justify it to oneself without a complete retelling.

    I am so sorry. Motherhood can be such a source of joy, I cannot imagine wasting it like this.

    • Morgan

      You know what? She really does think she is a good mother. She once told me that the worst thing she ever did as a parent was putting me in kindergarten at 4 instead of waiting until I was 5, because then maybe I’d have been a more socially adjusted child. Yes. Not the messy stuff with the police, not the horrible insults, not the emotional withholding… I can’t imagine how she makes it fit in her own head either. Which is why it was so healing when my father apologized for his negligence in the messy part. Because he acknowledged that he was wrong and he was sorry. I will never, EVER get that from her. And I’m still grieving that.

      (It doesn’t help that she still brings it up to try and make me say that she was right and I was wrong. Yeah, no. Not ever. I tend to not talk to her for a few weeks after those conversations.)

      • Class of 1980

        Maybe someone has said this, but I haven’t seen it. I do believe that some people have a small touch of mental illness. That is to say they know they’re doing bad things, but the mental illness steps in to smooth over any cognitive dissonance.

        My mother thinks that in addition to emotional illness that my dad has because of his family of origin, he also has a chemical imbalance. He grew up in an abusive household and never wanted to be like his own father. But he IS like him.

        From everything I’ve read, I think my dad has Borderline Personality Disorder.

        During my parents’ marriage, after losing it in a big way, he did break down a couple of times and sobbed and said he needed help. But then he never did anything about it. And so he continues to this very day.

        • Morgan

          I’m sure you are right.

          My mother’s now going to a grief councilor and I’m hoping it will help more than just the grieving…

          • Class of 1980

            I have worried that spending time deflecting my dad’s craziness will impact my own emotional health in a negative way.

            I know I couldn’t take the stress of talking to him anymore, and my goal was to take back some of my peace of mind.

        • Really Grateful for this Community

          I’m late to this post, but it’s very well-timed with the immense anxiety I’m feeling about the drama that is going to result when my boyfriend and I get engaged. We’ve actually postponed our engagement a year now because I’m terrified of all the drama my Mom will start when it becomes official.

          My mom is in complete denial of our past, the reality of her current actions and her perspective of “fair behavior” towards me and my brother’s family.

          Supportive friends have told me for years that she more than likely suffers from Borderline Personality Disorder, based on their knowledge and experience. Having that psuedo-diagnosis truly helps me, because my Mom’s craziness is so convincing I often begin to doubt my own understanding of reality. My loving always-supportive boyfriend often talks me off the ledge when that happens, but being a child of a parent like this I think automatically comes with an instinct to assume fault and guilt, because you’ve been faced to swallow it so often. Having his words along with a logical diagnosis really help me hold onto my sanity at times. And I hope anyone else reading this late like I am, pays attention to this comment and does some research on BPD. It’s not you, and although it is your parent, it’s also not. So it makes sense that you feel attached when they have thier normal, enjoyable moments. Because those moments are just as much a piece of them as the ones that come from thier disorder.

  • Brenda H

    My parents love me and we have a good relationship… I’m just not sure how things will turn out when we announce our plans to get engaged later this month. It’s because they care for me that I know they are going to be concerned but it’s hard when loving concerns turn into investigating the things your mother is worried about in your relationship in a rather one-sided conversation. I felt like I had to listen to her concerns in order for her to acknowledge that I’ve actually thought things through before going ahead.

    So here is to setting boundaries and protecting my heart — I really needed to hear that today. I’m hoping on the other side of all this my parents will see what I see, it may just take a while. Thank you very much for sharing your hard experience.

  • Virginia

    Morgan – Thank you so much for your post.

    While I am an avid reader of APW, I’m not much of a commenter — generally fearing that my ‘wow, that’s cool’ is going to be stupid in the plethora of intelligent comments out there. This post really, really struck a chord with me. I have been dealing with my own MamaDrama for years now, and recently had to ask both of my parents to stop contacting me for a while because seeing either of their names on Caller ID or in my email inbox instantly caused a panic attack. I have been trying to work up the courage to write to the APW team to ask for advice/support, or at least to put it out to the APW community in hopes of receiving the same. So thank you, Morgan, for allowing the APW peeps to discuss the issues of wedding planning while in the midst of a messed up parental relationship!

    My mom was fantastic until right before I went to college, when she recovered memories of horrific sexual abuse from her childhood. I’m talking stuff that makes you question humanity on the largest scale, that any person could do that to another person. And yes, I do know details, not because I wanted to, but because she felt it necessary to share them with me. I had a rough Freshman year, but it was compounded when she started calling me bawling about something her abuser did to her when she was a toddler. (Yup, I did mean questioning humanity on the LARGEST scale….)

    Over the years I have been in therapy and on meds, trying to deal with this trauma that she passed on to me, setting boundaries, and setting realistic expectations for who she is now. She’s 10 years into this process, and isn’t changing back to the woman I knew and loved for the first 18 years of my life — it just isn’t possible.

    I’m about 7 months out from my wedding day, and she has been unable to share in basically any of the wedding planning. This is exceptionally painful because when I was in high school, she started her own business as a wedding planner. She walked brides through the process who had distant mothers, difficult mothers, and deceased mothers. She even went dress shopping with one bride who had lost her mother to cancer the year before. She was so emotionally available to them, but has been unable to offer me that same support.

    I would (not happily, but out of necessity) just cut her out of the entire process, but she and my dad are paying. I’m having a lot of trouble balancing my needs (protecting myself emotionally by setting boundaries) with the fact that they are paying and therefore leaving me feeling like I have to include them in certain aspects of the process. I would love any advice that the ever-so-wise APWers have on this one…but mostly, thank you to Morgan and APW for allowing me to share my story.

    • Class of 1980

      Virginia, it sounds like you mother was in therapy? Is she still?

      My advice is for her to step up the therapy or find a more effective treatment. Treatment should be helping her, not causing her to get stuck. But mostly, she should not be treating her daughter as her therapist.

      I’m sorry for what you’re going through. I have no experience with seeing a great parent completely change.

    • some girl

      when you say that they are financially contributing and “therefore leaving me feeling like I have to include them in certain aspects of the process” is that a) them telling you they want to be involved in making decisions about specific elements, or is it b) more your sense of what “should” be done, i.e. an assumption you’re making?

      if it’s a) I’d recommend trying to discuss it with your fiance or friends and then presenting 1-2 options that you like for them to “ok”

      If it’s b), I’d say try to stop feeling guilty about spending their money. Don’t assume they want to be involved unless they explicitly say so. Perhaps this is the only way they really can be involved. Go to others for support.

      I pretty much ended up category b: I was given money and I spent it as I saw fit. My mom was not that interested in being part of the decision-making process, which in the end worked out for the best.

    • suzanna

      Oh, OUCH, Virginia. And yikes. And holy cow. I feel for you. My mom tries to use me as a therapist, too, but I guess I’ve been lucky enough (?) to dodge the worst of it.

      My advice is probably way too late, but I wouldn’t take the money from them at all. It’s cleaner and simpler that way. Seeing as you’re already in process, do you think it’s possible to sort of segment things? As in, “You can pick the photographer, cake, what-have-you,” and leave it at that? Whatever is most important to you (vows?) then doesn’t get messed with.

      Keeping my fingers crossed for you1

  • ka

    Morgan, you are my hero.

    “Having an emotionally absent parent, for whatever reason, is hard. In some ways, it can be harder than having a dead parent, because then you can keep hoping for a change, and there’s always a chance for a new hurt. Having one of each? I wish neither on anyone.”

    HELL yes. As someone with a dead parent and a completely absent parent (very distant and awkward situation, occasional phone calls, definitely not invited, etc.), I know that planning a “parentless” wedding (and yep, the fiance has a emotionally absent mother and totally absent dad) is no walk in the park, but I think navigating a wedding with a difficult parent who is physically present is a special kind of hard. My heart goes out to everyone who is dealing with that – major hugs, affirmations, and shame blasters!!!

  • Irene

    Thank you Morgan, for writing this post, it meant a lot to me. Thanks also for the great comments so far—I could have said “Exactly!” to just about all of them.

    I too have a difficult relationship with my parents. We still have contact, but not very often and it is not very intimate. My mother has always been a complicated person—wanting to be the center of attention, charming towards outsiders, easily angered and insecure—I never feel at ease when she is around. My father seems to side with her on just about everything, which is hurtful in a different way.

    Now my love and I are in the early stages of planning our wedding and I am dreading many of the choices that lie ahead! Morgan’s advice about setting boundaries made sense to me, but although I don’t mind leaving my parents mostly out of the wedding planning, I know that during the wedding day they will need to fill some role. My in-laws have welcomed me like a daughter, in the true sense, but I cannot thank them publicly without being rude to my own parents or lying about my relationship with them—neither of which are an option. We can’t thank one set of parents for doing a great job on raising their son and not say the same about the daughter’s parents. It’s tough!

    So I agree with Morgan that if you have been balancing all your life with an awkward relationship, the wedding is not going to be any different. But most of all I am happy to start our own family and together we will make it work!

  • a dr in chicago

    I know this isn’t pertinent to the emotional side of the discussion going on, but dermatologists often recommend washing one’s face with Head and Shoulders as it contains Pyrithione zinc, a compound that exfoliates and has antibacterial properties (i.e. it has pimple-fighting effects as well). Go ahead and use Head and Shoulders on your face – we doctors do!

    • Morgan

      Interesting! My mother just does it because she’s uninterested in beauty products of any kind, but that’s really cool to know!

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  • Em

    Oh, I love this post.
    My Mum isn’t toxic in the negative comments, it’s more the lack of any interest in me/life/wedding/anything, and the fact that she doesn’t like my fiance. The only part of the wedding planning process she seems interested in is making sure that I know that having a BBQ in our backyard (ie: her wedding) is the best way to go. And maybe it is, but we want a liiiittle bit more than that. When she saw me for the first time after getting engaged, she didn’t ask to see the ring until we were about to go to sleep (and the next morning we were leaving for an overseas trip for 5 weeks) to which she said: “Oh.. well done.”
    Unfortunately my Dad is a 4 hour plane ride away, and Nic’s Mum is 10,562 miles away (apparently. UK – Australia), which sucks because she would be such amazing help and so supportive and brilliant.

    So, I’m taking space from my mother, which is easy enough as she mostly tends to contact me via Facebook messages once a month anyway, and I’m sharing what I can with my future mother in law through photos and skype chats, and I’m telling my Dad on our occasional calls to one another, and he doesn’t really gets it, but he listens anyway.
    And sometimes I come here, or OBB or something, and I read other stories about people’s mothers being overbearing to the extreme, or, as in this post, super critical. And sometimes it helps just knowing nothing’s perfect, but we’re all in this together, struggling through our different problems – all the comments replying to this post are testament of that. :)

    • Class of 1980

      Yes, “emotionally distant” seems apt.

      Sorry it’s like that. At least you can look forward to having great in-laws.

  • Thank you so, so, so much for this. I’m in the midst of planning my wedding with emotionally absent parents and some (no, most) days it just hurts. Thanks for showing me that I am not alone. I needed that encouragement. : )

  • LBD

    Oh god. Yes. My mother, because of undiagnosed and untreated mental illness, has been emotionally unavailable my entire life. My father has always been lost in the role of trying to keep her from falling apart. Most of the time I manage not to think about it, to continue on, but wedding planning made it really hard. There is this deep hole in my heart, and this ever-present loneliness that I try my best to keep at bay. I’m in therapy finally trying to work through all this, but it’s slow, when it’s something that’s been so life-long.

    In the beginning part of my fiance and I’s relationship there were a lot of terrible things said on my mother’s part. She didn’t approve because of her religious beliefs, that I do not share. It wasn’t until it became obvious to her he wasn’t going anywhere that she started trying to be more welcoming to him. However, I’d say it was eight or so years way too late.

    I feel like a possession to her, something she wants to hold in her hands, but doesn’t know what to do with when she has it. As your husband said, I’m certain she loves me, but has absolutely no idea how to express it.

    I recommend to all people with parents (or, also siblings) who aren’t there in whatever way, to build your own chosen families. I’m certain family isn’t defined by blood, but by the people who are there to catch us when we can’t hold ourselves up any more. While you can’t go back in the past and replace the hole there that a mother should have been in, you can find people to give you some of the things you need in the now, and in the future. I was really really lost until high school, and then college and adulthood, when I found some special people who saw in me the potential I didn’t see in myself, and loved me even though I felt I had nothing to offer in return. These people are the people who deserve to be your family. These are the people who deserve that regard. It makes it less painful, when you start reapportioning your emotional energy to the places where you get some of that energy back.

    But as you said, no one can replace your mother. And when things like weddings happen, where there are very traditional roles which a mother is expected to fill, it is a forceful reminded of what isn’t there. And yes, that is where I am definitely with you on the feeling free to grieve. It really is something to grieve, and it’s valid. I’ve had a lot of trouble with that. Feeling that my grief was valid.

    Me, I’ve stopped hoping for a change. Honestly, I think that hope left me too open for more hurt, more heartbreak. Now, I see my mother as a person with an illness, a person who is a person in her own right and not just my mother, and that I have no responsibility towards making HER better or our relationship better. This is not a burden I have to bear. And I’d say this to other ladies struggling with this, stop blaming yourself and trying to make it your responsibility! I know it’s really damn hard, I’m working hard on it myself, and haven’t yet internalized it. The fault isn’t yours, never was yours, never will be yours.

    • Class of 1980

      LBD, what can I say except that your post is WISE and BRILLIANT.

      It highlights what a tragedy it is for some abusive or distant parents – they have given birth to amazing offspring and can’t even see the blessing that is standing right in front of them.

  • I am so sorry you have to deal with an emotionally-absent Mom, on your wedding day & everyday! Thank goodness you have other people in your life to love you & support you. I feel like I don’t appreciate my Mom enough after reading this but I can say I relate to wanting to stab myself in the face after spending time with her. You are beautiful & wonderful & perfect, no matter what good ol’ Mom says. Best wishes to you & others dealing with an emotionally-absent Mom~

  • Rocio

    This is perfect and I cannot count the ways in which this relates to me. Thanks for this :)

  • Laura

    “Your mother does love you. She just has no idea how to show it or act on it – whatsoever.”

    Beautiful article! I especially appreciated the above. This one reminds me of the difficulty in practicing parental empathy–which does not negate the need for boundaries. They can go hand in hand: empathy and boundaries.

    I believe that weddings can present both an honest look at a dysfunctional parental relationship, and the opportunity for change and growth within that relationship, but both parties have to be ready. When I got engaged, it presented an opportunity to reunite with my father, who I hadn’t seen in 3 years. It was amazing.

    I also had to wade through understanding why everything associated with our wedding was so painful to my Mom. It became obvious that it reminded her of her failed marriage. Still- it is so frustrating to have to understand your parents’ behavior when they are the ones that should be acting like adults.

    Bottom line: I’m sorry for your pain. I agree– sometimes it’s easier to have a missing parent than an emotionally stunted one. Thanks for speaking out! I often have felt like one of the few brides-to-be without a picture-perfect family to celebrate this moment with. I realize now that my view is very short-sighted. There is community in this.

  • Caro

    Thank you. Reading the end of your post reminded me of my relationship with my dad, and helped me a lot. It made me realize that we’re really good at, and enjoy, side by side things. We’ve always loved going to the theatre, or to a play, and out to dinner afterwards, when we can discuss the food and the play/movie. I’ve been having a hard time because I have lately felt like crap trying to relate to my dad, and it’s been so painful, I think because I’ve been trying to relate in a more personal way that he just can’t do right now. But just because it feels like a more “superficial” relationship doesn’t mean relating positively about plays isn’t better than me shutting down and trying not to relate painfully over awkward dinners and “hanging out” with dad and my partner. So thanks.

  • Ash

    Oh Ladies! I see I’m not alone on this lonely road. Love to you all
    Here are a few links that might be of some help and provide some insight to some of you.

  • Stephanie

    Wow Morgan, thanks so much for writing this post. This is the reason I stay tuned to APW.

    Your warm and painful honesty echoes some of the realness in my family. I so appreciate your willingness to talk aloud about it with such grace and dignity. Of special importance is your advice not to push the Hallmark. This is something I’ve learned in my own wedding planning and in doing so, I have discovered that I love my fiance even more. We’re a team and when my family can’t step up to do the Hallmark, he is there to be my family. Picking out the (ice cream) cake is just another thing we get to do together and that’s pretty amazing to me.

  • R.

    I would love to hear more about how those of you with seriously difficult parents who were contributing financially to the wedding managed that.

    My mother isn’t emotionally distant. She’s a gaping vortex of agony, desperate need and loneliness, and her pain makes her a monster. Years of therapy has helped me with boundary-setting, but I still feel guilty for not being able to be more loving and supportive when she is in so much pain.

    My brother recently got married, and her atrocious behavior made all of our lives miserable in the months leading up to the wedding. My mother was very sad that my brother and his wife didn’t allow her to be more involved in the wedding planning, but she was unable to see that her reaction to almost every decision they made as if it were an attack on her was the reason they didn’t involve her more. (my attempt to explain this to her was of course another example of us all victimizing her terribly.) My parents also recently completed a messy divorce, and my dad will be bringing his new wife to my eventual wedding, and I have serious doubts that my mother can be in the same place as them and behave herself at all.

    even in my pre-engaged state, I’m already strategizing about how to get her to contribute financially to our wedding (she can definitely afford to give something) and generally be appropriately involved without making demands, threats, and guilt trips. I’m considering a joint therapy session where we set ground-rules. For example, if she threatens to not come to the wedding (she’s constantly making dramatic threats that she later retracts), she better be prepared to not attend because the threat will get her disinvited. In exchange, I will try hard to consider her point of view and if she has one reasonable request that will make the day easier for her, I will do my best to accommodate it. And I’ll find ways to make her feel included provided she doesn’t feel entitled to make decisions (like emailing her links to vendors etc, on an FYI basis rather than an approval-seeking basis). But I’m not sure how to guarantee that she won’t use any financial contribution as leverage to have her demands met.

    Writing this makes me sad… I guess weddings crystallize our sadness about not having the kind of parents we wish we had. A wedding can’t make our parents rise above their nature, in fact it may bring out their worst. But maybe our weddings can be a personal milestone/growth opportunity for us daughters, as we take whatever steps we need to ensure that our parents’ misery doesn’t undermine our happiness, on our wedding day or any other day.

  • Anon

    Hi Morgan and Meg – great work!! real stuff = good stuff.

    So my mother is not emotionally distant, though she is extremely unselfaware, often selfish, and challenging with boundaries (thx to some mental health issues)… and while I grew up with her (divorced parents), I have always always been closer to my father. We think the same, we deal with stress the same, and I’ve always felt he had my back and was kind about it. So the thing I realized maybe a little too late was that because so much of wedding is about bride and mother, bride and mother, I ended up spending a ton of time sharing my pre-wedding and wedding time with my mom who was somewhat like, oh, neat a wedding… I’ll be there!

    And at the end of the wedding weekend I felt really disconnected from my dad, who I had sort of “forgotten” to make time for, partly because nobody ever mentioned it and there were all these other SHOULDS. So we all did the traditional things (walked me down the aisle, dance, speech), but I wish so so so much I had spent a little more time talking wedding with him in the planning process… and even more so wish I had set up time to connect with him during the wedding weekend. Of all the things I could look back on our wedding and feel regret about, that’s the only one that lingers.

    Anyway, I guess my point is this for those of you who haven’t yet done this wedding thang – if you have a dad that rocks your world, and a not-so-wedding-integratable mom, be sure you insert some good dad/wedding moments for yourselves, especially right around the wedding time … because they can easily get overlooked if you follow any sort of traditional plan (women getting ready together, ladies lunch, yada yada).

  • Annegret

    This is exactly why I eloped. I’ve been married nearly 11 years and I’ve never regretted that decision.

  • ALKD

    I love this post so much, and have to also underline & re-emphasize the addendum about side-by-side activities. My mother has now realized that, after seeing how close my female cousins are with their mothers (my aunts), that perhaps her relationship with me isn’t necessarily what she wants. So, after 28 years of being herself, she all of a sudden wants to be close. Unfortunately, this hasn’t instilled a behavior change, just an insistence to see or communicate more than once a month. Normally, this would drive me beyond the brink of insanity.

    However, in a stroke of luck she has decided that an acceptable way of handling this is to take an exercise class together. For an hour each week, I am in the same room as her, but the only person speaking is the instructor, whom I adore. At the beginning & end of each class, my mother and I exchange pleasantries and go our separate ways home. I love the new illusion we have of a close relationship, but mostly because this time it isn’t paired with any anxiety or spirals of self-doubt and depression.

  • suzanna

    “Something pretty awful and messy happened to me growing up, and she always, always sided against me, in favour of “keeping the peace,” ”

    Wow, I could have written this myself, and pretty much the rest of this post, too. Except probably not so eloquently! I’m recently engaged, and really the only thing that’s giving me knots in my stomach is how to deal with my mom at the wedding. Not leading up to it–I seriously doubt she’ll give it much thought beyond her own needs–but the actual day of. That’s when everything she hadn’t bothered to think about in the past year will come crashing out of her mouth. (She accused my sister-in-law of being in love with another man on her wedding day. Oy.)

    So yeah. I feel you. Thank you so much for sharing and bringing this out for everyone to be able to think about. For me, a really big turning point in my life came when I realized that I had to be the adult in the relationship. While I love and admire my mom for some things, most of the time I have to have really. firm. boundaries. I’m constantly guiding conversations–it’s like dealing with someone with Alzheimers. At first it was heartbreaking–the realization that the person who’s supposed to have your back has the emotional intelligence of a 9-year-old and will always disappoint you. Luckily, these days I agree with you, Morgan–she’s my mom and always will be. I’ve made peace (mostly) with what we have and work with it.

    Does that mean I’m going to let her get ready with me on the wedding day? Hells to the no!

    • Justine

      I could have written this myself. I know this comment is from a while back, but I can really relate this.

  • DAL

    Thank you so much for your amazing post, it makes me feel like less of a mutant that I’m not having the rainbows-and-puppies experience that I seem to always hear about relating to weddings.

    I don’t have a terrible relationship with my mother but in planning my wedding, I have felt the emotional distance more than ever before. For background, she has always been a stay-at-home mom. Despite devoting all of her time in raising us, neither myself or both of my sisters would ever describe our mom as a best friend or close confidante. I hate to sound like an Amy Tan book but she is the stereotypical Asian mom who required excellence from her children and anything else was a disappointment. The new phrase I learned on this thread, “self-UNaware” also describes her perfectly.

    Anyway, to make a long story short, she wasn’t interested in any details of the wedding until a friend of hers started planning for her own son’s wedding and she started to get caught up in the excitement, buying decor for my wedding that I had not asked for or really wanted. I let that slide, just relieved that she was finally getting involved. She never went to catering tastings with us or checking out venues, even when we invited her. When she finally saw our venue she commented on how plain it was. When dress-shopping she insisted repeatedly that I try on dresses that she liked, none of which were my style. When I voiced that I didn’t want a big poufy cupcake-like dress her exasperated comment was, “why are we even wasting our time?” I, foolishly, let that one slide too. Last week via email she called me “pig-headed” after trying to gently tell her that I did not want floral centerpieces, even though she offered to pay for all of it. Now I know “pig-headed” is not the worst insult but for someone who lived most of her life trying to please her parents and keep the peace, this was an eye-opener that she’ll just never be the wedding rom-com mom I thought she would be. It also marked my watershed moment when I consciously decided that I would stop living my life to please my parents.

    This on top of my sulking father, who is playing the sad-puppy card of “losing his little girl.” Which was cute for a while until he started pulling the same card anytime we talked about the wedding. I understand it’s an emotional time for him too, but I am getting really tired of the moping and I’m starting to wonder when he’ll just be HAPPY that I’m happy.

    I still love planning my wedding and know it will be an amazing night but it has also made me more aware than ever before of the strange relationship I have with both my mom and dad.

  • Morgan

    I just want to thank Meg, and everyone who commented. Growing up, the worst things were always surrounded by silence – taboo almost even to think about. One of the most important things I’ve learned as a adult is how talking about the dark stuff pretty much always makes it better. Everything is easier to deal with in the light of day. Thank you for letting me share this – it was really, really helpful for me as well.

    “Our conversations are never easy, but as I – we – get older, we are finding that our conversations must be spoken. A need burns inside us to share with others what we are feeling. Beyond a certain age, sincerity ceases to feel pornographic. It is as though the coolness that marked out youth is itself a type of retrovirus that can only leave you feeling empty. Full of holes.” — Douglas Coupland (Life After God)

    • Caitlin

      Hi Morgan, I am coming late to the comments here so I’m not sure if you’ll see this, but I wanted to add my thanks to you for writing this and to add a resounding “you are not alone”. It’s hard to talk about, and so many people just don’t understand a relationship like this, so I appreciate reading your words so much. My mom and I have a very tricky relationship and the wedding only compounded it. She was terrible on the day of and has since repeatedly called the day “a terrible memory that we’re never to speak of again”. It’s heartbreaking to hear since the day was so beautiful for us, but I just have to remind myself that she is an unwell woman who has moments of wonderful but who, for the most part, will never be the person I need her to be.

      I submitted a graduate post to Meg a few weeks ago about having our wedding the week after my mother in law passed away. I wanted to include something about my mom and her actions the day of, but it never fit because I was trying so hard to just tell the story of Mike’s mom. And on that note, I wanted to tell you that in the days after her death, with the wedding looming just a few days away, I searched this site to find your post from last Spring. I remembered you had gone through a wedding in the face of grief and I went back to your words to give me strength. So thank you for that, and thank you for this.

      • Morgan

        Thank YOU. I’ve just written what I wished I could have read when things were bad, and it’s nice to know it helped someone else…

    • Carla

      “Shared Pain is Lessened, Shared Joy is Increased” – Spider Robinson, in pretty much all his Callahan books

  • Chelsea

    Hi Morgan, thank you for this post. My mother-in-law is a perfect example of an emotionally distant parent, and I struggle to act the way your husband suggest in the close of the post – given how difficult she’s made my awesome husband’s life, I am inclined to just say ‘eff it’ and forget she even exists. But your post helped me see why it’s important for my husband if we keep trying even though he’s been so sorely disappointed by her in the past.

  • Alison

    This post is exactly what I needed to read today. Thank you, thank you, thank you.

  • tammy

    My mother and I have a horrible relationship. She is selfish, narasitic, falsely pretentious, abusive, and has no true maternal instinct. She said some hateful things last August and for me that was the last straw. I can’t be around her or hear her voice without having a physical response. My breathing and heart rate changes and I can’t wait until she is gone. Just breathing the same air as her annoys me to no end. She decided to move out of the country to “take care of” her father. Really, I just think that she was sick of working and decided to move back home where she would have a cook and maid. She moved out of the country the day after I got engaged and I couldn’t be happier. She has started to ask questions about and be involved in the wedding planning, but even that seems to be too much for me. I am debating on whether or not I should tell her to back off and just show up at the wedding. She has already made comments about the fact that my father will, obviously, be at the wedding. I just don’t know what to do. She is going to do something to try to ruin my day and because I can’t be around her without reacting she will succeed. But do I ask her not to come? That just seems to cross some invisible line that I am unwilling to cross.

  • schmemily

    Morgan, thanks for your post and for initiating this amazing discussion. I have some of the same problems with my mother. The woman is like a dog with a bone about some things … my gay best lady, not inviting my cousins (whom I’ve since twice in the past decade, for crap’s sake) to our SMALL wedding, and now she’s harping about not wanting to be a servant at my wedding (I’ve not asked her to do a thing). We are paying for the wedding ourselves and it’s necessarily DIY. I’ve reassured my mother over and over that I don’t expect her to be doing chores at my wedding. I think it’s really about her wish that we have the event catered because it will be “nicer that way.”

    My sweet future mother-in-law will gladly help with anything–in fact, she probably won’t feel comfortable if she’s not pitching in. But this complicates the situation, because that will make my mother feel obligated. Sigh.

    Again, thanks so much for this post and the discussion. It’s good to have company.

  • Roxy

    I’m so happy to read this post. Not happy that someone else is going through this same bs but that someone else understands my experiences with my mother.

    I was never very close to my mother. I grew up with her telling me I pretty much wouldn’t amount to anything. Remember how as a child you’d say oh, “i want to be _____” My mom’s retort was always I don’t think you can do that, why don’t you try …… I would go to a dance recital and complain about how I wasn’t picked to be in the show and my mom would say “well, you wouldn’t have fitted, that dance was for skinny people”. Or how about the time she called me 11pm on New Years Eve to yell at me about not taking the time out of my work day to drive 3 hours to her bank branch to sort out an issue for her, saying I was an ungrateful child. Oh and I had a police issue as well…she ended up yelling at me for calling the cops when my older, much bigger, brother was beating the hell out of me, i was 22 he was 28! So yea, it’s been messy.

    Still we had our moments and I naively thought, well, a wedding brings everyone together right? WRONG! My mother was the most critical emotionally absent person there ever was. Myself and my now husband wanted a destination wedding and I suppose this upset my mother, or something. I’m guessing to excuse her behavior. She never once asked me about ANYTHING to do with planning: dress, decor, food, NOTHING. The only times she even mentioned the wedding she was commanding me to sort out her boyfriend’s sister’s plane ticket and visa. She even yelled at me and called me ungrateful (see a theme here?) when I refused to use my sister-in-law to be’s CREDIT CARD to buy a ticket for the said sister of her boyfriend. (WTH?). I asked her to come to our location a few days earlier so we can do some running around together and she consistently said no since she would like to fly with her boyfriend the day before. So I dropped it. Because of this she missed the welcome dinner we had for all the guest. I booked a hotel for her close to the venue but she said it wasn’t good enough for her so she booked a hotel (without telling me) about 1 1/2 hours away and stayed there with her boyfriend, his sister, and her two friends. She ended up missing ALL the wedding activities, she did not show up to the ceremony venue till about 15min before it started, certainly couldn’t be bothered about coming to the hotel room where I was getting dressed. She then left the next day but not before starting another scene about how I should MANDATE my husband to drive her to the airport.

    What makes things worse is that I lost my father a few years ago to cancer and I was SO very close to him, so it was very tough. I really identify with your story Morgan. Having a dead parent and an absent other parent is not something to be wished on anyone. I NEED therapy…..

    Sorry for the epistle, this just touched home for me.

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  • EM

    Morgan when you wrote about your experience trying on the dress I cried. My mum does the same thing and has actually made the elbow comment too – who the hell looks at your elbows?!?
    However when I tried on a couple of wedding dresses she said NOTHING just pulled a face and turned to my sister and whispered to her. So there I am standing in the dress like a total dill while all the other mothers in the shop are crying in delight, having the hallmark moment I craved. I just wanted to RUN AWAY!
    But this is just the beginning…..with many more blows to come I guess. I want this wedding to be OVER already.

  • Elle

    At the risk of celebrating dysfunction and messy-situations-THANK YOU! To Morgan and all those that have posted subsequent comments, it is such a HUGE relief to see that there are others with moms (and dads) that don’t fit the perfect cookie cutter role. I can not express the relief that has come over me in reading through the initial post and all the comments after, knowing that I’m not the only one with an effed up mom who not only isn’t participating in the planning, but (at this time) isn’t even coming to the wedding.

    My parents have been divorced for nearly 17 years, my mom remarried for 13 and dad in a relationship for going on 7 years. I wish that figuring out the nuances of divorced parents was the extent of it. Add in a huge dose of family drama+messy allegations+and a mom who’s systematically cut each of her five children out of her life over the last ten years instead of facing the issues and you’ve got my wedding planning landscape. I was the last survivor and was still in her good graces until a month ago.

    I invited her to go dress shopping. She couldn’t find time in her schedule. Anytime I’d bring up the wedding, I was called selfish and self-centered for even thinking of planning a wedding during a period of family unrest. It all came to a head when she wanted me and my fiance to cancel our wedding, plan it somewhere else, only have parents in attendance, and avoid having to see or deal with my siblings. When I refused, I got the axe too and she’s estranged herself from me. It’s sad, really. But, thank you to those who’ve posted about allowing yourself to grieve. And to let go of having to have the Hallmark/rom-com moments. Life is messy and doesn’t always fit into a box.

    I shared dress shopping with my close friends and sisters, and in a stroke of pure luck and joy found my dress with my future MIL (who is AMAZING and is excited to fill the mother-role as I am marrying her son and only child! Yet, she still respects my boundaries and is sensitive to the rawness surrounding my relationship with my mom)

    And so, we move forward. I don’t know if she’ll show up or not. We’ve decided to send her and my step-dad save the dates and invites and hope that if they do come, everyone will have the grown-up hats on and remember it is a day about celebrating and merriment.

  • RS

    I needed this. I’m at a point where I’m emotionally drained, but still seething with hurt, anger, and a lot of unanswered questions with my mother. I know this sounds horrible, but I’m so happy I’m not the only person going through this, even if it does fully feel it sometimes.

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  • hmm im reading this now, again, because of what i’ve been going through with my mom and our wedding is in 6 months. it’s getting to the point where we are worried about even having her at the wedding at all. has anyone dealt with that? i doubt anyone will see this comment but…i cant imagine my mom not being at my wedding but i also cant imagine her being there if she keeps up this behavior.

  • LM

    I needed this so badly today. Thank you so much!

  • Suz

    Thank you! My mother is the only negative about my upcoming wedding – but she is a black hole of a negative. I was talking to a co-worker recently about how I didn’t want a photographer following me around before the wedding while I’m getting ready. She said, “Don’t you want them there to capture the tender moments with your mother?” I told her she must be talking about someone else’s mother. My mother will likely threaten to commit suicide because she doesn’t get her way about something (and because the day will be all about me and my soon-to-be husband and not her). This is my second marriage – she keeps giving me a hard time about treating it like a “real” wedding and the fact that she is going to have to dress up – and she did, in fact, threaten to commit suicide the first time around because I didn’t want to have the reception at her country club.

    • Suz

      Oh, yeah… I had the reception for the first wedding where I wanted to, and she’s still alive. :-P

  • Tami

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