Q: My husband and I got married a couple of months ago. Throughout the entire year-long process, my parents didn’t want anything to do with wedding planning. No bridal shower at home (with lots of family coming), no engagement party as promised, and no mom helping me find a dress… but she informed me, less than two months before the wedding, that she needed me to come with her to find a dress. I’d asked several times, months before, if she could come with me, saying I would make appointments on Saturdays and go up to visit, but my mom always said she was “too busy.” She was especially busy whenever I called on those days at all hours—watching TV.
Enter: my stepmother-in-law. She isn’t a warm person, and the in-laws don’t have friends. Throughout the entire process, all they did was tell us how “sad” and “pathetic” our wedding would be, while encouraging us to elope the whole time.
Wedding week eventually came. The in-laws avoided us and sulked anytime my husband tried to do things with them, because they hadn’t wanted to drive down to visit. We’d asked everyone to help take everything down at the end of the wedding night, because there isn’t anyone in our area you can hire to do that—it’s a smaller town. Long story made short: my family put a bunch of things in their car and ran off to a bar. The in-laws left the reception early and called us at the end of the night, after my husband and I had finished cleaning up the reception with a couple of friends, demanding that we hunt down a random and capable family member because they wanted to know where that person was. My husband informed his parents that we’d just cleaned everything up and it was our wedding night, so if they wanted to know where that person was, they’d have to look for them themselves.
And then we had to see them both a couple of weeks ago, for my husband’s Grandma’s birthday. The topic came up, and I lost it. I was shaking, crying, and telling my in-laws how they bailed on us after promising to help… in front of his grandmother. After denying having been asked to help, they said that it wasn’t their responsibility, and said that all I do, it seems, is hold resentment.
I feel like I’m taking crazy pills. I am worked to the bone at their house while people who didn’t do anything to help are congratulated and thanked profusely for their help, yet they can’t help my husband and I on one of the biggest days of our lives thus far. Am I in the wrong, or is the resentment justified? And how do I even begin to get over any of it? They say they “love” me and want a relationship with me, but their behavior says anything but. Every time I think about the wedding and how I ran around like a chicken with my head cut off, I just want to cry. SOS!
A: Dear Anonymous,
Oh man, this is rough.
Some folks aren’t great at weddings. Some families don’t really know how to be properly helpful and celebratory of big milestones. But this doesn’t really sound like your problem. It sounds like maybe your dynamic with both sets of parents sort of sucks in general. The bad news is, your wedding didn’t change that (weddings never change that, as much as we want them too).
The good news is… well, I’ll be honest, not all that good. But you’ve learned something here. You’ve seen how your families respond when you need help, and when you’re looking to them to join you in your joy.
And, maybe more importantly, you’ve seen how they respond when you address something that’s bothering you. You brought up a way in which they’ve hurt you, looking for resolution, trying to clear the air. And instead of acknowledging any wrongdoing or apologizing, they turned it back around on you.
You ask me if your resentment is justified, and sure it is! But… I mean, other than some delicious righteous indignation, what real difference does it make? Whether you’re right or wrong to be upset about this, these folks responded the way they did. Nothing changes. You also ask how to get over it and, well, you’re likely going to be mad about this for awhile (especially because of the way they’re brushing it off).
So the main thing here? Is to take what you’ve learned, and apply it next time. You’ve seen that your wedding doesn’t change anything, but you’ve also seen how little your conversations change anything. They’re stubborn, they’re unwilling to budge, and they’re quick to shift blame. Now that you know that, you can eyes-wide-open decide what’s worth addressing with them (if that’s how the conversation is going to go, is it worth bringing up?), and brace yourself for their crappy response when you do. You can’t control how your parents respond to a happy occasion, or to an honest confrontation. You can only control how you deal with them. You get to decide how much of your happy news you want to loop them in on, what problems you want to address and what you prefer to drop.
You’re right to be upset, and since they’re not acknowledging it, you probably won’t be getting over it any time soon. But now you know what to expect from these guys, even if that’s cold consolation.