The difference between mother of the bride and mother-in-law comes down to just one day. With some advance mental planning, you can be a Mum who doesn't bring out the Bridezilla in your stressed-out daughter. If you use the opportunity to transition your relationship with her, you might -- believe it or not -- even enjoy the wedding.
When my own Mum was very ill and dying, she opened her eyes and said, "I should have let you choose your own bridal shoes. I was wrong about that and I'm sorry."
We'd had a hundred character-assassinating, gravity-defying arguments leading up to my run down the aisle, so it seemed strange that my shoes were her one regret. But after twenty-some years, I was still pleased with her apology and deathbed confession. After all, those pumps were really ugly.
I was determined to be much more helpful when my daughter married. The diamond went on her finger New Year's Eve, and at New Year's Day breakfast I pulled out the 11 X 17" drawing sheets for us to mindmap the wedding. It wasn't a hangover that made the young couple's eyes cross and heads explode.
"What?" I asked as they walked away with their toast and orange juice. "You can wear any shoes you want! I just want to help you think about things."
Any plan righteously conceived can still die in execution. Rule #1 in weddings.
The wedding planning took as long as a pregnancy, and in those nine months I again transitioned into a new phase of motherhood. Oddly, it was the same lesson, just a variation on the theme:
My daughter isn't me and her life isn't mine.
I'd learned that lesson before. But it was more important than ever now that my daughter was crossing the road to becoming a wife and possibly a mother someday. Taking yet another step away from her wasn't easy, but I had to do it so she could truly commit to being part of another family.
Coping with my own feelings about that was a full-time job. Her husband was the one who would worry about her now. She would turn to him, not to me, for life's major decisions. Like the shift from my hip to her own two feet, like the transition from tutu to prom gown, she needed something different from me now.
I'm a positive thinker, and focusing on what I shouldn't do almost guarantees that I'll do it anyway. So I focused instead on these five "I Will" affirmations for the Mummy of the Bride:
I will let the couple take responsibility. It's important for them to have an early success to base their marriage upon. If you do it for her, she'll never learn. But if you help her think and then act on her own decisions, she'll learn how to throw a great party, negotiate family landmines, develop detailed plans, manage budgets and best of all, figure out how to treat you on an adult level.
I will always, always remember that it's not my wedding. And never, never forget that it's more than just the bride's day. It's the couple's day. Weddings are a couple's vehicle of self-expression. It's a great opportunity for you to learn who your daughter is in the context of her partner and friends. The couple will probably ask you for help on all the jobs they don't want. Accept them graciously because you know that how the microphone gets hooked up is just as, if not more, important than the fruit filling in the wedding cake.
I will not control, I will support. The wedding planning process is a microcosm of what your future relationship with the couple will be all about. If you want to end up a controlling mother-in-law who causes problems between the couple, then by all means step in early and start pushing the future hubby aside right away. Make his future wife cry because you're so demanding. However, if you would prefer to have them invite you to Thanksgiving dinner because they love you (not because they're obligated), then give them the room to make their wedding together.
I will learn the new rules for weddings. With all the family intricacies, economic constraints and counterculture (some now mainstream) options, the standard rules you grew up with have developed many perfectly acceptable variations. The wedding won't be ruined if the invitations aren't on 50-pound card stock or if Uncle Herbert wants to dress in his pink plaid suit. Being flexible opens a whole new range of possibilities for a memorable wedding that even your most uptight friends will remember.
I will stay out of the way unless they want me there. You've probably planned big family events before, so, like me, you may want to rush right in and get to work. But being responsible for a wedding can be overwhelming for a young couple whose experience with group orchestration may only encompass getting their friends together for a barbeque. When you sense discomfort, offer help. If you have your own requirements such as not seating certain people together or including a family tradition in the proceedings, don't just dump the problem on them. Offer solutions. And if they say no, accept it.
If nothing else works, remember that the only thing you really have control of is you. Sure, even if you're paying, it's still the couple's day. But you have a lot of responsibility (and maybe mixed feelings) so you've got to take care of yourself. Hopefully, controlling the wedding isn't the only way to relieve your tension. Instead, focus on what YOU need that day and how you are going to arrange to have it. Whether it's making time for a bubble bath, a quiet breakfast with your daughter or husband, or hiring someone to supervise the day's events, it's worth moving heaven and earth to make it happen for YOU.
Because everybody knows that when Mummy's happy, everybody's happy.
Janice M. Van Dyck is an award-winning author and freelance writer. Her novels and articles address issues of relationships, change and personal growth. A former executive coach and corporate communications specialist, she believes there's still room in our advanced society for old-fashioned storytelling.