Thursday, April 21, 2011

Mama Drama

Dear ESB,

First, I find your blog hilarious. I love reading it (and not simply because it means I don't have to work during those 10 - 15 minutes). Second, I wish I didn't have to write you. But, I feel I've really tried to resolve a few issues that have arisen with my family following my engagement in an emotionally intelligent manner, but it's not worked and I'd appreciate your perspective and advice. Here's the skinny...

My parents have been divorced for 20+ years and my dad is missing in action. My mom is SUPER emotional and where I see everything in black and white, she sees shades of gray. My step-dad is relatively new to the scene, but I've never lived with him in the family house and I only see him 1 - 2x/year. He has repeatedly said he hates weddings and has criticized every family wedding we've been to. My fiance and I live abroad and I have not lived in or near my home town in the northwest for 12 years. He's from the south. We decided to consider venues in our current home abroad, the southeast, and the northwest. However, after looking at venues, we decided we were set on the south. We do not want a big event and I'm not a girl who ever thought about a wedding until I had a ring on my finger. In fact, I think the whole industry is a bit nuts (apologies).
[Editor's Note: Why would you apologize to ME?!] We just want to celebrate into the wee hours with friends and family we never get to see and I wouldn't mind doing so in a fab frock. My argument with my family has been going on for 7+ weeks.

After suggesting that we were going to get married in the south, my relationship with my mother really started to break down. She has repeatedly said that she doesn't care were we get married, but while we were trying to book a date, she kept changing her black-out dates. And, every time I'd suggest a potential time of year, she or my step-dad would book a vacation for that month. She's also criticized my ring saying it needs more bling. I was so frustrated with the process (as were my vendors, no doubt) that I finally just booked a date without consulting my mom or her husband and just hoped they could come.

Before I booked the venue, however, she and I had the dreaded budget conversation. She wasn't prepared for the cost of a wedding and said she would reconsider her contribution, agreeing it was too small. When she responded, she said that she didn't think she should contribute more to my wedding than my step-dad contributed towards his daughter. I was a little frustrated with this response not only because my mother and step-dad keep separate accounts (she still works and he is retired), but also because my step sister had 50 people at her wedding, no alcohol, no band, no flowers, no nothing. My mother's family alone is roughly 50 people so I didn't think we were really comparing apples to apples. I suggested as much to my mom by email (outlining our budget) and also raised my frustrations with the never ending vacation schedule.

My step-dad then responded to my email to my mother with an antagonistic email suggesting I was rude, selfish, and vitriolic and that my petty complaints needed to stop (something he wished he'd suggested ages ago). He also referenced his daughter's wedding several times and said that I could essentially copy hers and cut my budget by 50%. I think he is particularly protective of her as she suffers from learning disabilities, is extremely overweight, and has never really excelled socially. He closed by saying that he would delete any response from me. The email left me absolutely gutted. When my parents first got divorced, I paid the house bill with the earnings from my high school job and I've always tried to do nice things for my family. I volunteer regularly and worked with an inner city kid get into private school and eventually college. I like to think I'm kind and have a social conscience and if I don't, someone should have told me a long time ago (and not by email).

I tried to phone both he and my mom and they both ignored me for a week+. When I finally got a hold of my step-dad, he indicated that he could have used softer language but meant what he wrote. My mom does not think there was anything wrong or inappropriate in his message and just keeps telling me to move on. She's said that if I can't move on and improve my behavior, I'm not welcome to come home--my step-dad recently banned my brother from spending the night at their house.

A family member passed away yesterday and my mom yelled at me when she broke the news and then hung up on me. 

My fiance has been very supportive. He's not said anything ill about either my mom or step-dad, but offered suggestions for resolving my problem. He's also been super involved in the planning even going so far as to rally casual friends to help me pick a dress. I still don't know what to do. I don't think I want my mom's contribution under these circumstances and though I think my step-dad is a major source of the problem, I don't think I could ever say this. I'm a realist and don't think marriage is a walk in the park. I think we'll have our ups and downs and will need support and kindness from people we can count on to get through the difficult patches. I think my mom and step-dad's negative energy is counter productive to all that.

I'm also sad because as we're moving forward with the planning, I think my mom is really missing out. She's not been involved in any of the decisions so far and I would have liked to have shared this with her. I'm just feeling a little alone in all this. How do I resolve this without eroding the relationship with my only parent? And how do I feel a little less alone?


I suspect there is tension around money with your mom and stepdad, especially if her cash is more free-flowing than his. Unconsciously, your stepdad may be thinking it'll make him look bad if your wedding is more elaborate than his daughter's was.

And they may have other shit going on financially. (The yelling at you over the phone and then hanging up on you? There's something your mom's not telling you.)

Your only recourse is to pay for your own wedding.

Once the pressure is off, you can tell your mom you'd still like her help with the planning. I bet (I hope!) she'll be happy to hear it.

Image: Dan Tague via Charles Hall via 01 Blog


  1. Wow. I feel for you on this. My mother (though not my step-father, because he's an effing saint) was a combination of your step-father and your mother. After my cousin had an uber-elaborate $30K++ wedding and we got engaged, I was called a selfish brat for wanting to do a 50-personer in Hawaii, which is halfway between my family and Aussie's. We were engaged for about a year -- and planning the whole time -- before she called me and said "I don't know anything about the wedding. You aren't including me." At which point I gingerly took baby steps. She passed away two weeks later.

    The moral of the story is, do it yourself, like ESB said. Hopefully, at some point, she'll figure out she's missing out on something big and will want to be involved. But until then? Refrain from discussing it unless she brings it up. If she or he start to get nasty, divert the conversation.

    Best of luck. And hang in there.

  2. I can relate. My parents divorced when I was in my early 20s and in college. It was ugly and painful (still is), and since then I have had a strained relationship with my mother who left my father for the man she is now married to. In the early stages of planning my own wedding, I hoped it would be a chance for my mom and me to improve our relationship. It wasn't. My mom showed no interest in helping me plan or helping me pay for the wedding. I tried several times (unsuccessfully) to involve her, and it was so disappointing when she refused me every time. My dad, with whom I have a tight bond, stepped up to the plate and helped where he could. And my fiance's family contributed most of all. In the end, my mom attended our wedding (sans husband, thank God). She gave us a card with some cash in it for our honeymoon. That's about it. It made me sad, but I have accepted that I may never have a solid relationship with her. I'm thankful for my mother-in-law and the relationship we have. Good luck to you. xoxo.

  3. You are planning the kind of wedding you and your fiance want, where you want it, and when you want it, which means it's your responsibility to pay for it. You can't blame your mom for not contributing more money than she is comfortable with, BUT she could have just said 'sorry, but no' like reasonable parents do all the time. Step-dad didnt need to jump into the problem and call you a selfish brat. Like ESB said, something else is going on here, because the way both mom and step-dad are reacting does not match a simple request for more funds. Offer to take their money out of the picture and see if that eases up the tension (I know you feel like it's your mom's money, but technically and legally, it belongs to both of them.) If not, then their behavior is coming from some other place that has nothing to do with you, and as much as it sucks, I'd keep my distance until they work it out.

  4. All this sounds like your mom and your step dad are having some major issues. I know its easier, but don't blame this all on your step dad. Sure, he sounds like a total ass, but remember your mom is not only letting him talk to you the way he has but she is SUPPORTING his behavior and words.

    As far as the money goes, your options are to
    1. Keep bugging them about money
    2. Ask what amount they're willing to contribute and take it.
    3. Not ask them again for any monetary contribution. If they give you money, take it, otherwise leave it be.
    4. Not ask them again for any monetary contribution and don't take any amount thats offered.

    Personally I'd go with 2 or 3 (well, once I got out of my "why is my mother being such a bitch?" phase), as long as the money doesn't come with strings. I'd also try and get what you can upfront, so that you don't get closer to the wedding and have them get mad at you and decide they're not going to pay for something you were relying on them to.

    If you want to still ask your mom to help with planning go ahead, but you might want to mention something about negativity not being helpful. Granted, she probably won't like being told that, but IMO thats better than not making it clear you don't want to hear her bitch about shit (like the size of your ring. i mean FOR REAL???).

  5. I don't understand why more people don't come to the conclusion "we'd better pay for our wedding ourselves" on their own. It eliminates SO MUCH of the drama.

    There's also way too much pressure on mom-daughter bonding during wedding planning. It's a really stressful time to expect everyone to be on their best, least-selfish behavior. It's fantastic when it leads to mushy moments, but sometimes it just doesn't work out that way. My relationship with my mom is 10x better now that we're past the wedding. I hope it works out for you.

  6. You're hoping for so much out of this wedding day and the planning of it, in particular most of your hopes seem to be centered around your mother's emotional and financial support. You want for her to be uncomplicated and happy for you, and I'm so sorry it isn't working our that way, and that you lost your father.

    Maybe your mother and step-father have issues of their own, maybe they simply can't afford more. More likely though, he's opposed to your wedding being given higher status than his daughters (um, you do seem a little snobbish about her). In any case, it was tactless to ask for more cash in the same email that you bitched about their holidays, that part of your story did sound a little entitled. After all, you've lived away from home for years - outlining costs and asking how much they'd like to contribute is ok, but it does sound like you were arguing "you're not giving me enough, give me more", which is less cool tbh.

    Having a wedding and expecting it to heal a ruptured family is a bit like having a baby to save a relationship i.e. guaranteed to backfire. Too much stress and strain. I concur that you pay for the wedding yourself, don't go over the top though, and shift your focus from trying to heal your broken family through the wedding day to using you wedding day for it's intended purpose: creating your baby family with your husband. Good luck x

  7. Your situation indeed sounds difficult and I completely understand that asking for money can be a tough situation. But by the sounds of it, you want a larger, pricier wedding (drinks, party, band etc). You can always make cuts by keeping the guest list smaller (which is possible since you are having it out of town for your mom's side at least)and figuring out your budget before making plans instead of visa versa. I am assuming you are around 30 and financially independent and this is YOUR wedding and I am sorry but i feel that you should work within your budgets and any other contributiosn should be accepted as a gracious gift (even if its less than expected). Not trying to come off harsh because you seem to be in a difficult position and I believe they are treating you in a disrespectful manner.

  8. I ain't gonna lie, I had to look up vitriolic in the dictionary.

  9. Wow, I'm so sorry this is happening - it seems very hurtful. I think you should avoid the topic of money in the future and either take what is offered or pay for it all yourself.

    Here is one possibility (shot in the dark) - what if your mother is a regular recipient of the emotionally abusive tone your stepdad used with you? What if her fear of unleashing him has led her to react differently than you would expect? I don't know if that's true, but it allows me to have a little more empathy for your mother.

    I am writing as someone whose relationship with my mother was shattered by my wedding planning. She came around in the end, being supportive once it became clear I was not going to have a church wedding despite her tantrums. However, I cannot shake the hurt from the mean things she said, and it cannot be forgotten. She doesn't even know I feel this way, and I wonder whether to bring it up or just try to move on (it's been 6 months).

    Being on the other side, I view the wedding as a transformative experience that shifted my alliances away from my mother and all of her issues and manipulations to be allied with my new husband and our new little family. So I hope you find meaning in this process. I'm sorry it is so hard.

  10. 100% agree with esb's advice here. Sorry this is happening! Weddings tend to bring out the worst in everyone...which is ironic as hell. :\ Hang in there, and at least you have a rock-solid fiance! Yay!!!

  11. Your fiance sounds a lot like mine. He refuses to get bogged down in talking bad about anyone, even when I am a classic shit-talker (I talk shit about people he should be talking shit about, bosses, etc.) but it's not an outright refusal...he just doesn't do it and stays clear-headed.

    You sound like you've looked at this from an emotionally intelligent p.o.v., indeed, but you are probably more emotional about it than you may realize, due in part to what you eloquently stated as the need for emotional support while combining your life with your husband's.

    Abernacky got it right, I think, with option 3. Your mother will hopefully calm down after the wedding, and the less you push anything now, the less chance she will have to do or say anything scarring. Good luck - it sounds like some rough times all around.

  12. I agree with the other commenters about trying to pay for this yourselves, at this point. As someone else pointed out, it is reasonable to say, "No, sorry, this is all we can afford to give you," but the way that your stepfather reacted to you was TOTALLY out of line. It's better to not accept money from them, because with him involved it WILL COME WITH STRINGS.

    In my case, my husband and I decided to pay for our wedding ourselves, and that we didn't want a long engagement, so we set a date 8 months out. My mother was upset we weren't having a long engagement, and she tried to talk us into putting the wedding off by a year so she could save some undisclosed amount of money to give to us for the wedding. I said, "Thanks, but no thanks," and that caused draaaaaaamaaaaaa. (She got over it, and in hindsight gets why we wanted to do things ourselves.)

  13. I think esb has pegged this one. Something IS going on with mom and step-dad. Your mom, however, certainly has the right to decide how much she is willing to contribute. How much her willingness to contribute depends on how many decisions she gets to make, that's another thing. And I've never seen that clearly or rationally figured out anywhere. Sounds like the background makes it worse than usual for you.

    Either sort it out or back away fast. The middle ground will be miserable. So sorry.

  14. It sounds like your mom told you a few times that she wasn't going to give you as much money as you wanted, but you kept pressuring her, which may have set your step-father off. You do sound a little entitled. It's her money, not yours. Maybe if the inner city kid has done well for himself, he'd be willing to chip in a few bucks?

  15. You have my empathy, sounds like a challenging family dynamic, during an already stressful time (um, hello, weddings seem to bring out the crazies in all families!).

    But as painful as it is, you cannot be responsible for your Mom and step-dad and how they treat you. To feel less alone, deal with your complex feelings about the mamadrama with someone other than your Mom. Get support from fiance, friends, therapist, whatever works. It kinda feels like you think you have to justify your feelings to them (and to us) in your email. But in trying to explain/justify/convince with Mom and stepdad, you're only gonna engage them in a continued, unsavory back-and-forth. And expecting to "resolve" this dynamic and change their behavior is gonna set you up for bigtime disappointment (and continued attempts at this suggest CODEPENDENCY).

    FWIW, I do think this is about more than just the money. But re: the money, I agree with most other posters about not accepting it. Just gonna further complicate the situation if you do.

  16. Why is the stepdad reading emails addressed to your mother?
    There's something fishy going on there.

    Forget including them in the process. They've made it abundantly clear what they think of the whole thing, so painful as it is, just send them an invitation and be done with it.

    And try to pay for everything yourself. Cleaner that way, since clearly she's got so many issues and her husband controls her, which means he controls the purse strings.

  17. pay for it yourself.

    TOTALLY SIDE TRACKING: @ESB why do so many couples expect/depend on family to pay for their wedding? If money does comes your way, GREAT. Use it to go toward something you've already budgeted for. I just don't understand why so many couples expect others to contribute. Drives me nuts!

  18. @anon 11:08, I totally agree with the email thing.

    Definitely pay for it yourself. Don't go into debt, no matter how much you want to. As far as your mother goes, totally avoid discussing the wedding with her. If she brings it up in a vicious manner, steer her clear by saying "mom, I will not discuss this with you." and follow through. Don't take the bait. I know you want your mom to come around, but you can't change her. You can hope, and you can change how you react to it.

    But I'm mostly focused on your recognizing how toxic all this is to *your* new family. You have to, have to, have to go with your instinct and protect you and your fiance first and foremost. It's a hard switch, and one you must do together. My husband and I went through that back in January before our wedding. It SUCKED, but it is paying off now in ways we never, ever imagined. Honesty always wins. Your marriage and partner come first now.

    Oh, and if you don't want to invite your stepfather (again with the toxic thing), you have every right to not do that. Be prepared for your mom to not come, though. Never invite anyone to your wedding who you don't want showing up. Cardinal rule.

    This sucks, but you both will get through this. Working hard to develop a solid, unified position in regards to this mom/stepdad situation will pay off later, for both you and your husband, I promise. Oh, and whoever compared hoping a wedding will heal a family to having a baby to save a marriage-that is the best analogy I've heard in a long, long time.

  19. I'm with ESB that there's something going on here that they aren't telling you. It sounds like they are enabling each other in breaking relationships--you said your brother, too, right? Pay for it yourself, hope they can come, and just keep repeating to yourself that it isn't about you.

    Also, may I recommend finding a therapist, like I did? Even those of us who are well-balanced and healthy people can use the help dealing with shit, and this is some big toxic shit. Having someone to talk to about it--and to help you figure out how to set boundaries with your stepdad (reading your email to someone else is over the line), how to preserve the relationship with your mom--might really help. Good luck!

  20. Your stepfather is a MAJOR asshat. It seems like he's intentionally trying to disrupt your relationship with your mom. The best thing you can do is keep a bit of distance between yourself and them. If things are ever going to change, your mom will have to tell him to shut the fuck up.

    RE: the money... I'm with anon 11:08. Pay for it yourself and don't involve them. If they give you money, the drama is likely to continue, or even increase. If they complain about any of your wedding choices, politely tell them since you're paying, you get to call the shots.

    And remember, this wedding and engagement period is about you, your fiancé, and the new family you're forming. Don't let family drama steal your excitement and joy!

  21. This is really, really sad. I'm going through a similar situation with my family right now, although not related to a wedding. As chesapeake said, honesty is the only way you can get through this.

    My vote is that you pay for your wedding yourself (without going into debt), and let your mom/stepdad know how you feel. It REALLY sucks to do that at first, but from firsthand experience, it TOTALLY pays off. The more often you're honest, the bigger return you get from just about everything in life.

    I'm really sorry you're going through this, and I wish you the best in dealing with it all.

  22. I agree completely with Alison, pay for it yourself, you are clearly a self-sufficient adult. If your parents want to contribute a little, great. But there is no rule saying they have to.
    It's such an old fashioned notion (from back when parents would pay to marry off their teenage daughters!), why do people still expect their parents to pay for their weddings?

  23. Lord have mercy, let go of those financial for the shebang yourselves and save the familial drama! Accepting money from your parents gives them the (imaginary) right to dictate and be turds, at least in my personal experience. If things are planned within a budget you and your fiance can afford, and your mom/stepdad want to throw in a little something after the fact, awesome.

  24. All of this fighting over money for a wedding ? Pay for it yourselves ... It isn't worth it. I, too, am baffled at the number of people that expect their folks to pay for their wedding. Just baffled. Asking my parents for money for any reason is the LAST thing I'd ever want to do. Not just because I don't want to put them out, but also because I would hate for them to view me as anything other than autonomous.

  25. I think I'm with everyone else here when I say you might be happier paying for the wedding yourself. However, you could just apologize.

    I realize that your step-dad sounds like a complete jerk, but he did marry your mom and part of that must in some way mean he makes her happy.... It can't be worth it to get into some kind of huge knock down drag-out fight with him over money bc you're going to lose her in the process too (unfair and you're completely right in feeling victimized by his inappropriate attack...but I think that's the reality).

    My reason for suggesting an apology is that they did offer to give you a small amount of money -- the fact that they're basing it off of your step-sister's wedding is annoying, but it's fair. You are the one who wants a bigger wedding, after all. I think apologizing might be your best bet -- if they don't feel comfortable giving you the money, then fine, pay for it on your own... but if they do, I think it would be gracious to accept and then include your Mom in planning what her money will go toward paying for (maybe earmark her $$ for a specific part of the wedding and get a lot of input from her on that?? I.e. a band or the food, photographer, etc. etc.).

    I think the apology is harder to swallow but will go farther toward repairing your relationship with your mom.. And feel free to just ignore that dbag she married from here on out aside from obligatory social niceties.

  26. I wasn't able to read every other response in detail so I apologize if I am repeating what someone else said but.

    Money aside, it sounds like your mother is in an abusive relationship. I'm sorry to say something so awful, but no mother in their right mind would let anyone talk to their child like that - even if it were true. There is definitely something wrong there, and I'm truly sorry you have to deal with that while planning a wedding.

    Also - if money was really an issue they wouldn't be going on so many vacations. Did they even bring up the idea of an extended vacation in the South around your wedding? It doesn't seem like money is the main problem here (although I agree you should stop asking them to help pay if they are resisting like that). Good luck with everything!!!

  27. I agree that you should pay for your own wedding so that you don't have to deal with your mom and stepdad's negativity. You could do something diy but very chic. There are a ton of websites that sell used decorations and dresses and where you can get the scoop about cheap vendors. Try weddingbee, recycledbride, ruffled blog, preownedweddingdresses, and oncewed. You can also buy a very cheap gown from international vendors, which is what I did and was happy with....good luck!