Kathleen Cochran is a writer & former newspaper reporter/editor who traveled the world as a soldier's better half. Her works are on Amazon.
My third child gets married in two weeks. The first time I went through this process, it was my daughter getting married. The last time, I was the mother of the groom, as I am this time. Some of the lessons learned apply to the mother of the bride, some to the mother of the groom, and some are words to the wise in either situation.
1. First and foremost, enjoy anything and everything about the engagement and wedding that includes you. Concentrate on creating beautiful memories and embrace the happy time you get to spend with your children before they go off to their own marriages. It will never be exactly the same again—but in a good way.
2. Don't try to be a part of the festivities or planning that does not include you. Many a well-intentioned mother has made the mistake of thinking, since I'm paying for this wedding, I get a say in every decision. If you will think of your daughter's wedding as a gift you are giving her as opposed to something you are buying for yourself, you will go a long way toward avoiding this trap. It will also help you enjoy every dime you spend instead of resenting every dime you spend.
3. As excited as you are about the shopping, meetings with the wedding planner (who, by the way, can be your best friend) photo shoots, the bachelorette party, the after rehearsal dinner party, and sometimes the after wedding party, but especially the honeymoon - remember - these events are designed to be times of celebration for the bride and groom. By definition, they may not include you. These are not times to wear your heart on your sleeve and feel left out.
4. Do accept any invitation from either your child or their intended. If your daughter-in-law-to-be invites you to go along for the dress shopping, enjoy being included. If you are not invited, stop and realize this might be a very special time for her and her mother. For Moms who don't have daughters, you look on with envy.
5. My daughter married into a family of only sons. She and I shopped for her special dress together, and I treasure the memory of being the only one to see her in a bridal gown and veil the first time. But when her future mother-in-law came to visit, my daughter included her in a shopping trip for the bridesmaid's dresses, something the mother of sons hadn't done since her own wedding. She was also included in the day of the wedding excursion to the hair salon. She had very short hair that hardly needed fixing, but she went along just to share the experiences you don't get to have with a son. I learned from her example that the important thing is to be involved when invited. It doesn't matter what you were being involved in.
6. Do offer the bride the handkerchief your great aunt made for your wedding, or the necklace five generations of brides in your family have worn. Offer. Don't insist. Your daughter-in-law's family may have their own traditions. Even your own daughter may have - believe it or not - an idea of her own. You may love to see your husband do a reading at the ceremony or hear your niece sing. Again. Offer. If the couple has other plans in mind, let it go. Under no circumstances make arrangements before you ask the bride and groom. If they decline, you won't have anyone to make explanations to in retrospect.
7. Most brides and grooms have never been through planning a wedding before, and it is hard to resist offering advice from your own experience. If they are headed for an unnecessary expense or a decision that will disrupt the event in a significant way, offer your advice once. If they don't consider it or understand the benefit of it, offer it a second time. After that, let it go. It's their wedding - for better or for worse.
8. It was hard to listen to my daughter's few complaints about her wedding afterward when most of them were things I'd tried to warn her about. But, you know what? If she's adult enough to be married, she's adult enough to live with her own consequences. And, as the mother of a married child, I should be adult enough not to say, "I told you so." (Hope she doesn't read this!) Brides and Grooms are just as married when it's all over even if guests get lost on the way to the reception or the flowers wilt before the pictures get taken.
9. Within reason, try to make the first thing out of your mouth be "Whatever you want Sweetheart" whenever you are asked for an opinion. It is their wedding, not yours, even if you've been waiting 25 years to plan a wedding because you mother completely planned yours! Some things will simply be beyond the limits of the budget - and don't hesitate to say so - in private. But whether the cake is spice or yellow really doesn't matter in the grand scheme of things. What does matter is your child remembering the planning of their wedding being free of conflict and arguments.
10. I've learned in the acquisition of daughters-in-law that avoiding conflict is also an important part of planning their weddings, if not even more important than with the daughter I brought into this world. And it will set the tone for your relationship with her long after The Big Day. It was hard enough to remind myself from time to time that it was my daughter's wedding, not mine. It is vital for the mother-in-law to remember this fact at all times.
11. Even in this day and age of both families contributing to the expenses, the wedding is primarily about the bride, and she is a different animal than the girlfriend you have previously known. No menu choice, music selection, or color of flowers is worth getting off on the wrong foot with the woman who is now the most important person in your son's life. And she is. Better get used to it.
12. You will most likely not get to invite your own friends and co-workers to the wedding. Back in the day of wedding receptions that lasted 20 minutes in the church fellowship hall, you could invite the whole town and all you needed was a bigger cake.
13. Today, with receptions starting at $35 a head plus open bar, the number must be limited unless your last name is Rockefeller. By the time you invite the immediate family maybe out to first cousins, then you start in on the bride and groom's friends, before you know it you've gotten to a guest list of more than 200. At this point, you have to be realistic, especially if someone else is picking up the tab. Any friend who has been through a wedding for their own child, will understand. Any friend who hasn't, will find out.
14. Last piece of advice: don't kill your family and friends over RSVPs even though you will want to. Anyone who has married off a child knows there is a special circle of Hell for those who fail to respond to an invitation by a deadline. Or they do respond, then change their minds, and either show up unexpectedly, or worse, cost you $35 to $70 for a plate of food that gets thrown out.
I have actually seen a response card returned with "maybe" written on it. Where these people come from I can only guess is a place where good manners have gone the way of the Dodo bird. I guarantee anyone who has ever footed the bill for 100 people to have a nice meal and entertainment for an evening will put the response card in the mail the day they receive a wedding invitation - for the rest of their lives. They know what an honor it is to be included in such an event and do not hesitate to express that gratitude in the best way possible: an on-time RSVP.
Above all remember, if you always wanted a daughter, now you have one. If you never had a son, you do now. This is the family you are going to grow old, or older, with, so embrace it with all your heart. If you are lucky, you will have this new family a lot longer than you had the older, smaller one. When all is said and done, what you really want for your children is not the perfect wedding. It's a good marriage. Whether the entrée is beef or fish will not make a difference.
But a supportive set of parents just might.
Don't let this be you!
Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on December 31, 2018:
For all you excited moms whose kids got engaged over Christmas. Save yourself some heartache by reading this article, then enjoy every moment of the planning and events involved in your child's wedding.
Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on January 28, 2018:
Annalise: Best wishes for your daughter's wedding. Hope you enjoy every minute! Thanks for your comment.
Annalise Myers on January 24, 2018:
Dear Kathleen, thank you for sharing your experience. I read this today and will make my best attempt to put your advice into action. I really want my daughter and her partner to have a good experience of planning their wedding. It is nice to read something that is respectful, challenging and has refocused me on what my role is and how I can help avoid conflict leading up too and on the special day.
Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on April 02, 2017:
Went to my first Jewish wedding last night. Too much fun! And the symbolism for everything that happened was beautiful. The rest of us could learn a thing or two from making a marriage ceremony so meaningful.
Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on March 29, 2017:
I have a daughter-in-law-to-be and a granddaughter both planning weddings right now. I need to read this hub more than anybody right now!
Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on January 02, 2017:
And now the planning begins. Start by making a few mental notes from those of us who have been through it and had to learn the hard way. All the best!
Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on December 28, 2016:
I see this one is getting a lot of attention again. Tis the season - to get an engagement ring in your Christmas stocking. Best wishes to the brides and all the Moms out there.
Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on June 15, 2015:
Sounding calm after the fact is the easy part! Thanks for the encouragement. Angels back at ya!
Patricia Scott from North Central Florida on June 15, 2015:
This is so well stated. So many hurt feelings and even outbursts can be avoided if boundaries are respected and things just 'flow.' (They don't always, every moment but making an effort goes a long way to making that happen.)
You sound so calm and free of stress...that is a huge factor too.
Angels are on the way to you and yours. ps Voted up++++
Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on April 13, 2015:
I know all about Officers' Clubs. I'm sure it was beautiful. I always wanted to go on a vacation when the happy couple left on their honeymoon - but I was always broke - with my two boys too! This is my most-read hub. I thought it was time to share it again with my own followers!
Liz Elias from Oakley, CA on April 12, 2015:
Good advice! I had two daughters, and I did my level best to just 'butt out.' It was their weddings, not mine, and I have zero tolerance for parents who think their child's wedding is the time to repay their social obligations by inviting co-workers and any others who may be totally unknown to the bridal couple.
As to RSVP's ... I'm right there with you. To fail to respond, or deliver an ambiguous reply, is inexcusable! I even wrote an entire hub on the matter!
A friend of our family had a girl and a boy. The daughter married a military man, and the reception was held at the Commissioned Officers' mess hall...a fancier place than the name implies! The mother of the bride was exhausted when it was over, and declared, "Why my son gets married, all I'm doing is making sure his shoes are shined!"
Voted up, interesting and useful.
Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on December 28, 2014:
I've heard those laws as well. A lot of truth in them! Good luck with the last of the weddings! And thanks for commenting. A lot of engagements happen at Christmas. Thought it was a good time to recycle this one.
Suzie from Carson City on December 28, 2014:
Kathleen.....What a wonderful hub. I love your common sense and matter-of-fact attitude. So much of Wedding planning can be avoided.
My situation has been pretty simple in this regard. There are unwritten laws for the Mother of the Groom. I learned them well: "Pay your share of the bill, shut up, show up and wear beige."..............I have one of 4 sons yet to marry. If his lovely girlfriend is lucky, she can hold this off as long as possible. My main responsibility for that Wedding will be to pray for the Bride............Peace, Paula
Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on March 16, 2014:
So sorry things did not go well in the first attempt at a wedding. But if the marriage has gone so well, you want to renew your vows after 5 years, I'd say Best Wishes and Celebrate your successful marriage!
This is almost my most-viewed hubs but doesn't often get comments. Thanks for sharing your experience and all the best on your big wedding!
Mrs.G on March 16, 2014:
I wish that my mother followed the advice in this article. She was so pushy and controlling when I was engaged that my husband and I eloped. We needed to get away from her insults and we did not appreciate being bullied into having a big wedding. Discussions did not work.
Nearly five years later, my husband and I regret eloping because it did not go well. We hurt my parents far more then we intended and there were a number of sad mishaps on our wedding day. We want better memories, so we are renewing our vows next year. It will be the wedding we never had.
Pain can sometimes lead to hard lessons. My mother learned the hard way what will happen if she does not respect my choices and privacy as an adult. Now that I am planning my vow renewal, her only opinion is "Darling, whatever you want."
Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on March 14, 2014:
Jeannieinabottle: I hope you enjoy every moment of this time in your life. The thing to remember is that you will be just as married no matter what goes right or wrong at the wedding.
Dolores: I hope every day that I did enough right for my children now that they are adults with their own lives - but thanks! You are right about the "Drama Queens" and Kings! I usually try to distract them with a project of their own to concentrate on!
Dolores Monet from East Coast, United States on March 14, 2014:
Love your tips on how to really enjoy wedding preparations. Sometimes I think that certain people actually enjoy the fighting and ridiculous drama. The idea that your daughter invited her soon to be mother-in-law to those girly events shows that she has a generous heart. I imagine she will get along quite well with her new family. You must have done something right!
Jeannie Marie from Baltimore, MD on March 13, 2014:
Thanks for sharing this information. Hopefully it will help me not go insane during the engagement and wedding planning process. :-)
Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on April 11, 2013:
Pinkchic18: Welcome to my hubs. Glad you found this one. And you are right about unlimited funds! I was so broke at the end of my daughter's wedding, the check I wrote to the minister bounced! Good thing he had a sense of humor.
Sarah Carlsley from Minnesota on April 11, 2013:
I always told my husband while we were planning our wedding, that if we had unlimited funds then we'd have no arguing. But of course that wasn't even close to reality lol. Nice hub here :)
Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on March 04, 2013:
cre8ivOne: You have a daughter and two sons? Same as me! Welcome to my hubs. There is always something you would do differently, but as I tell my kids: You are just as married even if something goes wrong with the wedding. Thanks for the comments.
cre8ivOne from Midwest, USA on March 03, 2013:
You have a very useful article here. Such a delicate time, planning a wedding while trying not to get too involved. I have a daughter who will get married in the next few years but both families are small so I don't foresee too many issues with control. My daughter and I are close and I hope to say that she will ask when she wants my opinion. My mother was one of those people who did everything budget friendly for my wedding and on reflection, hated the bridesmaid's dresses ! She had good intentions but still, I don't want my daughter to feel like she didn't get the dream or vision she has for her big day.
I do agree when my son gets married that I will probably have a far easier time getting through the process.
Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on September 18, 2012:
Congratulations on your son's remarriage. I pray for that happy occasion for my daughter who is divorced. Wish I'd known you had an eligible son!!!!
Glad I reposted this hub. I know October is the second most popular month for weddings so I thought it might be time to recycle. I got two wonderful step granddaughters from my youngest son's wedding a year ago so I know what you are talking about.
Enjoy your wedding!
Jaye Denman from Deep South, USA on September 18, 2012:
Your timing is perfect for me, Kathleen....My younger son (a widower) is remarrying this upcoming weekend. I offered my help ("...for whatever you need me to do....") and was asked to make some phone calls (for those recalcitrant RSVPs--and I share your thoughts for people who either don't respond or say "maybe"--) and type the order of the wedding service.
One of the wedding gifts for my son and his lovely (and sweet) bride will be a family heirloom passed to me by my mother. My son is the "sentimental" one of my children (in that, he's like me) and most likely to cherish it.
Since this is not a first marriage for either of them, I'm gaining not only an additional daughter, but also another granddaughter and three more great-grands!
Best wishes for your son's wedding. As you wrote, while we want the wedding to be, if not perfect, nearly so, it's the marriage that is truly important. I learned years ago that being a good mother-in-law outweighs being "mother of the bride" or "mother of the groom." It's almost time to put those lessons to use again.
Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on February 24, 2012:
Best Wishes on your marriage. It's hard not to include your own friends to your kid's wedding, until you find out the price per head! Any friend who's done one of their own children's weddings will understand. What I wish is that I'd had my friends on standby for the few folks who didn't show up after RSVPing that they would!
Kim Lam from California on February 24, 2012:
Nice article. :-) I'm in the process in planning a wedding and my future mother in law does not want to give her two cents on anything, thank goodness! She just gave us money so I'm thankful for that. On the other hand, my own mother wants to invite all her friends, practically the whole village! *sigh* I'm going to have to tell her to cut back the list lol
Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on December 26, 2011:
ALWAYS appreciate someone catching mistakes! You get to where you don't see things any more with your own work. You have a great day job for providing this service. You should have joined us for Christmas. You are always welcome!
Theresa Ast from Atlanta, Georgia on December 25, 2011:
Even with a couple of typos, still a good Hub and very good advice. :) And you are right, I correct spelling and grammar in my day job, so I am loathe to do it on HubPages, but if you insist... :)
However, I do tend to make comments about layout and how a Hub appears visually. So from that perspective my comment would be (and goodness knows you have been doing this longer than me and don't actually need comments) to suggest that you break the longer paragraphs into two or three shorter ones.
Long paragraphs are harder to read on a computer screen. I also think writing on only the left half of the page makes it much easier to read, more like the columns in a newspaper. :)
PS I even broke my comment into short sections to provide a visual example. :) Obviously, I have way too much time on my hands on Christmas Day. :) Actually, I do because our huge family gathering was last night. Hope your day is going well.
Kathleen Cochran (author) from Atlanta, Georgia on October 03, 2011:
Thanks. But phdast7 you know me and I had some typos and grammatical errors in this piece when you read it. I'm counting on you! Then again, I know you read essays for a living and probably just want to have fun here. So I'll let it pass!
phdast7 on October 03, 2011:
Very well done, a balanced and healthy perspective.