I see it happen a few times every season.

The bride LOVES her custom stationery design and is ready to go to print. The mother of the bride doesn’t like it and convinces the bride it’s all wrong. Now the bride can’t decide which way to go: keep the design she adores or side with the person paying the bill. So, who gets to decide?

Well, whose wedding is it? I generally defer to the bride on this one. Shouldn’t the design be what she wants? Deferring to the person footing the bill shouldn’t be ignored, though, and the mother of the bride is entitled to some input. That said, I tend to agree with all-knowing etiquette guru Emily Post on the four general principles to guide parents through the wedding planning process:

  • Follow the lead of the bride and groom. No matter how many good ideas you’re brimming with (or how many you are contributing to financially) this wedding day belongs to the engaged couple. When you offer suggestions, do so with a light touch, and give way gracefully if your suggestion is overruled.
  • The mother of the groom should defer to the mother of the bride. In general, the bride’s parents lead the way for all of the parents and other relatives. With the exception of the rehearsal dinner, the parents of the bride are almost always the official hosts of the ceremony and reception, as well as the major events leading up to the big day. If you want to throw a party, send out announcements, or contribute to the wedding in some way, always discuss your plans with the parents of the bride first — then adhere to their wishes.
  • Keep backup copies of all key information. Even if the couple is doing a superb job of planning, you’ll stand ready to be a hero whenever a glitch occurs.
  • Communicate on a regular basis. Regular chats — whether conducted online or verbally — allow you to address problems as soon as they arise and also give you an opportunity to provide ongoing emotional support to the bride and groom.

In addition to that, I’d add a few more bits of insight to help keep the lines of communication open between mother and daughter:

“But what will people say?”

Even if she doesn’t come right out and say it, somewhere in the back of the mother of the bride’s mind is that your aunts, cousins and friends would certainly disapprove some aspect of the wedding day. This is can be a big issue between most mothers and daughters, since the brides suspect their mothers care more about what other people will think about the wedding than what the bride wants. She’s been telling you for years, “It doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks of you.” Now, it’s time for her to take her own advice and forget about what others will think. The bride doesn’t need the pressure of pleasing her mom and everyone else on the guest list when her whole life is about to change.

Mom, make your requests with respect.

Bull-dozing. Steam-rolling. Bossing around. None of these work when it comes to steering some wedding element one way or the other. Approaching the bride with respect, and at a good time, will more likely get your suggestions heard. No one wants to be bullied, and no one wants to be manipulated. A stressed bride may be oversensitive to demands made by others, and she’ll be more likely to hear a mother’s request if presented the right way.

Keep the bigger picture in mind.

Too many mothers get lost in the minutiae of the wedding plans. How many printed napkins to order, what kind of wine to serve at the cocktail party, where to set up the gift table, what kind of typeface to use on the invitations. Focusing only on these to-do items means missing the bigger picture of what the whole event is about. Your daughter or son is getting married to the love of her/his life. And it will happen, even if the blush pink roses are actually more of a rose pink, even if the caterer forgets the artichoke dip, even if the menus are a quarter-inch shorter than the dinner napkins. Think more of the meaning and importance of the day than the accoutrements.

Honestly, the day after the big party you’ll wonder why you cared so much about those little things in the first place.

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