Ask a Wedding Planner: How do I deal with an overbearing mother while wedding planning?

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Dear Joe, 

I need some advice/words of encouragement/lessons from your experience on how I should go about planning my wedding with my overbearing and opinionated mother. I do not know what to do, I have been engaged for less than three months, I want to enjoy all of this but it is difficult. How can I keep my mom involved in the planning process without her turning into momzilla?


First of all, take an enormous big breath and try to find comfort in knowing that this happens a lot. Almost all the time. Seriously, I see it with the majority of my clients. Any time you’re dealing with opinionated family and friends, it’s easy to get discouraged and annoyed. Here’s my advice:

Step one: Put Yourself in Timeout

Take deep breaths and understand that at the end of the day, your wedding (and all weddings) is just a party when it comes down to simplifying things. Nearly everything you’re planning for your wedding day is fluff. If you deconstruct a wedding, all you truly need to do is go to the courthouse, dish out maybe a couple hundred dollars, and you’d be married. But the wedding industry has done an impressive job selling all the extra stuff by injecting a lot of emotion – you have to do things a certain way and splurge a certain amount of money because it’s your wedding and you only get one shot and it NEEDS to be fantastic and beautiful and picture perfect.

Step two: Prioritize Your Wedding Plans

Once you’ve accepted this idea of “fluff,” sit down with your significant other, and ONLY your significant other and jot down your non-negotiables. I do this in my initial client meeting; I’ll give each person an index card and have them write down the top three things that they experience (see/taste/hear) when they envision their wedding. You should do this separately from each other, and no cheating! Once completed, compare your lists. Almost always there’s some overlap, so you’ll end up with a list of 3-5 things that are important. That doesn’t mean you ignore things that don’t make your top list; it just means you and your partner know where you’re going to be less flexible. My advice to my clients is that these 3-5 things are for them, and they should involve as few people as possible. Things that aren’t on this list can be task items for people who want to help. These are things that aren’t a priority for the couple, and often are things like bathroom baskets, rehearsal dinner details (like flowers, centerpieces, etc.)

Step Three: Get on the Same Team

This is important: NO ONE is trying to sabotage your wedding. Sure, future MIL may not be super thrilled with the idea that you’re marrying her son and “taking him away,” but she doesn’t hate you to the point of ruining her son’s wedding and/or her relationship with him just to be petty and attack you. You’re both on the same team and you want the same results: a beautiful day that shows impeccable attention to detail. The problem is, beauty is subjective: while she may find the traditional lace wedding to be timelessly elegant, you’re more of a rustic beauty fan and dream of burlap and whiskey barrels. The truth is, both concepts can be beautiful – so understand that mom isn’t trying to destroy your wedding with her suggestions and style ideas.

Step Four: Be Reasonably Accommodating

Yes, it is your day, and it should be all about you and your partner. As a wedding planner I often describe my job as that of a storyteller: I need to get to know the couple and be their best friend, so I can make sure the details of the wedding complement the couple. My ultimate goal is to get guests to say “wow, this is so John and Jen” etc. The one exception to “your day your way” is when you’re not paying for all of it on your own. The simple fact of the matter is if mom and dad are paying for the wedding, they need to have a say in what they’re signing checks for. You should have an open and honest conversation with those who are helping finance the wedding by using those index cards I mentioned in #2 – explain that these items are important to you both and that you probably won’t be flexible on those details. Then ask them to complete a similar exercise by asking them what’s important to them, and try to be accommodating if they don’t contradict your original priority list. If they do contradict, you can explain how/why:

“I love the idea of using pristine white roses everywhere, but since John and I want to make sure we leave enough room in the budget for an open bar, I’m afraid we probably won’t be able to splurge on flowers, which is why we decided on all baby’s breath bouquets instead.”

Usually, this is received pretty well. Sometimes, it becomes so important to the parents that they end up footing the bill for the rose upgrade. Pro tip: deflect with a project you’re willing to delegate:

“Maybe we can do little rose arrangements in the bathrooms by the sinks, would you be able to look into some options and ideas?”

Bottom line: they’re just trying to help. Yes, it can be frustrating to have someone force feeding you suggestions as if you haven’t already considered it, but remember that at the end of the day, everyone wants to have a beautiful wedding.

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