Learn how to deal with a controlling mom or an overbearing mother in law.
A mom who takes control of their daughter’s wedding day is nothing new. In fact, from the beginning, a mother’s traditional role was to plan the wedding. But in our current wedding climate, 21st-century trends come into play and can turn what’s supposed to be a beautiful union into a monster's ball.
Today, a mother’s eagerness to have a piece of the wedding-planning pie comes from a different place than it did when it was her sole responsibility. Sharon Naylor, wedding expert and author of The Mother of the Bride Book, explains, “One type of mom is the controlling type that is trying to plan the wedding she never had.” Whether consciously or unconsciously, these moms start demanding that their daughter’s wedding fit into a certain mold – one that was missing at their own wedding. Kristen Harrington, a marriage and family therapist in Kingston, New York, has seen plenty of mothers who attempt to recreate their wedding day vicariously through their daughter. “The mother had disastrous things happen at her wedding and has now vowed that she is going to have the wedding of her dreams – which is her daughter’s wedding,” notes Harrington.
With a mother who has controlling tendencies, you’ll be able to anticipate how she will approach the planning process. But it’s the gentle, caring mom-turned-momzilla that can really take brides by surprise. Unassuming moms who then become obsessed with planning their daughter’s wedding, Naylor maintains, is a common theme. It’s important to realize, however, that these sweet, loving moms really do have your best interest at heart and they are not coming from an evil place. While you’ve been thinking about your wedding since the day your fiancé slipped that ring on your finger, your mom has been thinking about your wedding ever since she knew she was having a girl. Your mom has an emotional investment in her vision for the wedding. “It’s one of those things that come from a really benevolent place,” says Naylor.
Divorce – one family dynamic that you can expect to see surface while you’re making plans – adds a whole new set of emotions to the wedding paradigm that could have your mom spinning out of control. “There’s this competition with the dad to be the best parent,” says Harrington. “I find that comes up over and over again.” For that reason, divorced mothers may overcompensate and try too hard to outdo their ex-husband, letting deep-seated insecurities about the divorce carry over into the nuptials.
What’s worse is when a significant other enters the picture and the situation is exacerbated, as Diane Johnson*, a graphic designer who lives in Phoenix, Arizona, quickly found out. Four months prior to her March 2004 nuptials, Johnson’s dad proposed to his then girlfriend, Julie. It wasn’t until two days before the wedding, though, that her mother learned Julie would be sitting in the second row, next to Johnson’s father, at the ceremony. “My mom freaked out, told me she was not coming, packed her bags and left. It was a mess,” says Johnson. “My wedding was turning into an event all about Julie, and I was sick of it.” Rather than relishing in her leap into matrimony, the days leading up to Johnson’s wedding were filled with her mother’s divorce issues.
What You Can Do
This is a defining moment in your mother-daughter relationship and you have to find a way to talk to your mom using the same people skills you have with a difficult co-worker, or, as ironic as it may sound, with a child. It’s a great time to learn something new about people management and communication – not only to better the relationship with your mom, but also to make you more effective at work.
Above all, it’s critical to be strong and protect your plans for the wedding that you want. “It’s all about being diplomatic and assertive and knowing how to best talk to your mom,” says Naylor. With all the different feelings that a mother experiences during this pivotal point in her daughter’s life, everybody is really emotionally tweaked. And Naylor stresses that you have to take it upon yourself to be the leader in negotiating how things are going to go. “It’s important to set your foundation from the very beginning.”
So how do you find the fine line between being respectful and still efficient? Harrington recommends sandwiching all the issues that are hard to chew on in between two loving statements. For example, the first part of your discussion can be reflective of the fact that you do really love your mom, even if you are momentarily at odds. Then comes all the dirt, where you can rattle off the baggage you’ve been carrying around about your mom’s intrusive behavior. Be aware, though, that using “I” and not “you” will be much more productive. You can describe what you are feeling by saying, “I’m experiencing this kind of feeling and it’s becoming a problem for me and I need your help in resolving it,” rather than, “Mother, you are driving me crazy.” Once you’ve let it all out, close with another loving comment that encourages your mom to embrace a solution – one that will allow you to have the wedding of your dreams.
If a divorce and a step-mom are causing your mother to forget who should be the focus of your wedding day, keep in mind that her fear may be that she is being replaced by another mom. “You can make the whole thing better by saying things that will directly and indirectly assure her that she’s not going to lose you,” says Naylor.
However challenging your confrontation might be, don’t lose sight of whose wedding day it is. Ultimately, it’s your time to shine, and you have the ability to create the environment you want to shine in. Harrington emphasizes, “You really are the one who has the choice; it’s your wedding.”