Escaping The Clutches Of An Over-Eager Mother-In-Law (To Be)

Dear Rhona,

My boyfriend and I recently got engaged after almost seven years together.  We live together and have talked about getting married for ages but prioritised buying a house over the big bash.  Now it’s on – venue is booked for August 2018 – and the madness has kicked in.  Before proposing, my fiancee had asked his father for help with the wedding costs as he had offered on many occasions.  He was very happy to contribute and has been extremely generous, saying he will foot over 50% of the total bill.  My parents can’t afford to contribute – and I wouldn’t ask them to either – but my Mother-in-Law (to be) seems to think that she is now entitled to co-run the day.  She’s coming at me with everything from menu and dress ideas to suggestions on wedding bands and bespoke stationary.  And while I can politely bat most of this stuff away, the one thing I have to address head-on is the guest list.  We want to have 120 max on the day and her personal list is already at 50.  That leaves us with 70, which would include my parents and relations.  How can I tactfully take her on, ensure my parents don’t feel side-lined and reclaim the low-key vibe we’re after? Hates Confrontation, Galway.

I am probably the last person anyone would ever come to for wedding advice – my husband organised our wedding – but there are so many minefields here I just couldn’t resist getting stuck in.   There’s also enough distance between me and my big day to know exactly what I would do in the same situation: shut that circus down pronto and lie low for a few months.

I know that sounds brattish and spoilt, and that you are denying everyone, including yourselves ‘the best day of your lives’ (in theory) but kow-towing to your main investor for the next nine months, isolating your parents in the process and jiving with a coach-load of your MIL’s golf pals on the night doesn’t sound like much craic either.  

I’ll admit, I don’t like owing anyone anything. Like the man in the bar who insists on buying you a drink and then starts looking for the ride – just NO – so I might be coming at this pre-loaded.  Having said that, I would drop and roll off that runaway train like a stunt pro on uppers.  Just ask yourself: could you push the wedding out by another year and fund it yourselves? Would you consider a more intimate do?  Have you ever seriously considered eloping? Ok, so that’s not why you’re here but let’s have it in the bank should shizz get real.

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Now: the in-laws.  The fact that they have offered to shoulder 50% of the bill is extremely generous.  Their fondness for you is also clear by the MIL’s full and mindless immersion in game prep and the FIL’s premature offers of support.  You don’t say it but I also suspect your fiancée is an only child, if not The Favourite Child? This might explain the mania in his camp.  This is a once-in-a-lifetime event (for most) and they are stoked.  They want to share the day with all of their friends and feel they are paying their dues.

This is where we re-join reality.  Arrange a meeting – you, Golden Balls and the in-laws, with GB leading.  Thank them for their positivity, enthusiasm and significant financial contribution and outline how you have apportioned spend.  Explain that you would like to cover the cost of the venue, catering and your dress yourselves, suggesting they cover the band, flowers and potentially the drinks reception, or similar permutation.  By reclaiming venue and catering costs, you are reminding them (lest they forgot) that their donation is not buying bums on seats.  However, it seems fair that if they are footing a decent whack of the bill they are allocated some additional guests.  Fifty, relevant to your ceiling of one-twenty is mad talk so finding a number you are comfortable with is the next challenge.

Traditionally – post-dowry, pre marriage-equality – when the bride’s parents stumped up, the guest quota would be split three ways: 50% allocated to the bride and groom, 25% each to their respective families.  By these terms, your in-law’s would be offered thirty guests, so work back from there, considering your own parents here too.

Have all of this meticulously worked out before you meet. GB is doing all of the talking – their money, his business – you are simply smiling compassionately by his side, surreptitiously slipping him cue cards when he forgets his lines.  They need to know that you’re in control regardless of their generous pledge.  If they retract their offer on this basis, well at least you all know where you stand.  Drawing clear boundaries now will also lay a blueprint for seamless future relations.

Sticky conversations aside, yet still knowing how much your MIL wants to be part of the show, it would be an idea to either set her up with a ‘fun jobs’ list (please note: I would rather shave my own toes, future DIL) or share key moments along the way with her, eg. your dress fitting or menu tasting.   Nurture opportunities for warm, fuzzy bonding where you can, purging any lingering negative juju between you.

But most of all breathe.  There’s always Vegas, right?

For more bridal content on everything from table settings to accessories, check out Image Brides in the Jan/Feb issue of Image, on newsstands December 28th

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