Please contact Evil Stepmom at ESM@evilstepmom.org with your questions or ideas about stepfamily living with 17-30 year olds.

 



Articles & Interviews
Young Adult Brides Share Their Stepfamily Wedding Challenges

Every year, we get hundreds of letters about stepfamily engagements and weddings. This summer, Evil Stepmom will is posting her favorite wedding related letters under the Dear Evil Stepmom tab above.

Even in a calm family where there has been no parental divorce, the wedding of a young adult child can make good people think poorly and behave badly. When you add divorced and remarried parents, stepparents, stepsiblings, and stepfamily dynamics to an already emotional process, you can begin to understand why weddings are one of our hottest topics at Dear Evil Stepmom. While many of these letters come from stepmothers, a surprising number come from brides-to-be living in stepfamilies. Over time, we’ve identified some common themes.

The top concerns we hear from young people who are in the process of planning their wedding with divorced and remarried parents (and a stepparent or two) include: frustration with stepmothers who ask too many questions, share too many opinions, or think they should get a vote; problems with stepparents who want the young couple to invite people they don’t want at their wedding; and, resentment toward remarried parents who let their spouse limit how much money they can contribute to the celebration and/or try to control how the money will be spent.

Young adult stepchildren on their way to the altar also frequently complain about stepmothers who seem to be jealous of the bride, her engagement, and the wedding she is planning. Other young couples say they feel judged and criticized by a stepparent about matters of etiquette, style, and personal choices around their wedding plans.

If you’re a stepchild planning a wedding, you probably have concerns of your own about issues related to your divorced parents and stepparent(s): How and where to include a stepmom you’re fond of without hurting your mother, how to involve both stepparents equally if your parents are each remarried, what to do with stepfamily members you don’t know very well (or at all) and would rather not invite (such as stepsiblings or extended stepfamily members), or how to make sure your still-sad dad doesn’t say anything to your recently and happily remarried mom.

We’ve put together some ideas about how to handle sticky stepfamily situations during the wedding planning process. The goal here is to help you—the one getting married— avoid stress and conflict as much as possible, enjoy your engagement more, and focus on building a strong marriage of your own right from the start. Hopefully you’ll find some ideas here to suit you situation.

A Wedding Costs HOW MUCH???
Who is going to pay for the wedding and how much they are willing and able to contribute are questions young couples need to sort out in order to even begin their wedding planning. This is often one of the hardest parts of the process for divorced parents, remarried parents, and stepparents—and for the young couple, too.

When stepparents weigh in on how much will get spent and what it can be spent on (e.g., “Flowers? Okay. Whiskey bar? No way!”), many young adults start to feel bad about asking for help, or angry about having these difficult financial conversations with their parent muddied by an invasive stepparent. This is why it’s best to talk one-on-one to your remarried parent. Let both your mom and your dad know what you’re thinking about, planning, and hoping for, and let them know what you need. Then ask them to talk to their respective spouses about it, and plan to talk again in a week or two. This can be an act of respect: “Dad, Tom and I are hoping to get married on a Disney Cruise ship, and we figure we’ll need about $50,000 to bring our guests with us. Would you give it some thought, talk to Barbra about it, and let me know what, if anything the two of you might be willing to contribute to our celebration? Then we can talk about it next weekend when I visit.”

If you think your parent is being manipulative around the financial conversation (or being manipulated by a stepparent)—e.g., “You have to make nice with my wife to get this money”—you’d be better off to have a pot luck supper at the Community Cabin and pass on the financial contribution from that parent. Feeling jerked around is never a good thing, but it’s particularly bad while you’re preparing for marriage.

It’s nice to include stepparents in conversations about wedding food, cake, and music, etc., just so they feel at least a little “in the know”—but, unless your stepparent is paying for it or contributing significantly to it, it’s best to keep the money talk between the financially involved parties. If the contribution you’re asking for is too much, you, your fiancé, and your parents need to work on ways you might be able to modify the plan.

If a stepparent is trying to get too involved in the financial decision-making, your parent needs to let his/her spouse know how you and your fiancé are going to keep organized and on-budget. Money really shouldn’t be discussed between stepparent and stepchild unless that is an established way of communicating that has worked for the family for a long time already. A young adult wedding is not the time for stepparents to think about starting to talk directly with their adult stepchildren about money. But for some crazy reason, some stepparents do.

If your stepparent gets anxious and wants to talk finances with you too much, ask your parents to help you out. Young adults need to find neutral, fact-based ways to politely but firmly discourage parents and stepparents from involving themselves where they’re not welcome. Trust me, this is excellent training for marriage. Let your remarried parent(s) know that you plan on having money conversations directly with them, and they can decide what to discuss with their partners.

Remember: even though you may not control all the resources you need for your weeding, you can control a lot of the information around your wedding by setting up a regular time to check in with each of your parents (and your future parents’ in-laws) about your planning process. By controling when, where, how, and with whom these conversations happen, you won't feel blindsided. And with good planning and communication, you may avoid many of the emotional reactions parents and stepparents have when they feel left out and uninformed.

I Can’t Believe You’re Doing That…
When a stepparent criticizes important decisions you’re making about your ceremony and/or reception—e.g., “Why aren’t you getting married in a church?” “Why does the reception have to be so complicated? What’s wrong with a quick ceremony then a backyard bar-b-q in the afternoon?”—it can be tempting for young adults to simply avoid talking to them about the wedding.

I was at a wedding not long ago where the bride’s stepfather expressed his displeasure about every decision the young couple had made—how ridiculous it was to have the wedding and the reception venue so far apart, what a waste of money the cocktail hour was, how over-the-top the table decorations were. He seemed to think that weddings should be confined to a small ceremony followed by punch and cake in the church basement. And if that were what the couple had wanted, that would have been fine. Still, I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the bride who must have had to listen to her stepfather criticizing and condemning every choice she and her fiancé made for the past year.

If you’ve got a stepparent like this on your parenting team, then you and your fiancé have a great opportunity to practice defining yourselves as a couple. Explain your thinking once—e.g., “It was important to Jeff’s family that we get married in the church he grew up in, but we wanted a reception site that would let all of our out-of-town friends really get a taste of Portland, so we chose the Bossanova Ballroom for our celebration.” After that, all you have to say is, “because it’s what Jeff and I wanted.”

If the criticism gets to be too much, let your stepparent know that you’re sure they mean well, but that their nitpicking isn’t helping. Better yet, make sure to plan one thing you know your stepparent will love, and just say, “Oh, Bob, I know you’re worried about it being too fancy, but I promise we’re going to play the Macarena and the Hokey-Pokey!” Often times we nitpick just because we’re feeling a little (or a lot) left out.

Hang onto your sense of humor, give yourself a little distance from an annoying stepparent, and remember: this won’t last forever. If you can do these things, you should be able to manage yourself without too much therapy and self-medication before the wedding.

Emily Post Says....
Some stepparents believe that the old-school rules of etiquette should dictate how a wedding goes. One stepmother went so far as to tell her stepdaughter that the invitations she and her fiancé had selected were, “tacky and inappropriate.” Ouch.

If you’re catching flak from a Miss or Mister Manners stepparent about your wedding plans, you’ll need to be ready with a neutral response such as, “Weddings today are less about protocol and more about celebration with family and friends, and personal expression for the new couple. David and I are really enjoying planning such an important event together.” From your wild flower bridal bouquets to your homemade dill pickle wedding favors, be prepared to defend your personal, contemporary, or non-traditional decisions over and over again to us old folks.

You might also want to be ready to explain specifically how you’ll be using financial contributions in the event that your remarried parent and stepparent are underwriting some or all of your big day. Some parents and stepparents just write a check, others want the right to approve or veto every purchase they contribute to. Make sure you know what your parents’ and stepparents’ principles are about how they want their contribution used, and be sure to clarify what if any strings are attached (e.g., you have to word the invitation their way, you have to invite her 14 grandchildren, you can’t serve beer or wine).

Unless you keep in front of etiquette sticklers with information about your plans and vision, you can end up in pointless conflicts about dated ideas of what’s right, appropriate, and acceptable. And those are conversations you definitely don’t need right now!

What About ME?
Lots of stepparents feel like outsiders during their stepchildren’s wedding planning process. Mothers and children—especially daughters—often move closer together during the preparation for marriage. Fathers and mothers—even divorced parents—feel the pull and push of having to let go of this amazing young person they made together one last time. Rearing a child though life to mate selection and procreation is an enormous victory for the human animal. Parents have a right to feel proud—of themselves, of you, and of each other. As you might imagine, this is hard for some stepparents to watch.

If your divorced parents are working together on wedding planning projects such as making the budget, setting dates for various pre-wedding events, and/or deciding on the guest list, there are a lot of opportunities for your stepparent(s) to feel left out of the process. Even when parents aren’t working together on their child’s behalf, there are other tensions stepparents have to navigate, including spending time with her mate’s former spouse and their family, figuring out what role the bride and groom want her to play in their big day, and not getting recognition or thanks for her many contributions around the big day.

It’s easy to see how a stepparent might feel resentful of all the attention and resources that are being directed at the young couple. One bride wrote to say that her stepmother insisted that her father buy her a new engagement ring—a bigger one than the ring her stepdaughter had recently received.

While that might sound silly, it’s no fun watching people who used to all live under the same roof come together in a way that doesn’t include you, and stepparents’ tensions can come out in some pretty immature ways. We try to be big, but we all have our days. Keep that in mind during your planning process.

***
People won’t remember what you say or do;
they will remember how you made them feel. 
~ Maya Anglou
***

All this navagating and negotiating really is terrific preparation for the parts of marriage that will involve telling your parents, stepparents, and in-laws things they may not want to hear and figuring out how to hang in there together as a family in a new way.

If you’re a YA stepchild planning a wedding with divorced and remarried parents, please write to Dear Evil Stepmom at ESM@evilstepmom.org. We’d love to help you come up with ideas for defining yourself while staying connected to the most important people in your life at this exciting and stressful time.

If you’re a remarried parent or stepparent trying to figure out how to make your child or stepchild’s wedding go more smoothly, please send your specific questions to ESM@evilstepmom.org to get tips and tools designed just for you.

If you’ve got a stepfamily wedding coming up this summer and you’d be willing to share something your family is struggling with or something your family has done well, we’d love to hear from you at ESM@evistepmom.org, and to share your experience with other stepfamilies with young adults. 

< Return to Articles