As I mentioned in a previous post, family and friends will tend to act-out just prior or even during a wedding. It’s important to remember that a wedding doesn’t join two individuals in marriage; it joins two families and two sets of friends too. Let’s examine this in a bit more detail by looking at the issues that parents often have around weddings.
We like to think of ourselves as rational human beings. However, if I am honest with myself, occasionally I am far from rational. Sometimes this is a good thing. The strong loving bond between a parent and child is not rational. That relationship transcends rationality. If we placed parenthood on a balance ledger, and weighed the advantages and disadvantages of having children, it would logically appear that kids simply aren’t worth the trouble. Yet, despite the hassle and problems of being a parent, given the choice again, I would make the same decision to be a parent without a moment’s hesitation.
This evolutionary bond is powerful. This is why when we go walking in the woods, the rule of thumb is never walk between a large animal and it’s young. Even an unintentional invasion of this sacred space can provoke an attack if the animal believes their babies are in danger.
Now, I know this is not rational, but even through both my daughters are years away from dating, I’ve already started bulking up at the gym in order to make an impression on my eldest daughter’s first date! I went down to the local scrap yard three years ago to pick out a two foot length of lead pipe so that when my daughter’s young suitor comes to call, I can stand in the front doorway before he comes and ask (holding the lead pipe in my right hand and bouncing it on my left palm): “Where are you going? Who are you going with? When will you be back? Do you have any personal references? What is you parent’s phone number?” I have a dark irrational secret that I won’t admit to anyone, often not even to myself – I’m already jealous of my daughter’s potential suitors.
Remember, I love my two daughters. I have invested my life, career, fortune, time, emotions and even physical stamina in these two kids. I would give my own life for them. Inevitably, my children will grow up and probably want to get married. For 20 or more years they will have been a source of love, pride and joy. After twenty years of this, do you think I want some young, inexperienced little snot to come and take my daughters away from me. Why wouldn’t I be jealous? This is why we have that hackneyed aphorism: “Don’t worry, you’re not losing a daughter, you’re gaining a son.” Without a doubt, when this time comes, someone will say this to me. This is the moment when I and any other decent self-respecting parent will buck-up, put on a stiff upper-lip, smile and say: “Yes, I know. Don’t they look wonderful together?” The reason I will smile and agree is simple. Marriage is part of the natural order of life. My job as a parent is to launch my daughter into adulthood. Releasing my daughter at the appropriate time is part of that job.
Will I try to hide my jealousy? Yes, because I owe that to my daughters. It’s part of being a good parent. I hope that when my daughters catch a glimpse of my struggle to let go they will observe my stiff upper lip and know that my struggle with jealousy is just an indication of how strong that bond between us is.
As I mentioned in my previous post, the marriage of a child inevitably produces a loss for the parent. It’s not that the parent doesn’t also perceive the benefits of the marriage like more free personal time, more expendable money, and more attention from their own spouse. However, the parent will inevitably have to mourn the own loss of their parental role in the married child’s life.
Some of us have a large narcissistic streak in us. You probably know the type. This is the person walks into the room and all the attention instantly turns to them. People who are narcissistic will resent being somewhere the attention is not on them. Weddings can be a hard place for a narcissistic parent as they can unconsciously be jealous of giving up being the center of attention for their kids.
Coping with Pre-Ceremony Parental Freak-outs
- Don’t get confused by your parent’s jealousy and loss. They are struggling to be rational about the situation. If they have been responsible adults in the past, they will step-up to the challenge. Instead of confronting them directly, simply assume your role as the bride or groom and allow them the dignity of dealing with their irrational feelings in private. If they have a history of not acting responsibly, expect that they will act-out their feelings in the ways they have in the past and make allowances for this in your wedding plans.
- Remember, you are marrying two sets of families, not just two individuals. Weddings are as much for the family of the couple as it is for the bride and groom. Give your parents well defined roles in the creation and execution of your wedding. This will give them important signals about their place in your new life as well as in your Wedding party.
- If you have a narcissistic parent, early in the creation of the wedding, give that parent a specific and well-defined place in the event where they know they will be the center of attention. Make sure that you have contingency plans for how to get them off center stage in a decorous fashion if you think they will hog the attention.
- Delegate two special friends for each parent to act as “go-fer” and emotional support a week before the wedding and the day of the ceremony. Preferably, at least one friend should be someone who is emotionally close to your parents. Their role is to help your parents with the final tasks of the wedding and give them emotional support so that you don’t get sucked into taking care of your parent’s needs when the demands on your time will be maxed out.
Finally, keep it all in perspective. As my mother used to say, “God gives you family, but friends you can choose.” Once the ceremony is over, you and your spouse can go home, close the door, and get on with your new life.