Be clear about financial pinch, let son and fiancee guide choice
Q: My son is getting married in four months. He and his fiancee have lived together for eight years and have a baby daughter.
The mother of the bride (MOTB), along with the bride, have a huge wedding planned, with more than 200 guests. MOTB has pretty much left me out of all the planning (I live about 10 hours away), with the exception of this: She's asked me to pay for the rehearsal dinner, the limo ride and one hour of an open bar at the reception.
MOTB knows that I lost my job almost a year ago, collected unemployment and now work a 16-hour-per-week job at minimum wage. I have been divorced from the groom's father for many years, and he wants nothing to do with this wedding. MOTB has money from an inheritance to pay for this wedding and has sent me e-mails detailing what she's spent (more than $20,000).
The rehearsal dinner has been changed to two nights before the wedding, which means an extra night in a hotel room, plus 10 hours of driving with gas prices so high ... and my boyfriend, who is a farmer, having to miss three days of harvest.
What's the etiquette for couples who have lived together for eight years, have a child, and have parents who can't afford a "royal wedding"?
Should I just be blunt with MOTB and tell her, "This is what I can afford, and this is what I'm paying for and nothing else"?
A: Clearly MOTB (pronounced Motba, like Mothra) needs to hear the truth.
And it's hard to argue with your suggested approach; as the one giving orders, she's the one with the greatest need to know about the limits to what you can afford.
In fact, the one suggestion I'm tempted to make is that you respectfully and lovingly decline to pay any wedding expenses at all. You're barely scraping by! When traditional mores have already been thrown out the window, attempts to enforce "traditional" rules aren't about duty, they're about vanity.
But making sense and avoiding bankruptcy aren't the only things you want to accomplish here. You also want to serve your relationship with your son.
To that end, two suggestions:
(1) Shelve the disgust at the fancy wedding. Yes, after eight years and a kid, it's a bit much, but you can't stop it, can't hope to contain it, and so there's no happy ending available through snark.
(2) Talk to your son about the rehearsal dinner and your financial pinch. Not to complain about MOTB and not to punt entirely, but instead to ask for his guidance given your circumstances. Show them love and respect by including them in your decision: "Here's what I have and here's what we've been asked to give: What are your and Fiancee's priorities? Because I want to do what's best for you two."
The risk to your relationship with your son may not feel as immediate as it does with your bank balance or the harvest, but damage to it could outlast all — and his fiancee is just as important an audience as your son is to whatever you have to say. (If not more.)
Your best option is to come through for them to the extent that you practically can. Make that your only message, and stick to it.