Jewish Journal

Get Married Without Disowning Your Mom

by Carin Davis

Posted on Nov. 10, 2005 at 7:00 pm


Welcome to tonight's main event, bride-to-be vs. mother of the bride. These two lightweight champions are battling it out for the hostess title. Ladies, take your corners. Have a clean fight, a fair fight and no hitting below the garter belt.

Many a wedding have lead to knockout, throw-down arguments between mother and daughter. Should it be black tie or California casual? Meat or fish? DJ or band? Should there be fewer guests at a lavish wedding or more guests at a bare-bones one? And why should cousin Sally, who the bride hasn't seen since her sweet 16, get an invite over a co-worker? Planning for this happy occasion shouldn't involve constant bickering and hurt feelings. But brides envision their wedding one way, and mothers envision it another way. Mothers threaten to boycott the wedding, and daughters threaten to elope. But wedding preparations don't have to take down family relationships.

Rachel Zients had a bad experience during the planning of her bat mitzvah, and after she got engaged to Jay Schinderman, the 30-something television writer-producer initially worried about the possibility of a rerun.

Brides don't want to feel trapped by their parents' opinions, and parents just want to be part of this special occasion. But is it possible to effectively balance expectations when planning a wedding?

Zients and her mother, Eileen Douglas Israel, decided to try.

"It was a goal of mine to have harmony during my wedding planning," Zients said. "The most important thing my mother did was recognize that I was an organized, working woman who didn't need her to do everything, but who appreciated the things she did do."

Israel gave her daughter the freedom to plan her wedding the way she wanted to. In return, Zients called on her mother when she really needed her.

Since she lived in Santa Monica, Zients enlisted her mother and future mother-in-law to help scout locations in New York. The mothers explored numerous hotels and banquet halls and reported their findings back to Zients in Los Angeles. When Zients flew to New York, she had the luxury of only focusing her attention on a few likely venues. By assigning this task to the mothers, Zients received real help rather than empty advice.

After the wedding was set for the Metropolitan Club, Zients planned other elements of the ceremony on her own: the flowers, the music, the dress. Her mother supported most of her choices.

But the two butted heads on the processional music. Zients felt that getting married was like starting down a yellow brick road, so she wanted to walk down the aisle to "Somewhere Over the Rainbow." Her mother wasn't on board at first.

"My mom thought it was untraditional, but it just seemed right to me," Zients said. "I took a step back and listened to her, but decided it was important to me."

While a bride should remain open to hearing her mother's opinions, a mother also needs to know when to trust her daughter's taste. Such balance is key in harmonious wedding planning.

In the end, Zients went ahead and used the song. After the ceremony, her mother confessed that the music worked.

Unlike the mother-daughter affair of the Zients-Schinderman wedding, Robyn Lazarus enlisted the help of her entire family. Additional help can also bring with it additional problems, so it's important for family to share ideas but not make demands.

Lazarus' parents, Alan and Janet Fink, and her sister, Missy Fink, attended meetings with everyone from the caterer to the wedding coordinator. There were moments of conflict during the planning of Lazarus' wedding and the family didn't always agree, but they did try to keep things in perspective.

"The wedding was really about what Robyn wanted, we just helped her get there," Janet Fink said.

While most brides-to-be turn to their mothers for help, Lazarus said it was her father who had very distinct ideas about the flowers, the lighting, the tables and the food.

"He knew what he wanted my wedding to be like; he wanted everything to be top-notch," she said.

Parents and siblings should suggest a location or recommend a vendor, but not insist on one. That way, they voice their opinion and communicate their view without imposing it on the bride.

"I wanted to make sure I was making the best choices and I appreciated my family's thoughts and input," said Lazarus, who teaches second grade in Simi Valley.

While some brides might have felt suffocated by such heavy family involvement, Lazarus said it worked for her.

"Having my whole family contribute to the planning process made my wedding even more special," said Lazarus, who married her husband Mike at the Century City Park Hyatt earlier this year.

It's important for brides to remember that while it is their wedding day, it's also a family event, and parents want to feel like they're a part of it -- especially if they're picking up the bill. Lazarus found that all of her family's guidance helped reduce -- rather than increase -- her wedding stress.

"My family is always involved, so I think their role in planning my wedding just mirrors the relationship and family dynamic that we have," Lazarus said.

It's easy for a bride-to-be and her parents to squabble over guest lists, seating charts and napkin rings. And it's common to think that the wrong name cards could ruin a wedding and that a less-than-perfect guestbook means disaster. But if both sides can remember that this day is not just about the wedding and the reception, but about the start of a marriage and an event that is truly a family affair, these fights can be kept to a minimum.

Rachel Zients remembered a particularly snowy Manhattan day when she was running through a jam-packed schedule of location callbacks with her mother. In between bustling and price checking, Zients received unexpected words of wisdom.

"One of the location managers said, 'This is what you should remember, this is what you should take with you. This moment of running around New York City with your mom,'" she said. "She was right, this was a really special time for me and my mom."

Steps Toward Sanity

So the big day is months away, but the arguing has already begun. Looking to put an end to all the bickering with your folks? Andrea Ross, event manager at the Chicago Marriott Downtown on the Magnificent Mile, has helped countless couples and their families plan gorgeous weddings. She offers up the following practical tips and insider secrets for brides-to-be:

• Be Honest With Your Mother: If you have a vision or want something specific, tell her. If she makes a suggestion that you don't like, tell her.

• Get Organized: If your mother makes a suggestion, write it down. If she brings you an article, accept it. Keep these items in a folder and tell her when you plan to work on that specific wedding item. For example, if she cuts out pictures of cakes, tell her you're putting them in your cake file, but don't plan on making that decision until two months prior to the wedding. This way, she won't bug you -- er ... ask you -- about it everyday, but feels like you're taking her suggestions seriously.

• Agree to Disagree: Your mom is going to hate some of your ideas, and you're going to dislike some of hers. Just because you love each other doesn't mean you'll love all of each other's ideas.

• Share the Details: In order to avoid confrontations with your mother, give out as much information as possible. Neither you nor your mother want to be contacted by Great-Aunt Ethel who wants to know what the activities for the weekend are, where she can make room reservations and if there's a Sunday brunch. Set up a Web site, send out an e-mail or mail your guests an itinerary. You may even want to appoint a sibling or maid-of-honor to be the point person to answer guests' questions. This will help reduce friction between you and your mother.

• Have a Family Meeting: Include both the parents of the bride and the parents of the groom. Lay everything out: who is paying for what, who is planning what and how everyone envisions the day. This discussion will help set parameters like the number of guests each side will invite, the total budget for the reception, who will conduct the ceremony and who should sit where. Conduct this meeting in a public place, like a restaurant, so no one will raise his or her voice.

• Don't forget that a wedding is about the union of two people. It should be fun and as least stressful as possible. -- CD


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