I am going to preface this post with this advice…if you have a family dynamic, please let your Wedding Planner, Wedding Coach, and Officiant know! We are skilled at managing all kinds of situations and people. I have no problem asking an unwanted guest to come with me so they can be removed. My job is not to be liked by your parents and guests, my job is to serve and protect you at your ceremony so you can marry the love of your live without any stress.
We exist in a culture where the expectation is that as we age and become adults, the dynamics of the relationships we have with our parents will evolve to something resembling friendship. Sunday dinners, family vacations, close familial ties all around. But what happens when that isn’t the case? What happens when you are estranged from your parent, parents, or other family members when you are planning your wedding?
Estrangement from family is so much more common that most of us realize. Every single day I meet yet another woman who has had to make the choice to go No Contact with a family member, usually her mother, in order to protect her own physical and mental health.
In a society that romanticizes the elderly and mothers, parental estrangement could be the one last taboo in our modern world, but if there’s one thing I’ve learned in my life, it’s that every story has two sides. Good parents don’t simply get cut off by their adult children. Not all parents love their children. Not all mother’s are nurturing and loving. Not all fathers are solid and dependable. Yet when an adult child is forced to save themselves, the assumption is almost always that the adult child is to blame for the state of the relationship. Sadly, the parents almost always get the sympathy vote unless the people around the adult child take the time to really learn about what has led to this state of affairs. Who wouldn’t take the side of a sobbing old woman? Someone who gets it, that’s who.
In 2015, Richard Conti conducted a study of college students, mostly female, that showed more than one-quarter experienced extended estrangement, and close to 44 percent had been estranged at some point. A British study conducted by Lucy Blake, reported more than half reporting estrangement and 77 percent citing abuse as the cause. This estrangement is not something the adult child takes lightly and often take years to come to the decision. The child-parent relationship is the most primal dynamic we know – we WANT to be with our parents, and the pull is strong. But when it isn’t safe, there is often no other choice. It’s important to note that most adult children go no contact after many attempts to set boundaries with a parent, or parents, have failed. Don’t be surprised to find out these parents say they don’t have a clue what they could’ve possibly done to warrant this – don’t be fooled, they know. They have been told, over and over and over. They just don’t like answer and they almost always don’t like the delivery.
That brings us to weddings…and what to do when you don’t want an abusive parent ruining your day? We know many estranged parents and family members will see this as an opportunity to reconnect and go right back to the relationship you had before you chose to go no contact. Let’s face it…the reason you went no contact is because your parent or family member isn’t capable of behaving in a kind and loving way, though you can be sure they believe they do!
Weddings bring with them the assumption that parents and other family members will be there, taking part, being part of the show and all of the big events. The wedding invitations set the tone and often include the parents names. Who walks the bride down the aisle? What about the mother/son and father/daughter dance? Traditionally the groom’s parents take care of the rehearsal and dinner, but what if he has had to remove himself from that relationship? What if his bride is the reason?
Inviting an estranged loved one to the biggest day of your life should be based on you really wanting them at your wedding, celebrating with you. This should be about fixing your relationship, if possible, and not about just one day. It’s nice to imagine mending fences, and it’s also ok to not invite someone who has been the cause of anguish and pain.
Before you decide to extend the olive branch, here are some questions to ponder:
Are you upset about something completely unforgiveable such as physical, mental, and emotional abuse? Abandonment or theft?
Is your estrangement because of a minor misunderstanding that has grown into something much bigger?
Are you concerned your estranged family member will make a scene, upset people including other family members, create drama with their victim narrative taking the spotlight away from you and your new spouse? Is your estranged family member likely to get drunk and cause upset with violence and verbal outbursts?
What if your relationship doesn’t improve after your wedding?
Would you want a relationship with them after your wedding?
Are you comfortable having your estranged loved one there sharing in your day with you?
If you have answered these questions and still want to mend your relationship so you can consider inviting your estranged family member to your wedding, it’s best to start early by meeting them in a neutral place for a short time to test the waters. Shortly after you get engaged would be a great time because it will give you long enough to work on your relationship and reconcile long before your wedding day comes. You may or may not want your partner there – tho if they witness what you have been talking about, they will have an easier time of understanding and explaining the situation to their own parents and family members.
Don’t send a wedding invitation out of the blue – see if you can resolve your differences first. Inviting them to your wedding won’t fix things, and could in fact, make things a lot worse for you while you plan your wedding. Keep in mind they might not own any of their behaviour and never understand why you are upset – and that’s ok, you can go back to no contact if you don’t want to see or speak to them again. A wedding isn’t always the best time to end a family feud, but it can be the start of getting back to the relationship you once shared.
If you want to include your estranged parent or parents, but don’t want to spend the entire day worrying about what they will do at your wedding, you can always just invite them to your ceremony and hope they leave when it’s over. Be prepared for people to be encouraging them to stay!
If you don’t invite your estranged family member, keep in mind they might just show up on their own. If you wedding is in a public place they could just show up and take their seat. They will tell you it’s a public place and they can do what they want, and tell people this is what parents do, especially after all they have done for you. If this is something you think might happen, contact your local security company about keeping them from spoiling your day, and make sure your Wedding Planner and Officiant know about the situation.
I performed a wedding in 2019 where the mother of the bride was estranged from all of her daughters. The bride decided to invite her and kept her fingers crossed that there wouldn’t be any problems. I kept an eye on the situation and it wasn’t long before the mother had one of the bride’s sisters in tears running to the washroom to escape the drama. There are people who just can’t help themselves and create misery everywhere they go.
Ultimately, your wedding day is your special day and who you invite is a very personal decision. If you’re not ready to reconcile, or you’re worried about the person’s behavior, don’t invite them. Don’t let this drama ruin your special day.
Here are some resources for women who are survivors of Maternal Narcissistic Abuse:
Will I Ever Be Good Enough?
You’re Not Crazy, It’s Your Mother
Narcissistic Mother: A Survival Guide for Daughters
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