Mom Driving You Crazy?

Put the brakes on mother-daughter angst with a few well-placed words and (gulp!) compromise.

Setting Boundaries

The Right Words

Both of you at your wits end? Follow these dos and don’ts to keep your kinship with mom on an even keel.

• Do discuss your budget in detail from the start. When The Great Centerpiece Debate ensues, at least cost will not become a hot-button topic. Firm finances also keep Mom's guest list from spiraling out of control.

• Do keep her informed. If your mom feels out of the loop, she just might strike out on her own.

• Do tell Mom that you want to hear her opinions and will consider each one. Listen to her, and look for ways to incorporate some of her ideas.

• Do not freak out, even if you feel your mom’s treating you like a difficult teen. Try to understand where she is coming from instead, and let potential squalls blow over.

• Do not tell your mother she does not know what she is talking about. If she thinks it is inappropriate for you to have two maids of honor, for instance, lend her an up-to-date book or article on the topic.

• Do not tell Mom to butt out. Your wedding is a special time for her, too.

Your well-intentioned mom may not even realize that her tri-weekly phone calls asking what she can "help out with" are not really helpful at all. You don't have to shut her out completely in order to maintain control—but you do have to set boundaries early on. Talk to your mother about the role you'd like her to play. This is where you lay down the law—gently. "It's easy to get off on the wrong foot if you constantly say ‘don't' to your mom," says Claro. Statements like "Don't worry about the cake" or "Don't visit the reception site, I've got it covered" bruise her ego, make her feel left out—and probably put her on the defensive. Now you've got a worse problem! Instead of listing all the things she shouldn't do, keep her focused on what you would like her to do.

Advises Claro, "Target her strengths. If she's creative, put her in charge of something artistic, like the flower arrangements. If she's a crack negotiator, let her haggle with the pastry chef while you select the style of cake you want. A mom who's good at making people feel comfortable might be happy tackling the seating arrangements."

"Communication is key," stresses Lenderman. "Take time to find out what's most important to your mom. Is it the church decorations? The favors? Once you've got a sense of her priorities, make sure she gets a voice in those decisions. If it's the menu, for instance, find three different menus you and your fiancé like, then let her make the final selection. That way, both of you have your wishes accommodated."

When Things Get Out of Hand

The course of mother-daughter interactions rarely runs perfectly smooth. So if the battles continue despite your best efforts, consider hiring a wedding consultant. A consultant can be a great neutral party; her expertise can help you see opposite sides of an issue. "On several occasions, I've been hired as a referee," says Lenderman. "If a mother and daughter are arguing about which caterer to use, I can lay out the pros and cons objectively and help them reach a compromise. In the end, it saves a lot of stress."

Next: What to do if you still disagree ►