To say the mother/daughter relationship is complicated would be gross understatement — kind of like calling the moon launch a little plane ride. Oh, it starts out simple enough. Mother with absolute control. Daughter absolutely dependent (ah, the good old days!). But don’t be fooled. The Mother Autocracy is built on shifting sand, and pretty much as soon as that perfect, sweet cherub develops the power of speech, that blissful asymmetrical power structure begins to disintegrate.
She bounds off to nursery school, where she will stand on her own chubby little legs and take those first steps to becoming what you want her to be: Her very own person.
A minute goes by, and your once relatively-obedient little angel becomes a tween who trades in her halo for a cell phone and Twitter account. And the two of you transition from simmering standoff to full scale tug of war.
Blink your eyes, and she is off to college, and that last thread of childhood, strained and stretched thin, is ready to snap.
And then, before you turn around, she is living on her own and making her way in the world, calling you to say hello after a long day at the office.
You know what’s coming next. Your fabulous, accomplished, independent daughter will announce her engagement. From that moment, you and she will also become engaged — in a wedding-planning process that has the potential to become an epic battle. Bridezilla vs. Momzilla. Avoiding the carnage will depend on how well the two of you have evolved into this new and even more complex mother-daughter dynamic.
For starters, forget what you’ve heard, and get ready for a revealing and educational adventure that will, at times, challenge and frustrate but also surprise and amaze as you have an opportunity to see your daughter — and yourself — in a whole new light. For those who are just now embarking on the mother of the bride (MOB) experience, they say it’s a little like childbirth. No matter how many books you read, you’re never really prepared.
My daughter Samantha and me on her wedding day
So, here are a few things you won’t find in the manual:
1. Whose Wedding is it Anyhow?
Newsflash: Brides no longer want to toss the bouquet, wear a garter, or have cute little married people atop the cake. (What???) But, alas, one wedding tradition lives on. Translation: There is a pretty good chance your side is doing the financial heavy lifting. So, of course, there is an expectation that you will have ultimate decision-making power, as you have always had when planning events for which you wrote checks. As you map out your plans and begin organizing your team of vendors, your daughter will remind you that she is the one getting married, not you. It is a rude awakening and the moment when you realize you will be putting your money where her mouth is. It is indeed a different world than the one in which you got married 100 years ago, and if you are smart, you will listen to your daughter and let her show you how it’s done today. (Even those cute little cake topper people. Give it up.) Prepare to be amazed.
2. Three is a Crowd That Takes Some Getting Used To
You fantasize about creating the perfect, magical event for your bride-to-be. Imagine your surprise when an outsider — the groom — is weighing in with his opinions. In your excitement, you may have forgotten that the bride is not the only person getting married. And lo and behold, you cannot just ignore his input, as it is glaringly apparent that your daughter is now part of a team. Because of their mutual respect, she will consider his feelings — maybe ahead of yours. (Case in point: Those mini pigs in blankets that managed to make it into the cocktail hour. Hey, pick your battles.) And though you may be taken aback by this intrusion, you will wonder if you really hate his ideas, or if you just aren’t ready to process this huge — but inevitable and healthy — swing in loyalty.
3. Say Yes to Her Dress
One of the most fun and memorable of MOB activities is shopping for the bridal gown. Of course, you have a vision of how you want your daughter to look as she makes her grand entrance. So what do you do when it comes down to two final choices — both within the budget — and one is so gorgeous it moves you to tears, but your daughter is over the moon about the other one? Simple. But not easy. Bite your tongue. Clamp a hand over your mouth if necessary. Allow your daughter to have her moment without your little Mother voice in her head making her doubt her choice. (That was a really tough one!)
As a mother, you have raised your daughter to respect you. But, as difficult as it is to come to terms with, you have not raised her to be Mini You. So, if you have done your job, your bride will not always agree with you. Oh, the irony. When she makes a list of tasks that she will tackle, try not to pout and assume that as the “adult,” your way is the best way. Show her the respect she deserves, and you will be surprised just how capable this person is — and feel so proud. If you allow yourself to go with the flow, you will learn a lot about this grown-up who used to be your little girl and come through it at the other end with an even stronger bond.
5. She’s Got Style
When you meet the florist with your bride, you are prepared to share the concepts that the two of you have discussed. Before you can open your mouth, your daughter takes complete command, perfectly expressing her desires. It’s a little mind-blowing to be silently sitting there, but clearly, your articulate, confident bride is in control. It is a virtual passing of the torch and, for the MOB, a profoundly moving moment. You have raised a really competent young woman… with great taste! (Allow yourself some credit. She got it from somewhere!)
6. A Closed Door…An Open Window
Planning a wedding with your daughter is a life-changing milestone experience, but not for the reasons you think. What would, on the surface, appear as a veritable mountain of “things to do” is in fact a shared journey of emotional growth and discovery; a chance to really reconnect, shed old patterns, and begin a more adult relationship. As your daughter becomes consumed with embracing the challenges of her new status, it will appear as if you have been fired from your old job as Head Mother in Charge. But in truth, you have a new job as a valuable resource, on standby to help guide your daughter through the maze of married life. It is equally important — just different.
7. The Wedding Day Prep
Wedding prep for a 7 p.m. event begins at 10 a.m.? Yes, these days, the bridal party makes a day of it with hair and makeup and, even more important, bonding with the bride in her final single hours. When your daughter invites you to join that sacred space, grab an MOB bathrobe and dive in. It is a unique opportunity to see her in her natural habitat surrounded by her dearest friends and reveling in the joy of the occasion. So don’t be a party pooper. Let them spray your hair within an inch of its life so that it holds for six hours and enjoy the peek behind the curtain.
8. Memories to Last a Lifetime
Though the wedding album will capture the momentous occasion for posterity, your most personal wedding memories will not be found on those pages. You will remember the moment you and your daughter both spotted the perfect invitation, hanging out over lunch or dinner between appointments, laughing about what her future children will call you (anything but Bubbe!), or dishing about the gritty realities of married life and expectations for the future. If the process is adversarial and argumentative, that is what you will remember. The more relaxed and flexible you can be, the more cherished those memories will be.
9. The Ultimate Surprise
When you are exhausted and wondering if all of your benevolence, tolerance, and willingness to put your own ego aside (how you have matured!) has been appreciated, you are rewarded with a most beautiful and unexpected gift. On her wedding day, your daughter hands you a letter. Reading it, your eyes fill with tears as she expresses her profound gratitude, not only for all that you have done to make her wedding spectacular, but for your years of devotion and love raising her. She says she would be proud to be exactly the mom that you were to her. Bridezilla? Momzilla? I think not. You, Mother of the Bride, can now live happily ever after.
10. It Isn’t About You…But It Is!
Finally, prepare yourself for the mother of all MOB revelations. Everybody, including you initially, is convinced that this day is really all about your daughter. As you stand in the doorway, the enormity of this transformational occasion will wash over you. In that moment, it will be abundantly clear that the journey of the past year has been but the prelude to your new reality, and you must adjust your perspective accordingly. As the music starts, you will look your beautiful bride in the eyes and fervently wish her a wonderful life. She will look back at you quizzically, like you have finally lost your mind, but someday she will get it. And then you adjust the bust of your hideously uncomfortable but awesome gown one last time, put your arm through hers, and proceed down the aisle. One short walk for the bride. One giant leap for MOBs everywhere.