Family healing at a destination wedding

April 25, 2011

Q. My stepdaughter is marrying a wonderful person with whom we are so compatible. But they are having a destination wedding in Costa Rica, which makes us unhappy and even angry.

We really don’t want to go to it — or to vacation in Costa Rica either — but have no choice because my husband doesn’t want to err in the wrong direction.

He and his daughter haven’t talked or met for two years, so we don’t understand why she would care whether we went to her wedding or not. I even e-mailed her to find out if our presence would be embarrassing or awkward for her and if she really wanted us to attend. But she said that she would be devastated if we didn’t come and that all the people who were important to her would be there. However, her paternal grandmother, from whom she is also estranged, isn’t going to the wedding and my own daughter and her family can’t make it either.

It’s hard for us to go on this four-day trip too, because we’ve had a tough financial year, and now we have to pay for the flights, the hotel, the $90 excursions and the meals that are preplanned and quite expensive.

Why do people plan outrageously expensive destination weddings during this difficult economy? And how can we sort out our own unsettled feelings?


(Hadley Hooper)

A.A destination wedding is even more stressful than a queen-for-the-day wedding, but do you have to buy into it completely?

You could tell your stepdaughter that your finances are putting the brakes on your good times, so you can only go to Costa Rica for two days, rather than four, or that you’ll be staying home but your husband will videotape the ceremony so that you won’t miss what really matters.

These solutions, though partial, will cover up a messy situation but they won’t fix it, and this father-daughter relationship is begging to be fixed.

Just think how badly you’d feel if you and your daughter had broken apart, and then you’ll know how much your husband and his child must be hurting right now. A wedding is the time when parents and children should be making the memories that will pull them closer together, not ones that will push them further apart.

Your husband and his daughter should do the pulling, of course, but a man often sucks up his pain instead of expressing it, and a bride spends so much time thinking about her wedding and her fiance that she forgets to think about anyone else. You could fuss with her about that or about having a destination wedding, but that would be like telling a child not to think so much about her next birthday party. Most of the fun of a wedding, or a birthday party, is usually in the planning beforehand and the recollections afterward even more than the event itself.

Even if your stepdaughter wasn’t planning her wedding, however, she probably wouldn’t call her dad, or call on him, because most young adults don’t defer to their elders anymore. Instead, most young men and women still expect their parents and grandparents to call them and to invite them to dinner, too. And when they go home for a visit, they expect their moms, or stepmoms, to cook their meals and put away whatever they have strewn about, because home is the place where the young go to be tended. If that doesn’t happen, they may feel rejected and stay so far away that they become estranged from their parents.

Unless there was some wretched blow-up that made your stepdaughter and your husband stop calling or visiting each other, their estrangement probably began when neither one knew why the other was staying away — and neither dared to ask. This was (and is) a great pity, for parents and children need each other, always.

If you want to give a fine present to your husband and his daughter, try to heal the breach between them. Begin by asking the bride if there is anything you can do to help with the wedding: any favors you can make; any invitations you can address; any flowers you can arrange. And if you stay home, use some of that travel money you’ve saved to throw a pre-wedding celebratory dinner for the young couple and for a few guests who can’t go to Costa Rica either. If you reach out to your stepdaughter, as far as you can, the father-daughter estrangement should slowly start to thaw.

Questions? Send them to advice@margueritekelly.com.

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