The Washington Post

A lavish wedding but scant funds


Dear Carolyn:

My son is getting married in four months. He and his fiancee have lived together for eight years and have a baby daughter. The Mother-of-the-Bride (MOTB), along with the bride, have a HUGE wedding planned, with over 200 guests. MOTB has pretty much left me out of all the planning (I live about 10 hours away), with the exception of this: She’s asked me to pay for rehearsal dinner, limo ride and one hour of an open bar at reception.

Carolyn Hax started her advice column in 1997, after five years as a copy editor and news editor in Style and none as a therapist. The column includes cartoons by "relationship cartoonist" Nick Galifianakis -- Carolyn's ex-husband -- and appears in over 200 newspapers. View Archive

MOTB knows that I lost my job almost a year ago, collected unemployment and now work a 16-hour-per-week job at minimum wage. I have been divorced from Groom’s father for MANY years and he wants nothing to do with this wedding. MOTB has money from an inheritance to pay for this wedding and has sent me e-mails detailing what she’s spent (over $20,000).

The rehearsal dinner has been changed to two nights before the wedding, which means an extra night in a hotel room, plus 10 hours of driving with gas prices so high . . . and my boyfriend, who is a farmer, having to miss three days of harvest.

What’s the etiquette for couples who have lived together for eight years, have a child and parents who can’t afford a “royal wedding”? Should I just be blunt with MOTB and tell her, “This is what I can afford, and this is what I’m paying for and nothing else”?

(Nick Galifianakis for The Washington Post)


Clearly MOTB (pronounced Motba, like Mothra) needs to hear the truth. And it’s hard to argue with your suggested approach; as the one giving orders, she’s the one with the highest need to know about the limits to what you can afford.

In fact, the one suggestion I’m tempted to make is that you respectfully and lovingly decline to pay any wedding expenses at all. You’re barely scraping by! When traditional mores have already been thrown out the window, attempts to enforce “traditional” rules aren’t about duty, they’re about vanity.

But making sense and avoiding bankruptcy aren’t the only things you want to accomplish here. You also want to serve your relationship with your son.

To that end, two suggestions:

1. Shelve the disgust at the fancy wedding. Yes, after eight years and a kid, it’s a bit much, but you can’t stop it, can’t hope to contain it, and so there’s no happy ending available through snark.

2. Talk to your son about the rehearsal dinner and your financial pinch. Not to complain about MOTB and not to punt entirely, but instead to ask for his guidance given your circumstances. Show them love and respect by including them in your decision: “Here’s what I have and here’s what we’ve been asked to give: What are your and Fiancee’s priorities? Because I want to do what’s best for you two.”

The risk to your relationship with your son may not feel as immediate as it does with your bank balance or the harvest, but damage to it could outlast all — and his fiancee is just as important an audience as your son is to whatever you have to say. (If not more.) Your best option is to come through for them to the extent that you practically can. Make that your only message, and stick to it.

Write to Tell Me About It, Style, 1150 15th St. NW, Washington, D.C. 20071, or



Success! Check your inbox for details. You might also like:

Please enter a valid email address

See all newsletters

Show Comments
Most Read



Success! Check your inbox for details.

See all newsletters

Your Three. Video curated for you.

To keep reading, please enter your email address.

You’ll also receive from The Washington Post:
  • A free 6-week digital subscription
  • Our daily newsletter in your inbox

Please enter a valid email address

I have read and agree to the Terms of Service and Privacy Policy.

Please indicate agreement.

Thank you.

Check your inbox. We’ve sent an email explaining how to set up an account and activate your free digital subscription.