Here’s to Moms, of the Bride and the Groom

It’s Mother’s Day, and this seems like a good time to bring up a topic we haven’t talked about very much of late here at Manolo for the Brides: moms.

The conventional wisdom about mothers and weddings is that it’s a time mostly spent trying to take over the plans, living out her never-quite-met dreams of romance. The same conventional wisdom assumes that she will spend the rest of her natural born days trying to poke holes in the marital relationship in order to save her precious, perfect child from that fiend (s)he married.

Are there mothers like that? You bet your sweet bippy there are. I’ve met a couple and they are the stuff of legends about monsters under the connubial bed.

The good news is that these monsters-in-law are actually a pretty tiny minority.

But what about the care, feeding, and etiquette rules for dealing with more reasonable maternal parents?

Once upon a time, the bride’s parents paid for everything, so the bride’s mother had most of the final say about what the wedding looked like and how it was handled. The wedding was a reflection of the brides’ parents’ social standing, and as such was a very important event, requiring special consideration of everything from the size of the cake to the choice of flowers in the bouquets to the seating arrangements at the reception.

Of course, that was then and this is now. Now the mother of the bride has few absolute requirements aside from showing up on time nicely dressed and being pleasant to the guests. She (and the bride’s father) may or may not be footing part of the bill, but they rarely pay it all. She may or may not be in a position to advise her daughter on matters of style or etiquette, but, again, that’s an option not written in stone.

The parents of the groom have only rarely been major players in the event. It’s become common over the last forty years or so for the parents of the groom to host the rehearsal dinner, but other than that they are mostly expected to show up dressed reasonably. They may or may not choose to contribute funds, but it’s not a requirement.

The most emotionally fraught moment for many a bride concerning mothers is picking their outfits. The tradition is that the mothers need to coordinate with one another and with the bridal party without upstaging anyone around them. This led for many years to a particular style of clothing being associated with moms at weddings. This style was best described as luxurious frump. Fine fabrics were decorated with elaborate beading, dramatic fringes of lace, and rhinestone studs…but they were cut by Omar the Tentmaker on a more than usually generous template.

Luckily, things have changed here, too. Now there are designers doing MOB and MOG gowns that are as elegant as the fabrics. Some, however, have gone the other way to create the annoying ‘mom as pole dancer’ look.

Of course, if you’re worried about tents or poles, you can go the traditional route in choosing the dresses the moms wear. In this scenario, the mother of the bride consults with the bride about the wedding colors and style. The mother of the bride then chooses a dress that will go nicely with the look of the bridal party and formality of the event (shorter skirts in the daytime, longer for evening, and save the satin and sparkles for a formal evening do). Once the mother of the bride has found her dress and gotten the thumbs up from the bride, she then contacts the mother of the groom to inform her of what she’s chosen. Then the mother of the groom gets to choose a dress in another coordinating color and style, and must get approval on it from the bride. The more mothers there are, the more levels of consultation and the bigger potential for noises getting badly out of joint as they jostle for priority and run out of pastel or jewel tones that will look nice in the pictures.

Frankly, this is a headache. Unless you have good reason to expect bigger, more painful headaches, my advice is that you’d be better off simply giving the mothers the information they need to make decisions in their own time and without quite so many consultations. Let them know the time of day, level of formality, color of the bridesmaid’s dresses, and any colors you particularly want them to wear or to avoid wearing. Then release them into the retail wild and expect all the grown women involved to be perfectly capable of dressing themselves reasonably for a family event.

If one or more shows up wearing precisely what you didn’t want them to wear, the best thing to do is shrug it off as best you can. After all, if that’s the biggest disaster on your wedding day, you’re in better shape than the average bride. If she feels her best, well, isn’t that more important than a perfectly coordinated look in the posed pictures? And if she chose an outfit purely to upset you, well, what better possible revenge than allowing her to look the fool while you are the picture of graciousness?

Even if you’ve got your ideas clear in your mind, you might want to consult with your mother about something. Chances are she’d like to feel involved, even if it’s just joining you for the cake tasting or being asked whether she thinks tulips or daisies would be prettier for the bouquets. Ask, listen, and then make up your own mind. If there’s something that isn’t important to you, but is important to her, try to let her have her way.

When it’s all over but the shouting, thank the mothers – all the mothers – involved. A gift is always appropriate, flowers are pretty much never wrong, but few things mean as much to a mother as a note expressing love and gratitude.

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