Big family events like weddings can create conflict and hurt feelings

Feeling left out of your daughter's wedding planning? Talking with your daughter will lead to a deeper understanding for both of you and will likely lead to a way of being together in planning for her wedding that feels good to you.

Question: My only daughter is getting married and what should be a happy time isn’t turning out that way for me. For starters, she told her friends about her plans before she talked to me. She is getting other people to help her with things that I wanted to help with, like dress shopping. I feel like I am being left out of what should be a very close time between a mother and a daughter. Maybe I am missing something, but this whole thing is starting to feel like a real disappointment. Do you have any suggestions for me?

Answer: Big family events like weddings and graduations have a way of creating the opportunity for conflict and hurt feelings.

Partly this has to do with the intensity of emotions and the level of stress involved. It also has to do, however, with expectations and the deals, or contracts, that we have in families.

These expectations and contracts are sometimes discussed openly, but often they are below the surface and we may not even realize that they are there.

In your case it is clear that you had some expectations regarding your role in hearing about and planning your daughter’s wedding. It also seems clear that your daughter was not aware of your expectations and that she has some ideas of her own about how wedding planning is done in your family.

From your letter it sounds as if both of you have assumed that there is agreement on how the wedding planning will go, and as you have painfully discovered, there is not.

This situation is a common one. There are so many things to be done in a day, and so many decisions to be made, that we cannot help but make assumptions. Some of these assumptions are based on knowledge of the other people in our family, and some are based on our culture and our family histories.

Some of our assumptions are about patterns of behaviour, or contracts, that we never think about until we find ourselves in a new situation, such as becoming the mother of a bride. Even then we likely won’t realize we are operating on unspoken expectations and patterns until something doesn’t happen the way we assumed it would.

I think that it is still very possible for you and your daughter to enjoy planning her wedding in a way that creates a sense of closeness between you. You will need to talk with her about how you would like to be involved, and you will need to listen to her ideas about your involvement.

Before you do this, though, it will be important for you to take a good look at your own expectations and ask yourself where they came from and what they mean to you. It is quite possible that some of your ideas have not been examined in many years and may need a little updating!

It is also possible that there are some aspects of being with your daughter through the preparations for her wedding that are very dear to your heart and that you have never shared with her.

Talking with your daughter will lead to a deeper understanding for both of you and will likely lead to a way of being together in planning for her wedding that feels good to you.

If you would like to ask a question of the counsellors, for a response in future columns, e-mail them at askpacific@shaw.ca. Consult a Counsellor is provided by the registered clinical counsellors at Pacific Therapy & Consulting: Nancy Bock, Diane Davies, Leslie Wells, Andrew Lochhead and Karen Turner. It appears every second Friday.