received this question, and we asked our counselor, Claire Hatch,
"My stepson of 15 years is marrying a very nice woman who
comes from a good family. I also was brought up in a good family where things
were done properly and by the book. However, my husband's first wife, the
groom's mother, lacks a bit in this aspect. I know that this wedding is going
to be a very formal affair, and I want to be appropriate to the occasion but
not to outdress the groom's mother. She and I have a decent relationship; she
has grown to accept me over the years. However, she can be offended rather
easily, so I want to steer clear of that. I don't want to ruin a special day
for my stepson and his future bride. I do want to follow proper etiquette at
the rehearsal dinner, which I will be paying for half of it, since I am the
breadwinner in our household. I prefer not to do things out of conformity with
proper etiquette. How do I get these feelings across without setting the
mother off? How do I wear something appropriate without outdoing her? I really
want to get along through this whole thing but yet hold to my values. Help!!!"
Stepmom in distress
Counselors often call step-parenting "the world's hardest job." This is
because so often they find themselves in situations where they have values
that conflict with those of the biological parents. The biggest conflict is
this: step-parents have relationships with their step-children and care about
them, yet they do not have the same authority that the biological parents do.
This means that usually they play a lesser role in decision-making than the
parents, but often they are equally affected by the outcome.
There probably is no situation where this is truer than at a wedding. In
your situation, I see your values as: Proper etiquette, proper dress for
yourself, and peace and harmony at the events. You are concerned that you may
not be able to have all of these at once. I think that if you step back and
consider what is most important, it will be peace and harmony.
The best way to achieve this is to see yourself as a support and helper to
the bride and groom. I can almost guarantee you that their top priority will
be a dinner and wedding where everyone gets along and is civil, so they don't
have to worry about their parents, and they can just focus on the experience
of making a commitment to each other.
If your stepson and his bride are concerned about etiquette, then consider
how you can help them. It is difficult to make a plan for dealing with
"etiquette" in general. You would need to consider the specifics.
Regarding your dress, I think your goal would be to be appropriate and
understated. Again, you have to ask yourself what your priorities are.
Clothing is very personal and you naturally want to dress in accord with your
tastes and sense of what's appropriate. But think: If your stepson's mother
behaves in a way that makes him uncomfortable because she feels outshone by
you, will it be worth it?
You have a particularly difficult situation in that you are the provider
for your family and you are paying for your family's half of the dinner. It is
natural to feel that the dinner will be a reflection on you and to want it to
be done correctly. And it would be nice if you were acknowledged for going
above and beyond the stepmother's typical role!
I think the best way to look at the situation is this: Your priority is
that the bride and groom have their events the way they want them. If they are
unhappy or there is some unpleasantness, that is what people will remember,
rather than the proper etiquette. I work with some couples who have
resentments toward their parents and stepparents for years after the wedding!
I don't think that's what you want. If you show the bride and groom you are on
their side, and you make it your job to help them have the wedding of their
dreams, you will be remembered fondly for years to come.
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