Mother-daughter wedding planning: A lesson in parent diplomacy

A mother knows best, sometimes. How not to be the parent "to be dealt with": One mom learns a lesson in parent diplomacy during mother-daughter wedding planning.

Gleb Garanich/Reuters
Mother-daughter wedding planning meant one mom had to know when to keep quiet.

The only thing I want more than independent, confident grown children is to be unconditionally supportive when they take their own advice over mine. May I never become the parent who must be "dealt with" when this happens.

Easier said than done, I realized, after a recent phone conversation with our engaged daughter. She had been trying to address a tricky gap between ceremony and reception which would leave guests with two hours to kill, a challenging issue for out-of-towners with no knowledge of the area. She suggested guests could be guided to area attractions.

In a devil's-advocate – but possibly biased – way, because I will be one of those out-of-towners, I counter-suggested that this would never work. I elaborated: She'd lose the guests who might be otherwise engaged at reception time, or, she'd be receiving guests at reception time who were cocktailed out. Not to mention that long after photos were taken, she'd have to hang around for the afternoon in her wedding dress.

"You know, you're making me feel really bad about this decision," she said.

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First of all, good for me for raising a child who isn't afraid to admonish me (tactfully) when it's called for. Second, good for everyone else in my circle of friends and family now that it had been pointed out to me, how sometimes (actually, often) I confuse listening with being supportive; much like confusing being asked for input with being asked to take over.

Although I have sons, I don't expect to conflict with their decision-making or rationale the way I expect I could with daughters who now, in their 20s, have begun to show me that the frame of reference that supports their decisions is nothing like my own.

The psychological term for this – becoming ourselves as we experience life and ascribe to new beliefs and values – is "individuation." It is a fascinating process to experience and observe; a shift in relating that feels likes distance is both created and narrowed at the same time, improving both the near and far view of things.  

We gain the distance we need to see our grown child perhaps as others do, while gaining enough proximity to one another to communicate on a near-same, adult level. I failed in my "parent-as-devil's advocate" response to Courtney's timing problem. However, things went well once I pretended to be her upstairs neighbor.

In this spirit, and because I wish to communicate more than I wish to be validated, I have already begun to change my ways. When a point in the conversation is reached that I described above, I get off the phone, or, if I'm in a restaurant, I go to the rest room.

First, and very carefully, I consider that little dent that I'm about to put in our relationship, in the back, where nobody can see it and so it won't get fixed, but won't be forgotten either.  I consider what I won't say when the conversation resumes:

"If I were you."

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"It's your wedding/party/baby/boyfriend/job/decision."



"You don't think?"



Instead, I consider saying what my closest friends say to me when I'm making a decision: "What are your thoughts?" Or, after I've described a problem: "What will you do about that?"

Minding my own beliefs and values has made me realize that great communication between mothers and daughters can happen as it does between friends: When one does not take the decision of the other personally.

It's surprising to be scolded by your child but, later, there's a nice moment when you realize you've been told you're wrong in a way that allows you to keep your way, and let your daughter, who soared past your expectations long ago, keep hers.

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