This month, the Know It All Sisters, Mary Lloyd and Barbara Morris tackle this plea for help in the mailbag:
Our forty-something daughter Delia is getting married. This will be number three and she insists he’s “the one.” (The other two were also “the one.”) She also had live-ins who were “the one.” Our two other children (males) are married to their original partner. Delia’s first two marriages were elopements so we didn’t have to pay for a wedding. Now that Delia wants a “formal” ceremony, she thinks it’s our obligation to pay for the wedding.
My husband and I are facing a tight financial retirement. My feeling is that she and her “one and only” should go to City Hall and make it legal there. We’ll take them to dinner afterwards to celebrate. Delia is furious that we are being so “cheap.” We are furious that she is so selfish and it’s causing a lot of dissension in the family. I know things have changed a lot and maybe we are being too old fashioned. I think I know what we should do but I’d like a second opinion. No Money Mom
Sister Mary Says:
Dear NMM (No Money Mom)
Yep! You do already knew what to do on this one. There’s nothing written anywhere that requires you to front the costs of a female child’s step into matrimony. Her idea that you some how “owe” her this doesn’t change that reality. You’re right–it makes no sense to spend money on something you don’t need (and that may not last) when you are worrying about having money for what you do need (like medicine and food). So don’t let her badger you into submission. (Kids of all ages are good at that.)
However, the reality that you aren’t required to pay for a big wedding doesn’t mean she will be gracious about it if you don’t. So think about those trade-offs as you work through this. Is she the kind of person who will stop talking to you if you don’t do it her way? Can you live with that? Will she resent it for the rest of your life and remind you again and again of how “cheap” you were? These are the possible unpleasant side effects of doing the right thing on this one. Consider them as you decide so they aren’t surprises later.
Suggesting that you could take them to dinner after a civil ceremony was a great idea. It shows that you do want to help her make it special. There may be more ways you could help do so without spending a lot of money. Your might want to update your idea that they go to City Hall to be married though. People get married in all kinds of unique places these days and many of them do not require a fee to use. A state park? A local landmark? Do you have access to a private place that would be a pretty setting and is free? Sometimes, your own house has a spot that transforms beautifully for this kind of purpose. How about your backyard? Or your friend’s backyard?
Do you have flowers in your yard that she could use? If not, friends seem to love to be asked for theirs on this kind of project. Or maybe she’d rather carry an object that has meaning for both of them as her bouquet. (For me, that would probably be a hiking pole….)
The thing I’d like to encourage here is some creative problem solving between you and your daughter. She wants a beautiful wedding. You don’t have the money for the conventional version of that. How can you make it beautiful without throwing a ton of money at it?
This is the kind of relationship we need to foster with our kids no matter how old they are: How do we solve this problem so that everybody wins? Too often instead, particularly when we are up to our eyeballs in career work and just trying to keep things going at home, we opt to “buy stuff” instead of really solving the problem. Nobody wins when that happens—even though it looks to the child like she or he has. What did she/he get out of the situation? The idea that “things” are going to solve problems. The notion that if she (or he) wants something, mom and dad will buy it. And the expectation that things should be given to her (or him) just because…well….being born.
None of those things is what effective adults need to know. We need to teach our kids how to engage in win/win problem solving instead. That prepares them better for adulthood—even if they are already in it. As a bonus, solving problems with your kids builds stronger, more positive relationships with them. In my book, that’s as important as having enough money as you age.
Sister Barbara Says:
If it any consolation, you are not alone. More than a few selfish, immature adult children burden their aging parents. Your dilemma can be resolved but it requires you to toughen up and take away the training wheels of the bicycle Delia has been peddling through life. A thrice-divorced, debt-ridden middle-aged woman should not ask her aging parents to pay for a wedding.
No, you should not pay for Delia’s wedding – not any part of it. I think you are generous in offering to pay for a dinner to celebrate the event. I would not be that bighearted.
Be prepared. If you do not cough up the money, Delia may decide she no longer wants a relationship with you. If that happens, she’ll get over it because she will always need something from her mommy. If she can still bear a child and decides to do so, you can bet she will be looking for grandma to babysit. You may even be given the “opportunity” to raise the child as your own if “the one” turns out not to be “the one” and Delia is again looking for “the one” – and doesn’t want to be tied down with a child. You wouldn’t be the first grandparent to receive such a “gift.”
Instead of stressing out over her wedding, you need to focus on yourself and your husband. Whatever money Delia expects you to spend on her ceremony, spend on you and your husband. You are at an age when attention to your health is crucial. Because it’s unlikely that Delia will be there for you in the future should you need some level of care, you should take care of YOU, NOW! Maintaining healthy independence should be your primary concern.
If you are not already in an exercise program, get a gym membership or at least start some kind of exercise program. Find a naturopath to help restore and maintain your hormones and general health with appropriate supplements and wise food choices. When that is taken care of, if you still have enough money, spend a little on improving your appearance. When you look better, you feel better.
Since you are not yet retired, if possible, keep the job you have now, or prepare to do something that will give you income later on. Don’t believe the myth that after you retire you won’t need as much money. Trust me, you will need MORE if you want to stay healthy. Medicare won’t pay for many things necessary to stay well, and chances are, Medicare will pay for a lot less in the future. If runaway inflation becomes an issue the value of your retirement money will suffer, so it’s important to have your finances in order.
No Money Mom, stop enabling Delia’s juvenile mindset and behavior. Don’t worry that tough love will alienate her. In the end you will be doing Delia and yourself a huge favor.