My favorite aspect of the last few weddings I’ve been a part of is the way in which families, born and found, have come together to help pull off the big event. In a sense, wedding festivities belong to everyone involved, a community effort demonstrating love and support in the creation of a marriage.
This sense of communal engagement is especially important in DIY weddings, with their emphasis on personal connections, small scale production, and cost saving. But can you ask too much of your friends and family on your special day? Depending on the circumstances, there is a fine line between being a guest and feeling like staff.
I’ve seen the exact location of this line vary with the wedding and with the people involved. It is absolutely ok to look for help amongst your loved ones but several things I’ve learned include:
1) You don’t have to hire a wedding planner but you should have a deputy; a point person who knows all but is not you. You may be the executive producer, director, and a star performer in your wedding but you are not the stage manager. If there is a catering emergency when your hair is half up in curlers, you are NOT the person who should have to drop everything and handle it. Your deputy can be a family member or a friend but bear in mind what others need or want to be doing on your wedding day. If you have parents or siblings who want to help you get dressed, these individuals should probably not be your deputy since they won’t want to be dragged away from zipping your dress and crying over how beautiful you look. A close friend who is good at working with you and directing others might be a better choice.
2) Months beforehand, draw up a list of things you will need help with, regarding both advance preparations and wedding day execution. Think about how many people will be needed to accomplish these tasks sanely and what they might entail. Create another list of people who will be at your wedding, who might be interested in helping out. Bear in mind any physical, health, or other personal limitations they may have. Do not assign the friend with a newborn to make wedding cupcakes for 200 unless she is hopping up and down, begging you to let her.
3) Assign specific tasks to specific people. In my experience, people want to help out but don’t always know how. When faced with a general to-do list and an exhortation to “pitch in”, attendants may shyly back away. Don’t add to confusion by expecting people to pick their job, this will only lead to more questions for you on a day when you’re already stretched thin. Too many people milling around trying “to be helpful” slows down everyone’s work. Let each person know their job in advance with enough time for them to coordinate with each other if need be. Confirming that everyone knows their job and who they are working with is an excellent task to delegate to your deputy.
4) Don’t leave creative decisions to the last minute. Decide what look you’re going for in terms of décor, food, and table settings and stick with it. Be sure to communicate it with those who are helping make it happen in time for any possible adjustments.
5) Prepare everything in advance. It is fine if you want your friends to help you cook the food for the reception but test your recipes beforehand so that you’ll know if they can be achieved with your resources and timeframe. If a recipe is confusingly worded, see if you can write it more clearly. If there are supplies needed that you don’t have, like extra rolling pins for tortilla making, it’s ok to ask your friends to bring ones with them to use. Be sure you mention this before they need to pack.
6) Remember that your attendants and guests need time to get ready before the ceremony too. You wouldn’t like it if you were only allowed 10 minutes to get dressed, made up, and coiffed, so don’t expect anyone else to make a Superman style quick change. Stagger primping times with last minute responsibilities amongst your helpers if you need to.
Having been a deputy and assistive friend for quite a few weddings, I’ve seen nuptial festivities run most smoothly when communication, sensitivity, and a thoughtful division of labor were employed in large measure. Whether you have bridesmaids and groomsmen, wedding attendants, a close knit group of friends, or a large extended family, you can ask for quite a bit of assistance with a minimum of headaches and drama. Their labor is a gift to you and your new spouse, one that, if you help manage them right, is freely given and will always be cherished.
Rachel Goddard is a native New Yorker who has been helping others fulfill their event visions since she got her start assisting on the American Girl Fashion Show at her middle school. She enjoys advising couples on how to prepare for the big day, reduce stress, and stay on budget. She's a fan of creating new traditions and treating every day like opening night.