You’re creating your wedding budget and you’re lucky enough to have your parents helping out with the bill, but does that mean they have control over decisions like who gets to attend the wedding? It can be hard to balance your wedding day wants with your parents’ when they are helping to pick up the check, so we called on the members of our vendor directory to share their advice for how to manage those expectations.
First, Understand Their Expectations
Depending on your relationship, it can be hard to determine if financial assistance from your parents comes with invisible strings, so the best thing to do is ask. If that sounds like a difficult task, here are some tips for how to get the conversation started.
“When offered funds from parents or anyone else for your wedding, it's important to ask a few questions before accepting,” says St. Louis wedding planner Cindy Savage of Aisle Less Traveled. “The most important one is, ‘Are there any strings to attached?’ I don't recommend asking quite so directly, though. My suggestion to couples is, before bringing up money at all, to sit down with your parents and talk about expectations. What dreams do they have for your wedding? What roles do they anticipate playing? What do they imagine this wedding will look like? Who do they think belongs in the guest list? If they don't bring up money themselves, at the end of this conversation is a good point to ask if they plan to contribute financially. Then you can get into the specifics of what that means.”
Understanding expectations is a key factor in ensuring that arguments and disputes don’t crop up further into the planning process. If you don’t feel comfortable having these candid conversations in person, talking about this in an email can help keep tempers from rising, and also gives you a written set of expectations to fall back on if in a few months it seems like this conversation never happened. Ultimately, every relationship is going to be different and come with different expectations, but it’s always best to get everything out in the open early on in the planning process.
“Walk through the expectations that come along with this financial gift. Some parents may expect to be able to invite a friend or two, some may expect nothing. Some may expect to have a say in the entire day. Figuring out that before accepting any money is key to it not becoming a stressor later,” says Buffalo, New York wedding photographer Jacqueline Connor.
Once you have an understanding of your parents’ expectations, you can more easily determine what boundaries you need to set. In some cases, you might have to negotiate on these expectations, or even decide to refuse the financial assistance altogether. Ultimately, it is important to establish that you have final decision making power for your own wedding.
What Does Their Financial Contribution Look Like?
Cindy also suggests having a candid conversation with your parents about the extent of their financial contribution and what they want to pay for. “How much can they contribute? When and how will the money get to you (or directly to your vendors)? Is there a specific thing they want to pay for or can it be added to the overall budget? Based on their answers to these questions, you should have a pretty good idea of whether they'll want to have control over how the money is used or whether it's truly for you to use as you see fit. If it's coming with strings attached, such as inviting their friends, then you have to decide if that's a concession you're willing to make in order to have a bigger budget. As in every relationship, clear communication is key, so you've gotta ask them about their expectations, ideally before accepting the cash.”
It’s Not Their Wedding, But Your Parents Want to Celebrate, Too
It goes without saying that each parent-child relationship is different. Some parents are able to make requests while remaining respectful of your wishes, and some are not. Hopefully, it’s possible to strike a compromise that allows your parents to feel involved in the celebration without having them take over completely.
“In an ideal, super healthy relationship your parents would offer their financial assistance without an expectation of input in any way,” says St. Louis wedding photographer Raquita Henderson of Pinxit Photography. “If you got that, YAY for you. Most of us, however, understand that a wedding isn't always just about us — it’s about our relationships, our families, and our families’ relationships — or else why have a wedding?”
We know not everyone has a strong family dynamic, but if you are close enough to include your family in your wedding day, then it is important to remember that they really are excited to celebrate you, your partner, and your milestones. “Remember, this is a big deal to most parents,” continues Raquita. “It’s often the moment their relationship with you officially changes from just parent-kid to adult-adult, but you can find ways to help them remember it’s not just their party.”
How to Keep Their Guest List in Check
One way to help your parents feel involved and included can be to allow them to invite a few of their friends to the wedding. If they have a few friends in attendance, they may be more willing to compromise on other decisions. But, as with anything, it is important to understand their expectations and set boundaries.
“Parents can often feel left out of the wedding day experience, and the drama that ensues can cloud the whole experience,” notes Boston wedding photographer Leise Jones. “I too often see couples ignoring their parents' requests to help and participate in the wedding, and I feel like offering to invite a few of their friends is one kind and relatively small way a couple can help their parents feel included. Whether or not they are paying for the wedding, inviting parents' friends shows gratitude and demonstrates that the couple understands that wedding days are Big Days for parents, too.”
If your parents see this courtesy as an opportunity to take too much control or invite dozens of their friends, there are a few tactics you can use to keep healthy boundaries in place.
Help Your Parents Understand the Impact of Inviting Too Many Friends
“Just about everything for a wedding is affected by the number of guests who will be in attendance starting with the budget and venue,” remarks Washington, D.C. wedding planner Sarah Pete Rizzi of Sincerely Pete Events. “We recommend following the rule of thirds if you’re having trouble divvying up the list between you, your partner, and your families. Each partner gets one third of the list and family (parents or immediate family, typically) get the last third.”
By setting a firm limit on the number of guests that your parents can invite, especially one that is dictated by the number of people the venue can accommodate, you can hopefully keep your parents from adding an endless number of guests to your invite list.
Use Clear Guidelines to Make Cuts
If you find that your parents are having a hard time narrowing down their list to a number of realistic guests, Sarah also has a few guidelines that you can share with them to help them make cuts. These questions can also help to ensure that your parents are only inviting friends or relative with whom you or your partner actually have a relationship.
”Have you or your partner spoken to the person in a year? If not, you can probably leave them off the list. Your wedding is not a place to reconnect or fix relationships.
“Are they family, but you haven’t spoken in a number of years? If so, you can probably leave them off the list. It’s a wedding, not a family reunion.
“Can you see them being a part of your future? If not, you can probably leave them off the list. If they aren’t going to be around in the future, you won’t regret not having them there in the present.
“Finally, are you inviting them only because you feel like you ‘have to’? If so, you can probably leave them off the list. This also goes for plus ones you’ve never met or people that your partner has never met.”
If you, your partner, and your parents can all agree to stick to these guidelines you should be able to keep the guest list in check while still allowing your parents to invite a few of their personal friends.
If Your Partners Invite More People, Make Sure They Know They Are Paying for Them
If all of these guidelines are being ignored, and you simply can’t get your parents to stick to a set number of guests, feel free to tell them they will be required to offer additional cash for each person they add to the list. Remember, the average cost for each guest can range from $30 to $150 depending on the location of your wedding.
“Once the guest list got too long we told our parents they could invite whoever they wanted as long as they were willing to pay for them,” says Catalyst contributor Rebecca Anger of her wedding experience. “That put an end to the madness very quickly. I think this is a good approach, especially if the wedding is being traditionally paid for by one set of parents and the other family insists on inviting every distant cousin or family friend. Ideally, you hope that both families are willing to split costs, but that doesn't always happen.”
Hopefully, with all this advice you’ll be able to maintain control over your parents’ expectations with minimal arguments and still end up with a wedding day that makes you and your partner happy. It is YOUR wedding day, after all!
Jen Siomacco is the CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Catalyst Wedding Co. She works to mesh together her love of feminism, love stories, accessibility, equality, and design into the Catalyst brand. When she’s not traveling the country working to make the wedding industry a more inclusive place, she’s writing on her couch and snuggled up with her husband and SUPER lazy cats.
Photo by Tiffany Josephs Photography