Shopping for your wedding dress is one of the most exciting parts of the planning journey, but many brides also find it to be a little overwhelming and stressful. There's a lot of pressure to find what some deem as the "most important dress of your life," and it's easy to get caught up in the fanfare. Going wedding dress shopping with your mother, especially if you have a complicated relationship or opposing views, can also contribute to that. But chances are good that she wants to be by your side while you try on gowns, so your best bet is figuring out how to make the most of the situation.
While experiences can vary widely depending on the mother-daughter relationship and dynamic, a lot of brides find that their moms tend to be really opinionated and pushy when searching for "the one". This can lead to some frustration, which can then lead to hurt feelings on both sides—and no one wants that! Wedding dress shopping with your mom doesn't have to be the most fun experience ever, but it should ideally be a pleasant one, and it is possible to make that happen.
How to Manage Expectations When Dress Shopping
If you're concerned that your dress appointment with your mother may go south, do some preparation beforehand. Start by getting an idea of the kind of dress you'd like to wear so that you already know what you're looking for (or at least sort of know) before you walk into the shop.
When expectations are not met, it can lead to feelings of disappointment, frustration, and resentment from both sides.
"When expectations are not met, it can lead to feelings of disappointment, frustration, and resentment from both sides," says wedding designer Yaz Quiles. "In some cases, the bride or mother might become so attached to their expectations that they are unable to see the reality of a situation. It's important first for the bride to understand what they want, need, and can manage." Once that's established, communicate your expectations to your mom in order to avoid any misunderstanding and miscommunication.
Talk to your mom about what you're looking for and what you don't like so that she's not blindsided. Let her tell you what she likes as well. If you're not interested, say that nicely before you even walk into a bridal shop so that she's aware.
Meet the Expert
If your mother has offered to pay for the dress, or even just part of it, make sure you discuss the budget before going shopping so that you're both on the same page. You also shouldn't accept this offer if you think it's something she'll hold over your head.
Another tip: You might want to go dress shopping on your own, once or twice, before bringing her along. "If your mother is particularly opinionated, it may help to try on dresses once before the big 'say yes to the dress' moment," recommends Dr. Julie Landry, a clinical psychologist. "Once you've narrowed down the choices, bringing in mom (and her opinions) should be much easier and she is likely to stay on track with constructive feedback in a controlled environment with less to choose from."
If you know that you both have opposing views and you want to try and compromise, Dr. Landry recommends working with a savvy dress consultant who may be able to find something you both like. "You may be able to smooth over differences of opinions about the dress by letting mom have her say on something else, such as the flowers or cake," she says. "Or talk to your mom about this being your wedding and therefore you get to make the decisions."
How to Effectively Communicate While Dress Shopping
Great communication prior to your wedding dress shopping appointment is imperative for great communication during the appointment. "Start by telling your mom how excited you are to share wedding dress shopping with her," Dr. Landry says. "Ask her about her own wedding dress shopping and/or her wedding day." This is part of showing your mom that you respect and value her opinions, even if they don't match yours.
Additionally, be upfront with your mother from the beginning without being rude. "Use open and honest communication with her to set expectations and establish boundaries," Dr. Landry says. "Let her know you're excited to hear her creative input and see what she thinks of the styles you like, but ask her to be respectful, supportive, and encouraging to help you decide on a dress." In other words, don't shut down her idea immediately or tell her how much you hate it.
"Practice active listening—instead of assuming anything, listen carefully to your mother," explains Dr. Landry. "Listen without interrupting or analyzing. Ask questions to clarify in order to avoid any more disagreements or confusion."
Change the way you communicate for a more productive conversation. Dr. Landry recommends using "I" instead of "you." For instance, saying something like, "I feel hurt when you say you don't like the dresses I like" instead of "You hurt me when you say that."
Try to remember that your mom is likely just as excited about your big day as you are. Wedding dress shopping might be something she's been looking forward to for years, even if she's not doing a great job of expressing that. "While it's your wedding, the event probably means just as much to your mother, and she's feeling the stress too," Dr. Landry says.
And while it's fine to firmly but nicely tell your mom you don't like something at the bridal shop, there are some things you might want to wait to talk about at another time. "Some topics might be easier to talk about than others, so use good judgment and timing when bringing up emotionally charged subjects," says Dr. Landry. If you think you're about to have a heated discussion, table it for later.
How to Navigate Dominant Personalities
Even the best communication skills can fall short if someone has a very dominant personality. If this is the case with your mother-daughter relationship, Dr. Landry recommends being open to trying on at least a few of the dresses your mother chooses, even if just to appease her. "It's always good to check out different styles, and if you don't love it, your mom will appreciate getting a chance to see you the way she imagined you as a bride," she says. "It may also help her realize it's not the gown for you."
You should also take advantage of the fact that there will be employees there helping you. "Lean on the bridal consultants for help," Dr. Landry says. "You could even call the salon ahead of time and give them a heads up that there may be strong personalities to deal with during the appointment." Bridal consultants have more than likely seen this type of situation before, and many know how to support the bride without offending customers.
How to Deal With a Difference in Opinions
Few things can dim your elation over finding the perfect dress than realizing someone close to you doesn't like it—especially if that someone is your mom. If it's obvious that she's not a fan of your choice, try to think of it from her point of view. "Remember that your mom's been dreaming about this day for a long time too," Dr. Landry says. "It's a big deal for both of you. For different reasons, of course, but they're both important and valid reasons. Even if your mom seems like she's being picky or nagging for no good reason, trust us, there's always a reason."
That said, your mom doesn't need to be vocal about her dislike of the dress. If you feel like she's going too far, be honest and let her know she's hurting your feelings. Remember, wedding dress shopping should be fun, not painful.
"A room full of excitement, emotions, and critique can be hard, even for the most confident of people," Quiles says. "Avoid becoming overwhelmed by creating a comfortable and positive environment, and inviting those who will uplift you and make you feel your best." If your mom isn't doing that, either don't invite her, or bring along other family and friends who can help cut down on the tension and support you. And remember, be as open and honest as possible throughout the entire experience.