Recalls Alice, married two years, "My mother and Dave's mom were like kids in a sandbox. Each wanted control of who got invited and would throw tantrums when things didn't go her way. I'm embarrassed to admit that my mom flung the money card, shouting: 'I'm paying for the wedding — you're barely making a contribution so it's nice of me to give you any guests!'"
Alice's future mother-in- law responded to this power play with several bleeps. The couple's response? To remind their parents that the final guest list was up to the ones who would be getting married. "In that charged moment, I became hysterical and said, 'This is so hard watching you two go at it. Maybe Dave and me should elope,'" Alice admits.
The threat brought both mothers down to Earth. They stumbled over one another with kindness and generosity: "Oh Felice, please invite as many people as you want"; "No, Jennifer, you're being more than generous. I just want your daughter and my son to be happy. Whatever seats you can spare for the grooms' side will be fine."
The Sharks and Jets
Like many women, Tara had dreamt of her wedding day since she was a little girl. However, when she became engaged to a man who hailed from across the globe, the cultural gulf between the couple's mothers led to endless squalls.
Tara, married five years, sighs, "My mother was and is a born and bred New Yorker, very patrician, very used to ordering others around and getting her way. She also has a mouth like five truck drivers. Tuan's mom believes women should be quiet and act above reproach. They mixed together like a match to gasoline."
Whether going dress shopping or tasting cakes, Tara's mother would boom and the woman who gave Tuan life would glare. The silent but deadly battles took a toll.
Recalls Tara, "If I spent any time with both moms I would come away an anxiety ball. It was awful. So Tuan and I did divide and conquer. We talked to our mothers separately, delivering basically the same message: 'You are my mother and I will always love and honor you. I know you have different values and beliefs than your future in-law, but it would mean everything to me — the world! — if you would made more of an effort to get along. Once the wedding is over you don't need to spend a lot of time together but you will always have this woman in your life so please, please, please let's keep the goal in mind of a happy, peaceful coexistence.'"
Apparently, sometimes you'll need to parent your mothers to act like sane individuals during the wedding-planning process!
Sherry Amatenstein, LCSW is a New York City-based marriage therapist and author.