"Our engagement party wasn't nearly as nice as it could have been," Kari confided. "My mom's got beautiful taste, and she throws great parties. And yet, she wouldn't get involved in my engagement party one bit. It was really strange."
Kari's mom had been weird for months. From the moment Kari got engaged, her mom — whom she thought would be all over the wedding planning — checked out. Her mom became distant and aloof, which made Kari wonder what the hell was going on with her mother.
"My mom and I have, until now, always been so close," she said. "More like best friends or sisters than the traditional mother-daughter. That's what makes this especially hurtful and odd."
What Kari needed to do was to step back for a moment and step into her mother's shoes. Yes, her mom was happy that Kari had found a good and wonderful man that she wanted to marry. But much of the reason why her mother had pulled away was because she was grieving the natural, inevitable and ultimately healthy loss of some degree of their mother-daughter intimacy. She was, essentially, saying goodbye to the end of Kari's childhood.
For many parents, their daughter's engagement is a happy time, with moments tinged with grief. For some, like Kari's mom, the grief can be overwhelming, hard to understand and even harder to articulate to their daughter, the bride, for fear of upsetting her during the "happiest" time of her life.
What helps is to get this dynamic out of the shadows, to bring this normal, natural psychological process into the light. In fact, brides can be instrumental in helping their parents understand, own, and work through the emotional complexity you're all facing at this time in your lives. So don't be afraid to open up the conversation. Tell your mom you miss her, and that you understand that your wedding has an enormous impact on her life, too. Be kind and compassionate with your hurting parent. And be sure to bring the Kleenex, for both of you.
Allison Moir-Smith, MA, is a bridal counselor, creator of How Brides-To-Be REALLY Feel videos, and author of Emotionally Engaged: A Bride's Guide to Surviving the "Happiest" Time of Her Life.