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Sunday, August 3, 2014

Dear bride-to-be who's not yet a mom,

Dear Bride-to-Be,

You're engaged, yay, congrats! You have already shown off the ring a thousand times, I'm sure. I used to drive around with the window down, even on cold days, so I could put my hand out there and see the sun sparkle off of my diamond. It's like a rite of passage, that whole engaged thing, the period of time where everyone is showering you with love and admiration, dreaming of your future right alongside of you. You're the center of attention and it's pure bliss for the most part.

Photos from Geneve Hoffman Photography, York, Maine

Then you get planning the wedding. Dun dun dun... insert scary music here. Sometimes that's awesome, bringing people together who you haven't really seen or talked to in a while. Other times, well, it's quite stressful trying to pull things and ideas and people together. It's par for the course, I suppose.

While there is lots I could share with you about planning your wedding, having done it 6 years ago, this is not a bridal blog. It's a mommy blog, and thus my point: I've learned a lot over the last few years being a mom to both a future groom and a future bride-to-be that I think you should listen up to. We all know hindsight is 20-20. Well, consider this your looking glass then, because sometimes I think life would go smoother if we went backward, knowing what we know now.

A few tips for you, bride-to-be, from the mom I am now.
I swear, your parents and your girlfriends who are currently pregnant or moms right now will appreciate you listening to these suggestions. So put down your bridal magazine and put your feet up (something moms never get to do, so you better enjoy it while it lasts!), and take this to heart.

1. Include your mom in the planning.
Yes, she's slightly overbearing sometimes, and quite honestly, annoying with some of those suggestions (tulle, really?!). But she means well. She's also having a hard time with NOT saying something. You're her baby. You may not be the youngest of her children, but you're still her baby, and I know that sounds silly and cliche, but it's the absolute truth. When you're a mom, you'll know, they're always your babies. It's hard to ignore that even when your daughter is 20-something and capable of making her own decisions.

She's been telling you what to do or answering your incessant questions since you could talk and even before that. It's just her nature to protect you, to tell you things that she thinks she knows best, to help. Man, do moms have a need to HELP. So let her. Pick your battles here. Do you really care about what the cake looks like or which flowers you have? Really, really? Let mom make some decisions.

My mom wanted us to have a fancy three-tiered wedding cake so that it could be on display and we could take pictures. We wanted tiramisu from a certain bakery that did not make it into a fancy cake. We fought over this so many times, we did not understand each other at all. In the end, we agreed that she could get a small tiered cake to be on display that we could feed each other in front of people, but we'd serve tiramisu. Now looking back, if she wanted to buy a huge cake and people could have the choice between that and tiramisu, or perhaps TWO pieces of dessert - who cares?! Let her do it!

Some things, you won't understand why it's important to your mom, and that's OK, just remember that you can pick your battles and lose some control on some things, it's your mom. She's done a zillion things for you, remember that when you're busy and stressed and totally annoyed by her. This wedding planning process is a snapshot of your relationship with your mom.

Also, ask mom for help. Put her on a mission to find you the cutest invitations or blue shoes. Let her imagine she's a bigger part of this day than perhaps you're even allowing. It's important to her. And someday, when you're a mother, it'll be so important to you to be included, too.

Also, don't get dressed without your mom. I've worked for a wedding photographer for years and I've seen this part of the day done differently so many times. That part of the day goes by quickly, people are rushing around you getting themselves dressed, your mom may even be in another room getting herself ready. 

But stop time for a second. You'll want to remember her face when she saw you in your wedding dress. She's imagined this for 20-something years, every time she put you into a cute dress for Easter Sunday or for a birthday party, she's imagined how you'd look dressed up. So don't rush this part, ask your mom to come in and help zip you up or put your bracelet on. Have a moment. 

2. Include your mother-in-law (MIL).
While I know that many, many women have awful, strained and ridiculously bad relationships with their MILs, planning a wedding is not the time to sort that out or to stand your ground. As a mother of a little boy, I've thought of this a thousand times. Every wedding I go to, I wonder how the mother of the groom feels. Was she included on plans, or is all of this special day a total surprise to her? Was she asked what she thought for flowers or the venue or even the food? Did she get to plan the rehearsal dinner herself or did the couple give her strict instructions?

I invited my mother-in-law along when I went wedding dress shopping. She was SO happy to experience that, as the mother of four boys. We gave her total control over the rehearsal dinner. We secretly wanted an outside barbecue under a tent, something easy, simple, low-key. We ended up at a fancy restaurant with glass china, flower centerpieces, and a three-course meal. It was LOVELY. And she felt special planning it.

We told her what we wanted for flowers when she offered to buy those, we wanted it simple, we didn't need a lot or want to spend the money. She wanted more flowers and asked if that was OK, OF COURSE! More flowers? Absolutely!

I emailed her every time we made a big decision or found something fun. When we got together, I told her anything I'd told my mother or maid of honor. I kept her in the loop. She was grateful.

I get that your MIL may be pushy or trying to do things her own way, but I'm encouraging you to stop and imagine why that is the case. I think you'll find that she's feeling left out, not included, not part of things, and missing her baby boy. I bet you'll see that she's had ideas, too, even though not the mother of the bride, she's also had ideas about how her child's wedding day would be. Listen to her. Give her a chance to participate.

Just like you shouldn't only focus on the wedding day and party but you should focus on the marriage you're creating by saying those vows on that big day, you should also remember that you're joining into your MIL's family and taking her son as yours... that deserves some attention and collaboration.

Imagine how you would feel if you have a son, if someday he was marrying someone and you didn't even know which colors they were planning on or where it was being held. You will want to be included, so try to remember that now.

3. Keep the girls happy. 
Your closest friends and family, they are what's important. Keep them by your side and happily supporting you by remembering a few things.

Choose a dress that all bodies are comfortable in and feel flattering in. Even better, give them some ideas but let them choose their own dress (halter, strapless, etc.). Some of us with post-pregnancy bodies prefer certain types of dresses over others. Your mom friend will be PSYCHED if you let her have some say or choose a dress that works for most bodies.

Remember that your friend does love you and care about all the little details of your wedding, but if she's a mom now, she's also 10 times busier than she ever was pre-baby. So if she doesn't call you right back, don't get mad at her. Or if you call her exclaiming your joy over finding the PERFECT wedding invitations or stamp set at the post office and she's all like "Oh that's awesome, hon, but the baby just puked, gotta run!" don't diss her behind her back. It's a real tragedy what she's going through, she'll get back to you when she's not covered in nasty. Just accept that she won't be as focused as you probably were for her through her wedding. It doesn't mean she doesn't love you. Same goes for the bachelorette party - if she can't travel to Cancun with you for a week or if she's a little nervous about where she'll pump at the bars in the city, just roll with it and try to make her still feel welcome even if she's a mom now with all of these other weird priorities.

Be up front about how much you're anticipating things to cost for someone to be a bridesmaid in your wedding. Your friends may really really want to support you and have the honor of standing beside you, but if they have kids it may not be financially feasible.

My best friend asked me to be her matron of honor when I was the most broke I've ever been in my life. We'd just had baby #2 and I was not being paid for even half of the maternity leave, after needing to take my sick days with #1 for two years of maternity leave and winter sicknesses. It was a dark time financially for us. My friend understood. She paid for my bridesmaid dress and I ended up paying her back a few months later when I could afford it. She told me not to worry about it, but it was important to me that I pay for it and it was important to her that I be in her wedding, so it worked out great.

Just keep this in mind with friends who have kids... they WANT to do all these wonderful things for you, things that you probably did for them when they were engaged, but sometimes priorities have to change when kids enter the picture. Just be understanding of her different situation now.

4. Figure out what to do with the littles. 
This is a difficult situation. I've been a bride and I'm now a mom... so coming up with the right answer to this is hard. I believe fully that brides deserve to have a wonderfully fancy night without screaming children around and with all their closest pals totally focused on them enjoying their night out without kids. I totally believe this. My husband and I just went to a wedding where our kids were not invited - and it was AWESOME.

If you do that, though, not invite children, you should have conversations with your closest friends who are moms about this. Ask them what will make it easier, how you can assist them, what this looks like for them, etc. Show that you care. Explain why you made this decision. You don't owe them an explanation, it's just kind to do so.

If you invite kids, ENJOY them! Don't get frustrated if they end up standing in the aisle dancing to the music as the bridal party walks down the aisle. Don't get annoyed when they won't pose nicely for the photographs. Enjoy their silliness, carefree nature. Dance with them, give them an extra piece of cake (only after asking mom if it's OK to have that much sugar though!).

It's always nice when the bride has some bubbles, coloring books, crayons, etc. at the kids' seats. It's great to offer kids' meals of chicken nuggets and mac n' cheese versus the broiled haddock and filet mignon that they typically don't devour like we adults do.

If you're being super generous with planning your wedding in support of mom friends, don't plan it for the hours between 12-2. Plan either before or after. That's typical nap time. You'll learn that nap time is sacred in most households. Your mom friends will forever adore you if you avoid those timeframes.

Even better... have some Junior Bridesmaid type cousins around to be babysitters that evening, so your mom friends can enjoy themselves, the kids will be taken care of, yet you invited them so everyone is happy.

5. Feed them!
Feed people early and often and then keep it coming! When feeding, make sure there is something that kids enjoy to eat or ask your friends with kids if they intend to bring their own food so you don't end up paying for food they won't eat. Some families prefer to do this. When working with venues, ask about high chairs and things that your friends' kids will need. This just makes for an even more awesome wedding reception.

The best weddings ever are those with a huge appetizer spread - cheese and crackers, fruit, veggies and dip, etc. that moms can use to feed their kids and tie them over through dinner.

6. When involving others, involve them. 
What I mean by this is when you're choosing the father-daughter dance, consider asking your dad if he's thought of any songs, and when planning the mother-son dance, ask your MIL if she has any ideas.

This NEVER occurred to me when planning my own wedding. I chose a song that my father and I both loved and he had sung to me, but my husband just sat in a room for hours and looked around online and found a sweet Lady Antebellum song (it was perfect, but still it was random).

Now that we're parents, we both have ideas already - with a 2 and 4 year old - what song we'd like to dance to with them at their weddings someday. My husband loves the father-daughter song by Paul Simon and I love Landslide by Fleetwood Mac. Every single wedding I've been to where there is a mother-son dance, I tear up, every single time, picturing my son and I doing that someday. It's special.

So, ask your parents if they had suggestions. It may be special to them. Again, this is a reminder that they have been your parents through so much the last 20 + years... this IS YOUR day, of course it is, definitely, no parents would think otherwise. But try to remember that they have thought of you getting married before you could even say bride-to-be.

7. Don't only talk wedding.
Yes, it's super exciting. Yes, we know your mom friend only talked wedding when she was engaged. But here's the kicker... becoming a mom, you change. Your priorities change. Your ideas about what's important really change. So, again, your mom friends are definitely happy for you... they just don't have room in their Mom Brains to listen attentively for hours about which color napkins you want for the reception dinner. It's not that they don't care, I truly mean this, but it's that they literally have so much in their Mom Brain (which size diapers to buy, how many ounces of formula to feed the baby at a certain amount of hours, what type of detergent gets blow-outs out of clothing, etc.) that they cannot keep it all straight.

So find friends without kids who you can talk wedding nonstop with. And for those friends with kids, fill them in, because they don't like being left out either, they want to feel like they still have their pre-kids' type of life and connection to their girl friends, but just bear with them when they seem distracted. Try to find something in common to talk about, ask their advice about wedding planning, and then check in on how the kids are doing.

Best bet is to get that mom friend of yours OUT of the house, away from the kids, so she can focus on you better.

8. Let go of the expectations for kids in the wedding party.
If the flower girl decides last minute she can't walk down the aisle without her mom, let her. It's still cute. If the Junior Bridesmaid dyes her hair some weird color right before the wedding, remember what it's like to have been a pre-teen and tell her she rocks that blue color, it matches your something blue. If your ring bearer refuses to carry the pillow you so wonderfully purchased from Etsy or if he hates the tie you got for him, just accept it and think of how handsome he looks anyway, it's all good. Set your expectations low and you'll be pleasantly surprised. Everyone loves kids who are in weddings, they look adorable so just go with the flow and smile.

Also, with kids in the wedding party, take their formal photographs ASAP when they are dressed, like literally within minutes of them being dressed. Then, after the ceremony when doing more photos, do the photos with kids in it FIRST. Most photographers know this rule of thumb, but if they don't, remind them that kids melt down quickly and get tired, hungry and cranky, doing their photos first helps a lot - win-win for you and the kids, you get great photos of them and they get to go dance sooner.

9. Don't sweat the small stuff... and it's ALL small stuff.
This is in NO way to mean your big day is something insignificant by any means. That is not at all what I mean by not sweating the small stuff. Your big day is an amazing milestone, it's very important, for sure. But... after you become a mother, you realize that some of those things you worried about when planning your wedding are not really that important, they aren't things to stress over or keep you up at night. Whether they have the exact color bridesmaid dress shade to match the ties for the groomsmen or whether the groomsmen forget to wear the socks you picked out, or whether the flowers last all day long... these things won't matter to you even on the big day, I swear, but definitely won't matter years later when babies enter your life.

Try your best to avoid getting caught up in the chaos that is wedding planning. Try not to put so much pressure on yourself to have this perfect wedding. Try to enjoy it more, to realize how special this is - marrying your best friend, finding a life partner, starting a new world together, joining into a family... that's what is important. Shoes, earrings, gift bags, and limo rides are special, but not what's super important. So try not to stress too much about this.

The rest of your life awaits you now... whether that includes babies or not, it's going to be far more significant than the details of your wedding. I promise you I mean that in the best way possible. Just you wait and see.

10. Focus on planning the honeymoon!
Usually I hear from brides-to-be about all the little details of what will be served during the cocktail hour, how long photographs will take, and what she's getting her MOH for a present. Yet I hear little about the honeymoon "oh yeah, we're going on a cruise," or "yeah, we're heading out months after the wedding, not right away." It's great to plan an awesome big day, but don't forget about the honeymoon, the real fun starts then anyway!

The honeymoon is all about YOU and your partner. Spend some time planning it, making it all you expect. If it's too much money to do a honeymoon, then cut back on the wedding day, which is about so many others, not just you. It's OK to spoil yourselves, go out to fancy dinners, visit different shows and stores, etc.

This may be the last time you and your partner really get some down time together, alone time, one-on-one time. Enjoy it while it lasts. I'm not trying to scare you about parenthood or marriage, but life gets busy, even without kids, so take your time in making sure your honeymoon is really special. HAVE FUN!

ENJOY your wedding planning! 
It's fun and crazy and so much to think about. I hope this list doesn't care you. It's not meant to. It's really to show you that there is this whole other world that your mom friends are experiencing and they'd LOVE you even more if you understood a small piece of it during this happy time.

A former bride, current mother

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