Q: My friend is getting married. It started with the idea of having a small ceremony in the park, going to her place afterward for dinner. Later we would put our children to sleep under a baby sitter’s care and go out dancing to a club. Then it changed into something bigger – rustic setting with bridesmaids but still a bit casual. Now it has blown into a big fancy place with matching outfits for bridesmaids. All seven bridesmaids have families with kids, and are now required to have same color dresses and professional makeup. My family is on one income and the expenses come up to over $1,000. How can I get out of it without hurting her feelings or breaking my bank (or robbing a bank)?
A: People talk about “wedding markup” mostly with respect to vendors.
But the more significant wedding markup might apply to the emotions surrounding them.
What you describe here is a simple, factual case of being priced out of something. “I could afford the original version of [blank], but now with all the changes, it’s too expensive for me.”
Maybe saying this wouldn’t be the most fun you’ve had all summer, but you’d still probably have no trouble saying it if [blank] were, say, a day trip to another city.
That [blank] is a wedding inflates it to a matter of fear, dread, guilt and hurt feelings.
You can, though, choose to deflate your part of it, and deliberately treat it as a simple, factual case of being priced out of an activity.
Tell your friend you were honored to be included and you support her having the wedding she wants, in whatever form it takes, but that you regret to say you can’t afford to be a bridesmaid. Offer to help her in some other capacity, of course, that allows you to be there just as a regular guest.
If she takes offense at your not having a disposable $1,000 – and don’t call it anything else, because that’s all that’s at stake here – then that’s on her, not you.
Q: I am a grandmother to a lovely 8-year-old boy whose parents are about to separate. I am supportive of both parents and want only the best for them and my little grandson. It seems very amicable, and I know they will co-parent with only the best interests of my grandson at heart.
I never insert myself into family members’ private business but I do want to be supportive to my little grandson, as he is the one I am most concerned about. I don’t really know what to do though. They are two states away from me, and while I can call my grandson, I don’t know what to say.
Do I just act like nothing is going on and not ask leading questions? I remember as a child that when I was upset about adult issues or confused by my parents’ marriage, it never occurred to me to speak up and ask questions. I suspect it’s probably that way for many children.
Should I somehow let him know I will be there for him if he wants to talk to someone other than his parents about this serious upheaval in his life? Any suggestions about what to do or not do?
A: You’ve already covered so many of the important points just by asking this question. You care about the boy; understand how vulnerable he is in this situation; know he might not be able to articulate his feelings; know not to take sides; are mindful of your place; are not rushing in to the rescue. While your grandson is indeed in a tough spot, he is also fortunate to have as steadfast an ally as he does in you.
My only suggestion is that you extend your good sense from thoughts to actions. Apply your understanding of your grandson’s position by explicitly offering him a place to talk, no judging. Apply your mindfulness of boundaries by mentioning your intentions to the parents first, so they can trust you won’t usurp, undermine or (further) divide them.
And apply your natural reticence by not forcing the issue beyond plain, gentle and infrequent offers to listen if he wants to talk. Your grandson might need prompting to “speak up and ask questions,” yes -- but he also might feel better with your remaining as one small part of his family life that isn’t affected by his parents’ divorce.
People who aren’t dead certain what a person needs are sometimes the first to recognize what someone actually wants.
One caveat that might point to your course of action: Kids who start spending time with their parents separately sometimes have less time to spend with their extended families. Therefore, it might not matter so much what you talk about when you call as it does that you call, period. If it maintains the tie, then even the weather will do.
Email Carolyn at firstname.lastname@example.org