Monday, October 20, 2008

Q & A: Custom to have the groom's family pay for half the wedding?

Q. My 44 year old brother is getting married to a 41 year old, never married woman. She is from an Italian-American family. Upon meeting my mom and dad, her parents told them it is their custom that the groom's parents pay for half of the wedding. They were very blunt and quite offensive to my parents. My brother's response was to take out a loan and he would pay the other half of the wedding expenses. The bride's father remarked, "that's a good boy". My mom and dad are considerably older. They are appalled at the behavior and insistence of the bride's parents to pay for half of the wedding. However, it doesn't seem to bother the bride! In fact, it doesn't bother her if my brother has to take out a loan to pay for the other half. My brother has purchased her engagement and wedding rings and even paid for his own ring. He will pay for the honeymoon and some of the other customary items such as her flowers. It seems my brother will have quite a bill after all this. In fact, quite a lot more than the bride's parents. And he would rather elope anyway! My parents said they will pay for the rehearsal dinner, which I think is quite generous of them since my brother has been married twice before and had the big wedding the first time around. I suggested to him that his fiance discuss the wedding budget alone with her parents. Find out what they are willing to spend and keep the wedding within that budget. I am pretty handy at decorating events and would be willing to help her keep costs down. I even thought I might surprise her and make wedding favors for the guests so she wouldn't have that to worry about. As the arrangements proceed, I've noticed the bride is planning the type of wedding and reception that her parents would have if she were marrying in her native state of New York, complete with all the expectations customary to their circle of Italian friends and family. The wedding is in Phoenix, Arizona. The bride, groom, and groom's parents all live in Arizona. The friends that will be attending will be the bride's and groom's friends that also live in locally. The bride's family will fly in for the wedding. So the only Italians attending will be the bride's family. Therefore, most likely the only guests that will stick around to dance and party away will be the bride's family. Just about everyone will be a fairly conservative Christian--except the bride's family. A reception with dancing, a disc jockey and a bar available is completely contrary to everyone's general lifestyle--everyone's except the bride's parents. I'm afraid they will be the only ones who will think the reception is great. Everyone else will be uncomfortable with the loud music, the dancing (especially those elderly Christian friends who are from the old school that thought dancing was sinful), and the sight of a bar serving alcohol. My second concern is regarding the times of the ceremony and reception. The bride has now planned the ceremony for 1:00 p.m. with a reception at another location at 4 p.m. She plans to have the bridal party go to a park to take pictures between the ceremony and the reception. The times of the ceremony and reception are of concern because of the large block of time in between that their guests will have nothing to do and wouldn't be practical to go home and change and then get dressed up again to go to the reception. I think it is impractical and inconsiderate to expect guests to be inconvenienced in this way. Also, if parents are hiring babysitters, that is also extra time they will have to pay for and be away from their children. The other concern regarding the time is that because of my parents' age, they are no longer able to drive at night. They both have serious vision problems and they would have to drive home in the dark after the reception. Not only that but they will become very tired because of the length of time from the ceremony until the reception is over. My brother has many elderly friends from his church and in all likelihood they will have the same or similar problems. Phoenix has horrible street traffic and very few freeways. If it were to rain it could likely take someone an hour or two to get home. (I lived there for 20 years--I know this all too well.) I think it is insensitive and inconsiderate to put my parents in a position that endangers their health and well-being, to say the least. However, the bride's response has been that "whoever cares enough about us will be there!" She also said "they can go to the mall and go shopping (all dressed up in their wedding attire)." Am I missing something here or what? I also mentioned to my future sister-in-law that the time would be pretty hard on our 10 year old son, whom they asked to be the ring bearer. I told her how difficult it is for kids to be patient and that he would be miserable wearing a tuxedo for what would probably extend to about 8 hours--from the time we get him dressed till the time we get home. Her response was how educational a wedding is for children. Educational? Oh, yes, she said. We can explain to our son what all the traditions mean and why certain things are the custom, etc. (as if he would really care!?!) I said that our son and nearly every child in the world would not be able to sit quietly through a wedding, have nothing to do for the next two and a half hours, then expect to be pleasant at a party for another three hours or more. She won't listen and thinks this "problem" will be exclusive to our son only! So----my mom and I were wondering what a professional in the wedding business would think about this and what you might advise.

A. Let me start by saying that we checked with our own New York Italian family - and to try and be totally fair - we checked with Italian friends in Pittsburgh and in Chicago -- here is the result: When the bride's parents told your brother that it is their custom to have the groom's family pay for half the wedding the operative words were likely "THEIR custom" and NOT the custom of the nationality. New York, Pittsburgh and Chicago families (with roots in Sicily, in Rome and in Bologna) ALL agreed that it would be an embarrassment for the bride's family (realize this is a special "Italian" embarrassment) to do anything less than pay for the entire wedding, as is tradition -- with the following exceptions: 1. When the bride's family is not well to do, quite often the groom's mother (not the father and not the groom) may ask the bride's mother if the groom's family can't help out "to make for a more perfect wedding day for their children" -- as you can tell this is a "mother" thing where the mother always wishes to look out for their children and by keeping the fathers out of this little discussion no social faux pas can exist and the "male" thing doesn't get stepped on (are you catching the drift here?) - BUT this is NOT initiated by the brides family and is NOT an expected occurrence. 2. When the bride and groom wish an unusually large and/or expensive wedding it is not uncommon for the groom's father to offer to pick up the cost of the liquor and the champagne at the reception - once again the initiative is from the groom's family and NOT the bride's. 3. When the bride and groom have grown up together, the families are close, all their lives the bride and groom were expected to marry - the brides family is poor and it is in both family interests to see the marriage through - then - with some embarrassment but with mutual admiration and love the bride's and groom's family share the cost. Do you think I've said enough about this? Next - being blunt and somewhat offensive should be left to Da Wedding Guy. Next - the words "that's a good boy" generally translates to "we're glad you are doing what we tell you to do". Next - parents being appalled is what parents do - but - in this instance I appall with them Next - the items you listed as items your brother is paying for are traditionally the items he should be paying for - with the exception of the bridal bouquet - but - if he got a great package deal for all flowers even the bouquet can be paid for by the groom. Now to the heart of the matter. I must assume your brother is of "sound mind" and having been married twice before has at least SOME inkling of what he is getting into. With this in mind if he isn't willing to speak with his bride-to-be about these expenses, if he is willing to take out a loan, do the wedding as SHE wants it and isn't complaining about his added burden - what's the rub? and why are you being the advocate? - remember, if your parents didn't want to pay for the rehearsal dinner they wouldn't - also, remember, this wedding isn't about the friends and it is only partially about the family - in reality it is about two people in love, wanting to share their lives. While I tend to agree with your position and delima, knowing only your view of the situation makes it hard to be judgmental - but - this does sound a little one-sided doesn't it? Next - about the timing - 1 o'clock ceremony should be over at 1:30 and out of the church (guests and all before 2) At the park by 2:15 photos (in the heat???). To the reception site by 3945 to 4:00. So, the timing isn't really THAT bad - but - the concept could stink. It would depend on the weather and it would depend on the guests and why everyone is going to the park. You know, a "reception" is to "receive the guests" it is the time when the families play host to the guests and cater to them - so - once the wedding is over, most of what is being done should be focussed on the guests and the guests' comforts. If your future sister-in-law seems to be totally insensitive to your comments and your thoughts for the comfort of others perhaps it is because she is - or - perhaps she feels you are meddling in her affairs. What I don't understand is if all you have said is accurate why is your brother standing by and doing nothing??? If it will be such an imposition on his personal friends and family I would suspect he would be sensitive to these conditions - can all of this revolve strictly around the bride without equal fault being placed on your brother? From what you have described there seems to be no compromise and no solution - grin and bear it comes to mind. If you are going to be a part of this wedding you should just let it happen and be over with - and - you should say no more, after all this IS his wedding. If you don't want to be a part of it then just don't - your brother should understand. While it sounds like a pretty big mess to me - the fact is, it is his mess and he must have some reason for doing whatever it is that he is doing. Even if this really is the mess you portray, I'd say you've said your piece, you've tried to help and be helpful, now - leave it alone and let it be done with - hopefully for your brother (and obviously for you and your parents) his third wedding will be his last.

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