It is a truth universally acknowledged that choosing who to invite to your wedding is about as pleasant as having your teeth drilled into dust by a sadistic dentist with a dull and rusty bit. But while deciding whether the cousins you haven’t seen for 15 years should get a save-the-date is difficult, it’s even more painful when you have to choose whether your toxic parents get to show up on your special day, especially if there’s a chance that they’ll ruin the event by being exactly who they are every other day of the year.
For some people, like this bride who gave her mom and dad a generous fuck you for their toxicity, the decision can be easy (and cathartic) to make, but one woman recently wrote to Carolyn Hax at The Washington Post because, for her, not inviting her toxic mom didn’t seem like an option, even though their relationship came at the expense of the letter writer’s mental health.
From the letter:
Hi, Carolyn: My mother and I have a very toxic relationship and have fought on and off over the years. When she gets angry, she spreads half-truths that make me look bad, says hurtful things and tries to sabotage my plans. She’s very narcissistic, manipulative and controlling.
I’m getting married next year, and she’s telling me nobody is excited about my wedding and that I shouldn’t invite my extended family. At this point, I’ve distanced myself from her, which ultimately means I cannot have much contact with parts of my extended family.
Not knowing anything else about this bride, just these two paragraphs make it clear that the mother shouldn’t be invited. Who wants someone who says “no one wants to show up to your dumb wedding, anyway” eating beef Wellington at their reception? And yet, the letter writer makes it clear that her mother is getting an invite even though it seems fairly likely that her mom will ruin at least part of the wedding, if not the entire day. In fact, the question isn’t “should I invite my awful mom” but “should I reach out to other people who might be affected by this and ask whether they have any concerns about coming?” which sounds kind of ridiculous but is not uncommon when one has narcissistic parents who can make anything—including things that happened when you weren’t even there—all about how awful you are.
So, what to do?
Hax, who must be commended on her ability to look at the bigger picture, asks the bride an more important question in her response: “Why are you inviting your mother?” And she’s not just saying that to be flip, she really wants the bride to consider and put herself first, something that’s already often difficult for children of narcissistic parents. And something that becomes even harder when you have to decide whether you can deal with the overwhelming shame of not inviting your mom while other members of the family get to show up. But a wedding, Hax points out, is a good time to take stock and decide who has helped you get to the point where you are in your life, and who will be there to help you be the person you’d like to continue becoming.
You want to start a marriage healthy, not torn and “depressed” about hosting a party for people you assume don’t support you and you possibly don’t even like.
In fact, now actually seems optimal for dealing with the bigger emotional picture because you’ve reached a milestone — specifically, the milestone of creating a family of choice as opposed to a family of birth. You’re creating the former by marriage, but that’s not the only route there.
You can decide who you want to be, then decide who actually helps you get there as opposed to undermining you at every opportunity. Weigh everyone carefully, including family, friends, colleagues, neighbors, mentors, everyone, for their ability to lift you up, and then decide those people are the ones you’ll ask to save the date. Then see how well you sleep on the idea of making your whole family one of thoughtful choice. Ongoing choice, too, since you and others may change.
Of course, Hax points out, it’s unlikely that the mother in this situation will take this lying down—despite the fact that she’s “not that excited” about coming anyway—and a “momstorm of epic proportions” may be on the horizon. But with counseling, that’s a storm that the bride can hopefully weather. And while not inviting someone to a wedding (especially a family member) can feel like you’re hurting the person much more than they could have hurt you, Hax is absolutely right when she points out that the presence of people who tear you down on a day that’s supposed to be joyful might makes the beginning of your marriage somewhat rough. You’re going to be emotionally exhausted anyway—and that’s even if you invite only people you like—imagine how much worse that exhaustion could be if you’ve spent the day being ripped down by your family.
Contact the author at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Image via Disney.