Dear Carolyn: My youngest sister is getting married in a few weeks. She’s the only child from my dad’s second marriage and the age difference between us is nearly two decades.
I have two daughters, ages 15 and 8, who have been very excited for this wedding since my sister got engaged last winter. They ask me constantly if they’ll be in the wedding. Now, with two weeks to go until the wedding date and absolutely no contact from my sister, it’s pretty clear they won’t be involved.
I just found out my two nieces, of similar ages to my girls, will have roles in the wedding party. My nieces live in the same town as my sister while we live out of state, so I’ve always known she’s closer to them than she has been to my girls, at least recently; my older daughter would still consider their relationship close. I’m certain she’s going to be heartbroken.
I’m trying to decide two things: if (and how) to bring this inequity up to my sister, and how to break this news to my daughters in one of those “life lessons” ways. This just seems to demonstrate a blatant favoritism for the other nieces. Part of me really wants her to know how her decision could potentially damage a family relationship.
My protective Mama Bear tends to come out in these moments, and while I want to teach them to take the high road (attend the wedding, smile, no tantrums or passive-aggressive comments), I don’t want them to think they have to completely hide their feelings and make my sister think they’re OK with what’s happened when they’re not.
A: Mama Bear is a Drama Bear.
I know how painful it is to be excluded. I know a parent can often struggle with a child’s (projected) pain more than the child does. I know family has a unique power to mess with one’s head, arguably rivaled only by wedding hierarchies.
But, really. As primary shaper of your children’s emotional center, you have a responsibility to keep things in perspective – and to have had one all along. When they asked “constantly,” you could have repeated doggedly: “Brides can’t say yes to everyone they love.”
The local nieces are closer to the bride for an obvious and easily understood reason. Couples can’t include everyone. Wedding roles are not the last word on a person’s value to the couple; they’re a snapshot of that moment in time, to the extent that, 10 or 20 years out, it’s not uncommon for couples to have lost touch completely with some wedding party members.
I could go on, but this is for you, not your girls; trotting out a series of reasons will sound like you’re protesting too much.
For them, you need only this – “I’m sorry, I let you get your hopes up” – followed by this: “No bride can include everyone she loves, so don’t take this as a sign she doesn’t care. It’ll ruin our good time only if we let it.”
To your sister, you either say, “Hey, is there anything my girls can do for you? They’d be thrilled to help you somehow,” or you say nothing. Any attempt to set her straight – as in, insist your way of handling wedding parties (or people’s feelings) is superior to hers – “could potentially damage a family relationship.”
Your daughters urgently need to see you demonstrate that life is long; that love is bigger than who gets to be a flower girl; and that “attend the wedding, smile” is easier (and a lot more pleasant) when you’ve dealt with your feelings, versus made a brave show of hiding them in the face of overstated pain.