Step-by-Step Survival Guide for Mother of the Groom
Loving the kids that made me Mother of the Groom
The older I get, the more I appreciate “experiential vs. intellectual” understanding. Books, blogs, lectures, experts and friends may prepare me for a task or opportunity but it’s not “real” until I live it. This has never been more true for me than last year when my son became engaged. Until that time, the phrase “mother of the groom” evoked vague and misty images of rehearsal dinners, bridal showers, corsages, and well, not much more.
In May of 2012, shortly after I first received the sisterly counsel to “shut up and wear beige,” a gradual concern began to build. What, exactly, are the responsibilities of this new position? How does the process unfold? Who does what, and when and where does it happen? What, if anything, am I supposed to do? I had a lot of questions. Google and friends gave me lots of answers, but experience, as always, was the best teacher.
When planning this issue, it occurred to me that other future “MOGs” (Mothers of the Groom) may find themselves in similar positions. Consequently, what follows is a blend of “textbook” and “real”, a traditional-meets-contemporary, step-by-step primer for a role that, however ancient, is still new to someone every day. It isn’t comprehensive, but I hope it is helpful to you in the way it would have been for me a year ago.
Emily Post advises remembering the three C’s in wedding planning: consideration, communication, and compromise. I heartily agree. It’s a great plan for any endeavor, but especially one in which everyone’s emotions are so potentially fragile.
Here’s my no-need-to-read further best advice: exercise the three C’s liberally. What you do in this tender time lays a founda-tion for the future, and what really matters is life after the big day.
There aren't that many references for this job.
Traditionally, when the engagement is announced, the groom’s mother is expected to reach out to the bride’s parents and offer congratulations. She may plan a gathering to introduce the two families and begin the “blending” process. Those are the old-fashioned first-things-first duties that I gathered from various sources.
Here’s what actually happened in our real-world, real-time scenario: the summer before our kids became engaged, the bride’s family attended a massive family cookout at our house.
So, “check” for introducing everyone to the bride’s family.
On the day of the proposal, both mothers, and a few hundred other people, secretly knew “what was up.” Many prayers went up before, finally, a flurry of texts, Facebook messages and excited phone calls poured forth the good news and congratulations.
I feel pretty good about saying I successfully completed the first duties.
At this moment, you’re beginning to realize you don’t know what you should be doing. Here’s my suggestion: Get your guest list ready.
You don’t have to know how large or small this event will be to begin compiling the names and addresses of people you most hope to share in this moment with your family. It is a small step you can take immediately and one that will make you feel like you’re accomplishing something right away. And believe me, you are.
This is your list. Your son may have his own list, the bride will have a list, the couple will have an “our friends” list, the bride’s mom, of course, and others will have lists too. Be prepared to cut-to-fit this list mercilessly. That means you begin with the people you can’t imagine not being there and continue through to those less likely to be included.
I had a wonderful experience with my son and daughter-in-law regarding invitations. Very graciously, I was asked how many I needed and then was given what I asked for. My son and his fiance came over one evening and we addressed them together. It was not only a pleasant visit but a great way to get the work done.
Pray that it works this way for you, but be prepared if it doesn’t. I’ve heard a few hair-curling stories about very different scenarios from other MOGs. Seriously different, as in “no” (yes, I do mean “zero”) invitations. I don’t know how to advise you in those cases, except to remember what’s most important: life after the big day.
Steps Three through 3,000
You’ll need those three C’s in this phase.
Google was a big help
Here’s the tradition: the bride’s family invites guests and hosts the wedding. The groom’s family hosts the rehearsal dinner. Certain flowers are paid for by her family, others by the groom, who also pays the marriage license fee and the officiant. This is more or less what you’ll find in your research.
I suspect few weddings strictly adhere to these protocols, however. In most cases today, parents on either or both sides may join the couple themselves in sharing many of these responsibilities. Grandparents, siblings, and other family and friends may help out as well. This was certainly true in our situation.
The key here, in my opinion, is to be flexible but practical about your own resources. Take a realistic inventory of your time, energy and finances before diving into these waters.
Then, my best advice is to be available and helpful, but not intrusive. It is an honor to be asked to help. Say yes when you can.
In our case, three months after the engagement commenced, the couple set a date that was three months later. Suddenly, we had 90 every-minute-counts days to get it done. Since I work best with a fast-encroaching deadline, this was good for me. Not stress-free, but good. The bride’s mom, who likes to make color-coded spreadsheets of lists within lists, was in hyperdrive. I learned in this process what a wonderful administrator she is and thank goodness. We needed one.
The rehearsal dinner is officially your territory. Officially. In reality, the bride and groom, the bride’s mom and even other people may want to have a lot of say in this. You’ll have to roll with that.
Thankfully, in my case, it was my baby. I did, however, coordinate it carefully with the overall event. There is only one rule to remember here: never, ever, be grander than the reception. Never. Ever.
And even if it is your party, be sure your future daughter-in-law likes what you’re planning. Tell her what you have in mind. Get her input. Ask your son what he’d like as well. I was careful to include foods I knew he loved for this part of the festivities, and I nixed a menu item the bride said didn’t agree with her.
I relished planning this party as much as anything I’ve ever done in my life. It was pure joy, an utter distraction amid no small amount of chaos. I shopped on Friday evenings for little details, because we all know that’s where the love is. With my husband and step-daughter, over Sunday morning breakfast, I very seriously discussed what sort of filler to use in the hurricane lamps centerpieces. As a result, it was actually my husband who found exactly what we needed. Cracked corn, right there on the shelf at the hardware store.
Mini-steps that can be missteps
Showers: These are non-negotiable. Unless you or an immediate family member is hospitalized or in the mortuary, attend the ones you’re invited to. Be on time, polite, sincere, courteous, loving, unfailingly gracious… all the things your aunts and mothers taught you.
I was 40 minutes late. Don’t be me. Leave an hour early and know where you’re going. Look at the GPS route before you leave home.
Also, it is appropriate for you to host a shower for your future daughter-in-law if you desire, especially one that includes your family, according to many of the articles I read. In our case, time and geographic challenges made this impossible. Had it been different, I would have enjoyed doing this.
What to Wear: You don’t have to wear beige, but you do need to blend in nicely in the background here. Protocol is to allow the mother of the bride to select her dress first, and then to be sure you wear a different color, at least. Preferably, choose a very different style as well. My advice? Be “less.” Shoot for understated, but elegant.
In real life, for us, the bride’s mom changed her mind about what she was wearing the day of the wedding, or the day before, I’m not really sure which. Thankfully, my color choice was still okay. Whew!
RSVPs. If you’ve ever invited anyone to anything, you know this is a challenging area. You can be a big help to the bride and her mom by keeping a running list of the guests you know are attending. Consider reaching out to the no-responses on your list to confirm their status as the day draws nearer.
Very Last-minute Steps
This one’s easy: don’t panic.
Whatever you’ve done or not done, the moment is here, the people you love most are here. You be here too, in the “now,” not in your head working through some checklist of to-do’s that don’t matter anymore.
We danced to Israel Kamakawiwo’ole's version of 'Somewhere Over the Rainbow'
Dancing with your son at his wedding is one of those once-in-a-lifetimes. You’ve done your job. Enjoy this moment.
The “manual” says you should help choose a song for this. That didn’t happen for me. I also did not get to practice ahead of time, something I repeatedly asked to do. Not getting to practice, it turns out, was good practice for not being number one anymore. You’ll get your chance to practice this too.
When the moment arrived, I had no idea what the song would be or whether this kid we raised could even lead me.
And it was perfect. Priceless. Unforgettable.
He picked a new version of an old song, one I have loved all my life, and the surprise made it all the more special.
On the dance floor, we talked about the perfect day, his beautiful wife, and how we were going to handle Christmas. And the babies. It was just grand.
Now that I’m a mother-in-law, my goal is to keep those three C’s handy. And to add a fourth: calendar. A flexible one.