Hosting Hassle: Who decides where to hold the reception?

by epi on June 6, 2012

Q: My Mother has pointed out several times that the wedding reception is hers to decide on. She feels that since ‘she is paying for it’ (most of it), that ‘she is the one who decides everything’. The only say I have is about the colors and the design of the cake cutters. As she put it, ‘the host and hostess decide what, when, where, and how things are to happen at the reception, with consideration of the Bride.’ With everything that I have read, I was under the impression that my fiance and I were the people who ‘host’ everything, and that we were the people that all the decisions were made through. My Mother said that the ceremony is ‘mine’ and that ‘the reception is the party that she throws to introduce us to the family as a couple. Therefore, we have very little say in what happens at the reception, much like any showers people throw for me. I am considered the ‘honored guest’ at both of these occasions.’ I guess my question is ‘Who is supposed to be the ‘host and hostess’ of my wedding, and how much ‘say’ do the people involved actually have in what goes on, and ‘who’ should be the people involved? Please help me, I’m at my wits end. I just don’t know what else to say to her or how to explain it, because (as she sees it) I have no understanding of the matter and what I want isn’t as important as what she wants to have happen because she is the one hosting the event.

A: It is traditional for the hosts to be the ones who are paying the expenses. However even though your parents are the hosts, it is yours and your fiance’s special day – not your parents. As such, you and your fiance should be able to have a say in the planning as long as your wishes are within your parents’ budget and both sides should be willing to compromise.

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{ 21 comments… read them below or add one }

Jerry June 6, 2012 at 9:50 am

The bride has my deepest sympathy. This sounds like a classic power play, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the bride’s mother hadn’t engaged in similar attempts to force her daughter to do certain things by using the power of the purse. There is only one way to resolve this type of bullying behavior — stand up to it!

If the daughter and her fiance are able to afford it, she should consider cutting the purse strings and telling her mom that she (bride) won’t be able to accept her (mom’s) offer to pay for the reception. Bride should also consider telling mom that her (mom’s) guests will be first on the chopping block if she (bride) has to cull the list to meet costs.

Bride may consider eloping if finances are truly at issue, and having a reception a year or two down the line.

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Erica June 6, 2012 at 10:05 am

Wow, I feel so bad for this bride, the Mother sounds like quite the controlling parent. Where on earth did she get the idea that “she makes all the decisions”? Ha! The decisions are absolutely up to you and your fiancé, and only you and your fiancé! Stand up to your Mother and do not let her take over. You would deeply regret having a reception that doesn’t feel like you and your fiancé at all. It wouldn’t even feel like your wedding!

If she won’t budge, I agree with the above comment, host your own small reception and cut all of your Mother’s guests!

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Elizabeth L. June 6, 2012 at 10:21 am

I agree with Jerry; this does sound like a power struggle.

I would, very nicely and gently, sit the mother down and explain that yes, she is paying for it, but it’s really important to you and your fiance that the reception reflect your personalities as guests are their to see you (the newly married couple). Explain that you (very appreciative!) have some specific ideas of what you want and where you want it because of x, y, z (give really good personal reasons). Ask that she take all of this under consideration and that you are there to be as helpful as possible. Reiterate again how important it is the reception reflect you and your fiance because guests don’t know (and don’t care) who paid for it.

If that doesn’t work, firmly but kindly point out that her views on the issue make no sense given that the majority of wedding planning books, magazines, shows, etc revolve around the reception. And who’s planning the whole thing? The bride. Remind her again and again that it is YOUR wedding. You appreciate her support and help, but you’ve been dreaming about this day for a long time and want it to be very you.

If that still doesn’t work, your only other options are to grin and bear it (and complain to anyone else who listen and not tell your mom) or pay for it yourself. Good luck!!!

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Vanna Keiler June 6, 2012 at 1:22 pm

Mommy Dearest? I agree with the previous post comments above. There seem to be only two options (1) Bride-to-be tells mother what she wants for wedding and mother agrees, or (2) Bride plans her own wedding and reception on her own budget. The problem with option 1 is there may always be the possibility this strong-minded mother will proceed ahead with her own initial plans despite her daughter’s stated preferences, so the daughter may be spending even more energy looking over mother’s shoulder and double-checking if her preference requests were made. Before giving mother ultimatum, I would do my homework and see what could be done within your own budget, and tell your mother your plan B should she not agree with letting you make the decisions. Maybe give her a list of what you want (flowers, entertainment, colors, themes, etc) and work on everything together. That way, your mother can still take credit for planning your wedding and you can have the wedding of your dreams.

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Nancy Harms June 6, 2012 at 10:23 am

How important is a reception anyway? Let mom have it, then leave to go to your own private party with your close friends, then leave that to go on your most private party…your honeymoon. De-stress.

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Just Laura June 6, 2012 at 10:35 am

A private reception after the public reception is seldom a good idea. If guests found out they were invited to one party, but are not “good enough” for the second, they would understandably be hurt. It doesn’t sound as if this bride and groom want to hurt their guests’ feelings.

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Alex June 6, 2012 at 11:05 am

lol, “how important is a reception?” Ummm, i’d say pretty important, it’s the only time you get to celebrate all together with all your family and friends! This type of gathering shouldn’t be handed over to mom simply because she’s being a bully and wants to take over. What a way to give up one of the most important days of your life!

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Winifred Rosenburg June 6, 2012 at 11:44 am

I agree with EPI with one small exception. Traditionally the bride’s parents are the official hosts regardless of whether or not they are paying. That’s why traditional wedding invitations start with the names of the brides parents. Paying for the wedding does entitle you to a say, but not THE say. Basically the bride and groom should plan the wedding within the budget of whoever is paying and take that person’s thoughts into consideration.

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Jerry June 6, 2012 at 6:17 pm

What exception? EPI got this 100% right! Traditionally the bride’s parents are the official hosts only because the bride’s parents pay for the wedding!

The question is whether the bride gets a say in planning the wedding, not whether the bride or the bride’s parents are the hosts.

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Winifred Rosenburg June 6, 2012 at 10:18 pm

The host is not necessarily the person paying. According to dictionary.com, a host is “a person who receives or entertains guests at home or elsewhere.” It is expected that the bride’s parents will be receiving and entertaining guests and are therefore the default hosts regardless of whether or not they are paying. As I said, this was the only minor part of the answer I disagreed with. The answer includes “It is traditional for the hosts to be the ones who are paying the expenses” and I felt clarification was needed or other brides might think they should try to take away the honor of host from their parents because they aren’t paying.

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Lilli June 6, 2012 at 1:23 pm

I have sympathy for the bride, and can’t imagine what I would do in her situation because I’d want to have some say in my reception, but if momma is paying for a party she gets to plan it. I think the important thing is to sit down and try to work out a compromise and see if maybe the mom is worried about the cost and that’s the reason for her controlling behavior. If you can’t get to the root of the disagreement and work out a compromise you really only have 2 options, suck it up and let her have her way, or pay for the party you want yourself.

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Courtney Biddle June 6, 2012 at 1:50 pm

My daughter decided not to invite children to her wedding for two reasons. The first reason was because inviting children of adult guest more than doubled our guest list and for financial reasons we could not afford over a certain number of guests. The second reason was because my daughter simply did not want children at the wedding. Invitations were addressed to reflect who was invited- such as “Mr. and Mrs. Marshall Biddle” and did not have the childrens names listed on invitation. However, even so, I have had one quest to call me ( the Mother of the Bride) and inquire if it was an oversight that her children were not invited. I was unprepared for her question. I am wondering if you could advise me as to how you would handle such a question .

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Nina June 6, 2012 at 2:10 pm

Hi Courtney,

This question has come up on this forum before, so I feel confident answering though I don’t remember the exact wording. Basically, just be extremely polite and welcoming, but tell the truth. “Thanks for checking, but actually the invitation is correct–the bride and groom have invited only adults to the wedding. We do hope you both can make it–it should be a great celebration and chance to see everyone…” Or whatever pleasantries suit you. If they are upset, offer to help finding a sitter (if in fact you are able to do so) or commiserate about the challenge of finding one. If it seems appropriate you could explain about the financial constraints, but don’t offer to make an exception–it will make people who left their children at home feel put-upon and excluded when they see some kids are there.

On a personal note, I invited children to my wedding and, so far, every single family has RSVP’d without the kids. When I asked about it, the parents said a long dinner and late-evening dance would be boring for kids, so they’re all getting babysitters. Food for thought!

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Jerry June 6, 2012 at 6:18 pm

One more thought. It may be that the bride’s father is more reasonable, and bride can ask her dad to intervene on her behalf.

Moreover, bride always carries the trump card in access to future grandchildren.

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Jody June 7, 2012 at 8:25 am

Jerry, using access to future grandchildren as a bargaining point is the wrong way to go. That will just escalate the situation unnecessarily. The best thing is, I think, for the bride to talk with her mother to find out why she wants to control every aspect of the reception (another poster mentioned cost being a possible issue). If things still can’t be resolved, and the bride is having no say over her reception, she and her fiance may need to decline the parents’ financial assistance and host something that *they* want and that is within *their* budget. The mother will likely be unhappy but the bride and her fiance will need to stick to their position. (the foregoing is, I think a combination of the advice from other posters, I’ve lost track of who suggested what)

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LisaDiane June 7, 2012 at 1:41 pm

The original post mentions that the bride and groom are honored guests at the reception, and that the parents are the hosts. This matches up with my understanding of the situation where someone other than the bride and groom are paying for the wedding. For me the disconnect (and like the other posters, I truly feel for this bride) is that the guest of honor has no say other than the colors for the event! I have hosted many parties (although never a wedding) and as the host, I felt it was my responsibility to engage the guest o honor in a conversation about their preferences. Sure, I could just decide that we would have carrot cake, even though the guest of honor hates it, but that is certainly an inconsiderate decision. Regardless of what is traditional or correct by tradition, let us not lose sight of the fact that etiquette is supposed to make human interactions easier and more comfortable! A good host should be aiming to make the party as enjoyable as possible for the guests, especially the guests of honor!

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Heather June 7, 2012 at 2:33 pm

Oh, dear Bride. You have my heart felt condolences. It does sound like a power struggle and I am certain that it isn’t the first that you’ve experienced with your mother. Here’s the joy. You can make your own decisions without feeling tied to her money and approval. You can choose to change your idea of a “perfect” wedding without using it as power against her. If you don’t like the way that your mother wields money to control you, then don’t take it. Have a low key and smaller ceremony. Elope. Get married on the beach. Delay the wedding date so you can save. You have choices.

Remember that the power of her money and control will not go away after the wedding and if you don’t address it, it has the potential to undermine your own marriage and family.

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r June 10, 2012 at 8:26 am

Traditionally, is it the brides family that chooses the minister to officiate the wedding? I would like to have our minister and as the mother of the bride I feel it is our wishes that should be followed, but the grooms family is insisting to have theirs. What is the proper thing to do?
Thanks in advance.

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Winifred Rosenburg June 10, 2012 at 10:44 am

Wedding planning is a collaboration. There is no one person who decides anything alone, except perhaps their own attire. Take into account how important this is to each person involved and make a decision that way. An option is also to use both ministers (which is what I did at my wedding).

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Jerry June 10, 2012 at 1:15 pm

The proper thing to do is to defer to the couple getting married. I like Winifred’s idea if the couple — not the parents of the couple, not the friends of the couple — is indifferent.

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Katie K June 10, 2012 at 2:21 pm

Hello “r”,

Wedding customs seem to vary widely by location and culture.

In my experience (which admittedly is somewhat antiquated – lol), a wedding is traditionally hosted by the bride’s family and the ceremony is performed in the church of the bride’s family – which automatically answers the question of who will officiate! However, many ministers are willing to have a second officiant participate in the ceremony.

However, if your daughter is being married somewhere other than in your church (nothing wrong with that!), the choice of officiants is less clear . In that case, the couple can ask whomever they’d like. As Winifred and Jerry have suggested, asking both families’ ministers to participate would be a good compromise (and would certainly make life easier for you and for your daughter).

Good luck.

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