Carolyn Hax: Mama bear becomes drama bear over wedding

June 9, 2013 

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 and no contact from my sister, it's 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.

I'm trying to decide two things: 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 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.

J.

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. 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 like this 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 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 when you've dealt with your feelings, versus made a brave show of hiding them in the face of pain.

Carolyn: An ex-girlfriend recently contacted me out of the blue. I've been married for 21-plus years. She says she has some apologies to make to me, but I'm not certain she really has anything I would find it necessary to apologize to me for. I'm just very unsure how to proceed. Can you offer any advice?

BLAST FROM THE PAST

Out-of-the-blue missives to long-married ex-loves never wreak any havoc.

If you felt no flicker of anything, you would have either responded innocently or ignored her. Right?

So, my advice is either to accept the apology and end the communication there, or, not to respond at all. Think of all the new apologies you'll pre-empt.

Email tellme@washpost.com. Chat online at 10 a.m. Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.

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