Avoiding the Helicopter Wedding


I think the ultimate test of letting go of your helicopter parenting ways is when your daughter gets married. Yes, that happened to me in November of this year. My daughter Jillian married a great guy, Nick. Both my wife and I have truly been blessed. I am not a helicopter parent (damn it!), but tendencies and thoughts can persist, especially when you are at the end of watching your daughter symbolically leave the nest. I think “giving your daughter away” is a great lesson in patience and dealing with some inner emotional conflict.

In my day the traditional wedding was, the parents of the bride paid for the wedding, the groom’s parents paid for the open bar. The guest list was dominated by both sets of parent’s friends and family. There were always a few friends of the bride and groom besides the wedding party who attended but they were often few and far between. It was as much a celebration of the life the parent’s as it was the wedding of two young people.

Today things are completely reversed. This generation of young people want and get control. They want to make up the bulk of the guest list with their friends, with family (of their choice) and a few of their parent’s friends sprinkled in.

The question then becomes, who pays? Thus the paradox. In general terms, this generation feels the need to control planning and running the event, but hope (and sometimes expect) the parents to pay. It can become a monumental struggle for a helicopter parent. If the hover parent pays, they want total control of everything (and the daughter will not easily relinquish that control), yet they feel compelled to give their daughter what they want. It can become a stressful time for the parents. Even if you are not a helicopter parent, you will find yourself conflicted, going in and out of decision making for “their” event.

There are several key milestones of a wedding that can create discussion and/or turmoil between parents and the wedding couple, and they are;

The venue and the menu; the dress; the list and who pays.

Venue & Menu – This is the easiest one of all. Let the wedding couple figure this out. Let them do the research, the site tour, the tastings, all of it. This step is the one that will really get them feeling you are letting them make their own decisions. If you think they are making the wrong decision (over budget for example), don’t “tell them what to do”. Instead ask them questions that will help them come to a better conclusion and minimize mistakes (and even if they don’t, they will be the ones that have to live with it, not you). Helicopter parents will desperately want to go with them and force direction, don’t! If your kids ask you to be involved (and they will), go to the venue, taste the food, offer your opinion, but let them know it is their decision, not yours.

The Dress – Personally, I am SO not a part of this one. I leave that to the mom’s and daughters. Mom’s, you will want to be there for them, and your daughter’s will want you there. Be the calming force. She will find the dress, don’t worry. Let her enjoy the hunt. Share your experiences in a way that will help her make a happy decision.

The List – Now this is the tough one. The "list" is what is the most feared by the wedding couple and parents more than anything else. “How can we invite your uncle Bob and not invite your cousin Julie?” Today, your daughter and her future husband will want to put the list together and be firm with it. Your input will be minimal! If you are a helicopter parent, I can already see your propeller fluttering out of control, big time! It is the ultimate symbol of relinquishment. Chill. I say, let them make the list. But let them know that you are there to help them if they need it, and would like to see the list and review it with them once it is complete. They will often assume that who they left off the list will not be cool with you (uncle Bob and cousin Julie are both off the list). When in fact, the lists are much closer than you think (uncle Bob can’t make it anyways and cousin Julie isn’t as close to you as they thought). Sometimes, they will exclude someone who they haven’t realized how important they are to you or to the family. There is nothing wrong with explaining the situation. In fact, I say pick your spots, but be diplomatic. In the end, a few friends and family won’t be happy, but they will get over it (including you).

Who Pays? – This becomes an economic decision and/or a control vice. If they want or hope you will pay, they need to be clear about what you can afford. Being honest and truthful with them will help them make informed decisions on the wedding itself (and you will watch them grow up right before your eyes). If they want to pay themselves, ask them about their budget and wedding costs. See if they have thought it all through. Do they have all the expense estimates covered in all categories? Be supportive, cautiously inquisitive and positive. If they want to have a low key, low cost wedding, let them. It will still be a beautiful and memorable event.

What about everything else? - Everything else is secondary. Only secondary by way of, let them figure it out on their own. If they want your advice, they will ask you.

My Daughter’s Wedding

To put all of the above in context, here is a recap of what transpired leading up to and including the wedding from the dad’s perspective.

The dress, the venue and the food: I let my daughter handle it. She involved her mom, her sister, her mother-in-law to be and her bridesmaids in various parts of the project. Ultimately she was in control and I was okay with it. The list: They made the list, we made our own family/friend list (why not) and then compared. In the end it was okay, it worked for them and it worked for us.
Who paid? They did. Pretty much the whole thing. That’s what they wanted. They saved and stayed within their budget. When your children can demonstrate an ability to manage an event like this and keep their finances in check, what more do you want? Very proud of them.

The wedding: It was beautiful. Everyone (from all accounts) had a wonderful time and there really weren’t any issues at all. I only had 3 things that I was personally worried about. 1) Walking my daughter down the isle without visibly crying 2) Getting through the father/daughter dance without screwing it up, dancing to “Daughters” by John Mayer without completely breaking down emotionally on the dance floor. 3) The speech.

Well I made it through the dance and down the isle without a hitch. And as for the speech well, that was our little surprise. We didn’t do a speech at all, or at least not in the conventional sense. You see, I am fine with public speaking, but when it comes to family, I get very emotional and choked up. So instead, we did a video. If you can’t do something different, something creative, then you won’t generate stories. That’s what I love to do. Generate stories. Here's to you generating great stories about your family!

Happy holidays everyone!

All you need is love. Love is all you need.