Your hubby-to-be is perfect, but his overbearing (if well-intentioned) mum is far from it. We hear ya. Here’s how to keep your mother-in-law in check and have the dream day, your way
Organising a wedding can be seriously stressful, especially if there’s one person in your life intent on making things more difficult. If you’re lucky, your mother-in-law (forthwith: MIL) will be fun, supportive and willing to lend a hand whenever you ask for help. But there are plenty of brides-to-be who find the planning process descends in to – at best – low-level bitterness and – at worst – all out war. Yep, we’re talking monster-in-laws.
Here’s our top five (tactical) tips on how to manage a problem MIL, and keep your marriage – and sanity – in tact.
Unite and conquer
Before you present any ideas to your family and friends, make sure you and your partner are on the same page. Do you want a big bash or an intimate do? A religious ceremony or a humanist celebration? These basics are important and it’s best to clear them up before anyone else gets involved – especially a controlling MIL who ‘just loves to organise’.
Samantha Turner, 28, from St Albans, found this out the hard way. ‘Ollie proposed to me while we were on holiday. By the time we returned a week later, his mum had basically planned the entire day,’ she moans. ‘We went to hers for Sunday lunch and ended up at the local church – she’d booked us an appointment with the vicar and informed us we were also due to see a marquee at a nearby hotel later on. I was livid.’
Ollie? He didn’t mind so much. ‘He convinced me it was kinder to just let her help, even if we weren’t actually going to book anything. He even told her he liked the church – despite the fact that I was dead against a religious ceremony.’
Eventually things got out of hand and Ollie agreed to talk to his mum, but by then the damage was done. ‘She was upset that he’d let her get carried away with it all, and he ended up doing some serious grovelling after the wedding.’
When your mother-in-law envisages a huge church do, and you, well, don’t…
Grill the guest list
You and your partner are paying for the wedding, so you get total control of the guest list, right? Wrong. Yes, you get the final say, but ignore your MIL’s requests at your peril.
‘Friends are really important to us and we had a tight budget, so we decided to invite just a small selection of close family members to the reception,’ says Tess Clapton, 34, from London. ‘When my mother-in-law found out that her cousin – who I had never met – wasn’t invited, all hell broke loose. At one point she threatened to leave after the ceremony, and we had to agree to invite cousin Lily as long as my MIL picked up the extra cost. It was ridiculous.’
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Isla*, 29, from Brighton, had the opposite problem. ‘I have a massive family but my husband’s is quite small. To balance it out, we decided to invite all of his extended relatives. We didn’t even think to run the guest list past my mother-in-law, but on the day there was a huge row: it turned out my MIL owed someone in the family a lot of money and they had it out on the dance floor. It was so embarrassing.’
Lesson? Always run the guest list past your MIL. You never know what skeletons are lurking in the family closet.
Avoid big-day surprises – and this face – at all costs
Delegate, delegate, delegate
You might not love all of her ideas, but if she’s a control freak, compromise is key. Maybe she can organise the transport or write the invites? If she’s a great baker, could she make the cake or some edible favours? The more jobs you give her, the more she’ll feel involved and the less likely she is to railroad you into letting her ‘help’ with something you’d rather take care of yourself.
‘My mother-in-law is lovely but she’s always trying to take over,’ says Alice*, 31, from Cambridge. ‘She insisted on making all the food herself for the buffet, which was a nice gesture, but I knew she couldn’t pull off what I wanted.’ Alice and her guests ended up with soggy sausage rolls and limp-looking salads. ‘We could have ordered in caterers and had a delicious spread. Instead, I watched people pick at their hard-edged ham sandwiches politely before finding a corner to dump their plate.’
Shop ’til she stops
Helping to choose your MIL’s big-day outfit might not sound necessary, but if she asks you to go shopping with her, don’t delay. ‘My mother-in-law wore white to my wedding. True story,’ explains Anna*, 36, from Bristol. ‘I remember her asking me to help her choose an outfit really early on in the planning stages, and I said I would but never actually got round to it. When she turned up on the day in an off-white dress, I couldn’t believe it. Everyone assumed we didn’t get on and this was her way of upsetting me.’
It’s also a good idea to see if she’d like to be involved in your own wedding dress shopping – even if you have no intention of listening to her advice.
‘I get on really well with my mother-in-law but she’s not exactly a slave to fashion,’ says Kelly Froch, 38, London. ‘I knew she’d love to come dress shopping with me, my mum and bridesmaids, so I invited her to a few dress appointments. She hated everything I liked and tried to force me into some hideously huge Cinderella gowns, but I know she appreciated being part of the experience and it was a nice chance for everyone to bond a bit before the big day.’
When it comes to wedding-dress shopping, not forget to invite your MIL along with your mum and maids. After all, there’s safety in numbers…
Hug it out
You’ve given into her demands for a Routemaster to the reception, compromised like hell on the guest list and even given her the go-ahead to book a harpist, but she’s still refusing to play nice. It’s time for The Chat.
‘My mother-in-law was an absolute cow leading up to our wedding,’ remembers Naomi*, 31, from Chelmsford. ‘She turned her nose up at the flowers, derided our first dance song choice and decided at the last minute to become a vegan so we had to pay extra for a special menu. Basically, I hated her.’
Things came to a head when Naomi’s MIL announced she couldn’t make the rehearsal dinner because she ‘had a few things on’ that evening.
‘I sat down with her and asked her outright if she didn’t want me to marry her son,’ Naomi confesses. ‘I was expecting her to become defensive or angry – instead, she cried and admitted that she was scared of losing him. I suddenly felt really sorry for her. We hugged it out and I explained that she was gaining a daughter – not losing a son. We’ve had a fantastic relationship ever since.’
Mother-in-laws are for better, or for worse, but even if you have a monster on your hands, you can find a happy ending. For more tips, check out Managing MIL by Katy Rink (£6.99, Peridot Press)