Far too many parents feel that their child somehow "owes" them a wedding, that once the engagement is announced, the family is entitled to step in and direct the spectacle as they see fit. Thankfully the days of having to have your parents approval before marrying are long gone, but the spirit still remains. Parents of the bride are particularly meddlesome, but parents of the groom often put their two cents' worth in as well.
Why do parents and family members insist on making demands and expecting to have their way when it comes to someone else's wedding? Is it really out of love for their children and a desire to make their day special, as they all claim it is? No. If it were, they would be content to let their children enjoy their wedding any way they chose, and would simply feel honored to have been invited. Anyone who insists on what color napkins to use, where to have the reception, or whom you should consider intimate enough to invite, does not have your happiness in mind.
Perhaps it is simply hard for some people to disengage from parent mode and let their grown children make their own decisions. Perhaps it is out of sheer boredom with their own lives that they need the excitement of someone else's wedding to fulfill them. Or perhaps it is something simpler than that. Perhaps parents, like everyone else, still believe that a wedding is a big, splendid family affair that has nothing to do with the couple themselves, and that the just reward for the "sacrifice" of raising a child for the last twenty-five years or so is a wedding done just the way they'd like.
Every bride I've ever known has been reduced to tears by her mother over the trivialities of the wedding details, and every mother of the bride I've ever known has insisted on running the wedding like a military campaign. Most couples end up having a different wedding than they had in mind, just to keep the warring factions happy. No one I know has ever managed to have the wedding they want, without a pitched battle and concessions on both sides. Except, maybe, those couples who did the smart thing and eloped.
There are simple principles both grown children and parents can adhere to if they want to avoid the kind of stress and unhappiness that can result from a wedding that becomes a family circus. Firstly, the bride and groom should never allow parents to pay for the wedding, or even part of the wedding. Not only is it irresponsible to begin your married life on someone else's dime, it can only further convince your parents that you are children in need of their help. It's hard to blame anyone for buckling under the crushing weight of parental guilt and giving in to Mother's demands, especially when Mother is footing the bill. If you approach your wedding as mature adults who can pay their own way, you will find much less opposition when you gently but firmly insist on doing things your way.
No one who loves you will object if you outline how you want your special day to go and stick to it. You wouldn't accept their interference in the bedroom, coaching you on your wedding night. Don't accept it at the ceremony that solemnizes your union either. If you want to invite them to your ceremony, let them know they are honored guests, not sponsors who have a say in everything.
Parents of the couple should treat their children with the same respect they give to anyone whose wedding they attend. If you wouldn't dream of telling a friend or colleague what invitations to use for her wedding, why would you feel justified doing it to your daughter? Parents who wouldn't pout or scowl at a neighbor for having a private ceremony at City Hall and a festive party afterwards have no right to do so when their son does. Your children deserve more respect and consideration than friends and acquaintances do, not less. Remember that your children owe you nothing, and that if they invite you to participate in their wedding it is out of love and affection for you, not because there is any requirement whatsoever that you be there.
Once parents and family members stop seeing the wedding in a proprietary way and start understanding that it is a privilege to be involved in their grown children's private moment, weddings will start to become the stress-free, meaningful ceremonies they are meant to be. And once brides and grooms start insisting on their autonomy, financial and otherwise, more parents will come to respect them as capable adults who deserve to make their own choices.
There's no reason why parents and children can't enjoy the wedding and share each others' happiness. Many parents do want their kids to be happy, and many kids want to please their parents. But if there is one point in life at which the parent/child relationship ends and the adult-to-adult relationship begins, it is- or should be - when the vows are exchanged and the two former children become a family of their own.