Dear Carolyn: My husband’s daughter just announced she and her boyfriend are getting married, and we are very happy for them. They are planning a wedding that is not out of line with the kinds of weddings their friends have been having, but that we consider over the top. The cost will likely exceed her annual salary.
My husband has been blunt about his intention to not pay for the wedding, but my impression is that my stepdaughter and her husband-to-be think he’s not serious and can be brought around.
My husband and I are on the same page that we would like to give them a no-strings “gift,” which will cover about half of what we think their wedding is likely to cost. We’d prefer they spend the money on something more practical, but recognize they are free to spend it however they like.
My fear is they will not see this (considerable) sum as a good thing, but as an insult.
My husband lost virtually everything he owned in the divorce, but still managed to pay for his daughter’s schooling. Thanks to my savings, we are comfortable now, which his daughter is no doubt aware of, but we are approaching retirement.
As they share their wedding plans with us, I plan to steer clear of any discussion of money, lest I be cast as the evil stepmother, but I’m worried about how the conversation might go. Any suggestions on how to best navigate this mess?
Carolyn says: For starters, please note there isn’t a “mess.”
I went mining for speculation in your letter and hit a (step)mother lode: “will likely exceed”; “my impression is”; “what we think”; “is likely to”; “my fear is”; “is no doubt aware of”; “I’m worried about.”
Nothing has happened yet, besides their planning a wedding and your planning a gift.
Both of which sound lovely.
So, do what is appropriate under any circumstances, but especially lovely ones: Let them handle their business, and you handle yours in as kind and principled a way as you can.
Here, that means: (1) Trust that your no-strings gift is the best way to support your stepdaughter within your budget and values; and (2) Recognize that you can control only how a gift is given, not how it is received.
None of the contingencies you’re fretting about affects this basic transaction. It’s mess-proof: You give your gift with full respect and zero guile, and they do with it as they choose.
If they choose to be ungrateful, then that’s terrible — as entitlement always is — but still not a mess for you to navigate. This response to any complaints or pushback is all you need: “I’m sorry to hear that. This is all we’re prepared to give, however, so if you would rather not have it, then we’ll understand.” Again, in as kind a way as you can.
By “you,” though, I mean your husband. It’s essentially your money (generously parted with), but, since you’re a unified front, her father is the much better agent of “no” — or, I should say, agent of “that’s enough.” Kindly not budging is your only play, no matter how she responds.
E-mail Carolyn Hax at firstname.lastname@example.org, or chat with her at 11 a.m. Friday at washingtonpost.com.