Dear Wendy
Dear Wendy

“My Parents Gave My Sister 10K For Her Wedding, But They Haven’t Offered Me A Penny for Mine”

My older sister, “Janine,” and I are eight years apart, and because of our age difference our parents raised us pretty differently and disciplined us in different ways. Janine got married to her now-husband about two years ago. My parents gave her $10,000 for her wedding, saying “anything over 10k you’re paying for yourself, and anything left over you can keep for honeymoon, down payment on a house, etc.” Now I am getting married, and my parents haven’t offered us a penny. We already booked a photographer (paid for by ourselves), and lodging (we’re getting married out of state), and they are only offering to pay for their own room. I don’t want to confront them and directly ask for money…but I’m feeling like my fiancé and I are being treated differently. We do live together, so that might be a reason why my parents are being stubborn and not helping us out (they’re pretty religious).

I’m feeling confused, upset, and a little angry, to be honest. I’d understand if they couldn’t give us the full 10k, but to literally not even offer to pay for our lodging? It seems ridiculous! And since my parents aren’t giving us anything, I feel like they’re completely disengaging from our future marriage… which again, is disappointing.

To add more context: I’m also in grad school and only able to work part-time, and while my fiancé makes decent money, he also pays for most of our household expenses because I have such little income. We could probably pull off a small wedding, but the costs would be put on credit cards and stuff. I feel like part of my frustration is that we don’t have a lot of money, and the other part is the principle that my parents aren’t giving us anything.

How can I talk to my parents about this, without sounding like a snob or spoiled? How do I live with the consequences if they refuse to give us anything? — Unsupported Bride

Ok, so there are two issues here, as you suggested: First, the idea that your parents seem to be treating you so differently from your sister; and second, you can’t afford even “a small wedding” without putting all the costs on credit cards and it sounds like you’re actually throwing a bigger-than-small wedding with assorted travel costs and no good way to pay for these things.

Let’s address the deal with your parents first. It’s shitty that they would give your sister $10k and not offer you a penny. While you aren’t entitled to their money and they’re certainly allowed to spend it however they want, you ARE entitled to feeling hurt and confused and disappointed by the dramatic difference in the way they seem to be treating you and your sister. Before more resentment builds up, you need to talk to them about it. Unfortunately, your seeming dependence on the money they haven’t offered you to pay for the wedding you cannot afford muddies any argument you might make about this being more about your feelings and about your relationship with them than about the money itself. This is very much about the money — maybe even as much as it is about your feelings of being slighted — and it will be hard to separate the two when you talk to them, but you should try.

Obviously, the best way to frame a conversation around your feelings (instead of your need for $$), is to talk about… your feelings. Here’s a simple sample script you can use: “Mom and Dad, as I’ve been planning my wedding, I am reminded of just two years ago when Janine was planning hers. Of course, I’m aware that you made a contribution toward her wedding costs that I know meant a lot to her. Now that I’m planning a wedding, I’ve been wondering if you would show support to me in the same way, and it hurts that you haven’t since it doesn’t look like you will. It makes me wonder what about me or my relationship or future marriage is different in your eyes to warrant the different level of support.”

In a script like this, you really are focusing on your feelings and on your desire for support from your parents. It isn’t necessarily about the money, but about the support the money represents. Once you deliver this kind of message, you need to let them talk and listen to what they say. You may not like what they have to say; it may further hurt your relationship with them than help it. And if that’s the case, you’ll have to decide how to navigate your relationship going forward. You may wish to not include them in a wedding or to have far less to do with them in the future, especially as you start your own family.

Regardless of whether your parents offer money to you for your wedding or not, I would urge you to throw a wedding you can better afford on your own than what you’re currently planning. You don’t want to have to beg for money or take money from someone who isn’t offering it up freely, and you don’t want to go into a lot of debt throwing what is essentially a big party. Don’t get married out of state where you have to pay travel and lodging costs. Get married close to home, somewhere free or cheap (a courthouse, a park, a loved one’s back yard), with a small group of family and friends (or maybe just the two of you!). You could have a courthouse wedding followed by a lunch for a group of 15-20 without breaking the bank, and that would be a totally appropriate option for two people who are living paycheck-to-paycheck. This is part of being an adult and also part of being married: you figure out financial stuff together, you plan things within your means, and you make longterm goals to motivate you to change your circumstances if you’re not satisfied with them currently. Going into a large amount of debt isn’t the best way to start a marriage.

My husband and I have been married 20 years. It’s a second marriage for us both. He had nothing but debt when we met and moved into the home that I built when I was single. Later, he received a promotion and I sold my house, left a good job seven years before my pension was secure, and followed his career. His kids have drug issues, and two of the three grandkids are being raised by their maternal great-grandmother. We assume a lot of financial responsibility for them due to the situation, and we left my Florida dream home of 13 years to move to the mountains closer to them so we can see them more. For obvious reasons, my role in the household is downplayed at the maternal GG’s home. It’s “Grandpa’s house,” “Grandpa bought me this,” “Grandpa is taking us here,” and “don’t forget to thank your grandpa,” etc.

I often pick up the kids while my husband is working, because I’m working part-time at age 70, and take them places and spend my money. My resources are limited, but I am generous with them. I spend the entire weekend entertaining them, playing games, and coming up with crafts and things to do. I drive my car, use my gas, and take my time to drive to pick them up and return them to their homes. Let me add: That credit card he uses for their entire weekend is being paid down every month with my money. One year I bought all their Christmas gifts with my savings and also traveled into the mountains alone on an icy road to get one gift the eldest wanted really badly. So it irks me that they exclude me from their gratitude.

I’ve considered taking the kids aside and telling them that this house is not “Grandpa’s house” – it is “OUR house,” and the money being spent on them is not Grandpa’s money, it is OUR money, etc., but I don’t think it’s my place. If hubby is sick, the kids call or send him cards (generated by the G-G), but I’ve been in the hospital a few times for serious situations with no acknowledgement. I understand much of this attitude comes from the maternal situation they are living in. But my husband sits back and soaks in their praises like Big Daddy/sponge and never acknowledges what is going on. When I mention it, he sort of shakes it off. Most recently, in saying the blessing at the table, the eldest said “thank you for letting us spend this time with Grandpa.” I felt like I had been punched. This was said after I spent $70 of my “part-time” money on groceries for some of their well-loved snacks, prepared food, spent time cleaning the rooms to freshen them for the visit, and stayed up late at night watching movies with them while my husband always trots off to bed because “he is tired.” I’m tired also – and nine years older than he – but I stay to participate.

I’m getting resentful about it, and I know I’m close to saying something that will be blunt. Their maternal G-G is 84 and the maternal grandmother is not an option to assume responsibility for them due a lack of a wholesome environment – she is frankly a mess and causes dissention in their current living circumstances. My husband is talking about bringing the kids – both teenagers – to live with us in the next year or so. They are good kids, and the two girls and I are close. They do seem to look forward to spending time with me when grandpa is working – I put a lot of energy into them. But the eldest boy sees me as a piece of furniture owned by Grandpa, and that rubs off onto his sister some.

As an aside, let me add that I was married many years ago with three step-children and there was a resentful maternal grandmother who was interfering constantly behind the scenes – taking jabs at me and my children – and creating a pressure cooker environment resulting in my packing up my two kids and leaving the situation after seven years. It’s all very reminiscent of this same situation in my mind. I’m 70 and have given up my financial security for my husband’s. I’m not in a good place right now. — Invisible Step-Grandma

 
OMG, stop spending money you don’t feel comfortable spending!! That’s step number one. You have no one to blame for that but yourself. You have agency, you’re a grown-up; no one is making you spend all your cash on Christmas gifts and snacks. No one is making you use YOUR credit card to pay off debts associated with your step-grandchildren. Why is your husband not spending any of his money on this stuff? Likely because you enable him not to. Quit enabling him! Quit kowtowing to him. When he goes off to bed because he’s tired, leaving you to do all the cleaning up, tell him you’re tired too and need his help before he goes to bed. I know you’re a baby boomer, and in your generation women do pretty much all the domestic chores, but fuck that shit. It’s not the 1950s anymore or the 1970s or even the 1990s; It’s 2020 and men now do like 25% of the domestic duties, hooray! (I’m being a little sarcastic here if that’s not obvious. We are still so far from equality at home, despite women making up almost 50% of the workforce, and part of that is because women continue enabling their male partners to take it easy while they run around doing almost everything at home.)

As for all the sacrifices you’re making and the lack of gratitude you get – I mean, welcome to parenthood. I get that these kids are your step-grandchildren, but the idea is the same. You’re contributing to raising them, and raising kids is a pretty thankless gig full of sacrifices. The resentment can certainly build up if you don’t remind yourself of the joy you’re hopefully getting. Are you getting any joy from all the stuff you’re doing? If so, great – consider that your thank you. Consider it your reward to see the grandkids happy and adjusting well to life. YOU are a big part of why they are doing well. And if they fail to thank you when they thank their grandpa, why not pipe up and say, “Hey, what about me? Am I chopped liver?”

The truth is, they probably take their relationship with you for granted — which is SUCH a normal teenage thing to do! — while they feel like they have to actually put in some effort with their grandfather because he sounds like a typical baby boomer grandpa who likely doesn’t engage them much. They don’t have to work for your attention because it is given so freely. It’s like, we don’t think about how much we appreciate running water until the pipes freeze and we can’t take a shower or flush the toilet. The toilets always flush at your place; your step-kids don’t have to think about how much that means and so they don’t. If it’s such a big deal to you that they show you some appreciation, remind them of what you do (lovingly! without hostility!). Remind your husband of what you do, and tell him you want him to remind his grandkids when they are expressing gratitude to him that you are just as deserving — more so, really! — as he is.

You are singing the song most people raising kids know by heart, though. For example, I have an 8-year-old and a 4-1/2-year-old and I don’t get regular thank-yous for all the stuff I do for them. Oh, they’ll thank me when I set a plate of snacks in front of them — sometimes! And sometimes when they don’t, I’ll say “YOU’RE WELCOME!” and then they’ll quickly say thanks. But they aren’t thanking me for the real sacrifices I make, and I don’t expect them too – they’re kids! Maybe when they grow up, especially if they have kids of their own one day, they’ll realize just how many sacrifices I made for them and they’ll express more appreciation, but I don’t need it. Appreciation isn’t why I do what I do. I give my kids so much because I fucking love them and want them to have the best of what I’m able to provide – my time, my energy, my attention, material comforts, etc. It’s what good parents do. And you sound like a good (step-grand) parent.

If you are sacrificing more than you are comfortable sacrificing, stop. If you don’t want your step-grandkids moving in with you and your husband, tell your husband that! Or, if you are willing to let them live with you with certain rules and boundaries in place, communicate with everyone involved WHAT exactly those rules and boundaries are. Don’t wait for your husband to set them because he won’t. He’s going to keep doing what he’s always done and what you’ve always let him do, which is prioritize his own needs and disregarding yours because you aren’t demanding he pay attention to them.

***************
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If you have a relationship/dating question I can help answer, you can send me your letters at wendy(AT)dearwendy.com.

17 comments… add one
  • avatar

    anonymousse February 13, 2020, 10:47 am

    If you can’t afford the wedding you want- Start saving and wait until you can! Don’t put it on credit cards.

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  • Kate B.

    Kate B. February 13, 2020, 11:11 am

    LW1: I am speaking from experience. I am in the same situation as you. My younger brother and I were raised very differently. He was a sports star, like our father, I was artistic. He was going to be a great athlete, I was going to be a bum. The only expectation my parents had for me was that I would get married to a guy who wore a suit and have babies. I have done neither. As adults, my brother still gets preferential treatment. He has never learned how to save money and live within his means. He did go through some hard times, but learned nothing from them because he didn’t have to. Mom and Dad bail him out every time. He is the golden child. I recently saw the space shuttle down in LA and it was the coolest thing I have ever seen. When I tried to tell them about it, all they could talk about was my brother coming to visit. So what have I learned? To do without. Your parents’ money is theirs to spend any way they choose. I get how resentful and hurt you feel, but the only way to rise above it is to not depend on them. Plan a wedding you can afford without going into debt. If you want to live a certain type of life, do it on your own without relying on their help. You will be a stronger person for it.
    *
    LW2: Wendy is right. Stop spending your money and stick up for yourself if your husband won’t do it for you.

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  • avatar

    Buttery February 13, 2020, 11:11 am

    LW1 – Why not just get married at “the courthouse” and then maybe in 2 years or 5 years or something have a nice party/reception. And when your parents say – Wait, why aren’t you…just tell ’em you don’t have the money.
    That said it’d be great to have a convo with them and clear the air but if they’re like most people who get their BS pointed out they’ll probably just double down or blow it off or whatever. You have to just…let the past go sometimes, take it from someone who released herself from all the “whys” about her parents and their treatment, etc and just moved the fuck forward. Usually, no answer from people who feel free to transgress against you will really be satisfactory. I mean what can they say “because we liked her better”? LOL

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  • avatar

    Kate Avery February 13, 2020, 11:46 am

    LW2- I’ve been blessed with two very generous and loving step-parents. I literally couldn’t have asked for better (especially considering the creeps my mom dated before). Still, while I rarely missed an opportunity to express gratitude on my own (maybe when I was still very little with my step-dad), both parents made sure I knew what their spouses did for me. Your husband should be advocating for you better, making sure they know you are as big a part of the family as he is. Stop letting get away with all the credit, especially since you seem to be doing most the work.

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  • Pheebers

    Phoebe February 13, 2020, 12:32 pm

    My grandparents treated their kids very unequally, and I saw what it did to my father. He always got nothing and his sister got everything, from attention to a considerable inheritance.

    I’m really, really careful to treat all of my kids equally with time and money, sometimes to the point that I have to step back and chill. When they were little I literally had a spreadsheet with their holiday presents on it and I made sure I spent the exact same amount on each, within a few dollars.

    When my daughter needed a car, I helped, and quietly worried that I wasn’t doing anything for her twin…who nicely told me to get a grip. Then two years later sister’s phone died and she got one for the holidays, while the others got much smaller presents, and when I mentioned my concern to the first child she said “remember when you helped me with the car? It’s all good.”

    My point is that I’m a bit messed up and I’m two generations removed from it. My kids turned out pretty great, though.

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  • avatar

    Jennifer February 13, 2020, 12:43 pm

    LW 1: I’m curious if your parents actually offered your sister the money, or did she ask for it? You haven’t asked, so how do you know this same offer is not on the table for you? My sister got married two years before I did, and I know almost to the penny how much my mother gave her since my sister told me. My mom paid for her catering bill, and my sister showed me the bill. When I was planning my wedding, I put on my big girl pants early on and simply asked my mother if she was planning on contributing and how much that would be. Was I a little anxious bringing up this topic? Sure. Money is always a tricky conversation. She said yes, and she told me the sum she was prepared to give me. It was just under half of what she gave my sister, but she explained that she had given me more money over the years and it seemed fair. I really couldn’t argue with that, and I was happy with the explanation. But what would have been ridiculous was not bringing up the topic early on and getting upset with her if she didn’t offer it outright. I could have drawn all sorts of conclusions about favoritism and gotten all angry if I had not just asked. People are not mind readers. Maybe your parents think you have enough money. Maybe they think they owed it to your sister and not you for some reason. The thing is, you will never know these things unless you just ask.

    And everyone is right. Don’t go into debt over a wedding. It is one day of your life and having money to support your actual marriage is more important. I’ve been to fancy weddings and low key weddings. The low key weddings always seemed to be more fun, and the couples were just as married on the day after regardless of the amount of money they spent.

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  • avatar

    ron February 13, 2020, 2:14 pm

    LW#2 — Your letter reeks of desperation to be married to this man. Why did you abandon a good job 7 years short of a secure pension to allow him to take a new job far away? You had the house; he had the tons of debt and the kids on drugs. You threw away your financial security in retirement to be married to him. Now you are doing the same to try to buy the love of his family. I feel sorry for you, but I also sense a tremendous neediness and insecurity, which has you surrendering your own interests right and left. Having trashed your future, it seems that you have gained very little for that sacrifice. I suggest therapy.

    LW#! — Get real! A wedding is a one day event. You shouldn’t hock your future to pay for it. Why an out-of-town wedding? Why not just the small wedding you can afford without going into debt? Marriages from courthouse weddings last just as long as marriages from fancy weddings. If you want to be married, do an inexpensive wedding now.

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  • avatar

    Vathena February 13, 2020, 2:23 pm

    LW1, I am sorry that you feel like your parents play favorites with your sister. I don’t think you would be asking this question if you genuinely felt like your parents loved and emotionally supported you equally. (My mom gave me some money when I graduated college, but it never occurred to me until just now, 18 years later, to wonder whether/how much she gave to my brother. She didn’t give anything towards my wedding and I don’t actually know if she gave my brother anything either. But I’ve never felt like she didn’t love us both equally so I guess I never thought about whether the finances evened out either.) However, I wonder if your parents have perhaps contributed more to your education over the years than they did to your sister’s? You mention you’re in grad school – who’s paying for that? Also, consider the possibility that your parents are experiencing some financial difficulties that they’re just not discussing with you.

    Definitely don’t put your wedding on credit cards! That sounds like a terrible way to start married life. Financial stability is the best wedding gift you can give to yourselves.

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  • avatar

    Ange February 13, 2020, 4:41 pm

    LW1 With your financial situation sounding that precarious I’d take whatever money you may get from your parents and sock it away, forget the big wedding entirely.

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  • Skyblossom

    Skyblossom February 13, 2020, 5:35 pm

    LW1 My mom favored my sister over the rest of us. I very much understand favoritism. At the same time I need to ask if perhaps your parents have spent more money on you over the years and so felt that they owed your sister $10,000 and gave it for the wedding.

    As a parent I’ve tried very hard to spend equal amounts on my kids. They are nine years apart in age and a boy and a girl. They have liked different things. My daughter did dance and theater and so drama classes and voice lessons. My son did very little, he took guitar lessons for about a year so we spent more on our daughter for that type of thing but we’ve given our son a car. The last time we bought a car we signed over our oldest car to our son. It’s hard to say how that all balances out. When our son moved into his own apartment I bought him almost everything he would need for a kitchen. He started with everything new. Our daughter is in her first year of college. Her college costs about the same as his did but she has gone abroad for school and we are paying to fly her home on breaks. At the same time, because he is 9 years older, he has made far more trips to Europe than she has.

    Has your sister received all the same help you did, or more and still got money for a wedding or did you get more at some other point in life?

    Sometimes it is very difficult to be exactly equal.

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  • avatar

    Mrs. Danvers February 13, 2020, 6:19 pm

    LW1: only have the wedding that you can afford. I know plenty of wealthy people who did without the lavish weddings and receptions, and just get married at the courthouse and then had a celebratory meal with close family and friends at a posh restaurant. An expensive wedding is not a requirement to make a commitment to your intended spouse. I know that your feelings are hurt because your parents gave your sister money but you’re an adult now and this might be a lesson (a hard one, unfortunately) that you can’t rely on your parents to help you out in situations.

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  • avatar

    mellanthe February 13, 2020, 7:38 pm

    LW1:
    You need to sit down and speak with your parents. Do they know that you’d like them to contribute? Do they know how you and your partner are doing financially?

    It might be that they are playing blatant favourites, or it might be something else; maybe they feel they’ve helped you more over the years. Maybe they think you’ve got this covered. Maybe they’ve fallen on slightly harder times. As others have said, sometimes parents struggle to balance what they have done for their kids.

    But even if they end up being blatantly unfair, don’t finance a wedding on credit. Don’t try to compete with your sister. Have the wedding you can afford, and start your married life on a decent footing financially. It may not be fair, but this isn’t about being tit for tat, it’s about spending the restof your lives together.

    LW2:
    You need to talk to your husband ; explain to him how much it’d mean to you for him to support you and make a point to the kids about how much you do for them, particularly when they are omitting it.

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  • avatar

    LadyClegane February 13, 2020, 7:51 pm

    Also, for LW#2 can we note this dude is only 61? That means he was born roughly 1960 and came of age right up to the 1980s practically. He CHOOSES to lay off all domestic stuff even though he didn’t exactly grow up with Leave it to Beaver America.

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    • Skyblossom

      Skyblossom February 13, 2020, 8:13 pm

      If he is 61 he was probably born in 1958 or 1959.

      Life was pretty sexist at that time. At my house my sister and I were expected to help with the cooking and cleaning and laundry and garden, including doing things like shelling peas. Our brothers were outside doing lots of work with livestock and driving tractors. My oldest brother was basically working full time during the summer when he was 12. Who knows where this guy grew up and where LW grew up and what expectations either has for the other.

      I expect my husband to do some cleaning and he does laundry and dishes on weekends. During the week I have more time at home and do the cooking and laundry and unload the dishwasher. He loads the dishwasher in the evening.

      I do think the LW needs to advocate for herself. If she is the one spending the time and money purchasing a gift she should give it from herself. Let him figure out and fund whatever he decides to give. The same for food. Tell the kids you made it for them. Be matter of fact. Don’t say grandpa did nothing, just don’t mention him. If grandpa wants to be thanked let him do something to earn that thanks.

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  • avatar

    brise February 14, 2020, 8:07 am

    LW1: this is very unfair and, in my opinion, an obvious sign of disapproval. Do your parents disapprove for religious reasons, as you say, or does the whole project seem to them unreasonable (a destination wedding, during grad school while you are both with little incomes)? You should have a serious and respectful discussion with your parents, starting with Wendy’s script, and then negociate with them. If they disapprove the actual project’s details, can you find a compromise for them to support it? For example, not a destination wedding, or a wedding a bit later, when you will have got your degree? Could they offer at least your dress? This is (where I live) the tradition that parents offer the bride’s dress. Explain them the debts on the credit card’s option: they need to know the situation, for them to understand your point. They can’t agree with that option.
    Anyway, I wouldn’t go on with the project as such without your parent’s financial help: this would be crazy and dumb. Why faking something that doesn’t exist? If they persist in their no-support choice, I would do a potluck or something very simple with the family where you live (in your parents’ yard or on a pic-nic area), and go to the destination only with a couple of very close friends (your bridesmaid and best man). I think your parents would be very embarrassed if it appears to the family that you have no money and they don’t help at all – hence the change of venues. You have room for a negociation by having several options, and also a reasonable solution that they should understand for the case they don’t support the wedding’s budget. You have the wedding to the extent that you can afford, or your families help you: going into debts for this is so avoidable! And don’t fall for the sunk costs fallacy. If you have paid a deposit, better to lose it than go on for more costs that you can’t afford.
    Finally, if your parents don’t support you for religious reasons, or if they disapprove your fiance, or any judgemental approach, I would express that I find the situation very unfair, and I would take a huge step back, definitely not invite them to the destination thing.
    LW2: why do you play the martyr? Your husband is taking advantage of you. At least state clearly: well, you can thank me, as I paid for this and this… Well, actually, this is my house, not grand dad house.
    Men of this generation whom I know would never let their wife not be thanked appropriately. So at least thank yourself. You don’t have to do all this, and you don’t have to stay with him. Again: sunk costs fallacy.

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  • avatar

    CET February 14, 2020, 8:08 am

    LW1, I would not give a lecture to your parents yet. I would sit down with them and ask them if they can contribute to your wedding and that you would really appreciate it. Then if they say no act very confused and say oh, I’m so confused because you contributed $10K to my sister’s wedding. See what they say. (PS – Perhaps before you do this ask your sister about it. Did she ask for the money? Does she know why they have not offered the same to you?) My dad and stepmom contributed a ton to my two stepsister’s weddings…I do not know the whole amount but over $10K each. When I got married they offered nothing and even said the $199 ticket was too expensive so they would not be coming. They pretty much suck.

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    • Skyblossom

      Skyblossom February 14, 2020, 11:29 am

      Your parents were so disappointing. I’m sorry that happened to you.

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