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.
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.