Advice | Carolyn Hax: He left dad’s wife off the list for his City Hall wedding

Dear Carolyn: My son from a previous marriage is having his wedding at City Hall. The city restricts guests to six people. He has included me, but not my current wife of 12 years.

I am extremely bothered by this. The other five guests are from my ex-wife’s side, and I have been asked to come alone. I asked if there was a way he could accommodate my wife. My wife has never done anything to offend my son and has always been respectful.

I am trying to be as diplomatic as possible, but I will not attend the wedding without my wife. I would like your opinion on my stance on the issue.

— Rock and a HARD Place

Rock and a HARD Place: I don’t agree with your stance on the issue.

I’m sympathetic to it, but that’s a different thing. I understand that including spouses on guest lists is nearly an absolute, because it’s rude to exclude them — and that you want to celebrate with your wife. (For all the 10 or 15 minutes the ceremony takes.)

But when a couple weds at City Hall and there’s a hard cap on attendance, all expectations are off. To add your wife on the grounds that she’s really important to you, your son must ax someone else who is really important to him. Top-six important.

All because … you don’t relish being solo among your ex’s people? You feel Ex is the favored parent? You fear your wife isn’t accepted or respected?

All difficult, I’m sorry — but as reasons to boycott, they aren’t good enough. Had your son asked me before inviting anyone, I’d have urged your wife’s inclusion (while respecting his right to pick his six). Now, though, the best remaining option is to recognize this is about your son and his six people. Sides, shmides. Making it about you, and winning, would at this point mean he disinvites one of those people he already chose to include.

You, of course, have every right not to attend now, just as your son was free to choose his people. But choices have consequences — and you have an unusual amount of say in the consequences of your son’s choice and your own.

Namely, you can choose to keep the emotional and logistical consequences to an absolute minimum: by not taking the mini guest list personally. By taking the longer view. By asking your wife to do the same, if she’s willing. By not pressuring your son any further. By not boycotting your own son’s ceremony. My real advice is to nurture your relationship with your son, which you can’t do if it doesn’t survive his wedding.

Or you can go big: by taking the maximum offense and the maximum stand, inviting max escalation. Your call.

Hi, Carolyn: Recently, four moms of adult children were talking about weddings. Two of us have upcoming nuptials in the family, one has a son who married two years ago, and one has not had any weddings yet.

The question arose as to whether parents who help pay for the child’s wedding have any say in its planning and details. Your name came up, as in, “Carolyn Hax would say …,” and we all promptly disagreed how you would answer!

I thought you would encourage parental discretion to the point of minimal involvement, while others thought you would say that if the parents are paying, then they get to weigh in on decisions. Would you mind settling this argument before the next pop of champagne?!

— Yet Another Wedding Disagreement

Yet Another Wedding Disagreement: You win. I’m not sure whose column your friends have been reading, since I don’t recall ever supporting the use of money as leverage over someone else’s plans (though I may have blanked the late 1990s).

Especially with children, it’s an exercise in bad faith. “Here’s this huge gift for you, except that it’s really a way for me to get you to do what I want.” Hard to think of a more effective way to set fire to your accrued parental goodwill.

Weddings are part of my larger view that you give or don’t give money to children, minor or grown, on principle — for weddings, allowance, tuitions, birthdays, down payments, whatever — and be transparent about those principles with your kids. Some examples of the countless configurations this can take: “This is how we’d like to celebrate you,” “We view supporting your education as both a reward for your hard work and the best start we can give you in life,” “Your weekly allowance is to teach you to manage your own money,” “I will pay X dollars toward your tuition/wedding/down payment, but you decide how you’ll apply it,” “We support you 100 percent emotionally, but no financial support after you’re 18/21/out of high school/out of college, except in emergencies, if that.” The more coherent your philosophy and application thereof, the better.

Then butt out. If you can’t butt out, for whatever reason, then don’t give the gift in the first place — or adjust it till it’s one you can give freely. Regardless: no strings or no gift.

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