The best advice I received while planning my son’s wedding was to remember that you are entering into a long-term relationship with a family you barely know. This is the time to get to know each other and accept differences.
When my son announced that he was planning to ask his girlfriend to become his wife, my husband and I were ecstatic. We had waited a long time for this moment and quickly made arrangements to join the couple for the formal engagement.
Upon sharing my happiness with friends whose children had long been married, I saw sly smiles and heard knowing guffaws — “you are going to be the Mother of the Groom. Just wait.”
They provided advice: Don’t expect to be involved in the wedding planning. Your job is to wear beige and say yes to everything. Just smile and write checks. You can’t have any opinions.
They told me wedding horror tales, too.
One groom-to-be had only one request for the wedding: kosher food so his family could eat. The mother of the bride quickly replied that she had already signed a contract with her desired venue and that kosher catering was not an option. The groom’s family and other friends ate packaged kosher airline food.
Another friend told me that on the day of her son’s wedding she was waiting in the hotel lobby to be driven to the beauty salon for her hair and makeup appointment. After more than an hour beyond the designated time, she called the bride. Her call was greeted with giggles. In her excitement, the bride had forgotten to pick up the mother of the groom. Ignoring the insult, the mother of the groom called a taxi and joined the other women.
Someone else told me about a father of the groom who, the day before the wedding, was practicing his planned remarks. One of the bride’s parents asked what he was doing. When he told them, they informed him there was no time at the wedding or reception for him to speak. This father remained outwardly calm, took a long walk, and delivered his speech at the rehearsal dinner.
When planning our son’s wedding, we used the horror stories as examples of what not to do. But I also heard stories of cooperation and understanding between the bride’s and groom’s families.
For one wedding, the families maintained a joint spreadsheet on which every wedding expense was recorded and a notation was made to indicate which family paid the bill. After the wedding, the expenses were equally divided.
For another, both families had decided in advance how much the groom’s family would contribute. Upon seeing the lavish nature of the wedding, the groom’s family volunteered to contribute additional funds. This offer was declined. Several months later, the groom’s family learned that the bride’s family had taken a second mortgage on their home to pay for the wedding.
Not surprisingly, I’ve found the most frequent question for the parents of the groom is: “How are the wedding expenses divided?” There are many answers. Every wedding is different.
Within the Orthodox Jewish community, the groom’s family traditionally pays for FLOPS (an acronym for flowers, liquor, orchestra, photographer and shaytel). But these days the bride and groom often pay for their own wedding, with minimal assistance from the parents. Many wedding websites say the groom’s family is responsible for the orchestra, rehearsal dinner and post-wedding breakfast.
The best advice I received while planning my son’s wedding was to remember that you are entering into a long-term relationship with a family you barely know. A wedding is the first of many shared experiences that are meant to be enjoyed by both families. This is the time to get to know each other and accept differences.
Rabbi Joel Seltzer, the director of Camp Ramah in the Poconos, explains that a wedding is really a marriage of four parties: the bride and groom to each other; the bride and groom to their new in-laws; and both sets of parents to each other. Of the four marriages, only one is voluntary.
So is there a role for the mother of the groom at a Jewish wedding?
The answer depends upon which wedding customs are included in the ceremony. At most Jewish weddings, the groom is escorted to the chuppah by both of his parents. They usually walk on either side of him. At some Orthodox weddings, however, the groom is escorted by both fathers, while the bride is escorted by both mothers.
Many observant grooms choose to wear a kittel on top of their clothing. This white cotton robe is a sign of purity. One wears it on Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur; for a Passover seder; during a wedding; and sometimes for burial. If the groom is wearing a kittel, both of his parents help him put it on and button it.
At traditional Jewish weddings, one might see a ceremony called tenaim, or engagement. This is a legal agreement between the parents of the bride and groom. The tenaim concerns the timing and financial arrangements for the marriage.
The signing of tenaim takes place prior to the actual wedding. It may be on a separate day, usually with a small party for the couple and their parents, or on the day of the wedding prior to the signing of the ketubah. The tenaim is read to all present in Aramaic, and then the mothers of the bride and groom break a china plate, signifying the completion of the engagement agreement.
At a Jewish wedding the groom must own the ring that he gives to the bride; even a family heirloom must be owned by the groom. So at an engagement party for my son and future daughter-in-law, I sold my mother-in-law’s wedding band to my son for $1 (he is named after this grandmother). I told him that I hoped he and his bride would include his grandmother in their wedding ceremony by using her ring.
I asked everyone there to be part of a bet din, a Jewish court of law, and witness that I gave the ring to my son and received $1 in payment. Both the lawyers and rabbis present agreed that a binding contract had taken place.
As it turned out, my son’s wedding was beautiful. It was elegant and warm. We shared the occasion with friends and family, both old and new. Our in-laws were gracious, thoughtful and loving to our son and to us. We ate delicious kosher food. I enjoyed having my hair and makeup professionally done. My husband delivered a meaningful toast to the bride and groom at the reception. I wore a long gray dress. Everyone had smiles on their faces.
Was I both happy and proud at the wedding? Yes. Will I remember that day for the rest of my life? Absolutely. In particular, I will never forget the smile on my son’s face as we danced to a song that he had selected.
My advice for a mother of the groom is to enjoy the planning and preparations. Volunteer to help. Recognize that the bride is the one responsible for the wedding plans.
When I became agitated during the wedding planning, my single daughter assured me: “Don’t worry — at my wedding, you can do all the planning and make all the arrangements.” Knowing my strong-willed and independent daughter, I doubt that this will happen. But I can dream.
Ellen Tilman is the director of library services at Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel in Elkins Park and the chairperson of the Sydney Taylor Book Award Committee of the Association of Jewish Libraries.
Read more from our Fall Simchas issue here.