How to Avoid Family Drama at Your Destination Wedding

Hellllllllllllooooooooooooooooo!!!  And Happy Three Kings Day to everybody out there!

So your divorced mom and dad can’t stand each other, and they can’t be in the same hotel for your Caribbean destination wedding.  And your mom gets nervous when her mother is around so she’d prefer you put your grandparents in yet another hotel.  But for God’s sake, don’t put your maternal grandparents at the same hotel where your father is staying.  And those close friends of your future mother-in-law who wanted a posh villa instead of staying at a hotel — well, they’ve changed their minds and now they want to be with everybody else.  What’s a bride to do???

Wedding guests can be a real pain in the ass.  Whether they are your parents, your future in-laws, your best friends or your distant cousins — they all have the potential to drive you insane during your destination wedding planning process.

I always wonder why that is, and I’m not saying that to be funny.  I’m entirely serious.  People travel to weddings in other U.S. cities and towns every weekend without making a big deal about it, why is going to the Caribbean such a stretch for so many people?  I don’t know the answer to that question — I just know it’s a fact of life.  Your job is to set things up so that your wedding guests have as much information about planning their travel and accommodations as you can possibly provide, and then you step out of it.  This is where a wedding planner comes in handy.  You can tell the perpetually confused guest to email your wedding planner and you don’t have to deal with it.  We’ll talk more about travel info guides (something I’ve blogged about in the past) on another day, let’s get back to the politics of wedding guests.

You are not responsible for making sure that everybody who likes or doesn’t like each other gets hotels rooms near or away from each other.  At some point, you have to rely on people to be mature adults.  If you know for a fact that your dad is going to bring his new girlfriend and rub it in your mom’s face, then by all means put them in two separate hotels.  But give your mom first pick 🙂

You have some control in other areas of your wedding weekend — you can put them on different island tours if you’re sending out more than one group, and you can surely seat them separately at your wedding reception, but other than that, you must rely on them to show the maturity you know they have (even if it’s well hidden).  Make sure you tell your wedding planner about stuff like this — that way she’s in the loop if somebody drinks too much and gets out of line.

You can’t anticipate everything, but if you know the people you’re inviting to your wedding pretty well, you should be able to guess where the problems are going to lie before they hit.  If you know you’re going to have problems with divorced parents who can’t be near each other any more than is absolutely necessary, don’t choose to book just one hotel for all of your guests.  And if you must put them on the same property, be sure to give them as much space as possible.  Remember, at a small hotel they will run into each other all over the place (in the lobby, at the bar, in the pool, at breakfast, etc.).  If they can’t handle that, don’t create that situation.  Simply tell each set of parents where you want them to stay and offer to book their reservations for them on their credit card to avoid any confusion.

It’s important to keep in mind that you need to treat everybody who is technically “family” as VIPs at your wedding.  Everybody.  Including the stepsister you cannot stand.  You will be giving both of your moms a corsage or a flower at the ceremony, but don’t forget your wicked stepmother as well.  Stepparents often get overlooked even when they’ve been instrumental in planning or paying for your wedding.  Don’t let that happen.  If your stepmom will be attending your destination wedding with your father, plan on giving her the same floral treatment as the real moms.  And warn your real mom what you’re planning to do so she doesn’t freak out when she sees it happen.

Likewise with stepfathers.  If the dads are wearing boutonnieres, then the stepdads should also be given something to pin on their shirt or jacket.  And so on and so forth for stepgrandparents et al.

Every once in awhile I come across a bride who is concerned about a parent who has a tendency to drink too much at these events and make an ass of themselves.  While you might not be able to prevent them from drinking, you can certainly assign a trusted friend or your wedding planner to keep an eye out for the problem and to deal with it when it happens.  A good wedding planner will already be watching for out-of-control drunks at your reception, but it’s very helpful if she knows what she’s looking for ahead of time.

It’s important that you are prepared to have somebody other than the bride or groom handle this sort of problem should it arise.  I remember one very well-intentioned bride who made special arrangements to have one of the groomsmen return her father to his hotel in anticipation of him drinking too much at the wedding.  Unfortunately, the father of the bride wasn’t “ready” to leave when his ride was.  The bride, embarrassed that her father would behave like an ass to someone who was trying to do him a favor, tried to step in and instead of diffusing the situation, it made it worse.  Her father chewed her out at her own wedding reception in front of an audience of her friends.  Not the kind of memorable event she had in mind during her months of planning the perfect wedding weekend.

I cannot stress enough that brides and grooms wherever they are have to accept that they cannot control everything, no matter how hard they try.  Things happen.  People do stupid things.  Bridesmaids get drunk and groomsmen occasionally misbehave.  One of your parents might behave like a selfish brat no matter how hard you’ve tried to make everything nice for everybody.  If you accept (before your wedding weekend) that there are things (especially people) that you cannot control, you will be in much better mental shape when something really does happen.

So what do you do if your father says something upsetting to your mother, or if your maid of honor gets stinky drunk at your rehearsal dinner, or a groomsmen gets so drunk the day of your wedding that he gets sick during pictures before the ceremony?  The first thing you do is remember that it is YOUR big day and all eyes are on you — so you let somebody else handle the problems that crop up.  If you ignore a problem, it’s unlikely anybody else will even notice it.  But if you let it upset you, you will only draw attention to it.  So let’s tackle the different problematic scenarios I’ve mentioned one at a time.

If your dad is mean to your mom — his ex-wife — or vice versa, there is usually a family member (an aunt or uncle or one of your siblings) who can quietly take the parent aside and remind him or her that it’s YOUR big day and they need to stifle whatever urges they have to create domestic unrest.  Sometimes even your parents have to be reminded that your wedding day is not about them.

If your maid of honor gets tanked at your rehearsal dinner and interrupts everybody else’s toasts, uses foul language at the top of her lungs, and generally make a very loud public fool of herself, you have every right to be pissed as heck at her.  But don’t address it during your wedding weekend.  Just get your other, more-sober bridesmaids to get her out of the rehearsal dinner and back to her room — and lock her in for the night.  Tell your wedding planner (or if you don’t have a planner, sick your mom on her) to talk to her the next morning when she is sober.  She will probably be very embarrassed by her own behavior when confronted by somebody else (not you) and will probably clean up her act and say sober at your reception.  She should be told very directly that you would prefer she not drink any alcohol before your wedding reception, even if everybody else in the wedding party is tossing them back (she lost that privilege when she behaved like a dumbass at your rehearsal dinner).  If you’re still really angry at her about her behavior after your wedding weekend, have a one on one conversation with her about it AFTER you return from your honeymoon.

A good wedding planner will have somebody keep an eye on the groomsmen the day of the wedding to make sure they don’t get drunk before the ceremony.  While even the best planner can’t prohibit the groomsmen from having a few beers during the day, a good one will have some things to keep them relatively busy and out of trouble so that the entire day doesn’t become about drinking for the guys in the wedding party.  She’ll have no problem telling them to switch up every other beer with a bottle of water, and reminding them that they’re here for the wedding couple and their role in your wedding is an honor.  Anybody too drunk to behave responsibly will not be participating in the ceremony.  I have seen weddings with five bridesmaids and five groomsmen that only had three groomsmen in the ceremony because one of them got so drunk the night before that he’s too sick to function and one of them got too drunk the day of the wedding to make through pictures without throwing up on somebody.  When it came time to get married, the hungover groomsman hadn’t even made it out of his hotel room from the night before, and the drunk groomsman was weaving all over the place and had to be left behind when everybody else left for the beach ceremony.  It was suggested that he stop drinking and take a nap so he could enjoy the reception later on.  The bride and groom were not happy.  The parents of the bride and groom were not happy.  But nobody else really knew there was a problem unless somebody told them.  In this particular case, both of the offending boys were properly chastised pre-ceremony and showed up at the reception a few hours later very apologetic and behaving like the perfect wedding attendants.  So who missed out?  The bride and groom were sad these guys weren’t in their pics and had missed the ceremony, but they were relieved that the minor problem was dealt with before it could become a major embarrassment on the biggest day of their lives.

You know how to best handle your own family and the drama that comes with it.  You have a pretty good idea of who is going to misbehave and who will be the perfect guest.  It’s your wedding day.  Don’t hesitate to talk with these people a few weeks before your wedding and let them know you are concerned.  Better for them to get mad ahead of time and cool off before the wedding weekend than to have to take them aside during the festivities to put a check on their behavior.

If you’ve talked to the “problem children” in advance, designated a close family member or friends to keep an eye on the worrisome guests, and warned your wedding planner about who is likely to wreak havoc, then you have done absolutely everything you can possibly do to prevent a problem before it happens.  At that point, you have to let it go and try to relax.  In the end, you are only responsible for you.  And nobody else at your wedding will hold you accountable for the things that somebody else does wrong.

Until next time, happy wedding planning!


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