EVERYONE in your mum’s address book is coming to your wedding. She’s ordered you a custom-made tiara — before you’ve even chosen your dress. She’s drawn up a list of favourite hymns — all hers.
Mothers of the bride (mobs) morphing into Mumzilla isn’t surprising when you think about it. Mothers orchestrate most family celebrations — so why not their daughter’s wedding? And while many brides have been dreaming of their big day since primary school, their mothers have been fantasising about it for much longer — since first holding their baby daughter in their arms.
Hillary Clinton said as much when daughter Chelsea tied the knot in 2010, calling it one of the most important events of her life, “a day I’d been looking forward to for 30 years”.
With this kind of emotional investment — financial too, many mobs foot at least some of the wedding bill — the situation is primed for mum-of-bride to take personal ownership of the day: it’s hers as much as her daughter’s. From here, it’s a short step to losing the run of herself.
A colleague’s mum insisted on baking a wedding cake even though the couple had ordered one from a confectioner friend. “So we ended up with two wedding cakes on the table… it could have been worse.”
She’s right. There are plenty tales of mobs behaving badly — insisting on the final say on the bride’s dress, even suggesting the top table seating arrangement be changed behind the groom’s back.
One mob reportedly threw a hissy fit, berating her daughter for not leaving the arrangements in her hands: “You should have let me organise it — I’d have it all sorted by now.”
A daughter’s wedding is undoubtedly a massively emotional event for her mother. Psychologist and relationships therapist with Relationships Ireland Bernadette Ryan sees the wedding as one of life’s archetypal events and says such rituals hold very deep emotions. The mob feels great joy and pride in her daughter, but loss and grief may lurk beneath the surface.
“Mum is standing by. Dad hands over the daughter to the groom, then rejoins the mother. Symbolically, it’s like saying ‘that’s it, she’s gone from us’. There can be huge emotion around that. Mums are, after all, the ones who give birth.”
Ryan points out that, for adult identity, girls don’t have to separate as strongly from mother as boys do from father. “The final part of daughter/mother separation may not happen until the girl marries — she is then recognised as a woman in her own right.”
Psychologist and couples counsellor Lisa O’Hara says the wedding may remind the mob of where she is in her own life. “The mother and daughter bond is a strong one. If they haven’t separated — if mum doesn’t see her daughter as an adult — and if mum isn’t self-reflective, she may act out her own insecurities,” says O’Hara.
Ryan agrees, particularly if mob has identified very strongly with the mother role, devoted her life to it, found it highly fulfilling.
“If [mum and daughter] are enmeshed and haven’t detached emotionally, [the wedding] could be a much bigger rollercoaster.”
The mob now sees the life cycle turning — her daughter is “stepping into my shoes and I’m stepping into my parents’ shoes”, says Ryan. On her daughter’s wedding day, she may feel her life to date — and how she’s weathered it — is on display. And there’s an added emotional charge if mum and dad-of-bride have separated and either/both have new partners on the guest list. Not to mention the mob feeling in competition with mother-of-groom, particularly if she’s 10 years younger and perceived by the mob to be more glamorous.
A British report on the mature fashion sector polled 2,000 mothers, who admitted feeling under pressure to look great on their daughter’s big day. The survey found mobs spend, on average, two hours more shopping for their wedding outfit than their offspring — the ones actually getting married. Four in 10 said outdoing the other mother (of groom) was on their minds when choosing wedding attire. And nearly one-quarter expected daughters to base the wedding colour scheme around the mob’s outfit.
Kambiz Golchin, facial plastic surgeon at Beacon Face and Dermatology, says it’s increasingly popular for mobs to seek cosmetic work ahead of the big day. He sees “several” a month. “Most want to look natural and subtle. They don’t want major changes, though we’ve had a few face lifts.” Top of mobs’ cosmetic wish-list is getting rid of lines between eyebrows and at sides of eyes and improving skin tone/texture if there’s lots of sun damage. “Jowling is a big thing — they don’t want heaviness in the lower part of the face.”
The spend averages between €1,500 and €5,000.
The push for cosmetic enhancement is attributable to weddings being seen as a major significant event, with celebrity mobs (Carole Middleton, Susan Sarandon) upping the ante and sophisticated recording of today’s nuptials.
“There are better photos and videos that will be around for years. [Mobs] want to look good in the photos,” says Golchin.
Wedding planner Peter Kelly (aka Franc) finds mobs currently do lots of work around organising weddings. “Brides are busy with their jobs. A lot are abroad. [Mobs] are doing an awful lot at the moment — finding venues, food-tasting, looking at contracts, choosing vendors.”
Franc has fun at wedding shows, getting people to chant appropriate advice to key wedding players. To mobs, they chant: ‘it’s not your wedding’, so they remember it’s their daughter’s wedding, not theirs. “Everybody forgets it — everybody wants to put their own impression on it.”
When dealing with domineering mobs, Franc steps in fast. “I expose it. I say: ‘I don’t think Maria [bride] likes fish – and we’re having a lot of fish’ or ‘Maria has only 10 friends coming — there are 450 family friends’.”
His advice to couples is to tell nobody anything until you’ve decided how you want your wedding. Then be upfront. “Tell your parents exactly what you want, how it’s going to evolve. Own your wedding — if the bride lets Mum pay, she’s letting herself open to persuasion.”
His advice to mobs? Hang back. Wait to be asked for help. “With every suggestion a mob makes, she should add ‘but please do what you want yourself ’.”
Hillary Clinton cited the massive tact demanded of mobs around a daughter’s wedding. She felt “lucky that my day job had prepared me for the elaborate diplomacy required to help plan a big wedding”.
According to wedding planner Sharon McMeel, one big sensitive issue for mobs is the guest-list.
“Especially if it’s a first or last daughter getting married, it’s very common for [mob] to tell everyone about the engagement, then invite all her friends and relatives without telling the couple, before the date’s even set. It’s hard to un-invite someone.”
McMeel recommends couples pick their battles. “Some you’ll have to give in on. Family will be around forever. In the planning stages, ensure you’re not damaging relationships. Maybe give your parents one or two tables they can fill with whoever they like.”
Also contentious is the mob’s outfit, but her angst may belie nervousness rather than competitiveness. “If mother-of-groom is very glamorous, mob may wonder how she’s going to keep up’”.
McMeel encourages early meet-up of in-laws so they can build connections. This, she says, dispels nervousness and competitiveness.
While mobs can drive daughters crazy with endless questions (Did you organise the flowers? What time is Mary coming with the cake?), brides should consider the pressure on mums.
“For mother-of-bride, there’s a lot going on the week leading up to the wedding, with loads of family and friends arriving. The [mob generally] plays host — she can feel very flustered,” says McMeel.
She recommends mother-of-bride offer help — with the caveat ‘only if the bride wants it’. Perhaps her daughter would like her to take over a particular area like flowers or cake. “But [mobs] must deliver. Sometimes, they’re full of enthusiasm, then life takes over and they don’t see their [commitment] as urgent.”
Meanwhile, for some mobs, their daughter’s opting for a traditional white wedding could rankle. Having fought for feminism in the 1960s/’70s and raised an independent daughter, the young woman’s choice of an old-fashioned ritual can come as a shock.
“There’s a bit of backlash among young women against feminism,” says Ryan, who admits being “astounded” by the number of brides taking their husbands’ name.
But she understands the pull towards the archetypal ritual of the traditional wedding.
“There’s a draw to publicly declare your love and commitment to each other.”
Mother-of-bride has had her journey, made her choices. Now, it’s the daughter’s turn, her wedding, and she doesn’t have to make the same choices.
Case Study: ‘A lovely bonding time for me and mum’