Your family structure changes the very moment that you and your partner get engaged. Suddenly you've got 3 parties:
- your old family (your nuclear and extended family)
- your new family (your partner's family)
- your baby family* (you and your partner)
It's sort of like doing laundry - each item has very specific instructions for cleaning. If they're not followed, your whites will be pink, your disheveled under wire bras will fail to hold up your girls, and your shirts will shrink to the point where people can see the outline of your lungs. (Intriguing, but no thanks.)
In the same sense, each of the 3 types of family has a very specific set of instructions for care:
Baby Family: Hand wash warm. Lay flat to dry.
Your baby family requires the most attention and time. It is delicate and it needs every ounce of you. So when it comes to wedding planning, be sure that you are making the best choices for you and your partner as a unit. *Protect the sacredness and the newness of your baby family because no one else but you can or will. You'll see the fine results of such mindful care throughout the lifetime of your marriage.
Old Family: Machine wash cold. Tumble dry low.
Your old family needs less of you in some ways. Not less respect. Not less love. But less time and less "obedience" I'll say. Why? Because in order to have a grown-up relationship with these family members, healthy boundaries must be established.
Why a cold wash? Because establishing boundaries with family is sort of like a splash of cold water in the face; it's shocking and uncomfortable at first. Yet this seemingly harsh approach is the most loving thing to do. Using cold water prevents colors from bleeding together. And when individual pieces retain their color they can stand alone in their uniquely beautiful way, even when paired with other pieces of an outfit.
In the same way, your identity and decisions need not bleed together with those of your parents or extended family in order for ya'll to get along. If you haven't already established healthy boundaries with your old family (in a firm yet *kind* way), now is the time to do so. Practice this approach throughout the wedding planning process.
New Family: Machine wash warm. Gentle cycle. Hang dry. Do not iron.
Your new family requires patience and good timing. These family members need to know that you're open, warm, and genuine. Yet rushing the growth process or the closeness of the relationships with in-laws or step children is unnecessary and can even backfire.
Why hang dry? Because sometimes things just need time (LOTS of it, depending on your situation), and a little old fashioned warmth. And why not iron? Because prematurely forcing out the wrinkles can lead to a major burn.
Flexibility and openness with your new family will help throughout the wedding planning process. You don't have to give in to their suggestions or demands, but being a darn good listener goes a long way.
Particularly difficult family members: Dry clean only!
Hell, some things are just out of your hands. All you can do is remove yourself from the mess and not feel responsible for cleaning it up. If a particularly troublesome relative has deep issues that manifest during wedding planning, remember that the issues probably have little to do with you and everything to do with junk from their past.
So for the time being, send this dirty laundry to the cleaners (or...ahem, therapist), because you've got a wedding to plan and a partner to marry for goodness sake!
Over the next few weeks I will be writing separate posts about how to nurture each kind of family using some personal examples, and hopefully examples from those of you reading who are open to sharing with me. I'd especially love to read your wisdom regarding in-laws since mine are relatively easy to get along with. So hurry and submit your stories and wise advice to Brave Bride!
*Meg from A Practical Wedding writes a ton about how to care for your "baby family" as she has coined it. Now go on and read her posts about this topic, all of which are wonderfully organized and listed here thanks to her website's handy dandy search engine.