We are b”H planning a wedding for our wonderful daughter. As parents of the bride, it is customarily our responsibility to take care of most of the wedding expenses, and so we booked a hall, put a deposit, and so on. Now the other side is hinting through our future son-in-law that they want the wedding to take place in a hall that is more high class, not to mention more expensive. We are, thank Gd, comfortable, but we do have other children to marry off be”H, and so we do not want to go overboard on extra expenses. The hall we chose is nice and we do not feel we are skimping in any way. We do not want to upset the other side, but we’re also disappointed that they are involving our future son-in-law instead of confronting us directly. On the other hand, I’m afraid that if we confront them, we will get into an unnecessary argument, Gd forbid. We do not want to begin our relationship with them on a sour note, so what can we say to clear the air?
Dear Future Mother-in-Law,
It appears from your letter that you are disturbed by two things: that the groom’s parents are trying to impose upon you a standard that is beyond your financial comfort zone, and that they are involving your future son in-law, rather than speaking to you directly.
Before I address these concerns, I must commend the caution and thought you are investing in choosing an appropriate course of action. Generally speaking, unless the two families have an additional affiliation, the parents of the bride and groom tend to cross roads only occasionally after the wedding, at future family simahot. The weeks or months leading up to the wedding are when the initial and most intense interaction between the two families will take place. It would therefore be wise to properly consider and preplan your dealings during this period, in order to set the stage right for the years to come. As you correctly note, it would be unwise and detrimental to your long-term relationship with your daughter’s future in-laws to get into an argument, and unfortunately many people have fallen into this trap during their children’s engagement. Moreover, the last thing parents should do is create tension between the bride and groom even before the wedding, and for this reason I agree that it is wrong for the other side to involve the groom rather than speak to you directly. It is now up to you to try and relax the situation as soon as possible before tensions begin mounting.
I would suggest that before bringing anything out into the open, you consult discreetly with a rabbi who knows the groom’s parents well, and can advise you of the kind of people they are and the most effective way to approach them. You may discover that avoiding discussion at all costs will be your better option, even if it is less than ideal. (If this indeed turns out to be the case, then I implore you to nevertheless ensure to always speak respectfully about them to your daughter, to prevent any hard feelings from developing between her and them.) On the other hand, you might find out that they are fairly reasonable people, in which case you should bring up the topic directly with them.
Before confronting them, remind yourselves of King Shelomo’s timeless teaching in Mishle (15:1), “A soft reply will settle one’s wrath.” Resolve in advance that regardless of how they come across during the discussion, you will continue to answer them politely and respectfully. It would also do you well if you could find some area where you could show an element of compromise in order not to come across as obstinate and inflexible. And even if you really disagree, rather than saying, “No,” show them that you’re giving their requests serious consideration, and tell them that you’d like to think things over. This way you give yourselves and them the opportunity to possibly find a happy medium, and at worst you could always tell them nicely latter on that you wish you could be more accommodating but it’s just too much for you.
Taking this approach will definitely leave your future in-laws with a favorable impression of you, and even if things end up in a disagreement, hopefully it will be without any animosity.
Finally, turn to Hashem in prayer, asking him to help guide you through this predicament, as He alone holds the keys to peace (Shavuot 35b) and is capable of guaranteeing a peaceful resolution to this and other conflicts.
May Hashem lead all of you together up to the huppah with unity, peace, and much joy.
With warm wishes and Torah blessings,
Rabbi Yechiel Elbaz