Now that I've finally seen my daughter through college, she and her fiancé are working and saving for their wedding. She has always been traditional, and now she wants a big affair with all the trimmings. I've offered her $5,000, which is a lot of money to me as a single woman. Her father, who's remarried with kids, is matching that amount, but he's doing it behind his wife's back. Whose responsibility is it these days to pay for a child's wedding? My daughter feels cheated because her half sisters have been given lavish parties for big occasions.
--Name Withheld, New York City
When I was growing up in the 1950s and early '60s, my mother proudly informed me--many times--that she and my father had already put away the money for my wedding. How much did they save to send me to college? Zero. In those days, men were given college educations, and women were given bouquets to toss--and the most lavish wedding a family could afford. That's clearly no longer the case.
"Marriage has changed more in the past 30 years than in the previous 3,000," says historian Stephanie Coontz, author of a forthcoming history of marriage, to be published by Viking Penguin in May 2005. The tradition of the bride's parents' financing the nuptials, she notes, derives from the old dowry system, in which parents were essentially reimbursing the husband or his family for agreeing to take on the task of supporting their daughter.
Today only a small percentage of brides' families cover all the costs. More often, it's the people getting married who end up paying. Wedding planner Mishell Henke, owner of An Unforgettable Occasion in Yorba Linda, Calif., says 95% of the formal weddings she handled last year were paid for by the couple themselves. Often the engaged pair do this so they can have the kind of ceremony they want instead of what somebody's mother dictates. They pay, they choose--whether it's an intimate affair or a blowout event like the one your daughter envisions.
As for your daughter's feelings of being cheated, you can't help feeling sad for her that her father's other children get more of him--and more of his money. But clearly this issue is part of a much larger dynamic reflecting the tensions between you and your ex. All this has got to be painful for your daughter, regardless of who pays how much for what. Still, she is an adult. She has chosen to go for her dream wedding and is willing to work to get it. Help if you want to, but don't berate yourself (or your ex) for not footing the whole bill.
Got a question? E-mail Francine at firstname.lastname@example.org