1. Get rid of your own expectations. These days, no matter who is paying, “the bride and groom are the captains of the team, and they’ll say what happens and when,” says Sharon Naylor, author of Mother of the Groom (Citadel Press, $16) and The Mother-of-the-Bride Book (Citadel Press, $16). Too much input from you can cause them a lot of stress when you should be trying to be their support system.
2. Pick your battles. If there are elements you’d love the wedding to have―a certain ethnic tradition, a mother-son dance―choose the most important one (or few) and present it as a request.
3. Start out on the right foot. “Tell the couple, ‘Here are some of the things I might be able to help with―just tell me what you want,’” says Naylor. “That will often get you invited in to help more than if you try to bulldoze them.”
4. Don’t promise more than you can deliver. “Make sure that what you volunteer to help with is realistic,” she says. “Especially on the weekend of the wedding, with family in town, you may not want to be stuck ironing tablecloths for a big party you offered to host.” And you don’t want to cause panic when someone has to be recruited at the last minute to fill in for you.
5. Get to know the in-laws. Traditionally, after the engagement is announced, the groom’s parents reach out to arrange a get-together, but there’s no need to stand on ceremony. Often the bride and groom will invite both sets of parents to a dinner to meet and discuss initial thinking about the wedding plans.
6. Don’t try to outdo the other mother. It can only cause friction for you and potential stress for the kids. You both should be in it for them.
7. Let the bride’s mom pick her dress first. Custom says once she has chosen hers, she lets the mother of the groom know the color, length, and style so she can choose a complementary dress (keep the wedding photos in mind). Both moms should stay away from whites and the colors of the bridal party.
8. Don’t invite people too soon. Don’t start calling relatives as soon as the engagement is announced. To avoid an etiquette gaffe, wait until the guest list is finalized and you know how many people on your side can be accommodated.
9. Practice discretion. “If you’re not crazy about some person or some element of the wedding, keep it to yourself,” says Naylor. “Otherwise, that gossip will inevitably end up floating around at the wedding, and it could cast a shadow on the couple’s big day.”
10. Give a sentimental gift. If you’ve paid for a part of the wedding or honeymoon, consider presenting them with something sentimental, like a family heirloom. Or, from the registry you might choose a pie plate your son or daughter will use at every holiday and think of you. This is a way to say, ‘We welcome you into the family,’ and reflect that there’s life after the wedding.