Wedding blues: Should toxic mom be invited?

Hi, Carolyn:     

Our 24-year-old daughter, "Mary," is getting married this August.

My mother is 84, a hard-core feminist and atheist. She views religion as an oppressor of females, and hates anything to do with church. My two daughters are somewhat religious, and the groom and his family are Protestants.

When I told my mother that Mary's wedding would have a pastor reading some Bible passages, she said she would walk out of the ceremony in protest. I got angry and told her, "Then leave." She hasn't spoken to me since, and returned my Mother's Day card unopened.

My sister, who lives three blocks from her and is close with my daughters, tried to reason with her. Mom isn't speaking to my sister now either. My Dad is caught in the middle, trying to reason with Mom.

Mary called my mom, and Mom denied saying she would walk out. She says she will come to the wedding and not protest.

I, Mary, my ex-wife and others think that if my Mom isn't talking to me or my sister, we don't want her at the wedding— not out of anger, but because it will be a major drama distracting from the joy of the day. She cannot drive or get there on her own.

I don't feel that I need to apologize to my Mom, and I believe her behavior is toxic. I feel sad for her because she is depressed (a common condition for her) and not in very good health. She seems determined to be unhappy and find things that offend her. It may be mental illness, but she won't consider treatment. I think it is a very bad way to live the last few years of one's life.

What do you suggest my sister and I do? She is still talking to my Dad and brother, but who knows for how long. — Frustrated Father of the Bride          

I suggest you do what I'm doing right now: wondering what you really stand to gain by excluding your mother.

On one hand, you have your stated intent of pre-empting a "major drama." On the other, you have your stated concern for an 84-year-old in poor physical health, dealing with depression and possible other mental illness, and either choosing or being stuck with a "very bad way to live the last years of one's life."    

Is the "joy of the day" so very fragile— and ceremonial perfection so important a goal — that it can't withstand an act of generosity to an ailing family member?

Our discussing it here might be moot, since Mary decides the guest list and apparently wants to scratch Grandma, but I imagine a vote for compassion from her father would carry a lot of weight. Something else that ought to count: You actually do have something to apologize for. You got angry and lashed out at your mother despite being well aware that she's not emotionally, and maybe not mentally, 100 percent. Toxic indeed.     

Since you missed your chance then to exercise restraint and good judgment, and since you have a couple of months to work with, please take this chance now to champion inclusion. It's a cause people rarely regret they embraced— not to mention, it's the right tone to set as Mom's needs likely mount.          

Email Carolyn at tellme@washpost.com, follow her on Facebook at www.facebook.com/carolyn.hax or chat with her online at noon Eastern time each Friday at www.washingtonpost.com.          

(c) 2013, Washington Post Writers Group

3 comments

I could not disagree more with Carolyn. I think the negativity that your mother has given out is a clear demonstration of how she will likely behave. I wouldn't want her at my wedding wondering if her powder keg was explode at any moment. I would want to be focusing on this beautiful moment. I have had toxic family members in my life. I have given them chances and when they prove that they are still toxic I remove them from my life. My life is much richer without the drama. So if Mary doesn't want Negative Granny, than that is her choice and she shouldn't feel guilty! The compassion can always be extended over lunch AFTER the wedding has taken place without Granny potentially being a sour puss or worse....

It is a rule in story telling that the crazy person always tells the truth. Hollywood has elevated this to a law. Crazy old mom is right. The bible is an incredibly misogynistic document. Not just misogyny but genocide perpetrated by god himself, eternal torture meted out by the perfect savior for not receiving enough love, slavery, terrorist acts on children by god etc etc etc.

I would think it very poor form to have that god anywhere near a wedding or around children since he has no problem with pedophilia in his churches. As far as I know he hasn't stopped a pedophile from molesting a child in his house of worship yet and there have been thousands all over the world.

I would much rather invite crazy old mom calling a spade a spade than Torturing Jesus or Genocidal God.

Kelly has it right- i agree and would add that toxic people need to learn that their ridiculous self centered behaviors carry consequence. This is especially important to apply to toxic family members. The tendency in that scenario is that they think that because they're family they can pull that kind of sh*t. There has to be consequences. By the way I dont want to hear any "well yeah, but, you have to understand mental illness..." sh*t. I do, and the bottom line there is that if family has been tolerant, has made efforts to illustrate to the person what the issues are (and potential costs), then it's then incumbent upon the hemmorhoid to seek help (counseling, therapy or medical treatment.) If the 'roid does so then family should be supportive and assist. W/out that i say screw the toxins...life is too short and tough enough w/out some self centered righteous a*s maliciously making it harder.