Ask Athena: Mining for Meaning

Instead of reacting to family conflict, sift for clues to better understanding

Q: The wedding my sister-in-law is planning with her mother is obscenely stupid and extravagant. Their family is well-off but certainly between the laser shows, white steeds and celebrity chefs, they are bankrupting reserves flagged for their parents’ retirement (and legacy).

Problem is, she’s the youngest and has them wrapped around her finger. When my wife tries to reason with her parents, her sister says we’re just jealous because we didn’t have a big wedding (in fact, our elopement is a touchy issue with her mother, who felt left out). Help, Athena, this is madness. Are we really fighting about the wedding or is there something else going on?   ~ Subtext Sleuth

A:

Good instincts. I agree, this does feel like we’re just scratching the surface. Let’s go digging!

First and foremost: your wife’s parents are grown adults with their own agency to spend their money however they want. Even if that means throwing away all the “legacy” their children may be counting on. Your SIL may have found a clever way to grab more than her share while they’re still alive, but she’s got her work cut out for her too. You think it’s FUN to host a gigantic event where you’re expected to be beautiful and gracious for 18+ hours? Surely, you eloped to avoid some of this hassle.

Speaking of your elopement – perhaps your MIL is compensating for what she missed when you & your wife got married? Maybe all this manic excess is feeding a need she feels she has been denied? Or here’s a thought: what if this is intentional in some way? Could your MIL be rubbing this celebration in for spite? Possibly punishing your wife by draining family resources on something she knows would be viewed as particularly egregious? What are the chances you’re supposed to feel slighted?

In which case, your SIL isn’t so much a manipulator as she is an accomplice, possibly unwitting. She could be wrapped up in playing the “Good Daughter” – the one who didn’t walk down the aisle behind her mother’s back. Who knows? Your SIL might be doing her best to please her parents and fulfill their expectations, with no thought about money at all. Given the enormous task of planning the wedding you describe, this could shed some light on her snippy comment about your elopement.

Or not. She could just be a colossal attention hog, among other assessments. You and your wife are really the best judges about that. I hope our little thought experiment, though, has helped you walk through some alternate scenarios from their perspectives. People are complicated, maybe now’s not the time to stress over stuff that’s out of your control and frankly none of your business?

Remember that your and your wife’s part in her sister’s wedding is to love and support the bride and her husband, and just be happy for them. You got this!

AGREE? DISAGREE? Please comment below.

Send your questions to AskAthena@nwlocalpaper.com

Read last month’s Ask Athena here.

About Athena 32 Articles
When she’s not advising mortals, Athena spends her time on earth in NW Philly with her husband, two sons and a day job where she’s paid to tell important people what to do (naturally). Send your questions to askathena@nwlocalpaper.com.

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