When Dr. Kathy Koch and I wrote our No More Perfect Kids book, we talked about how important it is to love the kids we have, not the ones we wish we had.  Sometimes we imagine what life will look like as a parent, but then we find ourselves face to face with parenting reality that looks nothing like what we imagined in our head. It can happen when our kids are young and even when they are adults.

Life is hard as it is, but when you add in depression and anxiety, life gets even harder. We’ve certainly experienced that in our family. And this can add into our world not looking the way we imagined it would.

I was recently talking with my friend Susan about all of this. Planning her daughter’s wedding has not looked anything like what she thought it would.  After she shared her heart with me, I asked her if she would be willing to share her heart with you.  She wrote out her story so we all can benefit from her experience and the wisdom gleaned from walking in reality.  No matter that age of your kids, I’m betting you can relate in some way.

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This is supposed to be fun. I can’t tell you how many times I have had that thought in recent months. My wonderful daughter, “Sarah,” is getting married this summer! A college graduate and a full time teacher, she is engaged to a fine young man who dearly loves her. Our  family dearly loves her, too. She has everything going for her. But she also suffers from depression. This is our story.

Sarah has had depression for a number of years. She has been treating her depression with both medication and counseling. Our family has tried to support her as best we know how, through love, support, encouragement, and prayer.

She was so excited when she got engaged! We were, too. We all still are! It is a beautiful thing to see your adult child find her spouse and to know that a Godly young man is about to join your family. However, I had no idea how depression can cloud your sense of self and how it can paralyze you. I had no idea how much it affects everything else.

Right away, Sarah and “Daniel” asked both sets of parents to look at potential wedding venues with them. We were all so excited, going to various places in their town and dreaming. Sarah and Daniel both come from very traditional families. All six of us started looking at these venues with the thoughts of a traditional wedding. All family and friends would be coming, around 200 people or so. They would have several bridesmaids and groomsmen. We started talking about flowers, the reception, the decorations, the food. It was all so natural. All six of us had the same type of thing in mind.

Until we didn’t .

Sarah became increasingly agitated and then she became very withdrawn. She was overwhelmed. No one really knew why. But she was done looking at venues, and done talking about the wedding for awhile. She needed to take a break.

A few weeks later, Sarah and Daniel asked to have a meeting with all the parents. They told us that they did not see things the way we see things. They said they did not agree with some of our thoughts of the various venues. They also didn’t actually want any of the parents’ friends to be invited. (Even the ones they had known their entire lives.)

They asked us to come up with three things that were the absolute most important to us and promised to do their best to accommodate. I came up with only two: that they be married by an ordained pastor in a Christian ceremony and that the parents’ immediate family would be invited, meaning our siblings and any living parents. It was so hard for me, knowing that probably my own aunts and uncles would not be invited, and that our very dear friends would not. We have known most of our friends longer than Sarah has been alive! They helped raise her in a very real way.

Time passed, and the happy couple made a decision about the wedding: they would not be having a traditional ceremony in their town. They wanted to go to Colorado for their wedding. Only grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins would be invited, and their friends. None of ours. None of our aunts and uncles. I was sad about this, but understood and respected their desire to make their wedding more intimate. So we started planning. It would be a destination wedding; a family trip. Everyone would come for 4-7 days or so and spend time together. Sarah and Daniel wanted quality time with their guests and knew they would not get it with a large wedding. We found a venue and photographer. We started telling people so they could get the week on their calendars. When people started getting excited and started planning time off work to come, Sarah didn’t know what to do. She confided that part of the reason they went out of state for this was so people would not come and they did not expect this huge response.

She further confided the real problem:  Her depression and anxiety combined made her so fearful and self-conscious. She did not want to walk down an aisle with 120 people watching. She did not want people judging what she looked like, what her dress looked like, what colors they chose, what the girls were wearing, etc. She did not want people seeing her in a gown with the weight she has gained in the last year. (We had recently gone dress shopping and it was awful. She hated the experience. It was not the fun mother/daughter experience you would expect.) Sarah did not want the pressure of making a picture perfect wedding. She was paralyzed by that thought. She could not see that people want to come out of love for the two of them, not to judge and criticize the wedding itself. They come from two loving families who just want to be a part of this big day, but they could not see that.

The pressure of too many people coming took its toll. Nothing more was getting done. So many things needed to be decided and deposits needed to be made. But nothing happened. Finally they told us: they really don’t want the wedding in Colorado with all the family. Truly, they just want to elope. But out of love and respect for the parents and siblings who adore them, they came to a decision. They decided to get married on a lake shore at sunrise with the 6 people in his family and the 5 people in ours. That is all. No grandparents, even.

I will be honest and say that I cried off and on for a week. I truly did understand that they needed a different kind of wedding, but how in the world could they exclude their grandparents, the people who love them the most outside of their parents? The people who attended every birthday and special event and most school events as well. How could they do that??? And why couldn’t I share one of the most special days of my life with my own siblings?

I was pretty devastated, although I did not let them know that. I did talk to them about the importance of grandparents attending, and Daniel’s mom talked about that as well. I am so happy to say that grandparents are now invited. The main thing was, due to physical limitations, they thought grandparents could not get to the sandy beach of the lake shore, so they thought it best not to invite them. They felt they were helping their grandparents by not making them walk the uneven terrain.

Once some time passed, we all got used to the idea of this kind of wedding. Sarah and Daniel still want this to be a family event. So, our family, the groom’s family, and the grandparents are going to spend 4-5 days together in a rented house on the beach so we can have intimate family time playing games, talking, celebrating together. They will be married by Sarah’s youth pastor who knows her so well, and he is getting to know Daniel, too. This will be a beautiful, meaningful wedding. They keep saying they want to focus on the marriage, not the wedding. So, Sarah will wear a simple gown and we all will wear dressy casual clothes. We will sit in lawn chairs on the beach for the ceremony. Sarah’s grandma will be her matron of honor. And Daniel’s grandpa will be his best man. It will be so beautiful, and so filled with love. We will go to brunch afterwards.

This is really a picture of this sweet couple. They value family more than things, and certainly don’t care about show or pretense.  This suits them well. There will be a large reception with dinner and dancing for everyone a month after the wedding. It will be casual, buffet style, and simple, just like they want. So, all of our loved ones will be able to share in their joy and celebrate with them that day.

I am so happy to say that I feel like I got my Sarah back after the decision was made for a private wedding! She is so very excited about this type of ceremony. The fog of depression seems to be lifting from her. She is not concerned about what others think. They are doing the wedding and reception in a way that feels right for them, and it was done with compromise and input from all the parents. She is no longer paralyzed by all this, and they have almost everything planned and booked now. They will play a video of the wedding at the reception so all can see the ceremony. My girl is back to smiling again and wants to spend time with us again. God is so good! We are so grateful to see so much progress.

I have learned a lot from this whole experience. When you have a child, you have certain thoughts, dreams, and expectations. Some things have been done in a certain way for a long time in your family, and you assume those traditions will continue. Especially when you are talking about your only daughter and her wedding!  My husband and I had to learn to let go of our own thoughts and dreams and learn to respect those of Sarah and Daniel. We needed open minds. We had to remember that God makes us all different and that we should celebrate the differences!

This wedding really does reflect them well, much better than a traditional ceremony would. We need to trust our intuition when we sense something is wrong or that something is on our child’s mind. We need to create a safe place where our child can come and talk without fear of judgment or criticism. We need to treat each other with mutual respect and listen; really listen! And if our child says or wants something that is really out of the realm of our own expectations or desires, I learned that it is best to wait to respond. Listen to them, clarify things, but take some time to process what you just heard before saying too much. Sometimes all it takes is a little time to see that their way really is better than your own.

And, as an added bonus, with a June wedding and a July reception, I get to wear my mother-of-the-bride dress twice!

What about you? Where do you need to let your child be true to himself or herself? Where do you need to listen? Where do you need to adjust your expectations and embrace reality? 

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