Carolyn Hax is away. The following is from Jan. 25, 2006.
DEAR CAROLYN: Our only daughter, almost 29, is planning to marry in October. She is engaged to a great guy. We made the mistake of being caught up in the excitement and have found we cannot live up to the financial contribution she had hoped for. They make a considerable income compared with her dad and me but are heavily in debt (student loans and credit cards), and cannot contribute a dime. His family cannot help, either. We would like to make her day special, but some changes need to be made. She and I have exchanged many harsh words, and there doesn't seem to be a compromise. We are now the bad guys. Her dad and I are divorced and in our own new relationships. Help us come to some resolution so our relationships will not be strained forever.
Mother of the Bride
MOTHER OF THE BRIDE: Unless there's something you're not telling me: Your daughter is 29 in only a chronological sense; a "great guy" would point that out to her gently while reminding her that her parents are under no obligation to pay for her wedding at all, much less a more elaborate one than they can afford, much less when the only reason they're being asked to pay is the couple's only semi-defensible debt; a harsh word from someone in her position is inexcusable; and a compromise is neither necessary nor advisable with someone who's abusing your kindness or funds.
If there is, in fact, something you're not telling me — say, that you knowingly promised more than you plan to deliver, or that you've been meddlesome, judgmental or hostile during the planning process, or both — then you need to apologize to your daughter immediately.
Either way, you need to decide on an exact dollar amount you are willing and able to spend — if any, at this point, though acting out of spite is the gateway to "strained forever" — and give it to the couple along with your blessing to spend it as they please, no strings, be it on their wedding, their debts or their dog.
DEAR CAROLYN: Recently I was feeling down. Nothing dramatic, just a little sad. A friend happened to call and I told her how I was feeling. And she became upset with me. I'm married and have two kids and a great part-time job and am happy with my life. She honestly felt I should not be sad since I have so much. She, too, is married but it is not going so well and they would like kids but it is not happening. I am hurt and confused. Is it unfair to express your feelings to someone who seems to envy your life?
D.C.: No, it's unfair to deny people their right to be human just because they also have the nerve to be otherwise happy. There's also no place for comparing in friendships.
However. Since it's possible your complaints were petty, or insensitive in light of your awareness of her problems, or perfectly fair but delivered, unwittingly, at a uniquely terrible time in her life, it would also be unfair to overreact to her reaction. Brush it off and assume no ill will — unless she makes a habit of it.