Dear Margo: A Different Kind of Surprise Party

My parents aren’t contributing as much as I’d hoped for my wedding: Margo Howard’s advice

A Different Kind of Surprise Party

Dear Margo: I’m a middle-aged woman who’s getting married for the first time in the fall. My parents like my fiance, “Jack,” and are very pleased that we’re getting married. Jack and I don’t have much money, so we’re planning a small, informal wedding — but the expenses are piling up. Jack’s parents are deceased. We expected my parents (who are well off) to help us financially. This hasn’t happened. They are, however, going to host a party for us at a fancy restaurant the night before the wedding. It’s a nice gesture, but not something Jack and I wanted or requested.

When my sister (who is financially comfortable) got married ten years ago, my parents gave her a substantial check to help cover wedding expenses. I’m starting to feel very angry, resentful and stressed about the situation. However, discussing it openly with my parents would most likely make things worse. They probably feel that the party is their contribution and might resent me for expecting more. Any suggestions? –Bride-to-Be

Dear Bride: I do have a suggestion, as a matter of fact. Although it sounds somewhat dramatic, I hope you will consider it. I actually did something very similar to what I’m going to propose, though for different reasons. (At that time, my husband-to-be and I had each previously been married, and I was pretty sure my parents had wedding fatigue at that point. I know I did … along with rice marks.)

Anyway, we threw what everyone thought was an engagement party. We took over a French restaurant, and the gathering was tres gay. At some point in the evening, my new husband, in the form of a toast, announced that we had been married by a judge that afternoon. There were great whoops of surprise and joy. In your case, there will not only be the element of surprise, but you will save a nice chunk of change; you won’t have the stress and commotion of even a small wedding; and you will have the fun of a bridal celebration — courtesy of your parents.

Regarding your sister’s gala 10 years ago, perhaps your parents had more money then. (I suspect many people did.) Put that out of your mind. P.S.: Let your parents be surprised along with everyone else. –Margo, tactically

Who Knew?

Dear Margo: A recent letter you printed was from a stressed young woman who felt she was disorganized and stretched thin because of school, work, single-motherhood and chemo. To her and others who might need help, there is a cleaning service that provides free housecleaning once a month for four months during cancer treatments. All that’s required is that the patient sign up and have their doctor fax a note confirming the treatment. “Cleaning for a Reason” will have a participating maid service in her zip code area arrange for the service.

This organization serves the entire U.S. and currently has 547 partners to help. Click here for more information. I wish I had known of this service when I was in treatment. –Cancer Survivor in Navasota, Texas

Dear Can: These people sound like saints to me. The service they provide is perfectly wonderful and worthwhile, and something I have never heard of. To whoever dreamt it up, bravo! Even taken to another level — without the illness factor — being overrun with messy surroundings can (for most of us) inhibit working and thinking and feed the feeling of being overwhelmed. Without considering myself a neatnik, I do believe that a messy desk signifies a messy mind. Getting organized is what we, in our family, call “clearing the decks.” I hope a lot of people see this and pass the link on to a friend undergoing chemo. Many thanks. –Margo, gratefully

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Dear Margo is written by Margo Howard, Ann Landers’ daughter. All letters must be sent via e-mail to Due to a high volume of e-mail, not all letters will be answered.


Every Thursday and Friday, you can find “Dear Margo” and her latest words of wisdom on wowOwow

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73 comments so far.

  1. avatar Nikki Sunset says:

    I agree with the above post from Jon T.
    I loved Margo’s suggestion at first glance, but have some trouble imagining how it can work in this case.
    First of all, I doubt all the wedding guests will be invited to the party the night before. What happens to the other guests?
    And everyone will probably be dissappointed that the party they expect the next day is not happening. At the least, many of the guests will have bought special clothes for a wedding that is not to be.

    I have two ideas. One- say to your parents that you would like to use that party as the wedding.
    Or indicate on the invitation that the wedding will be rather casual, a picnic perhaps or backyard BBQ with hired help to make it a little ore special. Then the night before party becomes the big party.

  2. avatar Mrs. Williams says:

    LW 1 – Abby’s advice is great!  Rather than coveting what your sister got, you should try some gratitude that you received anything.  Do not waste your time resenting your parents for not coming with the cash.   If you are old enough to get married, you should be mature enough to have a wedding within your means, whatever that may be. 

    People spend so much time fixating on the wedding and going crazy with plans and spending and family politics – do yourself a favor and focus on the marriage.  The wedding is just a stepping stone to get to the rest of  your life. 

    • avatar Mrs. Williams says:

      My bad… I totally meant MARGO!  I blame the pregnancy brain.  Margo, please forgive me!

  3. avatar Ruth Rosenfield says:

    The nicest wedding I ever attended was at the Shakespeare Garden in Golden Gate Park.  The ceremony was performed by the bride’s father who was a minister, the guests all wore jeans and shirts (or sundresses for some of the women), the caterer was Colonel Sanders, and the happy couple are still married nearly 40 years later.

  4. avatar CanGal says:

    LW1 grow up and learn what is really important. Weddings are not about the wedding day, they are about the next day and every day after that, committing yourselves to each other til death do you part. If you do not understand that, your marriage will not last and any money spent on the wedding will be wasted – maybe your parents are trying to tell you something.

  5. avatar Cindy Marek says:

    L #1: I understand it’s the principle of the matter, and maybe as Margo points out your parents don’t have the $$$ now that they did when your sibling married. Frankly, I’m 46 years old…and I wouldn’t expect my parents to pay for my wedding. Maybe they figure you and fiancee are old enough to do that yourselves … and should? I know that’s not fair, and you might want to stick to the principle of the matter. But even if my father were still alive, and I were marrying for the first time? I wouldn’t expect them to pay for my wedding.

  6. avatar Lym BO says:

    LW1: It is possible her parents spent the money they had saved for her wedding. Parents paying for a wedding is a gift. My parents told me (at 28 & with a decent job & savings) that they were giving me x amount of money. They then said I could spend it on the wedding– or not. Whatever I liked. Also, they said that anything over that amount would be footed by me (by being super thrifty it covered it mostly). They also gave us a generous gift. I expected them to pay for the whole thing, but was also realistic. I was happy they gave anything at that age when I was making/saving my own money.
    On another note, Margo’s idea is neat how it played out for her, but this won’t work for a pre-wedding dinner. People are going to feel cheated if they came for a wedding/event & get bamboozled by a pre-wedding event. Plus, many ppl may not make the dinner in anticipation of the wedding-especially if they are traveling. I realize it is all about celebrating the couple & vows, but it just seems a little underhanded given the scenario as it is. Margo’s was totally different. Now if LW1 wants to have this dinner like Margo did a few months prior to the event then it might work, but I’m not sure how she can get her parents to foot it. Plus, there is the whole bride dream stuff that LW1 might not want to forego. I wonder what happened to the days not so long ago where the wedding was followed by a simple reception with cake & mints in the church “hall”…

  7. avatar David Bolton says:

    One thing I think it’s important for LW1 to remember before she decides to bring this topic up (or not) with her parents is what sort of memories she’d like to have regarding the wedding in general and her parents’ involvement—and whether she’d like to look at this as her own personal achievement, or something she had to fight to obtain.

    The latter scenario just seems like it would cast a pall over the whole process both now, and later. I certainly wouldn’t want to look back on my wedding and think: “They tried to screw me, so I had to call the manager until I finally got what I wanted.”

  8. avatar FireyLady says:

    I am very proud to be able to say that my husband and I did our wedding, with a little help, for less than $5000, including clothing. I managed to find my wedding dress for $20 at a boutique that was going out of business, and my veil for $8 at Goodwill. We had a potluck reception, with a few people bringing some dishes that everyone enjoyed-including me! But we still managed to have a rather elegant day. No dancing, but my husband can’t dance due to disability, and nobody seemed to miss the pageantry.

    I hope you don’t mind terribly Margo, but I loved the idea of the cleaning service so much, I found the website and posted it on a Facebook I started as a group to support folks in their day-to-day and bigger difficulties. Hope this helps them to get the word even further out about the wonderful works they do!

  9. avatar Dan Patterson says:

    Many good suggestions have been offered here, and I’ve none to add, really. My wife and I were pushing 30 when we married many years ago and we did not feel either of our families owed us a thing. We did it all ourselves, rather frugally but nicely, and good friends gave us two receptions (one at the church and one at a private home). It was a great day. The only mistake we made – and it was a serious one – was to allow a friend to “do” the wedding pictures. He was an amateur and it showed. No digital photography then, however.

  10. avatar Michelles11 says:

    While I can understand everyone’s opinions, I still feel for LW1, it’s her “big day” too and I’m sure she wants everyone to be as excited as she is.  It does hurt when it doesn’t seem everyone is as excited about your life as you are.  I know the older I get, the less appealing 2nd weddings and even 1st weddings are…but I try make sure the couple knows I am very happy for them.  I’m sure it’s not JUST about the money, like she states, but perhaps the feeling that her parents are not as engaged or as enthusiastic about her wedding as they were for her sister’s.  Yes, a lot of time has gone by and I’m sure a lot of things have changed (finances, health, etc) but I’m not going to judge her as being spoiled and entitled.  I’m would try to empathize and see what can be done to alleviate this anxiety.  Maybe a carefully worded conversation with her parents would help and keep the negative emotions at bay.