For The Mother Of The Bride: Letting Go Gracefully

The beauty and challenge of motherhood is that as tightly as you would like to hold on to your precious one, you continually need to let go.
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Your daughter is getting married! This is a momentous time in your life, a beautiful and awe-inspiring occasion for both of you. You are witnessing your little girl step into the full bloom of her womanhood, watching her as she stands on the precipice of an extraordinary transformation. Where has the time gone? Wasn't it just yesterday that she was taking her first steps, then trotting off to school, going on her first date, graduating from high school, and finally leaving home? The beauty and challenge of motherhood is that as tightly as you would like to hold on to your precious one, you continually need to let go. And with each letting go, you watch her step further into the unique woman that she is, embracing her strengths, challenging her weaknesses, learning what it is to be human. And now she is getting married.

More than anything, you want to support her and help launch her into the mystery and challenge of marriage. Yet, at times, you find yourself engaging in arguments about trivial topics like seating arrangements or napkin colors. Do you know how common it is to argue about these inanities? And do you know that these arguments are a way to displace the difficult, out of control feelings you are experiencing onto something tangible, something concrete? Because the truth, the painful, inevitable truth, is that you are in a process of letting go. You are letting go of your little girl. You are letting go of your beautiful daughter, watching her loosen ties to her family of origin so that she can begin a family of her own. And letting go is difficult. You want to hold on. You want to keep her safe and protected in your loving embrace. Or at least a part of you does. Change is difficult, and while you fully recognize the necessity of change and you support your daughter's decision to marry, the painful feelings linger.

Sometimes focusing on the externals -- the napkins, the dress, the food -- can temporarily abate the grief, fear, and sense of feeling out of control. In fact, we live in a culture that encourages you to focus on the tangible elements of the big day, helping your daughter plan the "perfect" wedding with the illusory belief that mastering the right details will lead to a meaningful and joyous occasion. This is a false belief because no amount of outer planning will create an atmosphere of support, a secure launching pad, from which your daughter can enter marriage. And this is the point of the wedding: to stand as witness as your daughter and her beloved are wed and to celebrate their new and beautiful union. You are there to hold the space, to support her transformation, and to ensure that the ties are adequately loosened so that she can begin her new life and her new family. This may be easier said than done, especially if your own feelings are not being consciously addressed. For in order to support her, you need to first support yourself. One way to do this is to take some time to ask yourself important questions.

Hopefully, your daughter has been attending to her own transformation by addressing the various emotions that this rite of passage has activated. Similarly, the more time you take to become a "conscious mother of the bride," the better prepared you will be to guide her into this next phase of life. To become conscious does not mean that you cease to feel loss or sadness around this time; on the contrary, it means that instead of deflecting these emotions onto the planning, you let them in, make room for them in your life, and find the support that you need so that you can be a support for your daughter.

Becoming conscious also means that you recognize the tendency to displace your feelings onto the planning. For example, one mother dreamed three weeks before the wedding that she had "lost her puppy." Another held onto her daughter's wedding dress until that last possible moment, refusing to return it to her until just moments before the wedding. Another refused to send the invitations. These mothers recognized after the event that the external objects were symbolic of the loss -- that holding onto the dress was like holding onto her daughter. They wished they had had the awareness during the engagement to place their feelings in an appropriate place, as it would have saved them a lot of needless arguing. Are you aware of how elements of the planning have come to represent ways of holding onto your daughter?

Furthermore, becoming conscious means that you recognize that not only is the wedding clearly a rite of passage for the bride, but it is also a rite of passage for the mother of bride. A daughter's wedding is often a time when the mother faces her own mortality and realizes that she is moving into the next phase of life. Jungian psychoanalyst Marion Woodman talks about the three phases of a woman's life: maiden, mother, elder. When a woman marries, she is letting go of her identity of maiden and moving toward mother. When a daughter marries, her mother is letting go of her identity of mother and moving toward the next identity. How do these statements resonate for you? Are you aware that you may be moving into a new phase of life? What feelings does this elicit?

It takes courage and wisdom to become a conscious mother of the bride. It requires going against the grain of our culture that tells you that the good mother is one who attends to the external details of the wedding with grace, exquisite taste, and equanimity. While it may be important to your daughter that you help her with the planning, I assure you that it is infinitely more important to her that you are a source of emotional support during this time. And sometimes being supportive means stepping back and watching your daughter develop wings of her own. Just as you had to let go and watch her fall when she learned to walk, so now you must let go and watch her begin a new life, knowing she will fall, knowing that this represents a goodbye of sorts, and also knowing that nothing in this world can sever the bond between mother and daughter.

You are both on a profound journey. You can either alienate each other by arguing about trivial details and engaging in power struggles, or you can strengthen your bond by acknowledging your separateness and grieving the loss, thereby allowing the unique beauty of your relationship to shine through during one of the highest times of a human life. Many blessings to you on your journey.

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