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Dear Robin: Should I Pay For My Atheist Son’s Wedding?

Monday, December 22, 2014


Dear Robin, 

My son is getting married in June and his father and I committed to paying for the reception when he and his fiancé became engaged last year.  He is our only child and we are thrilled he is getting married.  And we love his fiancé!  So what’s the problem?

We raised our son in a very Christian household.  He went to private Catholic school, including college, and religion has always been a central component of our lives.  His grandparents, all of whom are still living, are also deeply religious.

So imagine my reaction when he announced there would be no mention of God during the ceremony and that rather than our family priest, he was having a friend conduct the wedding and that friend was ordained on the Internet!  Apparently my son and his future wife are atheist, which came as a very disturbing surprise to me and his dad.

His father and I are deeply disappointed and angry.  This is not how we raised our son.  Not only will we be very offended if God is ignored in the ceremony but I know his grandparents will be horrified.

We are considering withdrawing our offer to pay for the reception if he does not compromise and use our priest for a traditional Catholic wedding.  His fiancé’s parents don’t have very much money so I don’t think they can just pick up the tab, nor can my son, who is just beginning his career in insurance.

We would still attend the wedding but don’t want to contribute financially if it is going to be a huge slap in the face to our family and our religious beliefs.
Thoughts?  My best friend thinks I am being unreasonable, but my husband and I are in total agreement on this issue.


Future Mother-in-law

Dear FMIL, 

First of all, mazel tov on the engagement of your only child!

This is an exciting time for your entire family and one that can be filled with joy, wonder, new friends and family, and a sense of becoming part of something bigger as you merge families with another and grow your tribe.

At the same time, weddings can be deeply stressful for everyone for a variety of reasons.  If this disagreement with your son ends up being the worst part of the wedding process for you and your husband, consider yourselves lucky.

Reading your letter, one sentence really stood out to me, and that was, “This is not how we raised our son.”  I disagree.  Did you not raise your son to think for himself? To stand up for his beliefs, or lack thereof?  To respect the feelings of his future wife? To make his own decisions?

Another sentence you wrote was notable and doesn’t speak well of you and your husband:

“We are considered withdrawing our offer to pay for the reception if he does not compromise and use our priest for a traditional Catholic wedding.”

Please consult a dictionary and look up the word “compromise,” because it does not mean what you think it means.  You are making a unilateral demand under threat of severe retaliation to have things your way and in direct opposition to how your son and his fiancé wish for things to be.  That’s not “compromise,” that’s American foreign policy.

While I certainly understand your desire to celebrate your beliefs as part of this monumental occasion, I hasten you to think critically about who this day truly belongs to, how you are handling this conflict, and what unintended consequences might arise if you don’t change your attitude and approach.

Using money as a weapon in such a hostile way is ugly and could do a tremendous amount of damage to your relationship with your son and his future wife.  You made an unrestricted promise but now you want to attach terms and conditions to the gift, months after offering to pay for the reception and late enough in the planning so that rescinding the offer will likely have enormous negative impact on their planning and exaggerate stress they are almost certainly already experiencing.

That’s not nice.
Then again, I think your son and his fiancé might be open to some sort of compromise that everyone can live with.  The best way to find that compromise is to change your strategy from one of punishment to one of cooperation.

Below is my advice for you.  I put it in a convenient list format so you can pray over each item in the order in which they appear:

1. Have your son and his fiancé meet with you and your husband to discuss the wedding.
2. Explain to them that your religious convictions are very important to you and you would be grateful if they would consider including something God-related in the ceremony.
3. Ask them if they would consider honoring your beliefs by having your priest share some portion of the ceremony with their friend during which he can make some sort of religious comments…perhaps about love and family and what Jesus (allegedly) said on those topics.
4. Be prepared for them to say no.  This is, after all, their wedding.  Not yours.
5. Before you pull a take-back on your offer to pay for the reception, ask yourself: how would you have felt if your own parents had insisted upon an atheist wedding for you and your husband?  I’m betting you wouldn’t like it one bit.

Some atheists are very uncomfortable with the hypocrisy of including religion in their wedding ceremonies because it feels inauthentic.  I’m sure you expect others to respect your beliefs; shouldn’t you do the same for your son?

If they won’t compromise and you feel strongly enough that you won’t honor your promise to pay for the reception, be prepared to pay the consequences.  Your intransigence and self-centered behavior will have long-term consequences, and frankly, it isn’t very Christ-like.

Former Portland lawyer and current Portland big mouth Robin DesCamp is the Velvet Sledgehammer of Truth, smashing through socially acceptable niceties to tell you how to live your life, and why. She blogs at askdescamp.com. Write to her at i[email protected].


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