Should the groom’s sister-in-law be a bridesmaid? Should the bride’s brother-in-law be a groomsman?
A common situation where this question arises is when a future mother-in-law asks her future son- or daughter-in-law to include her current son- or daughter-in-law in the bridal party.
The bride or groom who says no to the request believes that he or she should have sole discretion to choose his or her attendants. After all, it is the bride or groom’s wedding, not the mother-in-law’s. For simplicity, let’s assume the mother-in-law is the groom’s mother, and she wants to influence the bride’s choice of attendants. The bride may be surprised by the request because in her experience, bridal parties do not work this way. In her family, mothers and children may have stronger boundaries, the kind where a mother would not even think of making such a request.
Let’s explore the worldview of the mother-in-law trying to influence the bridal party. This woman likely prioritizes keeping her family close, even as her children grow up and marry, and likely believes that it is necessary for her current daughter-in-law to walk down the aisle to keep family ties tight. She may need her daughter-in-law in the bridal party to project an image of a close family, regardless of the truth of the relationships. For all we know, her children may not get along at all. She may be struggling with losing control as her family expands, and she likely has controlling tendencies. Another possibility is that she considers her daughter-in-law like blood and feels hurt at the thought of her being excluded.
Regardless of the motivation of the mother-in-law, there is conflict when the mother-in-law wants something and the bride does not. Who prevails? Based on my experience, the mother-in-law prevails if the groom takes her side and requests that the bride include the daughter-in-law. The bride prevails if she feels strongly about deciding her own bridal party and the groom does not care. In either scenario, somebody is left unhappy. Either the bride feels forced into doing something that she doesn’t want to do or the mother-in-law feels like her needs were ignored.
In wedding fantasyland, the bride expects the wedding day to be all about her and her choices, not her mother-in-law’s. (There is usually room for the groom to have an opinion or two.) Unfortunately, weddings are complex beasts. They are the merger of two families with different traditions. One or both sides may view the wedding as a proxy for their future roles or importance in the new couple’s life.
Having been a bride, I understand that the intervening mother-in-law is no fun, but having been married for ten years, I understand that a happy mother-in-law is important for a happy marriage. I know that if you can start your marriage with in-laws who feel like they were treated fairly, you are going into marriage from a position of strength. Why not include the daughter-in-law? Honoring a request of your mother-in-law is an opportunity to build goodwill with her and your future spouse, which will help you build a strong marriage. The alternative—not honoring the request—risks a mother-in-law who is holding onto a grudge from the wedding, and that is not good for a marriage.
If you worry that it is bad precedent to allow your mother-in-law to intervene like this, you can communicate with your spouse in a way that sets the stage for how you would like your marriage to work. The bride could say something like the following: “I am asking your sister-in-law to be a bridesmaid because I know that it is important to your mother. I understand that she feels invested in our wedding, and I want her to be happy, but I want you to know that going forward, I would like for us to make decisions together about our lives, without your mother’s input.”
Although it may sound counterintuitive, honoring the wishes of an intervening mother-in-law can help you on your journey to a strong, independent nuclear family of your own. A bride who honors the wishes of her mother-in-law shows generosity of spirit, which engenders goodwill between her and her husband, which creates the warmth and trust necessary for a strong marriage, the kind of marriage where husband and wife put each other first. Sometimes you need to lose the battle to win the war.