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Nine Bridesmaids in Blush & Bashful: When Your Family Wants to Pick Your Wedding Party

By Amalah

Oh Amy, I’ve been engaged a month and I can already tell my family and I are not going to be getting along until the wedding is over. My fiancé’s mom is amazing and told me (and meant it) that I could do whatever I wanted, it’s my day. My mom said the same thing and clearly did not mean it. So far I’ve been given less than helpful “advice” and guilt trips on several topics. Most I’ve been able take in stride and realize my mom is trying to help even if she is going against the “you can do whatever you want” she told me.
The only thing that is currently still bothering me is the bridesmaids. I told my mom we haven’t finalized how many people we were having but at a minimum I’m having my friend that introduced me to my fiancé’, my sister and his sister. She was not happy with that and told me I have to have my sister-in-law as well. I have been in both my brother and sister’s weddings and my sister-in-law is someone that includes everyone. My mom and sister both think I’m going to upset her if I don’t ask her. I am over a decade younger than her and she’s only been in the family 3 years, when I call her house she will only answer the phone if my brother isn’t there and the first thing she tells me is my brother isn’t there. I would be ok with having her but I feel if I have her my brother-in-law should be a groomsman and my fiancé’ doesn’t really want to include in-laws which I understand. If I go with the “I was in her wedding so I need to ask her to be in mine” mentality, I still have 2 other friends I have to ask and that gets me up to 6 bridesmaids, which is just a far bigger bridal party than my fiancé and I want in the first place.
How do I upset the fewest people? I know it’s supposed to be my day but my family tends to add drama where it really doesn’t need to be so I’m trying to avoid as much as possible.
Trying to avoid being a bridezilla

Well, as I’m sure you know (after consulting every wedding etiquette book out there), there isn’t a hard and fast rule to defer to on this one. The bridal party is *technically* the bride and groom’s final call, but like All Things Wedding, it’s also one of those things that a lot of brides and families end up compromising on.
I can safely make this guess though: there’s probably no completely drama-free solution that ends with you NOT asking your sister-in-law. Even if she isn’t upset that you don’t ask her (and she very well might not care at all…being a bridesmaid involves a lot more work than just showing up, gift in hand, and not everybody is jumping at the opportunity to wear expensive matching dresses and plan shower games and be at your beck and call for a weekend, believe it or not)…your mom is clearly set on making this a Thing. She will make this a Thing, mark my words, even if your SIL is completely okay with not being in the wedding.
So here’s where you prioritize. What do you want MOST of all? Upsetting the fewest number of people? A small wedding party? Or just the blessed illusion that you’re calling the shots at your own wedding?
If your priority is avoiding family drama, you’re probably going to have to suck it up and compromise here. You certainly won’t be the first (or the last) bride who includes an in-law or a distant cousin for the sole purpose of not rocking the family boat. You can try talking about the issue one more time — maybe mention your fiance’s preference for no in-laws, or claim that including an in-law on your side will cause problems and drama on HIS side. Or, you know, talk to your sister-in-law openly and directly (gasp!) and find out first-hand if your mother is really speaking for her in regards to hurt feelings or an expectation of being in your wedding.
If it’s a small wedding party…well…from the impartial-third-person sideline over here, that’s a tough sell, even for me. You mention two more friends you’d like included, which is a party of FIVE, which is…already not small. Going from five to six doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, compromise-wise. Digging in your heels over five vs. six might make you look a little petty, like you’re DELIBERATELY snubbing your SIL. (I know you’re not! I’m just very experienced with Drama Queen Families and the way things get blown all out of proportion.)
I DON’T think that including your SIL automatically means including your brother-in-law, by the way — that’s going for completely unnecessary symmetry. Unless someone thinks HIS feelings will be hurt by not being asked, and oh haaaaaaa, how funny this situation is once you reverse the sexes, no? Women and weddings. Sigh.
If, more than avoiding the dreaded Thing, this is about avoiding the damn Guilt Trips and having control over your own wedding…I do feel you on that one. I can make a reasonable guess that even if you dig your heels in and state that sorry, no in-laws in the wedding party, the end, there will be other guilt trips down the road. Feel free to stick to your guns on this one, but remember that there’s rarely any real precedent-setting when it comes to weddings and families. Your mother isn’t going to open her mouth to kvetch about the rehearsal dinner invite list or the fact that you don’t want your neighbor’s sister’s cousin to bake your wedding cake and think, “Oh, well, she didn’t listen to me about the bridesmaids, why bother saying anything now?” Just doesn’t work like that. ESPECIALLY if your family is paying for the wedding, in part or in whole. Pick your battles, essentially, and figure out what are the absolute most important, most-worthy-of-family-angst sticking points for the wedding, and let the rest roll off your back.
(For the record, I had my sister-in-law in my wedding, along with just one of my four brothers, her husband. They are now divorced. I see her much more often than my actual brother who is frankly, not a nice person anymore. And Jason hasn’t spoken with his best man in close to eight years now [he forgot to take the day off work and left in the middle of the reception]. Today, our choice of a wedding party elicits little more than an eyeroll [seriously, he left! to go work a shift at Pizza Hut!] — if we can even remember who was in the wedding party vs. who just attended without looking at photos. In other words, I know this seems like an ULTRA-IMPORTANT thing right now, but it really isn’t. You’re marrying him, not the wedding party.)
One last idea, in the name of compromise…is there another role you could assign to your sister-in-law that would “include” her in the day? Could she do a reading during the ceremony, man the guestbook or other wedding-planner-type duties? I’ve attended weddings where a relative or not-quite-best-friend type person did everything from lighting candles, distributing favors, playing the piano during the cocktail hour, etc. You might find your solution if you get a little creative and think outside the bridesmaid box, so to speak.

Published July 7, 2008. Last updated July 7, 2008.
About the Author

Amy Corbett Storch


Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Ama...

Amalah is a pseudonym of Amy Corbett Storch. She is the author of the Advice Smackdown and Bounce Back. You can follow Amy’s daily mothering adventures at Amalah. Also, it’s pronounced AIM-ah-lah.

If there is a question you would like answered on the Advice Smackdown, please submit it to [email protected].

Amy also documented her second pregnancy (with Ezra) in our wildly popular Weekly Pregnancy Calendar, Zero to Forty.

Amy is mother to rising first-grader Noah, preschooler Ezra, and toddler Ike.

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  • Jenny

    July 7, 2008 at 12:15 pm

    I agree with Amy that in the end this is your call, but I wouldn’t expect your mom to come to that same conclusion 🙂
    One thing I’ll add to the conversation is that, in the end, having family in your wedding party might mean more to you in 20 years. It’s less likely (although as Amy pointed out, not impossible) that one of your bridesmaids will end up being someone you haven’t talked to in 10 years.

  • SSU

    July 7, 2008 at 12:30 pm

    Another option would be to give the SIL a position in the wedding without having her IN the wedding. At my brother’s wedding, one of my sisters was in charge of handing out the programs. The other two of us weren’t in it at all (they only have four in the wedding party). You can be creative with that all you want.

  • Jessica

    July 7, 2008 at 12:56 pm

    Include her. Seriously, it’s not that big of a deal overall, and her feelings probably will be hurt, and even though it’s your mom’s thing, suck it up and just do it. My sister-in-law, who was 9 years older than me when I got married and had JUST had a baby, was in my wedding party. We really don’t have much in common besides the last name and an unnatural love for Target, but I’ve never regretted it because if she hadn’t been in the same dress as my sister in the wedding pictures I would feel terrible. Ask your friends to do the readings (which is what I did for friends where I was in their weddings, but they weren’t in mine…), but put your sister-in-law in the wedding party.
    Also a word of advice… KEEP A LOT OF WINE HANDY 🙂

  • Diana

    July 7, 2008 at 1:02 pm

    I highly recommend thinking about alternate roles people can play in the wedding – I had one good friend who I wanted to include but who didn’t really want to be a bridesmaid, so I put her in charge of running the rehearsal (sounds odd, but it was perfect for her), our siblings and their spouses were the first people who processed down the aisle (carrying the huppah into place) and they then sat down for the ceremony. We also had friends and relatives read blessings during the ceremony. There are LOTS of ways to include people in your wedding aside from being bridesmaids…

  • jodifur

    July 7, 2008 at 1:08 pm

    I say talk to you sister in law. I’ve been in 20 weddings and never want to be in another one. But I know when my SIL gets married she will ask me out of obligation. I’d rather she not. So, talk to her.
    Also, Amy is right. My husband doesn’t speak to his best man either and I don’t talk to 2 of my bridesmaids. In all honesty, if I had to do it all over again I’d have my sister maybe his sister and that’s it. Bridal parties are more trouble then they are worth.
    I’m sunshine and light today.

  • JP

    July 7, 2008 at 1:46 pm

    I would be totally happy to be asked to read or pass out birdseed/bubbles/petals than have to buy an ugly, expensive dress. (Just make sure to invite those people to the rehersal dinner, too. It’s nice.) Being a bridesmaid isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.
    Could you maybe have a heart-to-heart with your SIL and see what she wants? Explain that you’d be happy to have her in the party if she really wants to be, but you’d like to keep it small and she could do X instead and still be involved. Or maybe that just sounds lame…
    Hey! I was a bridesmaid in my sister’s wedding and less than four years later, she’s getting divorced. I still haven’t been reimbursed for picking up her gown from being preserved.

  • robin

    July 7, 2008 at 2:06 pm

    If your aim is to get through this wedding without upsetting anyone, it won’t work.
    Why can’t you thank your mom for her suggestion and just politely say no with no excuse? Why are we so desperate for mom’s approval here (along with the 45 other family members). It’s YOUR day. Do it the way you want to!

  • sasha

    July 7, 2008 at 2:12 pm

    I second, third, fourth, whatever the suggestion to talk to your sister-in-law.
    At my brother’s wedding, his fiancee had her two sisters and her closest friend as bridesmaids. As the sister of the groom, I was not invited to be in the wedding party, and believe me, I was truly much more relieved than anything else.
    My mother, it turns out years later, resented my not being invited but kept silent for years until she recently mentioned the burning resentment she’d been harboring unnecessarily on my behalf all this time. (By the way, my brother and s-i-l separated less than nine months later and are divorced.)
    So talk to the sister-in-law, and if she genuinely doesn’t want to be in the bridal party, you might even be able to ask her to tell your mother that, or support you when YOU do. It would be hard for your mother to pull the Guilt Queen moves in the face of that.
    Good luck.
    PS Kudos to your future mother-in-law. She sounds like a good one!

  • sarah

    July 7, 2008 at 2:22 pm

    If there’s any way to keep your wedding party as small as possible, with only the people that you WANT there, and not OBLIGATED to include, do so. Bridesmaid-ing is a responsibility, not just wearing the dress. Throughout the day, wedding guests will recognize them as someone who is in the know about the events of the day, and ask them questions as if they were your ambassadors. You also want to have people in the party who are there to support you, however unglamorous the task.(Is your sister-in-law someone that you want holding your dress while you pee?) When you need something, and can give a directive to someone by saying “Get one of my bridesmaids!” would you be comfortable with her being the one to respond?
    As Amy pointed out, there are plenty of other honored responsibilities that can be passed out to people you would like to be included. My husband & I each had one attendant (I have very few close girlfriends, he has 80 zillion guy friends), but we had a few people handing out programs (and goodie bags of quiet activities for the kids – there were lots there,and I believe that if you’re asking them to keep quiet, give ’em something to do), a few more handing out water (beach wedding), two doing readings, and the minister was a friend. Lots of inclusion, but nothing obligated. If you can play up the “We want people to enjoy it, not have to work the whole time” to your mom, then dole out different tasks as if they were as momentous as being in the wedding party, (especially if they are suited to their strengths) people will feel honored and included.

  • CLK

    July 7, 2008 at 5:04 pm

    I haven’t spoken to one of my bridesmaids since my wedding day. If I had to do it all over again, I would have just not included her. I felt like I had to so that her feelings were not hurt. Instead, I probably hurt other people much more and they still speak to me!

  • Alison

    July 7, 2008 at 7:40 pm

    I agree with Robin. If you’re old enough to get married, you’re old enough to decide what you want to do and tell your mom your decision. If you end up deciding not to include your SIL, it sounds like this: “Mom, I’ve thought about what you said and I appreciate your input. Ultimately, I decided to do it a different way.”

  • Muirnait

    July 7, 2008 at 8:58 pm

    Well, I’ve been on the other side of this one – my sister didn’t include my in her wedding party, but had my two other sisters. Apparently she thought that because I’m quite overweight I’d be uncomfortable standing up there with the thin sisters. Family can be so special 😉
    Remember that as important as this day, it’s about more than a wedding, but about marriage, and a life. Do what will make you and those you love happy LONG TERM. I totally agree with the others who say talk to her though – even if it’s just to tell her why you don’t want to ask her. And the other roles idea is great too – I ended up playing piano for my sister. (After I got over being hurt and pissy and almost refusing to go :P)

  • Carrie

    July 8, 2008 at 8:31 am

    OK, so I’ve never been married, nor am I remotely close, but watching other people go through it makes me realise if the day ever comes, Vegas and no family is the way to go. I don’t really understand the hurt that comes out of weddings. It’s the couple’s day in the end, and it should be what they want. If you’re asked to be a part of it, Yay! That’s an honour and lovely. If not, fair enough. There could be a million reasons why, whether it’s the size of the wedding or money or whatever. Give them your best wishes and move on.

  • MrsHaley

    July 8, 2008 at 1:00 pm

    Elope. The drama is SO not worth it. You’ll be just as married as if you had a big cupcake hoo-ha and lots of resentment and hurt feelings. As evidenced by Amy’s advice and several comments, you won’t even know half these people in 5 years anyway. Seriously. Call me jaded, but the whole “traditional wedding” thing is overrated. A wedding is one day … a marriage is a LIFETIME. Focus your energy on that instead. It’s more important.

  • Karen

    July 8, 2008 at 2:24 pm

    I had my heart set on a small wedding party. Being a big gay wedding, we were already untraditional, so it was like this: For me, my brother was my best man (and I’m more femme than my wife.) My bestest friend was my bridesmaid. The end. For my wife, her sister was her matron of honor, and her bestest friend was her bridesmaid. The end.
    We included our sisters-in-law (one each) by having them each do a reading. And her brother was an usher, along with my uncle.
    There were other friends who could have been included, but keeping the wedding party small (actually small) makes it easier to leave someone out of it without hurting their feelings (not many people would object to my brother and bestest friend being picked, if we’re limiting it to two.)

  • ikate

    July 8, 2008 at 4:11 pm

    MrsHaley is right – ELOPE! This drama is SOOO not worth it. The Wedding and marriage is about you and your guy – not making mom and SIL happy.
    We semi-eloped (small, small wedding in other country with only 5 guests) then had a huge party (AKA reception) a month later at home. The wedding was exactly what we both wanted with only our closest peeps there, the reception was a blast and I wore my dress again(!). I also had time to focus on the party guests as I wasn’t starry-eyed from just saying my vows or anxious about leaving on a honeymoon.
    Best of both worlds and NO drama.

  • Marnie

    July 8, 2008 at 8:11 pm

    What started as a long-winded post about my own two weddings boils down to this: The wedding is between you and your husband-to-be. You should make it “your” (plural) day. Ask him what he thinks, and let him back you up on your decision. It sounds better coming from both of you, and it’s a good lesson in how to tackle family issues together. ‘Cause believe me, this isn’t the first, and it’s probably not even the most drama you’re going to see in your married life. Figuring out how to support one another through it now will last you a lifetime.

  • Kimmers

    July 9, 2008 at 9:47 am

    ikate – that is EXACTLY what my boyfriend would like to maybe do when we get married, and I think somehow your comment has made me feel more open to it. You make a good point about being able to actually focus on your guests and enjoy your reception instead of being exhausted and looking ahead to the honeymoon. Plus, the thought of a beachside wedding in the Carib does hold a certain appeal… 🙂

  • Ann

    July 10, 2008 at 11:09 am

    I second (or third?) the elope suggestion. This is only the beginning of de DRAMA, y’all. Save your money and your sanity and elope! We ran off to Barbados for a week and a beach wedding four years ago and it was the smartest thing I ever did.
    No, really. ELOPE already. You can thank me later.

  • ksmaybe

    July 10, 2008 at 11:10 am

    It may not help you, but we drew the line at married or not. My husband is the youngest of 4 and I’m the middle of 3. Only my younger brother was single, so he was a groomsman. All other siblings and siblings-in-law were out. No one seemed offended. We had some large age differences at play too. I mean, did my husbands 45 year-old sister-in-law really want this job anyway? So, the easy way to not have a bridal party comprised only of 4 bridesmaids and 4 groomsman who were nearly all 10 + years older than us was to just not ask married people.

  • Erica

    July 10, 2008 at 12:41 pm

    Best advice I got about wedding planning:
    Pick the three most important things that you want to have happen that day.
    Your fiancee gets three things too.
    The two of you make those things your non-negotiables and defend them to the death… and let everything else go. Because … really. It’s a fun, fabulous, memorable day, but not with all the stress of the up tight relationship drama. And it’s only ONE DAY! The marriage should be the fun part.
    Since my Mom was paying for our wedding, we gave her three things to protect and have for sure as well. Seemed fair, 🙂

  • Hope

    July 10, 2008 at 1:42 pm

    I just got married in June and right from the start I told everyone it was MY day and I would not compromise with anyone but my husband on anything.
    My older brother was my “maid of honor” with my younger brother and my sister-in-law also standing up for me.
    My husband had his bestfriend since 3rd grade as his best man, and brother and sister stand up for him.
    It worked out best that way because my older brother is my best friend, and I would have been sad to see him deminished to “groomsman” status had we been more traditional. So why not make him my maid of honor? And I’m not really close at all with my husband’s sister, so why have her stand up on my side? She’s HIS sister!
    This is a wordy way of saying, do what you want. The people who stand up for you should be those closest to you who will see that the day goes as planned. My brothers carried walkie-talkies and made sure everything was in its place while my sister-in-law helped me into my dress. I wouldn’t change it for the world.

  • jmylaw

    July 10, 2008 at 6:24 pm

    I think Amy misunderstood the question–she would only ask the other two friends if she went with the “I was in her wedding so I have to ask her to be in mine” process. Otherwise, she only wants to have three bridesmaids, period.
    I say go with your original plan. Those three sound like people you’ll be close to for a long time, and it doesn’t sound like you and SIL have much of a relationship. Your mom will get over it and find something new to bother you about, I guarantee. And your SIL will more than likely be relieved.

  • Maycn

    July 18, 2008 at 3:04 pm

    My hubby was an “oops I thought I was going into menopause” baby, so he’s like 11 years younger than his siblings, then, I’m 7 years younger than him…so his sisters are, well, not my demographic, but we included their kids, which was perfect because some of them are closer to my age and the littlest ones were SOOO cute in their little tiny tux and flowergirl dress, and, we completely avoided any drama.

  • Aimee1966

    August 1, 2009 at 10:15 pm

    I’ve known my SIL for 17 years, we are the same age, and she didn’t ask me to be in her wedding. She also didn’t include my daughter, her only niece and godchild. I was always under the impression that we were close. (We’ve always spent vacations, holidays, birthdays and family dinners together.) No so much, I guess! I’m a little taken aback. On the one hand, it WAS her day and I absolutely feel that she should do what she wants. But on the other hand, I know you choose people you want to honor to be your bridesmaids, and I’m clearly not one of those people. It’s definitely a painful realization.

  • Tina

    March 5, 2010 at 2:56 pm

    I have 3 soon to be sister-in-law’s That I like alot and I’m trying to figure out a role they can play in my wedding without them actually being in the wedding party..Any suggestions would be great..