Beyond the couple of the hour, there are a few people who stand out as wedding day VIPs. And of that inner circle, perhaps no one is celebrated more—or watched more carefully—than the mothers of the bride and groom. No matter which half of the couple she raised, a mom’s big-day place of honor is pretty much a given. “The moms are very important,” event planner Kisha Barner confirms. “We treat them with the highest regard.”
Meet the Expert
Still, with great visibility comes great responsibility. (That’s how the saying goes, right?) In order to ensure the day is full of nothing but wonderful memories for her child, there are certain faux pas that—while easy to make in the moment—Mom should take care to avoid at all costs. Here, Barner and fellow event planner Stephanie Sadowski weigh in on 11 etiquette mistakes that mothers of the bride and groom regularly make on the wedding day—and offer their tips and expert advice for what they should do, instead.
Dominating the Guest List
While choosing the attendees happens long before the wedding day, Barner notes that this is one of the most common ways Moms tend to push the etiquette envelope—and it can have a major impact on a couple’s overall enjoyment of the actual wedding day. Sure, you’re entitled to have some of your dearest relatives and friends at the event, but that privilege doesn’t necessarily extend to Janice in accounting or your hairdresser of 15 years. “Having those conversations ahead of time and being respectful of boundaries is important,” says Barner. “Make sure that your list is okay with the couple, especially if they’re footing the bill.”
Even if money isn’t an issue, you’ll still want to take into account the couple’s personal preferences—especially if they’re not particularly extroverted. “Some couples just want [to be surrounded by] people they know personally,” Barner adds. From there, compromises should be made in accordance with their wishes. If your closest neighborhood pals must make the list, that might mean the crew you volunteer with unfortunately does not.
Deciding on Hair and Makeup the Morning Of
“Everything for a wedding day is plotted out in five-to-10-minute increments, and hair and makeup sets the tone for the whole day, scheduling-wise,” says Sadowski. Whether it’s because she doesn’t want to come off as vain or feel like an imposition, Mom might feel hesitant about asking to take part in the hair and makeup services. Unfortunately, the day of the wedding—and, sometimes, even a few days before it—is too late for a change of heart, as it might severely delay the timeline or, in some cases, require the booking of more artists.
While Mom might think she can be quickly squeezed in with a quick blow-dry and a swipe of mascara and blush, the opposite is usually the case. “Hair and makeup people spend the most time preparing the bride, but moms falls next in line,” Barner says. Meaning even more attention will be paid to your look, so it’s important to opt into the services well in advance.
Showing Up Late (to Anything!)
A wedding is a full day, but it’s only one day—so every second counts. “And this day is not going to happen again,” Barner adds. “You have one chance to get it right.” So, while Mom is undoubtedly a major VIP, that doesn’t mean she’s not beholden to the schedule of the events. It’s important she has a clear idea of where to show up and at what time—and that she sticks to it.“ If we are looking for Mom for grand entrances, for example, that could take five to 10 minutes,” says Sadowski. “And then that is five to 10 minutes the couple has lost from open dancing at the reception.”
Adding in Portraits
Family portraits typically happen within a small window of time during the cocktail hour. In order to cover every grouping requested, a schedule needs to be followed—which means Mom needs to coordinate her wishlist with the couple, and that list needs to be communicated to the photographer ahead of the big day. “If Mom keeps adding different groupings, that’s going to cut into a couple’s time for enjoying cocktail hour,” says Sadowski.
As Barner explains, finding the folks necessary for those unexpected portraits can also impact other guests’ experience of the big day. If, for example, Great Aunt Sue doesn’t know she’s needed for a portrait, a cousin may have to be enlisted to locate her, which could lead to that cousin being late to her own portrait, and so forth.
Micromanaging the Photographer
Wedding photographers are professionals. Their years of experience have taught them how to stay attuned to the crowd, notice unexpected moments, and be front-and-center for the big things. They don’t need Mom watching over their shoulder ensuring the day is captured “properly,” and she doesn’t need to waste her valuable time directing them back and forth across the reception.
“Just as much as this is the couple’s special day, it’s also a once-in-a-lifetime moment for parents, as well,” says Sadowski. “They have all their family and friends gathered in one room, and we really want them to enjoy every moment of it. If they are micromanaging the photographer and not letting them do their job, Mom is not getting to enjoy the wedding day as much as she should be.”
Not Acting as a Liaison for Her Family
One of the best ways for Mom to help out on and before the wedding day is to serve as a central hub of communication for her side of the family. If she can ensure that her VIPs know where and when to show up for important things such as the wedding rehearsal and cocktail hour photos (see above), then that’s one less thing the couple has to worry about.
“Create a group chat to communicate information,” suggests Barner. “If you call one by one, you might remember to tell one person everything, but leave something off with another.” Sadowski, for her part, suggests a few friendly reminder emails in advance, and also handing out welcome letters in the welcome bags that spell out key details.
It’s okay to fib a little about wedding day timelines, especially when it involves gathering disparate groups in one place on a tight schedule. “People never show up on time,” Barner says. “If photos start at 4, tell them 3:30.”
Changing Something Without the Couple’s Permission
"A couple puts countless hours into planning their wedding day,” says Sadowski. “Even with something that goes by in the blink of a minute, like a mother-son dance, hours of thought and discussion has gone into the decision.” For that reason, both she and Barner strongly feel that these choices need to be respected—and cannot be changed by mothers behind the couple’s backs.
Moms also do not have carte blanche to add to the wedding day. So even if her beloved brother Uncle Frank decides at the last minute he wants to give a toast, she should not give that the green light, no matter how beloved Frank might be. To prevent sticky situations like these, Barner even goes so far as to specifically ask her couples, in a written questionnaire, who has permission to speak on the wedding day. If Uncle Frank isn’t listed, he won’t be given the microphone, no matter how insistent Mom is.
Not Making Time for What Matters Most
Wedding days can feel like a whirlwind of peonies, fondant, and other material details, but it’s important not to forget the sentimental significance of the day, as well. You loved your child long before their future spouse, and it’s more than okay to reaffirm those feelings! Carve out a few moments to connect and share how proud you are of them on this special day.
While mothers of the bride typically have ample opportunity to share these feelings during the getting ready portion of the morning, mothers of the groom can be overlooked in the process. To correct for this, “I schedule time for moms to see their sons after they’re both dressed to have a special one-on-one before the hustle and bustle of the wedding day starts,” says Sadowski.
Expressing Disapproval Over the Details
Maybe you’re still convinced the couple should have sprung for the raw bar, but they went with a charcuterie station. Maybe you wish their ceremony was more religious, or that they’d invited more of your extended family to the celebration. Whatever your differences may be, the wedding day is not the time to restart the argument. By this time, these details have been settled, and there likely won’t be an opportunity to change them, so what’s to be accomplished by raising a fuss? “It’s just going to stress the bride and groom out unnecessarily, when they should be relaxed and having the time of their lives,” says Barner.
Drinking Too Much
Though you should absolutely revel in the celebration, there is a fine (and important!) line between a few celebratory glasses of Champagne and over-imbibing. Plan your alcohol consumption in a way that allows you to be fully present for and remember the entire event, and also able to help out should any snafus or emergencies arise. “We would not want Mom to be what everyone is talking about at brunch the next day,” says Sadowski.
Wearing Any Shade of White
In Western weddings, the color white has long been reserved for the bride and bride alone. Mom should avoid wearing anything in that color family, including ivories and cream. “If it’s going to compete with your daughter or daughter-in-law, that’s not something you want to happen,” says Barner.
Instead, “we encourage couples to share design boards with Mom, so she knows the overall color palette and what the bridesmaids are wearing,” says Sadowski. Mom can choose a complementary shade from there, or, if she wants to play it totally risk-free, she may want to opt for navy. “It’s a very safe color and always looks elegant,” Sadowski adds.