Escalating plans price her out of being a bridesmaid

Question: My friend is getting married. It started with the idea of having a small ceremony in the park, going to her place afterward for dinner. Later, we would put our children to sleep under a babysitter's care and go out dancing to a club. Then it changed into something bigger - rustic setting with bridesmaids, but still a bit casual. Now, it has blown into a big fancy place with matching outfits for bridesmaids. All seven bridesmaids have families with kids, and are now required to have same-color dresses and professional makeup. My family is on one income, and the expenses come up to more than $1,000. How can I get out of it without hurting her feelings or breaking my bank (or robbing a bank)?

Answer: People talk about "wedding markup" mostly with respect to vendors.

But the more significant wedding markup might apply to the emotions surrounding them.

What you describe here is a simple, factual case of being priced out of something. "I could afford the original version of [blank], but now with all the changes, it's too expensive for me."

Maybe saying this wouldn't be the most fun you've had all summer, but you'd still probably have no trouble saying it if [blank] were, say, a day trip to another city.

That [blank] is a wedding inflates it to a matter of fear, dread, guilt, and hurt feelings.

You can, though, choose to deflate your part of it, and deliberately treat it as a simple, factual case of being priced out of an activity.

Tell your friend that you were honored to be included and that you support her having the wedding she wants, in whatever form it takes, but that you regret you can't afford to be a bridesmaid. Offer to help her in some other capacity, of course, that allows you to be there just as a guest.

If she takes offense at your not having a disposable $1,000 - and don't call it anything else, because that's all that's at stake here - that's on her, not you.

Question: I am a grandmother of a lovely 8-year-old boy whose parents are about to separate. I am supportive of both parents and want only the best for them and my grandson. It seems very amicable, and I know they will coparent with only the best interests of my grandson at heart.

I never insert myself into family members' private business, but I do want to be supportive of my grandson, as he is the one I am most concerned about. I don't really know what to do, though. They are two states away from me, and although I can call my grandson, I don't know what to say.

Do I just act like nothing is going on and not ask leading questions? I remember as a child that when I was upset about adult issues or confused by my parents' marriage, it never occurred to me to speak up and ask questions. I suspect it's probably that way for many children.

Should I somehow let him know I will be there for him if he wants to talk to someone other than his parents about this serious upheaval in his life? Any suggestions about what to do or not do?

Answer: You've already covered many of the important points just by asking this question. You care about the boy, understand how vulnerable he is in this situation, know he might not be able to articulate his feelings, know not to take sides, are mindful of your place, and are not rushing in to the rescue. Though your grandson is, indeed, in a tough spot, he is also fortunate to have as steadfast an ally as he does in you.

My only suggestion is that you extend your good sense from thoughts to actions. Apply your understanding of your grandson's position by explicitly offering him a place to talk, no judging. Apply your mindfulness of boundaries by mentioning your intentions to the parents first so they can trust you won't usurp, undermine, or (further) divide them.

And apply your natural reticence by not forcing the issue beyond plain, gentle, and infrequent offers to listen if he wants to talk. Your grandson might need prompting to speak up and ask questions, but he also might feel better with your remaining as one small part of his family life that isn't affected by his parents' divorce.

People who aren't certain what a person needs are sometimes the first to recognize what someone wants.

One caveat that might point to your course of action: Kids who start spending time with their parents separately sometimes have less time to spend with their extended families. Therefore, it might not matter so much what you talk about when you call as that you just call. If it maintains the tie, even talking about the weather will do.

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Chat with Carolyn Hax online at noon Fridays at www.washingtonpost.com.