Let’s Stop the Judgmental Mommy Culture

Let’s talk about the judgmental mommy culture that we’re living in right now. Isn’t motherhood hard enough not knowing exactly the right thing to do without being judged all the time? I hear my mommy friends second-guess the choices they’re making all the time.
“Do I breastfeed?”
“Should I pierce my baby’s ears?”
“Do I let my baby cry it out?” 
“To circumcise or not to circumcise?”
When I hear judgment from one mom to another, it makes me sad because while it’s a beautiful experience, it’s also quite hard. Lots of mothers want to share their baby knowledge with every new mom. The issue is in how it is presented.  If an epidural worked for you, it may not work for the next mom. If you and your husband co-sleep and it’s amazing, it might not be amazing for your friend and her husband. That doesn’t mean that they’re doing a bad job. I won’t even touch the vaccination debate. I went with a friend to get her daughter’s ears pierced when she was 3-months-old. I took pictures for her and she nervously said, “Don’t put these on Facebook. I don’t want anyone saying anything about me piercing her ears so young.”  I was taken aback because I had never seen this type of insecurity with this particular friend before. Her main concern was that people would think that she was a bad mother because she pierced her daughter’s ears. Isn’t it hard enough making sure that the baby stays fed and happy than to have the added pressure of being judged for how you’re doing it?
Being an event planner, I’ve learned that the event is never just about the event.  When a bride gets married, the wedding has many layers. These layers are full of emotions and past experiences that come out in flowers, linens and dresses. Brides are constantly comparing their wedding to a friend’s and either wanting to do it better or wanting to do it completely different. There is unsolicited advice from past brides and plenty of whispers when the wedding is extravagant or low-key. This is all very true for children’s birthday parties.
I recently planned a birthday party for a 1-year-old whose mother wanted it to be very over-the-top. Her mother asked me to design and plan her daughter’s party.  She had a budget and a theme and told me to roll with it. Her mother kept emphasizing how important this party was to her. Now, we all know that the first birthday party is never for the child, right?  It’s always for the parents.
Social media went nuts over this party.  Personally, I did too! There were balloons and estate tables for the kids, a table full of candy and Elmo even made an appearance. Once the pictures started making the rounds, I read snarky comments about how extravagant the party was.

“Too bad they spent all of their money on this party for a kid who won’t remember it.  Now they can’t pay for college.”

“Well THIS is stupid for a 1-year old! Must be nice!”

Yes, it was nice to be able to throw this party for this little baby. What people didn’t know or even give thought to was what the child’s parents had to go through in order to have her. When talking to her mother, she explained how important this party was to her because it meant so much more than just celebrating her daughter’s first birthday. Remember, the event is never just about the event, right?  This party was a celebration coated in fertility issues and the general desire to have a baby and she finally had one. What more is there to say? You want an over-the-top party because you’re finally a mommy? Let’s do it!

It made me think about the friends that I have and friends of friends who have lost children during birth, lost children after birth and some who couldn’t conceive. I thought about how they would love to have a party for the children they dreamed of. Over-the-top or not, this was a celebration for the family. It shocked me that this party got so much judgment. I was shocked at the barrage of negativity.

My point is that you never really know what’s going on with someone behind closed doors. You never fully know why they decide to co-sleep, breastfeed or throw a huge party for their 1-year-old.  I get it. I get it. The kid isn’t going to remember the party so why spend all of this money? Why don’t we stop judging these mothers and start judging their husbands when they buy sports cars? We all know you can’t fit a car seat into a two-seater.


Death and a Wedding

I lost my soulmate on February 20, 2012.

It was 4:16pm and my phone rang. One of my close friends -- the hardest person to get a hold of -- was calling. The phone rang only once before she hung up. I called her back immediately because if she's calling even for a second, I want that second to talk. She was mumbling, almost whispering, when she answered the phone.

"Hey, I have to tell you something. You can't tell anyone though."

"Are you pregnant? Are you getting a divorce?" I asked.

"Quddus killed himself."

Everything stopped. I froze where I was. I didn't want to move because moving meant that he was actually dead and that I would have to feel it. I would have to feel things that I never felt before because Quddus was "home" for me. What do you do when "home" no longer means the same thing?

The scream that left my mouth followed by uncontrollable sobbing coursed through me like a freight train.

I met Quddus when I was 7 years old. We were going to a religious conference together and since we were both the youngest, we got stuffed into the back of his dad's station wagon. He played with his G.I. Joes and I pretended to care. When I got home that night, I told my mom that I was going to marry him. Whatever marriage meant to a 7 year old, that's what I wanted with him.

I was in love with him for the next 14 years. At 21, though, something changed. I felt like I couldn't connect with him in the way that we used to and that he wasn't trying anymore. I was afraid that our constant connection had started to fade. I didn't understand that he just couldn't connect. It was almost as if he disappeared.

Quddus had been suffering from bi-polar disorder for 12 years. You know when you drink too much and you regret it because you know what it's like to be sober? Quddus knew that it was like to be his old self but he could never get back. Our telephone conversations would leave me exhausted. I couldn't always understand his frustrations but I knew he needed me. When he called, I answered. I get very primal when it comes to protecting people I love. I protected Quddus like a lion and her cub.

He called me the week leading up to his death. I answered the phone and he sounded like himself. The Quddus I knew 12 years ago. I immediately started crying and said, "Oh my God! Are you back?! Are you back?" I never thought I'd hear that person ever again. He said, "I'm feeling really good. I'm doing really well." He made sure to tell me how much I meant to him and how much he loved me. He said so many things that I already knew, because he never kept his feelings from me, but it was so nice to hear it from the "old" Quddus. I didn't know it at the time, but he was saying goodbye. He wanted to make sure that I knew how much I meant to him...he was protecting me.

I had been working with the sweetest couple for over a year and their wedding was the same day as his funeral. When I called the bride to tell her that my assistant was going to have to take over for me, I tried to ease her mind about the wedding. Wedding planners are supposed to take the stress away from a bride, not add to it the week of. The bride got off the phone but called me back 10 minutes later. It was obvious that she had been crying. She said, "I wanted to call you and tell you that I'm not mad. I know I sounded mad before but I'm not. If you need to talk or come over for dinner, you know you can always come here." The bride's kindness caught me off guard and I could only get out, "Thank you" before I began sobbing.

He left a very clear and detailed goodbye letter which was read at the funeral. He was tired of struggling. He wanted to be free and this was his way. He had a list of people who he wanted to know meant something very important to him. When my name was read, it was like getting the wind knocked out of me.

His older brother was engaged and getting married four months later. Wedding planning came to a halt for a little while but picked back up a couple months after the funeral. There is always a fine line when helping with a friend's wedding. You want to be as professional as possible but they want you to have a good time. The hardest part about this wedding was that I was the coordinator -- and the friend who had lost her best friend four months earlier.

Robert was the typical groom. He didn't know any details of the wedding. He just knew when and where to be. After the funeral, he became even more detached from the actual wedding. The only time we ever talked about it was to let him know when I was getting into town. I was worried that everything would remind him of his little brother and that the wedding would be more painful than celebratory. There were 400 guests, 17 bridesmaids, 17 groomsmen and no Quddus. That reality was paralyzing.

I hopped into planner mode immediately. I pinned boutonnieres on all 17 groomsmen and each of them also wore a button with a heart and a "Q" in it. There wasn't a lot of mention of Quddus that day except for the photographer who yelled, "Is this it for Robert's family? Are there any more siblings? Are these all of the siblings? No more siblings?!" I politely told him to stop asking that question and explained the situation. When Robert walked down the aisle, he had the exact same look on his face as he did at Quddus' funeral which stopped me in my tracks. I was able to get the bridal party down the aisle before weeping uncontrollably in the back room. I knew the day would be hard but I wasn't expecting this.

Seeing everyone come together in such a solid way for the family during a tragedy and then months later for a celebration really taught me some valuable lessons:

• As important as a wedding is, you can't lose perspective. You may have to make some adjustments to the wedding because of the unexpected expense of a funeral. That won't ruin your day.

• Step in and be of service wherever you can. Weddings are stressful enough without having to deal with death. Pick up the phone and call the florist if that's what the couple needs. The little things are what really count.

• The biggest lesson that I learned when dealing with death and a wedding is that it's okay to be sad and grieve and it is just as okay to celebrate and rejoice in the happiness of a wedding. I think some people may feel guilty enjoying themselves so soon after such a tragedy. Love and laughter are both good for the soul...I've never been to a wedding that didn't have both.


4 Steps to Help You Stay in Your Lane During the Planning Process

If I had a dollar for every time someone told me that their aunt or mom's best friend "did" weddings, I'd be able to retire. People attend weddings and don't realize how much work actually goes into making them successful. I can't tell you how many times I have encountered an aunt's hurt feelings because she wasn't asked to help with the wedding. Honestly, if your niece cared for your opinion, she would have asked you to plan it and not me.
I recently had a nightmarish experience with a mother and aunt-of-the-bride. The mother/daughter dynamic is always an interesting one. Either they are best friends or there is a constant power struggle. This mother/daughter/aunt trio was chalk-full of drama. I normally take a backseat so as to not ruffle too many feathers and only step in when I think a wrong decision is being made. From the tasting to the rehearsal, the power struggle was in full effect. The aunt whispered "I'm really the one in charge here" to the staff as she left the tasting. She showed up to the rehearsal with a clipboard, because all wedding planners use clipboards, and interrupted all of my instructions with what she thought was best. Wedding day felt like a WWF wrestling match between her mother, aunt and I. They were more focused on proving that they knew what was best than the bride enjoying her day. My job is to make sure that after all of the months of planning, the bride gets what she wants.
Here are some tips on how to stay in your lane and allow the professionals to do their job during the planning process:
1. This is not the Oscars. No one is winning an award for the Best Supporting Aunt/Mother Duo in a Drama. Give your opinion once and if the bride or wedding planner decides not to run with it, let it go. Pushing your opinion to the point of confrontation only makes you look crazy. It becomes clear that you are more focused on being right than keeping the bride happy. She hired a planner for a reason.
2. "I'm Type A" does not give you a pass to hound your vendors. This is what we do every single day. Micromanaging doesn't make your wedding perfect, it just annoys your vendors.
3. Listen to the professionals. I recently had a bride ask me to plan her final walk through at the venue 3 months before her wedding. I told her that I typically schedule them 1 month before because so many things can change in between that time. She wasn't happy with that answer. To be honest, your florist, caterer and venue aren't thinking about the details of your wedding 3 months ahead of time because they have 12 other weddings before yours. Brides don't want to hear that but it's the truth.
4. Bossy bridesmaids don't make the day run smoother. Every once in awhile I encounter bridesmaidzillas who think that their job is to keep the wedding planner, dj and photographer on task. "Aren't we supposed to be taking pictures now?" or "Shouldn't we pose with our bouquets like this?" and "I think we need to get this show on the road!" Yes, I've heard all of these before. If we are off of your assumed schedule, it isn't because the photographer is leisurely sipping a cup of tea or the planner just wants to make you wait. There are so many things that happen during a wedding, it's almost unbelievable. Your job as a bridesmaid is to support your best friend during the most important day of her life. Understand that we both have her best interest at heart.
Remember that weddings are a production and in order for the show to run smoothly, you have to allow the professionals to do their job. If you, as a mother or aunt or best friend, think that the bride made a mistake by hiring a certain vendor or booking a certain venue, let it go. Be supportive in her decision and remember that the day is all about her.

How to NOT Ruin Your Wedding

A few months ago, I had a client who was determined to be miserable during the planning of her wedding and especially on her wedding day. Months before, she forwarded an email to me from her florist who was informing her that they could no longer provide flowers for her wedding. She said, "Have you ever seen anything like this before?" I hadn't. I told her that I'd find a new florist for her. I found out that it came down to a personality conflict and the florist wasn't going to deal with her.
A few weeks after that, we were sitting in a planning session where all she did was complain about how her bridesmaids weren't doing enough. One of them had the "audacity" to have foot surgery before her wedding and wasn't going to be able to wear the heels that were picked out for her. She decided to kick that bridesmaid out because she just "knew" that it was done on purpose. How dare she have foot surgery!!
It wasn't until I was copied on a nasty email to the venue in which the bride laid out her conspiracy theory regarding chair ties, upgraded chairs and an apparent plot to steal her money. I emailed the bride immediately and explained that venue wasn't out to get her and that she shouldn't wage war against the director of her wedding venue. That's never a good idea. The emails never stopped, by the way.
Wedding day was a nightmare in and of itself. The scowl on the bride's face was like nothing I've ever seen before. "Why would you put this lipstick on me knowing that I don't look good in this color?" and "Why do I have to fluff my dress out by myself?!" she barked at her bridesmaids. Everyone was on edge and there wasn't anything that could be done to make this bride happy. Not even her new husband who worked tirelessly the entire day to turn all of her negatives into positives. "It's ok that your comb fell out of your hair during the vows, it gives us a good story to tell."
I walked away from her wedding more exhausted mentally than any wedding I've ever had before. What was it that bothered me so much? Was it the scowl on her face? Was it her bridesmaids talking about her behind her back? Was it the fact that nothing was making her happy? Then I realized that it was the fact that rather than seeing the positive, she looked for every single negative thing and ruined her wedding for herself.
Don't' sweat the small stuff. You'd be shocked by how many things can go wrong on a wedding day but the more you look for things to go wrong, the more they will. The DJ cut off your favorite song right before your favorite part? That's okay. Dance to the next song.
It's okay to be a bride on a budget but don't be a budget bride. Sticking to a budget is essential for any wedding. Handing your florist100 and expecting 5,000 worth of flowers isn't going to happen. You'll just upset your vendors and make the planning more difficult. Find vendors within your price range.
Focus on your new husband, your family and friends who have come to share your special day and don't look for something to go wrong. Enjoy the day. Hopefully, it's the only wedding you'll have.

{photo credit: My Life Photography}

You're Engaged, Now What? Six Steps to Take Right After Becoming Engaged

Congratulations on your engagement! This is such an exciting time in your life and you don't want to be stressed out BUT you probably are. You've been waiting for him to propose and now that he has, everything is coming at you at high-speed. Many of my clients say that they had an idea of what they wanted their wedding to look like but once they got engaged, all of that went out the window. The engagement period really should be a time to celebrate this next step in your relationship, not a time to be consumed with planning and stress. Here are six planning steps to take within the first month of your engagement that will help take away some of that stress.
1. Pick a date or two. Picking a date gives you direction in the beginning. You may have a venue in mind that you've always wanted to be married in but they may be booked on your date. If you're flexible you may find more success in booking a venue.
2. Sit down with your fiancé and put together a budget. You won't know exactly what things cost immediately but come up with a number that you are comfortable with spending. If the average cost of a wedding in your city is $55,000 but you can only spend $30,000, that's your number. Now is not the time to try to keep up with the Joneses.
3. Hire a wedding planner. It kills me when I hear people say that a friend of a friend or their aunt who "does events" is going to handle their wedding. There is so much more to planning a wedding than fluffing your dress right before you walk down the aisle. We're here to ensure that you make it TO the aisle! Figure out what the most important things are that you are looking for in a planner and while you're interviewing, keep those things in mind. Don't hire someone based solely on their Instagram account or their pricing alone. Ask for references and talk to their previous clients. If you think it's expensive to hire a professional, try hiring an amateur. Trust me on this one.
4. Find a venue. Your venue will help you determine your guest list. If your dream venue can only hold 100 people but you have at least 200 that you want to invite, keep looking. This part takes a little bit of time because you have to make appointments to see each venue. Put together a list of 3 that you like and start there.
5. Make a guest list. I always tell my clients to make 3 lists. Your first consists of your family and friends who you would put into your lifeboat if you were on a sinking ship. You have limited space on this lifeboat so make those people count. Second, make a list of the people who you would add onto your boat if there were a few extra seats. These are cousins who you talk to at Christmas time and that's it. You'd like to see them at your wedding but if they aren't there, it won't ruin your day. The final list consists of those coworkers who you see 40 hours a week and commiserate about work with but you wouldn't pick up the phone to call them after 5:00pm. Remember that you have to feed each guest and that's where a huge chunk of your budget will go. If you wouldn't pay $100 for their meal, don't invite them. Making a guest list should be taken that seriously.
6. Designate a wedding-free time-zone. As involved as your fiancé may be, he doesn't want to talk about wedding details every day for the next year. No one wants to do that, not even you. There really isn't a need to talk about your wedding every day during your engagement. That's why you hire a planner to handle all of the little details so that your relationship doesn't become all about your wedding. Remember that you still have to take care of your relationship.

{photo credit: Dana Lee Jones Photography}


How to Be the Best Bridal Party

Being asked to be a bridesmaid or a groomsman is one of the highest honors given to a friend. Yes, it is a lot of work and sometimes it isn't fun but when your friend asks you to stand with them while they take this huge step in their lives, you do it... and you do it without any complaints. Unfortunately, that isn't always the way things go.
As a wedding planner, I am constantly observing people. It is my job to not only put out fires but to also anticipate the next move of the couple, guests, bridal party and vendors. There aren't a lot of things that are more annoying than a bridesmaid running to the bride about a problem at the wedding. From their feet hurting to not liking the menu, I've seen it all. Here are some tips to guide you down the road to being the best bridal party:
1. If you see a problem, don't go to the bride about it. I had a wedding recently where the florist was all over the place. Despite adding an extra hour to their arrival time, they were still late. I had already been on the phone with them checking their estimated arrival time while contacting another florist just in case. Two of the bridesmaids wandered into the ballroom and noticed that there weren't any flowers out. Soon after they left, I got a frantic call from the bride, worried about her flowers. All that did was freak the bride out for no reason. As her wedding planner, it is my job to extinguish any and all fires. Let your friend live in wedded oblivion for the day, please.
2. Be as self-sufficient as possible. If you are meeting the bride in her hotel room to get your hair and makeup done, it shouldn't be her job to figure out your parking and transportation situation. Parking at a hotel can be a bit costly. After paying for your dress, shoes, earrings, showers, parties, etc., the last thing you want to do is have to pay to park your car so that you can pay to get your makeup done. I get it but the bride and groom shouldn't have to be concerned with your logistics on the day.
3. Grin and bear it. When asked to be a member of a bridal party, be prepared to perform tasks that you don't necessarily want to. You might be asked to tie tiny ribbons onto 400 mini champagne bottles or help the groom transport random items to the venue. Whatever you're asked, no matter how absurd or tedious the task may seem, just do it and do it with a smile.
I can go on and on about ugly bridesmaid dresses and uncomfortable groomsmen shoes that you'll never wear again. It just comes with the bridal party territory. Unless you plan on not being in the wedding, do what the couple asks you to do. Remember, they asked you to stand with them for a reason.
4. Follow instructions. Can we talk wedding rehearsals for a second? The whole point of a rehearsal is to make everyone comfortable with how they'll be walking down the aisle, who they'll be walking with and where they'll be standing during the ceremony. Often times, the rehearsal is like a mini reunion. Maybe you haven't seen each other in years, maybe you have. Give each other a hug and get in line. Not only is it frustrating when people are talking while the planner is giving instructions, it's also rude. The faster you listen, the faster you can finish the rehearsal and get to the real party.
5. Be honest. It's expensive being in a wedding. The purchase of the dress, the rental of the tux, things add up quickly. If you can't afford to be in the wedding, be honest with the bride and groom and bow out gracefully. You shouldn't have to decide whether to pay your rent or buy your dress.

{Photo credit: Bri McDaniel Photography}

The Differences Between a Wedding Planner and Venue Coordinator

Alright, let’s talk about the differences between venue coordinators and wedding planners. As a wedding planner, one of my biggest pet peeves is when a venue sells their in-house coordinator as an actual wedding planner. I’ve learned that unless you’re in the wedding industry, the differences between the two aren’t commonly known.
About 4 years ago, I received a frantic call from a bride who desperately needed help with her wedding which was 36 hours away. Yes…36 HOURS AWAY! When booking her venue, she said that the biggest selling point was that the venue came with a coordinator. She was told that hiring an outside planner would be a waste of money since she was already paying for one with her venue. Filling out a last-minute questionnaire from the venue, she thought it was odd that they asked who her coordinator for the day would be. She answered “you” with a smiley face. The next day, she received an email stating that the person who she had been working with for months wasn’t even going to be at her wedding. She was confused as to why the bride would think she’d be there…maybe because that’s what she was told? Luckily, I was able to step in and make magic happen.
Here are some of the key differences between a venue coordinator and a wedding planner:
1. Venue:
Venue Coordinator- They are responsible for everything that specifically deals with the venue. Tables, chairs, linens, food, etc. If the venue provides catering, their focus is to make sure that the kitchen and wait staff are scheduled according to their needs.
Wedding Planner- They are responsible for everything that comes with your venue AND making sure that your vendors know where and when they’re supposed to be. If the venue provides linens, it is the job of the wedding planner to choose the color based on the design of the wedding and to keep the quantities correct.
2. Vendors:
Venue Coordinator- The venue coordinator will most-likely provide a list of preferred vendors and that’s the extent of their involvement when it comes to interacting with the vendors.
Wedding Planner - Your wedding planner will schedule and attend your meetings with your vendors. They are the main point of contact between you and your vendors. If a vendor is lost or running late or is having an emergency, they’ll contact your wedding planner who will then put out the fire. Your wedding planner gives recommendations based on vendors they’ve worked with previously. They also review contracts; set up hotel room blocks, etc.
3. Timeline:
Venue Coordinator- Hotels that provide catering will have a timeline solely for their catering staff. Their timeline will center around when the food will be prepared and served. That’s it.
Wedding Planner - The wedding planner’s timeline details all aspects of the day from the time that the bride wakes up to the moment that the doors close. As a wedding planner, I have to know every single that is happening with every single person involved in the day. I schedule arrival times for all vendors, when the photos will be taken, what songs will be played for each dance, when the cake will be cut and when and where the sparkler send-off will be. We do it ALL.
4. Accessibility:
Venue Coordinator - You’re most likely sharing your venue coordinator with at least 100 other brides. This means delayed responses to phone calls and emails. This also means that you have to try to catch them during business hours.
Wedding Planner – Fortunately (and unfortunately), wedding planners are available almost 24/7. Of course there are exceptions but if you’re having an emergency, you can pick up the phone and send a quick text message. Your venue coordinator isn’t giving you their personal cell phone number.
5. Design.
Venue Coordinator – They’re not designing your wedding. Period.
Wedding Planner – They’ll design your ceremony and reception. They’ll choose your colors, linens, flowers, table set-up and design and so on and so on.

Please do not make the mistake of not hiring a wedding planner because your venue has a “wedding coordinator”. Planners do drastically different things and they’re more hands-on. Believe me, spend the money on a planner at the beginning so that you don’t have to find out in the middle of planning that you don’t actually have a planner, but a venue coordinator.

{photo credit: Elle Danielle Photography