'I don’t want my toxic mother-in-law at our wedding – she'll ruin our day'

Em Clarkson is here to solve all your problems.

Well, sort of.

As Metro’s agony aunt the influencer, author and content creator (busy much?) is primed and ready to be a sympathetic ear, an oracle of wisdom or, quite simply, a stand-in for that girl in the nightclub bathroom you share your thoughts and dreams with while waiting in line.

While she stresses she’s no alternative for therapy, Em is keen to talk through any quandary.

This week, she’s helping Metro readers navigate ‘toxic’ mothers-in-law (teamed with a wedding, no less), a cheating parent and the classic conundrum of making friends as an adult.

Read on to find out what Em has to say…

I don’t want my mother-in-law at our upcoming wedding, she is toxic and will ruin our day!

Oh god love you. It pains me to say this because I *want* nothing more than to tell you that it’s your day and you can have whoever you want there… but I feel compelled to remind you that whilst it is technically your day, it is also your partner’s day.

And if you’re saying no to your mother-in-law, you’re also saying no to their mother. Which is brutal. And as per my advice last week, as one of the MVPs I’m afraid she’s got to be there. 

I think you have to accept that she’s got to come, but that does NOT mean she is going to ruin your day. She simply doesn’t have that kind of power and that’s because you aren’t going to give it to her.

If we accept the situation: your mother-in-law is coming to your wedding, we need to get your thoughts straight about it so that you start feeling okay about it. If in all of your thoughts about her, she has the power to ruin your day, she just might actually do it. But if you can change those, she will no longer have that authority. 

Here are some thoughts that I think might help: she is one of X many guests, and she deserves no more attention than the rest of them. It is my day, and I don’t want to give her the satisfaction of ruining it. I can’t control her so I’m not going to waste energy trying. I can let her be a horror, I can let her wear white, I can let her get too drunk and start a fight with my granddad, I can let her strip naked and tackle the cake if that’s the route she chooses, she STILL won’t have the clout to ruin my day. My partner and I are the most important people and I choose to focus all my attention on us. 

Ultimately, and this is advice I’d give to all brides, you need to let go a bit. There’s a lot you can control as a bride, but other people’s behaviour is not one of those things. And it’s in the trying to do the impossible, that the hurt comes.

So instead, let’s focus on adjusting your expectations. You’re expecting the worst so she can’t disappoint you. And in letting her be there, you are already on higher ground. Stay there. You are going to have a brilliant day and the only person she will ruin it for if she behaves badly, is herself.

My dad is cheating on my mum, she is fighting to win him back. How can she build self-confidence?

I’m so sorry for your mum and I love that you want to support her through this, and I think that you can, but you need to understand first and foremost that your parents are not your responsibility and contrary to what Parent Trap taught us, there’s very little that a child’s involvement can ultimately do to alter the trajectory of a relationship. 

Ask Em Clarkson: Your questions answered

‘My boyfriend is the best man at a wedding, but I wasn’t invited. He’s still going…’

‘My partner makes more than me – but refuses to pay more of our bills’

‘I’m 17, he’s 31… Am I too young to tell him I have feelings for him?’

‘I look in the mirror and see my mother – I can’t stand it’

‘My boyfriend subscribed to Only Fans – how can I move past it?’

‘I’m 34 and I’ve lost all interest in sex…’

‘I’m scared my thinning boyfriend will give me the ick if he goes bald…’

‘Do I tell my new partner I’m a 30-year-old virgin?’

‘My fiancé is not attracted to me – how do I get past this?’

‘Do we settle down or go travelling?’

Having said that, it doesn’t sound like you want your parents back together, rather for your mum to accept that she will be okay on her own. You have to remember that we grew up in a world in which Cher had already declared that men were luxuries not necessities, but our mums didn’t, so go easy on her as she tries to navigate who she is right now, bearing in mind that everything about the culture she grew up in taught her that validation should come from the man who is cheating on her. 

And as angry as you are with your dad right now, you also need to remember that your mum may well just still love him. And that’s really hard to rationalise from the outside looking in, but love is often irrational, and marriage entirely nonsensical.

So, keep reminding your mum how brilliant you think she is, and how important her happiness is to you. And encourage her to get out there, to be with her friends, and do things for herself; whether that’s a trip away, evening classes or maybe a new challenge. The hope is that she can make it so her own life is full enough that she stops settling for less than she deserves, but this takes time. 

So be patient and gentle. And maybe look at getting her tickets to Cher’s 2024 tour…

I don’t have a best friend and it feels like everyone else does, and I am wildly triggered by it. It feels so stupid as an adult to say it but I can’t move past it. Any advice?

Not stupid to say and one of the lesser spoken disappointments stemming from the idealistic expectations of adulthood that we’ve been exposed to since forever. 

Want to ask Em Clarkson a question?

With nearly 300,000 followers on Instagram and a reputation as one of the more honest influencers out there, Em is often asked for advice in her DMs. Now, she wants to do the same in Metro, as our newest columnist.

No topic is off limits. So if you’ve a question for her agony aunt series, email [email protected].

The reality is making friends as an adult is hard, maintaining any friendship without occasional heartache or frustration is nigh on impossible and the elusive Thelma and Louise, Monica and Rachel, Samantha plucking out Carrie’s diaphragm sort of best-friend thing is rare to the point of façade if you ask me. I think the first thing to remember is that you are yet to meet all of the people who are going to love you. 

Hollywood’s depiction of best-friendships all show them as having known each other since school. That does not have to be your story. It wasn’t mine. It’s great that you recognise this as a trigger, and it might be worth exploring this conversation in therapy if it’s something you really can’t shake.

But I think it’s worth remembering that for most people out there, their best friends probably aren’t braiding each other’s hair every night and sharing all their sordid secrets. Their best friend might be their husband, or their dog, or their mum. They mightn’t have seen them in years. They might have grown apart. Or maybe, like you, they just haven’t met them yet.

Do you have a story to share?

Get in touch by emailing [email protected].

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