Surprise wedding requires additional thought

Dear Abby: I am thinking about planning a "surprise" wedding for me and my fiance. We have been together for eight years and have lived together for seven. We put off the wedding for many reasons, chiefly the cost because those things are expensive.

We do not want to just elope.

The idea of having a theme party and inviting all our friends and family occurred to me the other day. Then, in the middle of it, we could bring in a priest and tie the knot! I have figured out the cost, and it shouldn't be more than a grand. We could swing that.

But my question is, do we tell anyone about it beforehand? I told one of my girlfriends and my fiance, and they think it's a great idea. It would take a lot of stress off. Should I tell my parents? They sometimes blab (Dad is worse than Mom) when they're excited about something. – Stealth Bride-To-Be

Dear Stealth Bride-To-Be: One person you should definitely discuss this with would be the priest. Ask if he would be willing to marry a couple who has been living together because some aren't, and also if he'd prefer the solemn vows be taken in a house of worship rather than a theme-party atmosphere. If that's the case, you may have to settle for an officiant of another faith or a justice of the peace to perform the ceremony.

Also, I suggest you rethink your idea of keeping this happy news from your folks, who may have been praying for this for seven years. They might feel very hurt to find they were kept in the dark.

Dear Abby: My husband's stepmother and father send religious-themed gifts for every holiday. We have an abundance of unused books, DVDs, stickers, coloring books, dolls, bookmarks, etc., purchased from local Christian stores for a hefty price.

We don't see them often during the year because we live in different states, but we would like our kids to have a good relationship with them. The kids don't seem to be fazed by it, but they also don't get excited about opening and using these gifts.

We pay for our children to participate in religious education as well as attend several church functions during the school year. We believe grandparents should be interested in learning about what each child is drawn to, and not so much about preaching their own religious beliefs to us. It makes us uncomfortable and resentful at times.

How does one politely tell in-laws to stop sending religious-themed gifts? – Overloaded in South Carolina

Dear Overloaded: One doesn't. A better way to handle it would be to communicate with them in between these holidays and tell them what activities the grandkids are involved in, and any new interests they may have. A stronger hint than that would be offensive, and I don't recommend it.

As to what to do with the unused items – donate them.

Dear Abby: When my daughter calls her mother-in-law "Mom," it hurts my feelings. I gave birth to her, worked hard to put a roof over her head and food in her mouth. She has only one mother during her lifetime – ME. I never called my mother-in-law "Mom."

The name meant something to me, and it was reserved for the woman who gave me life! – Disappointed in Idaho

Dear Disappointed: Many women besides your daughter call their mothers-in-law "Mom." Rather than be jealous and territorial, you should be happy that your daughter has such a warm relationship with her mother-in-law.

However, because you feel slighted, ask if she would be willing to call her MIL "Mama Smith" – something other than her name for you when you are all together in order to avoid "confusion."

Dear Abby is written by Abigail Van Buren, also known as Jeanne Phillips, and was founded by her mother, Pauline Phillips. Write Dear Abby at www.DearAbby.com or P.O. Box 69440, Los Angeles, CA 90069.

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