One of the most divisive and delicate matters you will need to navigate while preparing your wedding guest list is whether or not to invite children to the big day. Many brides and grooms have lost sleep over offending and inconvenien- cing parents who are guests, and you will find endless bridal forum debates on this topic. There is no blanket solution to the kid-dilemma, and it will depend entirely on your circumstances.
Let’s start with an overview of the reasons for and against inviting little ones to your special day.
• Flexibility for your guests. Parents will be hugely relieved knowing that they have a choice about whether or not to bring their children, and that they are not forced to pay for a babysitter or make alternative arrangements for childcare.
• Role in ceremony. If you want an pageboy or flower girl leading you down the aisle, it’s pretty much a no-brainer to invite children to the day.
• Access for newborn feeding. Newborns need to be fed regularly, and cannot be away from their mothers too long if formula or pumps are not involved.
• Atmosphere. Children at weddings often get up cute things, and truly add to the atmosphere of the day (not to mention some adorable photo opportunities).
• Interruptions. I think the biggest fear of most brides and grooms is that a baby will start howling inconsolably during the vows or speeches (especially if they’re being professionally filmed).
• Atmosphere. (Yes, this comes up again.) If you want a big boozy night, people might be uncomfortable getting their drink on with tiny people around, who they might feel obligated to set an example for. Also, parents (generally) don’t get many opportunities to party, so they may prefer a kid-free evening so that they can truly let their hair down.
How to decide
There are several criteria to consider when settling the to-kid-or-not-to-kid debate:
• If the children are not invited, will the parents be unlikely to come? If most of your guests have children, or the guests with little ones are the guests that you really want there, be careful creating a barrier to their attendance.
• How old are the children? Is breastfeeding required, making it impossible for the mother to be away from the baby all day?
• How are the temperaments of the children? If you know that they are quite calm and generally well behaved, you don’t need to worry much about tantrums.
• How far must the parents travel for the wedding? If you don’t allow children and your guests must travel from abroad or across the country to join you, guests would either need to leave their kids at home for at least a weekend, or bring them on the journey but find a local babysitter for during the festivities.
• How easy is it for them to arrange a babysitter, whether back at home or in town for the wedding? If the wedding is away from their home, they might not know any babysitters.
What did my Reflective Groom and I decide? We said yes to inviting children to the wedding. We are indeed worried about newborns crying at inopportune moments and not properly achieving a party atmosphere, but – for us – the criterion of travel distance outweighed everything else. All invited parents must travel a minimum of two driving hours for the wedding (requiring an overnight stay), with some coming from the other side of the world. Also, some of the children invited to our wedding include my newborn nephew and the baby of a bridesmaid, and we didn’t want to inconvenience such important infants!
My suggestion also is one blanket rule on children: don’t allow your nieces and nephews but refuse the children of your college roommate, and don’t permit the children travelling from afar while not letting local kids attend. This may just lead to offended parents wondering why some guests get special treatment.
How to accommodate
If you’re ruling out children (or don’t really want children there but too afraid to say it), here are some ways to accommodate them:
• Find a babysitter. Make the no-children request less inconvenient by doing the hard work of locating a nanny or agency your- self. Ask local friends and family for tips, or check with your wedding venue for recom- mendations on services they regularly use. (You’re not the first couple to have the kids-at-weddings dilemma.) Find out the best prices and the most reputable services.
• Arrange a group babysitter nearby. Instead of each child receiving babysitting separately in their homes or hotel rooms, arrange for all of the children to receive care in an area very close to your reception room; that way parents can also duck out for a few minutes every now and then to check in on their little ones. Arrange DVDs, board games, and arts and crafts to keep the children entertained for the duration of the reception.
• Let them join, but with each other. Group the children together at one table (perhaps with an older child to supervise, or a rotation of parents throughout the night). That way they have each other for company, and – without children scattered across the room – adults may feel more relaxed to enjoy themselves.
• Let them join their parents, but engage them. Scatter the children throughout the room with their parents, but give them an activity pack to keep them entertained – children have an even lower tolerance for long speeches than adults do. For young kids, provide crayons and a coloring book, or offer older kids word puzzles. (Check with their parents first; you don’t want to offend a child who has outgrown coloring in!)
At our wedding, there are two newborns and one 8-year-old. They will each sit with their parents (as a newborn table wouldn’t exactly work!), but we will seat the newborns near exits so they can be taken out quickly if any crying arises. For the 8-year-old, we found a wedding themed activity book (with crayons!) that we’ll specially gift wrap for her.
How to communicate it
If you are giving a flat-out no to children attending, the generally accepted etiquette is to write at the bottom of the invitation “adults-only reception” (or “adults-only wedding” if they’re also not invited to the ceremony). However, be ready for questions about why and what is the cut-off point. (For example, is a 16-year-old invited? What about a mature 10-year old?)
If you’ll offer group babysitting option in a nearby room, also communicate this very early on, so the parents don’t make other arrangements.
In our case (where group babysitting is not an option for newborns, who also must join parents traveling long-distance), we got recommendations from our wedding venue for services they regularly use, and researched which had the best prices. We emailed this information to our guests, saying “Children of course are welcome, but if you would like to have an evening off to let your hair down, here is a recommended nanny service.” We also asked that guests let us know if they will bring their children to the cere- mony and/or reception, so that we can arrange a chair for them at our ceremony or a high chair for them at the reception. In the same email to parents, we also gave them details about how to arrange a crib for their room at our allotted hotel. Hopefully that email was viewed as helpful rather than demanding!
Best of luck with navigating the dilemma of children at weddings. What did you and your groom decide? How are you communicating it to parents and how are you helping accommodate the little ones?