Possibly the most divisive, emotionally fraught (and slightly-awkward-to-communicate) decision faced by a bride and groom is whether to invite, or not to invite children to their wedding. Scratch the surface and almost everyone has a story or anecdote around this sometimes tricky topic…whether it’s the friends who insisted on a child-free wedding themselves, until they had children of their own, then insisted on bringing them to subsequent friends weddings. Or the perceived double standard of permitting some children, but not others (kind of your prerogative in our opinion, it’s your celebration after all). A sensitive topic, sure, but in our experience, one fuelled by the best intentions, uninformed assumptions (and…maybe a teency bit of entitlement!) on all sides. Find below our thoughts and tactful tips for navigating this delicate topic, to ensure a magical wedding where all relationships emerge unscathed.
The Fun Factor (for children)
Consider this…weddings, generally speaking, aren’t actually that fun for kids. To start with there’s the ceremony, a beautiful but respectful event where they’re expected to sit silently for an interminably long period of time, not making a peep (with outbursts being both mildly embarrassing for parents and lets be honest, not exactly welcomed by the couple in the midst of their vows!). This is often followed by several hours of killing time while the bridal party are having photos taken, usually with no sign of food or fun yet…then there’s the reception, with more quiet listening time during speeches, sitting at the table patiently waiting for a dinner that may or may not cater to children’s tastes, followed by a night that will often run way past bedtime. Unless you’re planning a jumping castle, lots of kids of similar age to play with, and somewhere comfy to crash out at 9pm, it’s not exactly the stuff of self catered fun for little ones.
The Fun Factor (for adults)
Now consider all of the above points, but from the parents point of view (the trying to keep kids happy, quiet, entertained, watered and fed, non-disruptive, and that constant, scanning gaze, forever mindful of their safety and whereabouts at all times). Then throw in the logistics of bringing snacks, possibly toddler paraphernalia such as bottles and nappies and this is all before you even get to the biggest (in our opinion) point of all - the constant conflict of attention, trying to be ‘present’ during the most significant day of those people most significant to you, juggled with the needs of your family. In an argument for giving the ceremony the attention it deserves, (followed by giving the dance floor the euphoric abandon that deserves!)…the whole children at weddings thing sometimes just isn’t that much fun for parents either!
Some but not others….Where it potentially gets a little awkward is inviting some children but not all. However as the couple hosting the wedding, this decision is entirely yours, no explanation required. Flowergirls and paigeboys, as part of the bridal party are a natural ‘exemption’, which no guest should take offence to. As are newborns, particularly if mum is still breast feeding. As some parents are likely to make assumptions about their own children if they know other kids are invited, make sure on the invitations (if not a blanket statement one way or the other), you’re explicit about who is and who is not included or expected. As a compromise you might consider welcoming children to the ceremony (usually held at a more child friendly hour of the day) followed by an adults-only reception, however we don’t recommend this option for the ‘some but not all’ invited scenario. Kids feeling left out, seeing other children continue on to a party is the fastest way to start a tantrum, not to mention cause heartache for mum and dad.
Embrace the Night Whilst admittedly some parents jump at the opportunity for a child-free night celebrating amidst their favourite friends, (booking a babysitter as soon as they receive the invitation)…other couples may feel they need an explanation. But ultimately, the decision to include children or not in your celebrations is entirely your own, without need for justification. Writing on invitations the full names of only the parents, from an etiquette point of view, indicates the invitation does not extend to the whole family), however if you feel better by adding a consolatory note, keep any explanation brief and sensitive but not up for negotiation. Something like “We adore your entire family, however our wedding is purely a grown-up affair, which we cannot wait to share and celebrate with you!” or “We’re so looking forward to everyone (particularly parents!) being able to let their hair down for the night, free from worry about little ears and eyes.” Keeping the focus on the fun and celebratory opportunity (especially for parents), rather than the preference for ‘no-children’ should help any sensitive guests understand that not inviting their offspring is nothing personal, and that you have their adult best interests at heart.
On the flipside….Understandably there will be plenty of betrothed couples who absolutely love the idea of children sharing in their celebrations, no question at all. In every conceivable incarnation of a modern family, this might include your own children, younger brothers, sisters or step-siblings, nieces and nephews, or simply the children of your dearest, favourite friends.
In which case….Be sure to cater to them! If you have a huge extended family invited to your wedding, including kids, or perhaps the tribe of all your favourite friends…be sure to offer some sort of activity, a separate space, separate menu and some sort of age appropriate activity to keep things interesting. For a garden wedding this might be a mini tipi or magical, fun filled space specifically created for kids. Organise old fashioned games like sack or wheel barrow races. Indoors a Photo Booth complete with dress ups will provide creative magic for hours, as will a games hub or craft station. You might also like to engage a professional entertainer for an hour or so, such as a magician, storyteller or face painter (we recommend during speeches or when the grown ups are having dinner), times when kids attention may wane and when mum and dad will appreciate an un-interrupted time to eat or tune-in during a speech.
Consider also…Not only a chaperone to keep an eye on kids throughout the night and facilitate any requests, but also a more child-friendly menu at a more child friendly hour. Miniature sliders or hotdogs, teeny tiny sushi rolls or sandwiches and an ice-cream or decorate your own cupcake station are all fun options (and infinitely less expensive than an adult dinner, which they’ll most likely only pick at). Consider also child-friendly-favors that double as more of a miniature bag of tricks…think stickers, crayons, toys, balloons, bubble blowing wands and any kind of ‘confetti’ that would be welcomed, scattered throughout the party.
It's your day and your decision. Don’t feel emotionally pushed into backing down because someone can’t understand why their child isn't welcome. Similarly, if you do decide to invite kids, be resigned to go with the flow, appreciating that children behave in ways that are beautifully unpredictable and will likely bring an element of surprise to proceedings on the day. Either way, pick the decision you both feel the most comfortable with, the one that in five, ten or twenty years time you’ll likely look back on, and still know it was absolutely the right choice for you.