I’ve been to many weddings, my own included, where kids were welcome guests who were expected to pretty much do their own thing and enjoy the wedding like everyone else. No separate children’s room, no special activities, no kiddie meals. The kids sat with the parents and ate adult fare (most kids are fine with a roll, some chicken or fish, a vegetable– although they usually eat a lot less than adults). When they got too tired to participate any longer (in any positive way, at least!) they were put to sleep in their strollers, on a sofa, or in a corner with someone’s coat as a blanket. Often the bride and groom or the children’s parents would hire a babysitter to run after the kids (and keep an eye on them after they’d fallen asleep) so the parents could relax and enjoy themselves. As you can probably tell, the atmosphere was relaxed and unpretentious, and the kids a bit of extra liveliness to the affair.
However, not everyone plans that type of affair. For a very formal wedding, that “extra liveliness” may not be what the bride and groom are after. So what exactly is proper wedding etiquette when inviting or not inviting children to your wedding?
feature image: Rabat Photography
Will people be offended if their kids are not invited?
They might be. But then again, you never know what will offend some people! Bottom line is, it’s your wedding and you make the guest list. But if you want to invite some kids and not others, try to create a rule and stick to it. For example, kids of close family members only. Or kids of a certain age only. Or kids at the reception only… etc.
If families with kids have traveled together to be at your wedding, it would be rude to leave them out. Arrange to have someone at the wedding who can help look after/entertain the kids.
Figure it out quickly & be clear
Whatever you decide, you should make it clear by the time you send out invitations. Parents often need a bit more advanced warning when making plans for an evening out. Although most parents can tell by the way the envelope is addressed whether their kids are include or not, you may want to follow up with a phone call to make sure they understand. Do it tactfully, of course. If you are providing child care, they’ll be happy to know that, too!
If kids are welcome, you can put their names under the parents’ names on the invitation. Writing “Mr. & Mrs. Smith & Family” is another option, though some experts consider that too vague (maybe you’ll bring granny, uncle Bill, and second-cousin Marie who’s visiting from France along too?) For kids over 18, consider sending them a separate invitation, even if they live at home.
Some parents may prefer to bring along their own nanny. This is up to you! If you say yes, she will sit with the children but should be provided with her own place card and an adult meal.
Kids with Duties
It is traditional to have a flower girl and a ring bearer, but there are other ways a child can be part of the wedding. They can be junior bridesmaids, ushers, train bearers, and program distributors. They can give out yarmulkes and packets of rice. Just make sure that the children match the job they are picked for – very shy kids may not be eager for a public role.
Your sibling’s children (or other family members) should take priority over other people’s kids. Traditional etiquette says that flower girls and ring bearers should be between the ages of 3 and 7. Of course, we say you can do whatever you want to. At my wedding, I assigned the role of flower girl to 2 sisters, who were the daughters of my good friends (no siblings had children at the time). One little girl was delighted with the job and walked proudly down the isle, scattering rose petals. Her younger sister got stage fright and wouldn’t move. He father saved the day by sweeping her up and skipping down the isle himself, holding her in one arm and tossing the flower petals with the other hand. It was hilarious and gave the guests a good laugh.
If you do have children participating in the ceremony, the thoughtful thing to do is include them in the reception. The kids are all dressed up and excited to be at a wedding. Believe me, they’ll be disappointed to have to leave the party early, and having unhappy kids will spoil things a bit for the parents too. If you really want an adult-only reception, you may want to consider hiring someone to look after the kids in another room, where they’ll have something fun to keep them occupied and happy.
If there will be a number of children present, you should consider things like having a children’s table, special kid’s meals, and activities to keep them busy. Some kids are just as happy eating the same food as adults, but there are kids who like to stick to their favorites, like spaghetti, chicken fingers, or hot dogs. (Some venues offer discounts for kids meals- it’s worth asking.) If kids do have their own table or corner, you may provide other distractions like coloring books and crayons, Lego, crafting supplies, or games.
If you don’t want the kids running back and forth to their parents’ table all evening, put them in a separate room with supervision (although that may not solve the problem 100%!). There, you can arrange for a kid-friendly movie, story-reading, an art project, or an entertainer (puppeteer, balloon artist, magician) if it’s in your budget.
You decision to have kids at the wedding or not reflects many things, including your personal style, budget, and familial obligations. But whatever you do, we hope you and everyone present will have a fabulous time!