Few of us can resist the sight of baby bridesmaids, pageboys and flower girls. Their function is primarily aesthetic; they look impossibly cute as they follow the bride down the aisle, melting the stoniest hearts. They are frequently nieces, nephews, cousins, godchildren or offspring of the couple, and inviting them to be part of the ceremony is also an excellent way of consolidating family ties and making everybody feel closely involved.
However, a baby screaming during the exchange of vows or a rambunctious toddler running up and down the aisle can also be a maddening disruption, which will tarnish memories of the wedding day. For some couples, children are the sine qua non of their wedding day, for others they are complete anathema.
When you’re sitting down to plan your wedding, you will inevitably need to address this issue. So, firstly ask yourselves the following questions:
• Do most of your friends have children? Not many of them will be able to arrange childcare, so a no-child policy might mean that many of your best friends won’t be able to come.
• Is the venue child-friendly? Will there be room for children to run around and let off steam? Will providing child-friendly food be a problem?
• Are the majority of your guests coming from distant places and staying overnight? If that is the case, they will hope that they can bring their children as well.
• What is the timetable of the day? If the wedding and reception run well into the evening, it might be too late for young children.
• Do you have your own children? It would be more fun for them if other kids also joined the party.
Underlying all these practical issues, there is one key question that you must discuss honestly with each other. Do you love having children around and see weddings as being all about families and mixed generations? Or do you want to have a perfect and stylish day, which is all about conversation and sophisticated socialising in a beautiful setting?
If you tend to the latter view, then you will probably want an adult-only wedding, and it is therefore imperative that you clarify this decision when you send the invitations out (see below). The last thing you want is ambiguity or confusion. You may well find that the situation is not entirely straightforward – it might cause a real rift if you don’t invite the children of your very closest relatives, or if you want young children to act as bridesmaids and pageboys, and you will need to acknowledge that scenario as well.
If you are happy to have children at your wedding, you must take positive steps to accommodate them and ensure that they have the best possible day. Happy children will also be much less disruptive…
The child-free question must be approached explicitly and there are several ways to deal with this conundrum. These are examples of wording, which can either be added to the invitation itself, or displayed prominently on the guest information sheet:
• Blame the venue: “We are sorry, but due to restrictions at the venue we cannot accommodate children.”
• Be completely honest, no excuses needed: “We are sorry we are unable to invite children to our wedding, and hope that you will still be able to attend.”
• Only babes in arms are allowed: “We are sorry, this is an adults-only wedding, with the exception of children under 12 months.”
• Children are only allowed at the ceremony or the reception: “Children are welcome at the ceremony; the evening reception is for adults only” or “Children are welcome at the reception; however, only wedding party children will be attending the ceremony”
• Children of immediate family (or who are in the wedding party) are included: “Due to numbers restrictions, we are only able to accommodate the children of close family”, or “We are only able to accommodate the children in our wedding party”.
If you’re happy to include families with children, bear in mind that it will be a long, and at times boring, day for young children, and as boredom levels rise anarchy will inevitably follow. So pre-empt these difficulties, by putting some time and thought into ways of keeping children entertained – their parents will be eternally grateful, and young guests will be able to enhance your wedding day, rather than creating mayhem:
• Organise a children’s-only table at the reception (preferably out of earshot), and make sure that it is supervised. You can enlist the help of a friend’s teenagers, or you could invest in a magician or entertainer.
• Very young children will probably be happier to sit with their parents, but if possible arrange for them to be served a ‘special’ children’s menu.
• Goodie bags, which are placed on the table before the meal, are a wise investment. You can include no-staining coloured pencils and drawing books, or quiet toys to keep the children entertained.
• In the summer, let children play outside as soon as they’ve finished eating (no forced silence while they listen to endless speeches). A bubble machine will keep them entertained or you could even invest in a bouncy castle.
• If you are hosting an evening reception at a hotel, a children’s babysitter is a wise investment. The children can be gathered in one place, where they can play, watch a movie, or even fall asleep after the exertions of the day.
No matter how much time and planning is put into accommodating children at weddings, a substantial amount of responsibility still resides with the parents. So, if you are bringing children to a wedding, be considerate and plan ahead:
• Come equipped with favourite toys, books, crayons etc. Party bags might be provided, but you should definitely have back-ups.
• If your child is attending the church service or ceremony (or maybe even part of the bridal party) bring small toys or even treats such as raisins to placate them and keep them distracted during the ceremony. Don’t bribe them with sweets or chocolates or you might find that they become hyperactive.
• Agree with your partner who is going to take prime responsibility for very young children before the ceremony begins. If they start to cry, take them outside immediately – of course you will be sorry to miss the proceedings, but at least the wedding can carry on without disturbance and your prompt action will save the day for the bride and groom.
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