What’s the appropriate etiquette regarding children at wedding parties? Should they remain at home with a good ol’ Disney-Pixar classic and a stressed-but-sweet babysitter? Should you invite only your nieces and nephews, since they’ll likely be in the wedding party? Should receptions wrap up early? All excellent questions, so read on!
Here are a few things to consider when planning a wedding with kids:
Believe it or not, you’re not the first person to lose sleep over the decision to invite kids to your wedding…or not. But never fear! Wedding sitters are one of my favorite solutions to this issue because you can both invite kids to the wedding and have a mostly adults-only reception. Here’s how: Hire a reputable babysitting service (with a low sitter-to-kid ratio), and let them watch the tots in another nearby area. Use a sectioned off area of the reception room, the bridal dressing area if there is one, or if your venue is a hotel, you can ask nicely to use a family member’s suite – just for the duration of the reception. Alternately, ask the venue if there’s a small enclosed room you can rent for this purpose. Bonus option: Use a family-sized extra-large tent! It’s like a room-in-a-room!
Parents love the on-site wedding sitter option because they don’t have to pay for a babysitter or feel guilty about leaving the kids at home, and they can check on the little ones or quickly scoop them up to head home in the event of a meltdown. (Note that not all parents may want to leave their kids with strangers, so you should provide parents with notice about your sitter plan and ultimately respect their decision. You get to choose whether to invite the kids; they get to choose how to manage their kids.) Alternately, you might allow older kids to stay for the reception while sending just the tiny tots off with the sitters for an earlier bedtime. Pay a few responsible teen cousins or check out sites like Task Rabbit, Care.com, or Sittercity to find reputable babysitters in your area (double-check that they use background checks if you’re using a new sitter service!), or look for local babysitting services specializing in weddings.
When in doubt, hire it out! If you love the munchkins too much to miss at your reception (and you know you’ll definitely want to coo at their adorable miniature dresses and suits), think about hiring entertainment specifically geared toward keeping the kids in your party engaged and expending their boundless energy on organized activities – other than running around like thundering wildebeests and possibly tipping over the cake. Planning for fun means you won’t have to worry about kid-wrangling all night, with the added bonus of potentially overjoyed kiddos – and plenty of great photo opps! After all, kids are your guests, too – that’s why you invited them, right? The last thing you want is for your beloved guests to be bored.
If you’re planning to DIY the kid-centered activities, there’s hope for you, too. Set up a separate kiddie table armed with activities that are actually going to make children want to sit down (though, don’t expect that to be for too long). You can set up cupcake or cookie decorating activities in addition to the usual coloring books, puzzles, or building blocks. (You may want to put plastic tablecloths on the kids’ activities table rather than expensive rented linens!) Even with this option, though, you’ll want to either assign someone to guide the kids’ activities and/or encourage parents and other adults to participate with their children. #ProTip: The best kids’ activities are the ones that even non-parent adults want to participate in as well. Giant board games, scavenger hunts, and whole-group activities that engage kids from 0-99 are guaranteed to be a good time…no babysitters required!
Participating in the Wedding Ceremony
If you want to limit to the number of kids (so that they don’t outnumber the adults!), etiquette says that your siblings’ kids should be the ones who make the wedding party and ceremony cut. But what if your best friend says she absolutely cannot fly to your destination wedding without her kids? You could get all Judgey McJudgerson at her unwillingness to leave them behind (and potentially wound the friendship), or you could consider involving them in your wedding ceremony in some creative way. Of course, it’s your wedding and you can do what you want. But if you feel you can make an exception, a great way to include kids is to give them a wedding day job: have them “man” the guestbook table, hand out programs, usher guests to their seats (maybe with the help of an adult, depending on how young they are). These are all great options that go beyond the simple flower girl and ring bearer roles. There are loads of great ways to involve children in your ceremony.
You also have the option to impose an age limit. You can still have kids at your wedding by stipulating they be 9 and over – or whatever age cutoff works for you. Consider, too, the age distribution of the children you’re inviting. A few kids close in age probably won’t tip the scales – you may not even notice they’re there. But if you’ve got a broad mix of ten or more boys and girls, all between the ages of 1 and 14, it could turn into a hubbub quite quickly. This is where assigning them wedding helper roles really comes in handy.
Food For Thought
It’s a well-known fact: (some) kids are picky eaters and you’re going to want to take that into account, both when considering whether to invite children to your reception and when making your meal selections with your caterer. One option is to have a smaller buffet just for the kids, or you could offer one or two pre-determined “kids meals” like chicken fingers, carrots, and fruit cups. As another option, you can allow kids to eat from the standard buffet (assisted by their parents), in which case you’ll want to select a couple of kid-friendly buffet choices that also pass muster for adult taste buds. Chocolate fountains are always a hit with kids – and also always a bit of a mess…but a fun mess, indeed!
It’s also important to take note of any food intolerances, sensitivities, and allergies beforehand. Adding a fill-in-the-blank slot to your RSVP meal selection card is an easy way to collect this information. If you find that there are too many off-limits foods for you to accommodate all your guests, it’s wise to clarify to parents that it’s their responsibility to ensure their child’s safety at an open venue.
Just Say No
There’s no question that inviting kids to the reception has the potential to increase your wedding expenses if you’re considering babysitters, entertainment, booster seats or high chair rentals, and special food options. Sometimes you can swap out the adult versions of those services for kid-friendly services, but in most cases you’ll just end up doubling up. If your budget is slim, trimming guests under 3 feet tall is one easy way to reduce costs.
It really is ok (and increasingly common) to have an “adults only” reception, and ceremony, too – so long as you state it on the invitation. For close family and friends, it’s always a nice gesture to call to discuss the kids in person, even before the invitation arrives. Don’t be surprised by any push-back you receive – it’s not easy or cheap for families to hire babysitters on top of other wedding-related expenses like travel and gifts – but if you hold your ground, remain consistent with the “no kids” rule, and are gracious about giving plenty of notice and/or options for the kiddos and their families, most parents will understand. Some parents might even be relieved, because this way they’ll get to enjoy an adult night out!
Let it Go
References to Disney movies aside, at the end of the day you are going to be married, surrounded by people who love and support you. The best weddings are always a serendipitous blend of well-executed control and lovely instantaneous surprises. Inviting children at a wedding is the equivalent of inviting in surprises, and definitely lots of laughter. If having children at your reception is a yay on your end, consider scheduling events to occur earlier in the day so parents can leave sooner without missing all the fun. Either way, coordinate and communicate your needs with your guests once you’ve made the decision that brings you the most joy. And, if you do choose to have children as a part of your wedding day, know that it will be just as wonderful – as long as your heart’s in it.
So what do you think? Do weddings + kids go together like peas & carrots…or like oil & water? Share your weddings + kids story below!