Children and Weddings: The Pros and Cons

September 22nd, 2013

It’s such a simple question — yet it comes with all sorts of questions you may not have considered.

Should you have children at your wedding party? How about at the reception? If you don’t want children involved, is there any tactful way to let guests know? Is it even right for you (rather than the parents) to decide whether children should be a part of your wedding?

Those are a lot of questions. But then again, it’s a fairly complex (and loaded) topic. Deny children at your wedding or reception and you’ll look like the bad guy. Allow them free reign and you risk disruption — children tend to be bored at weddings, and they’re unpredictable; their good days are very very good, and their bad days are, well, extremely not-good. (See? There really isn’t a tactful way to say it.)

I’m a mother. I love children — everyone’s children.

But I admit I have been at weddings where the children, uncomfortable in their fancy clothing, tired, bored, sometimes sick and often stage-struck, just aren’t…well…as cute as we want them to be. And I’ve felt just as sorry for the children (more so, if I’m honest about it) than for the distressed bride or the annoyed guests.

Pros

Let’s start out with the good news.

  • Including children in the ceremony allows them to feel special and to know just how much you love and appreciate them.  For a child, that’s huge. For a very young child, it’s everything.
  • Children are sweet and innocent (okay…not always, but at a fancy occasion, they’re the personification of new beginnings). There really is nothing so adorable as a flower girl stage-whispering “hi, Mommy!” as she drops petals on her way down the aisle, or a little man holding the ring pillow with a look of intense concentration on his face. The photos will be adorable.
  • Asking for a child to be a part of the wedding party is an honor for the parents as well.
  • The children get to practice at “playing grownup” — okay, sue me, I tend to see everything as a lesson when it comes to children.
  • Children at a wedding reception can surprise you. They may be at their very best. They love dancing with the grownups (and the grownups love it, too). And today, most wedding venues will offer children’s food plates, a definite plus.

Cons

…And then there’s the flip side of the coin.

  • Not every child wants to be in the wedding party. Some children are shy. Others are just plain bored with the idea. If you try to make a little flower girl angel out of your tomboy niece, she may rebel, and will probably dislike her role.
  • As I mentioned above, children get bored at weddings, at least semi-formal to formal ones. The night might end in tears, with the parent frustrated and embarrassed.
  • Children are delightfully curious, hands-on and practical. They’ll want to touch the decor, they’ll want to run from one end of the reception hall to the other to count how many steps it takes, they’ll want to touch the bride’s dress with the hands they just used to eat the wedding cake with. That’s just kids. And as I said: it’s a wonderful quality. But if you have very definite ideas for the formality and style of your wedding, it will be disruptive.

So What Should You Do?

I did have children at my wedding and at my reception, and I had two flower girls. It worked wonderfully because my style is to involve the entire family and to laugh at foibles (remember the “enjoying the rollercoaster” analogy in Parenthood?). That makes me neither better nor worse than the next bride.

You need to make the decision that’s right for you. However, if you don’t want children at the reception, there’s really no proper etiquette for saying so. The most you can do in this case is to suggest to guests that children might not enjoy the style of festivities you have planned. Never directly ask parents not to bring their children — no matter how you try to word things, they will be hurt. Period. However, putting forth the suggestion that the wedding and/or reception will not be child-friendly can actually be a help to parents and prevent their and their children’s discomfort later.

If you know there will be children at the ceremony and/or the reception, try to dial down your expectations a little. Yes, this is your wedding, but let’s face it: life happens. Even if you’re wary of having children be involved, in reality, families include all ages. And let’s be real here: Uncle Frank with his anti-marriage opinions might be ten times the disruption a cranky toddler could ever be.  So try to lean your ceremony toward your own wishes, but remember that people are people…whether they’re little or big. No matter what, your ceremony will be beautiful…I promise.