Unlike decisions about menus or music, those related to children should be handled quickly to avoid awkward questions from parents who need to make plans.
IS IT APPROPRIATE TO NOT INVITE CHILDREN?
Yes — especially if the wedding is in the evening or is very formal. Daytime or Casual Weddings usually allow children as people tend to be more offended if they cannot bring their children to weddings of this type. The no-kids rule works best when the majority of the families are local, which means parents can leave their children with familiar babysitters for the entire day or drop them off with grandparents on the way to the wedding. If you are hosting a destination wedding or you have a lot of family coming in from out of town it is much harder to not invite kids. In fact, it may be regarded as rude or inconsiderate.
ADDRESS INVITATION EXPLICITLY
Address your envelopes properly. The traditional way to indicate whether a child is invited is to include his name on the invitation. If your card will have both an outer and inner envelope, his parents’ names should appear on the outer envelope, but on the inner, his name should be written beneath his parents’ names. (If you’re using just an outer envelope, of course, the child’s name should also be on it.) If the child is over age 18, he should receive a separate invitation, even if he’s still living at home. It is “generally not in good taste to address an envelope to ‘Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Smith and Family,’” since the wording can be vague. However, the phrasing’s okay as long as you write the names of those invited on the inside envelope.
Guests who may not know proper invitation etiquette may not understand that they cannot invite children if their child’s name is left off the invitation. If your family and friends fall into this category it is best to write “ ‘Adult Only’ Reception to follow” on your invitation.
CALL ALL GUESTS WITH CHILDREN
After your invitation is sent (or better yet, before), make a call to your friends and family who have children to explain that your wedding is or isn’t child-friendly. “If you’re willing to invite this person to your wedding, you should be willing to pick up the phone and have a conversation with her. If not you, then your parents. This is an especially effective approach if you’re worried about a stubborn friend or flaky relative bringing her children against your wishes. You may also use this opportunity to let them know if you plan to invite children of a certain age but plan to arrange for childcare services. A telephone call is a great way to let the parents know that their children will be well taken care of at the wedding.
WILL IT LOOK BAD IF YOU INVITE SOME CHILDREN AND NOT OTHERS?
The short answer is, “YES”. Of course, we draw the line at immediate family vs. friends and other relatives. If there are just a few children from different families perhaps an age cut-off will work best. Older kids are more likely to behave and we recommend kids older than 12 or 13 years of age if you are going to have more than 8 or 10 children at your wedding and you do not wish for them to be there. Keep in mind, if you are having a wedding of 150 guests and only 2 of them are children (under 10) then “it’s darling”. But if you have 20 children that are 10 and older, you could end up with a playing field — and that might not be ideal.
CHOOSING THE RING BEARER AND FLOWER GIRL
Your sibling’s children, obviously, should take priority over, say, a friend’s, but if this rule of thumb still leaves you in a fix, consider traditional etiquette, which limits your choices for flower girls and ring bearers to children between 3 and 7 years old. “Younger children simply don’t make it to the end of the aisle” without some adult intervention.
She adds that an 8-year-old can be promoted to junior bridesmaid, a title she can hold until her 18th birthday, when she’s finally allowed to lose the “junior” label. “On the other hand, boys are usually retired from the wedding business from age 8 until they’re old enough to be a groomsman, at 18,” she says. Of course, there are exceptions to every rule. We have planned a few weddings in which a toddler was pulled down the aisle in a wagon by a little girl. It was simply adorable.
Remember, There are no rules when it comes to your wedding, it is simply what is comfortable to you as long as you are fair across the board.
ARE THERE OTHER DUTIES FOR CHILDREN?
At the ceremony, children can act as ushers, hand out programs, circulate mass books or yarmulkes, or distribute packets of rice or rose petals. At the reception, kids can manage a guest book or pass out favors in a basket or on a tray.
NOT INVITING THE RING BEARER AND FLOWER GIRL TO THE RECEPTION
It is poor taste not to invite the ring bearer and flower girl to the reception. It’s not an easy task, both emotionally and logistically, for parents to dress up kids in fancy clothes, prod them to do their given jobs, then tell them they have to miss the party. The thoughtful thing to do is to invite them to the reception. If you’re really intent on having a purely adult reception, at the very least allow the flower girl and ring bearer to attend the cocktail hour and a portion of the reception, then at a reasonable time offer to find them babysitters for the rest of the night.
DO KIDS NEED A SPECIAL MENU?
When it comes to food, children’s meals make kids happier and are often less expensive. A small buffet or individual meals with kid-friendly foods like spaghetti, chicken fingers, and fruit cups.
WHERE SHOULD THE KIDS SIT?
We recommend seating kids aged 7 to 14 at a separate table, and those under 7 in another room entirely, with childcare provided. Children this young, will likely want to be near their parents and won’t sit still for long if Mom and Dad are within eyesight and earshot.
If you’d like children to be in the same room as adults, we suggest designating an area off to the side that both feeds kids and keeps them busy. We like mini-tables, small buffets, and kid-friendly decor, like tables peppered with coloring books and crayons organized in galvanized buckets. If it’s in your budget, hire a babysitter. Smaller and younger children that require parents constant attention may need to remain with their parents for safety reasons.
A SEPARATE ROOM FOR KIDS
If little guests are going to be in their own supervised room, experts suggest filling it with easy-to-coordinate activities — including board games; gender-neutral, kid-appropriate movies; and simple art projects. Even better, create a “Kids’ Club,” and hire insured childcare providers to act as counselors who set up themed activities. For couples with big budgets, consider hired entertainers such as balloon artists, magicians, and puppeteers.
CAN THE NANNY COME TOO?
A lot of parents prefer to leave their child with a familiar sitter, says Kaforey, so this isn’t an unusual scenario. If it’s in your budget, by all means, include the nanny; not only is it a generous gesture, but it will give the invited parents peace of mind. Seat the nanny wherever you’re seating the children — at the parents’ table, a children’s table, or in a separate room (be sure to include her in headcount for an adult meal). Also, remember that she’ll require an escort card and place card. That said, you’re in no way obligated to say yes. Your guest list is your guest list, and you shouldn’t have to invite someone just because someone wants you to. This is especially true if you’re having an intimate affair with only your family and close friends in attendance or if you’re on a tight budget.