It's a surprisingly loaded question: Should you invite children to your wedding? Of all the decisions you have to make as you plan the event, this one's especially tough—a tangle of family and cultural traditions, strong (and potentially badly hurt) feelings, and practical matters, too. Anyone who's drawn up a wedding guest list has had to face the question, and the solutions that brides are coming up with are as unique as their events.
In "the more, the merrier" camp is Elizabeth Lenhard of Atlanta. Since many of her friends and siblings had children, she and her fiancé decided to include little ones at their wedding celebration, in 2005. "We wanted a rambunctious, fun, not necessarily 'perfect' wedding filled with all the people who were important to us, so we never would have excluded kids," Elizabeth says. Still, aside from the eight nieces and nephews in the bridal party, the couple preferred that small children sit out the ceremony—the more elegant, subdued portion of the evening. "We set up a playroom in the house where we were married and stocked it with toys, food and babysitters," she says. The playroom remained available to little guests throughout the evening, although Elizabeth was happy to have them join the party: "They made it fun and festive!" She found that her guests welcomed the on-site sitting service and had no qualms about using it. "I was careful to present the arrangements we made as a service to parents, so they could enjoy the party," she says.
It's no surprise that compromises abound. Some brides (and parents) are comfortable with kids at the reception but not at the ceremony, or vice versa; many couples decide that some kids can be included but others can't. "I loved weddings as a child, and I hope that my daughter gets to experience weddings growing up, too," says Christy Janssen, who had a black-tie event in Palm Beach, FL, in 2000. "I believe that the crowd, timing, theme and guest list all dictate whether inviting children is a good idea." For her own wedding, Christy preferred that friends leave their children at home so they could focus on their own good time. "Since mine was a destination wedding for most of my guests, I thought it would be nice for them to have an adult weekend," she says. "I didn't want anyone to have to cut their night short because their child was overtired." But that didn't mean Christy's event was kid-free: Her niece and nephew attended, which worked well for Christy and her fiancé. "Immediate family is different," she explains. "You can tell your sister to get her screaming kid out of the reception, but you won't say anything if it's your boss' daughter—you just suffer silently at your own wedding."
And yet it's not always so easy to call the shots with family. Meghan Corridan, a pediatric occupational therapist based in New York City, understands both how charming and how unpredictable little ones can be. Though she asked her nieces and nephew to be part of her November 2006 wedding ceremony and reception, she wanted the last few hours of the evening to be adults-only. "I'm with children every day. I know what happens when they're overstimulated and overtired," she explains. "At a certain point, I wanted my wedding to be an adult night." While Meghan's sister booked a babysitter for her toddler, her fiancé's sister insisted that her two kids (then ages 3 and 6) stay all night.
"I was hurt that she couldn't respect what I wanted for my wedding," Meghan says. "But the arguments were stressing me out so much that I had to do something. I told her that the kids could stay the whole time, but they had to be supervised every minute. If they misbehaved, they would have to leave." In the end, the kids did fine, but their mother later confessed to a friend that she'd been so busy chasing after them, she hadn't been able to enjoy the reception.
Just as family is a big factor, so often are your heritage and the cultural traditions you observe. And bucking them can be extra challenging. "My husband and I are both Taiwanese-American but decided against having a big, rowdy, Chinese-style wedding," says Lily Kao, who was married in Palo Alto, CA, in April 2006. "In particular, we did not want to have young kids present because they can be disruptive. But my parents thought all weddings, especially Taiwanese ones, should have kids present as symbols of fertility." Lily's parents didn't insist, but she says they probably "foresaw the inevitable outcome: Somebody was bound to bring kids along anyway." Sure enough, several small children did show up at the event. Ironically, the most unruly child was an invited one—the groom's nephew.
And that's the bottom line: If you invite kids, expect the unexpected. Amy Berner, who married last summer in Cambridge, NY, found this made her more relaxed on her wedding day. "Having kids there was an advantage. I knew I couldn't predict what was going to happen, so I didn't worry. Our ceremony was outdoors and included a lot of personal touches and humor," says Amy. "It was a real and serious event, but it was also fun, and I wouldn't have wanted to do it any other way."