Children at Weddings

I was in a wedding last Saturday at the Publick House in Sturbridge, MA, a historic inn built in the 1770’s that still operates as an inn, has a restaurant, taproom and bakery, and hosts weddings and other events, seemingly all at once. Historic buildings have really narrow, windy staircases, random steps in the middle of long hallways, and creaky floorboards. Navigation is difficult in these places, due not only to the aforementioned architectural features and multiple events happening under one roof, but also because of the hordes of elderly folks waiting in line to be seated for dinner, and the many little children underfoot. It just so happened that this weekend, several such children were there accompanying their parents to the wedding I was in. Children were (kinda, sorta) not allowed in the ceremony, but were ok during the reception.

Before I launch into this, let me first say that I got married 3 years ago at the relatively young yet appropriately wisened age of 29. By this I mean that I was at the “perfect” age to get married, as one nosy OB/GYN once commented to me. (Why, when I am getting a pap smear, does the person performing this somewhat mortifying procedure feel the need to share motherly words of wisdom about my impending nuptials? The only thing worse was when my chiropractor told me not to vaccinate my kids because of all the conspiracies the drug companies are involved in. If she hadn’t been cracking my neck at the time, I would have made a snarky comment about being sure my family kept their tin foil hats on too.) At 29, you’ve pretty much settled into a professional career, but you’re not yet advanced enough in that career to the point where it’s weird to take a lot of time off work to get married and go on a honeymoon, or where people stand up and take notice because you are even getting married in the first place. It’s like, “oh of course, you’re getting married, congratulations!” not “Did you hear she’s getting married? I didn’t know she had a boyfriend. Is he old like her?” whispered around the water cooler. Nope, 29 is the quintessential, of-course-it-makes-sense-you’d-be-getting-married-by-now age. You’re not young enough (22! you’re barely done with college!) or old enough (38! Does he need your health insurance or something?) to engender gossip and controversy in your workplace or whatever other community you belong to, just a healthy dose of warm wishes and questions about what your dress looks like.

Another thing about 29 is that, for most of us, at least in this part of the country, your other married couple friends (who now outnumber your single friends — have you noticed that yet?) either have no kids yet, or are only now starting to have kids. Which means that, by your perfect wedding age of 29, you are most likely quite, quite comfortable laying down the NO CHILDREN AT MY WEDDING RULE, because there will only be 2 or 3 kids, max, who may rear their little attention-seeking heads at your big day, and these 2 or 3 will either be old enough to stay with a sitter for the night, or little enough that their mommies won’t feel comfortable leaving them yet, and will therefore skip your wedding entirely.

Me at my childfree wedding in 2008. Notice the absence of the post-childbirth gut. Parents must have thought I was such a bitch.

So when I planned my wedding, I planned on explaining to whoever asked that there would be no children invited (i.e., allowed) at any part of my wedding under the age of 13. Wedding etiquette says that to address this issue, you simply invite “Mr. and Mrs. WeGot Kids” to your wedding, and be sure not to name any children on the envelope. That way, says Ms. Wedding Etiquette, your guests will be sure to understand that the little ones are to sit this one out. However, for those who do ask, you simply state that others are making arrangements for their little brats, erm, darlings, due to the fact that the wedding is a night-time affair, will involve lots of loud music, adult conversation and dining, and that the presence of a child or two would surely make for a less than fun evening for parents looking for a fun night away. In other words, you don’t really say “IT’S MY DAY AND NO KIDS ALLOWED!” but give them a sort of “soft no.”

So that’s what I did. Because I had visions of screaming kids ruining my ceremony, which was to be photographed and videographed and would involve a quaint New England historic church with soft lighting and piano music wafting gently down over pews of adoring guests, who no doubt would be so moved by the moment that a “I WANT SIPPY NOOOOWWWW!!!” would surely ruin MY BIG DAY and cause guests to tut and fret over how nice the ceremony would have been if not for the tantruming child sitting behind them. And when it came to the reception, I imagined my hapless guests spilling their glasses of chardonnay while trying to dance to Abba with snot-nosed toddlers underfoot.

Despite having kids now, this is a rule I stand by and will defend to the death. Mostly because I’m stubborn, but also because I’m right. If you have kids that are too little to leave at home while you travel for a wedding, you can get a sitter to stay in your hotel room or somewhere else nearby the festivities, and be able to go back to them when and if necessary to do so. If even this wouldn’t work for you, then your baby (because the kid must be a baby) must be simply too little to travel and you are choosing to sit this one out instead, by virtue of having failed to plan your pregnancy around your friend’s wedding (weddings take at least a year to plan, usually longer, right?). And if you say this doesn’t work for you, and you have not a baby but a toddler or older, then you have separation issues. Not your kids, but yours. No offense. That is totally cool, but it doesn’t give you the right to demand special exceptions of the bride and groom. And on that note, I can’t stand it when parents make this into an issue of the couple “forcing them to choose between our kids and their wedding.” What? The whole world does not revolve around you and your kids! This is my personal philosophy when it comes to weddings and all other adults-only night-time events. I stand by my philosophy.

So, for Lisa and Ethan’s wedding, I had completely planned on paying a babysitter to stay in our hotel room with my 14-month-old daughter (because, in part, I am one of those aforementioned parents of toddlers with separation anxiety – not the toddler’s, but mine) while the husband and I attended the ceremony and reception. This was especially true since I would be in the wedding party, leaving the husband to fend for himself with the child.

But Lisa and Ethan’s rule turned out to be different from my own. Kids at the ceremony were a no-no for the reasons I stated above that applied to my own wedding. But, unlike me, they offered no reason why kids could not attend the reception, which would be loud anyway and would put the parents in the position of having to deal with their little screamers, not the bride and groom.

I hadn’t thought of it that way. Had I been too strict in enforcing my no kids rule across the board? Could I have dealt with a nursing babe-in-arms, or a toddler getting down to Abba under the occasional drop of chardonnay? Perhaps. Because, before I had a child of my own, when Bride Melanie was planning her wedding, I had no concept of what children were like, despite having encountered quite a few of various ages and personalities in my lifetime. Or perhaps it was precisely because of that reason, and not despite it. I couldn’t tell a 9-month-old from a two-year-old back then. I had no idea that tiny nursing babies, while needing to eat every 2-3 hours, could generally sleep through an entire ceremony and most of the reception and not make a peep because they can stay strapped all cozy next to mommy’s chest for hours, punctuated by the occasional diaper change. I had no idea that some 3-year-olds are darlings and some 6-year-olds are uncontrollable beasts. I just had this image of the generic child in my mind, a child that ruined weddings while oblivious parents shoveled their mouths with crudites and talked about their minivans, or whatever it was that parents talked about. There was no way I was going to let generic child ruin my wedding!

Flash forward to about two weeks before the wedding. I had offered to find a babysitter to watch the numerous little children who would be appearing at the Publick House for Lisa and Ethan’s big day, and would therefore need to be watched while their parents attended the ceremony. It turned out that most parents had declined my offer to provide childcare. I assumed that each of these couples had discussed the situation and agreed to have one of them sit out the ceremony, or made their own on-site childcare arrangements. When I asked the happy couple why their friends and family couldn’t just leave their kids home, they shrugged and commented that a lot of them had kids and they just didn’t feel like they could say no.

Ok, story is not over yet, but what say you? I felt bad, at that moment, for my friends, because it seemed that they really did not want children at their wedding — reception as well as ceremony — but felt compelled to allow it because there were just so many of them. I asked myself whether I would have similarly had a hard time enforcing MY RULE at my wedding, if the numbers of children had been so large. But then, Bride Me stepped in and reminded me: Who did these parents think they were, anyway? They had their day … long before they had children … and now Lisa and Ethan should have theirs, too. They shouldn’t even ask to bring their kids. Remember what Ms. Wedding Etiquette said? If your kids were not named on the invitation, then you should take it as a subtle hint that they are not invited. To me, it’s like requesting a special meal at someone’s wedding because you don’t eat chicken, beef or fish.

Oh wait, people do that too.

On that note, if you have never planned a wedding, for yourself or for others, and you are a parent, vegan, have a severe food allergy, or some other aspect of your life that needs to be accommodated, then be very, very appreciative and grateful for your married friends who accommodate you at their wedding. It’s their day, dammit! It’s “Our Wedding Day”, not “We Have Eight Vegan Friends Who Need a Steak-Shaped Mushroom Cap to Eat Day”!

Getting ready for Lisa's big day. Notice that this time, I have the post-childbirth gut. This is my punishment for having a childfree wedding 3 years ago.

I need to back up and tell you that, up until about two weeks before the wedding, I thought Lisa and Ethan’s rule was no kids, period, at the entire wedding – ceremony and reception. Either I misunderstood this, or it was sort of a soft rule that ended up changing as time passed. Well, about two weeks prior, when Lisa emailed me to ask whether chicken fingers would be ok for Mackenzie’s dinner at the reception, I was surprised. I thought about telling her, no way, I will keep my sister all night as planned to babysit, pay for her room since the reception goes until midnight, and you have one less bratty child to worry about on Your Big Day!! I thought about being the bigger person.

Then I thought again, took her suggestion to bring Mackenzie to dinner, and canceled my sister’s hotel room since she would be leaving at 7:30 instead of midnight. I felt a little selfish, like I was demanding a steak-shaped mushroom cap. Hell, forget being vegan, this was more like being macrobiotic and demanding a plate of cold, tasteless noodles and some okra. But … the bride offered … so kids are ok, right?

Me, in all my Bridesmaid Curly-Headed Goodness. This has nothing to do with the story. I just wanted to show you all how awesome my Bridesmaid Hair came out.

The big day came, and along with it, the practical reality that neither the husband nor I could fully enjoy the wedding reception with a toddler in tow. While Mackenzie was great for a 14-month-old, there comes a time when all 14-month-olds will have a meltdown if they don’t go to bed on time and instead find themselves in a large room filled with loud people and loud music. And so it was that I missed the cake cutting while I nursed a sobbing Mackenzie to sleep on our hotel bed, and that my husband missed everything that came after the cake cutting (including said cake) while he watched the sleeping Mackenzie in her Pack and Play in our quaint historic hotel room with flowered wallpaper and creaky floorboards.

Oh, and people DID bring kids to the ceremony after all. A few of them. One of them did scream, but Lisa told me later that she was so in the moment that she ended up not caring and it didn’t ruin Her Day at all. I wonder if those parents knew about The Rule. I wonder if The Rule had been unevenly applied, if only because some people are more persuasive than others at getting their way. I wonder what most parents think about The Rule. My Rule. The rule that probably caused two couples I invited to my wedding to stay home instead. The rule that I still had no regrets about, except that I would have offered to pay for a sitter so that people didn’t have to stay home entirely.

Yeah, mushroom caps don’t sound all that unreasonable.

5 thoughts on “Children at Weddings

  1. Well I will say that was an interesting article…and for being in my mid 30’s I have been to my fair share of weddings over the years. Some with children some without. I must say it is a matter of preference for the couple getting married and also if that said couple is family – I think they are a bit more inclined to accept the children. If the couple is a friend or coworker etc… then I wouldnt expect my little one there.

    Having said that – I do think thought that having children at your wedding adds to the whole “family” experience.


  2. I know I’m totally in the minority here. I completely, 100% understand and respect people’s thoughts about wanting kid-free weddings…but for me, at least, weddings are about family- becoming a family yourselves, joining families, and celebrating families. For that reason, I not only invited children but encouraged it, adding a “children’s meal” option to the menu. The parents were extremely polite about their children. We had not a peep during the ceremony (not that I would have minded, really, aside from maybe a tantrum of course!) and the dance floor was full of dressed up kids dancing to “We Are Family”. When the dinner/cake was over and the dance time became more about our friends and us, the parents kindly retreated to their hotel rooms (our reception was in a hotel). We personally really enjoyed their presence.

    That said, if someone wants a more adult kid-less affair, it does indeed make me crazy when people insist on bringing the whole troupe anyway! It’s important to respect the wishes of the people hosting the party. I actually declined a wedding invite for next month because I have a nursing baby and couldn’t leave him overnight (it’s out of state). Am I a little sad? Of course! However, weddings a big deal- a lot of time, money, and thought goes into them and I can fully appreciate not wanting the wild card of children thrown into the mix! 🙂 Great post!


  3. I enjoy a good wedding without my kids! We have recently been to a wedding that our entire family was going to, at a mansion in RI, which meant bringing a babysitter with us. Thankfully a friend of the family was able to make it. I had thought that wedding was no-kids, but it ended up being crawling (literally) with kids! I felt bad that we could have brought ours too, but then I looked at my glass of wine, bananas foster (that i didn’t have to share), and my “boogie shoes” and knew that not only was I having a great time, but my kids probably wouldn’t have had a good time had they been there.

    Oh, and your hair looked fantastic!


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