Wedding Etiquette | Children at Your Wedding

Ahhh, that daunting decision on most brides & grooms list; do we unite the children or keep it adult?  With so many different variables to choose from, here’s a little advice I’ve dug up to help.

Martha Stewart Weddings says:

Decide Early

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. “It may be more of a challenge to restrict children during a daytime or casual wedding without people feeling offended,” says Joyce Scardina Becker, a San Francisco-based wedding designer and planner who teaches wedding and event etiquette at California State University, East Bay. 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 between the ceremony and reception, adds Karen Kaforey, a wedding planner in Nashville. If you’re hosting a destination wedding, it’s harder to not invite kids.

Address Invitation Explicitly

Address your envelopes properly. Becker says 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. Becker feels that it’s “generally not in good taste to address an envelope to ‘Mr. and Mrs. Jonathan Smith and Family,'” since the wording can be vague. However, Kaforey says the phrasing’s okay as long as you write the names of those invited on the inside envelope.

Will It Look Bad if You Invite Some Children and Not Others?

Opinions vary, so it’s best to choose a clear rule and stick to it. Kaforey suggests drawing the line at immediate family, since most children who have wedding duties are close relatives, such as a niece or stepchild (but even these children don’t necessarily need to stay for the reception).

“If there are just a few children from different families, an age cut-off can work because these older kids are more likely to behave,” says Becker, adding that children’s manners are as important as their numbers. “But the more youngsters you have, the more their behavior will change. If you’re inviting 150 guests, and you have only two little girls that are 10 and 6, it’s darling,” she says. “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, says Becker.

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. Kaforey once planned a wedding in which a toddler was pulled down the aisle in a wagon by a little girl. “It was adorable,” she says.

Entertaining the Kids at the Wedding

“I’d always planned on children being in and at our wedding, so I had to think like a kid when it came to distracting them,” says Jane Bliss. “My favorite part of the wedding was shopping for the kids’ table!” During the reception, her young guests sat at one table for both food and crafts, with art supplies and picture frames, as well as trinket toys. “They had a blast, and they made things that had to do with the wedding, which was not a requirement,” she says.