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It’s a regular question couples have as they’re creating their guest list: Should kids be invited to the wedding? The answer isn’t a simple one, because whether or not kids are a good fit for your wedding day depends on a number of factors.
We wanted to look at all the pros and cons of having little ones at your wedding day, so we asked the members of our vendor directory to share everything you should know before you decide to include kids in your wedding day.
5 Questions to Help You Decide If Kids Should Be Invited
“There is NOTHING more beautiful than the pure excitement of a child on a wedding day,” Washington, D.C. wedding planner Sharia Barksdale of Eclectic Fête, and while that is certainly true, there are many factors to consider before you decide to include little ones in your wedding day. Ask yourself these five questions to help you determine if kids and your wedding are really a good combination.
1. Do You Have a Close Relationship With the Children Who Would Be Attending?
If you are close to a lot of kids in your extended family, a regular babysitter of your best friend’s child, plan to have your own kids present, or simply have more nieces and nephews than you can count, then you may want to include these little ones in your wedding day celebration. If you don’t have a close relationship with your friends’ children and rarely interact with them, having them there may not be as important to you.
2. Are Your Friends and Family Traveling to Your Wedding with Their Children?
If you’re inviting guests from across the country and it really is important to you that they be present, then expect that they might want to bring their children with them, especially if they have small children who are not used to being away from their parents. If you make a strict rule about no kids at your wedding, be prepared to have a number of guests decline if it means that they wouldn’t be able to bring their children with them.
3. Will Forcing Your Guests Into Getting a Babysitter Be a Financial or Emotional Burden?
There are plenty of parents who rely on support from family members and friends for babysitting because they can’t afford the high cost or regular childcare. Asking your guests to find a babysitter for the night of your wedding may be easier said than done, especially if it means they might have to leave their child with a new caregiver that they aren’t comfortable with. Your guests may end up spending most of the night anxious to get back to their child.
4. Are You Comfortable with a Little Chaos on Your Wedding Day?
Let’s be real, you never know what to expect when children get involved in a celebration. One missed snack or nap, and a meltdown could be imminent. If the thought of having a child scream during your wedding ceremony filled you with stress and anxiety, you might want to leave the unpredictability of kids out of the equation.
5. Are You Planning to Party All Night Long?
“If it's going to be a hard-core party with a lot of drinking, that might not be exactly the right crowd for littles, so reading your audience is important,” notes Connecticut wedding photographer Teresa Johnson. Look at your overall guest list and decide if the tone of the wedding is going to make it a good environment for young kids.
Everything You Need to Plan For If You Decide to Invite Kids to Your Wedding
“I don't discourage couples from inviting kids, but I do always suggest creating a game plan for them,” says Durham, North Carolina wedding planner Erica Greenwold Reisen of Folie à Deux Events. Not sure what a game plan looks like? Here are some guidelines to help you create a kid-friendly celebration.
Let Your Guests Know It’s Okay for the Kids to Stay Home
Even if you do decide to extend an invitation to all of the little ones in your life, make sure your guests know that you’ll be okay with them leaving the kids at home if that’s what’s best of them. “Kids can be whiny and screaming, and their parents may not have a good time,” notes Richmond, Virginia wedding planner Jonelle McLeod of Bryck and Lace Weddings. Your guests who are parents might be thrilled at the idea of having a night out to themselves, so make sure to support them in whatever they decide is best for them and their kids.
Avoid a Long Wedding Ceremony
“Children have short attention spans and rarely do they remain quiet for a long ceremony!” says Sharia. If you are going to have kids present during the ceremony, do your best to keep the ceremony brief (20 minutes or less is ideal) and consider providing them with things to entertain them such as crayons, a coloring sheet, or an activity book that will keep them entertained while you exchange your vows.
Mentally Prepare for Meltdowns
“Children are temperamental. I've had weddings where pre-teen children in the wedding party had FULL BLOWN MELTDOWNS prior to and right after the ceremony,” says Sharia. As we mentioned before, there is no telling what can happen when you introduce kids into your wedding day, but it’s important to remember that the kids are most likely reacting to being separated from their regular routine. Do your best to mentally prepare for a meltdown or two, and if they do occur, try not to let the meltdown affect your mood or to place blame on the kids or parents.
Have a Backup Plan for Kids in the Wedding Ceremony
Little ones are also not always as skilled at communicating when they aren’t feeling well, and so a child that seemed fine an hour ago can become ill or exhausted very suddenly. If the child was a ring bearer, flower girl, or had another role in the wedding ceremony, have a back up plan in place if the child can no longer participate. Having a plan in place will prevent you from feeling panic on the day and also lets the parents know that they can make the best call for their child without having to upset you and your partner. Forcing an unwell child to go through with the ceremony is usually not the best idea. “I had one wedding where the kid did not look good,” says San Francisco Bay Area photographer Cherlyn Wagner. “The parents knew this, said they couldn't miss the wedding, and that kid vomited during the ceremony and wailed before doing so.” No one wants that outcome, so never force parents and kids to be present if it’s not what’s best for the child.
Have Kid-Friendly Snacks & Meals
One way to ensure a child will have a meltdown is to disrupt their meal schedule. From the moment the reception begins, especially if you’re having an evening wedding, have snacks and food available that the kids will want to eat. Passed hors d'oeuvre are great for adults, but they are likely not going to seem appealing to little ones. Make sure that there are kid-friendly snacks that are accessible for both children and parents, and if you aren’t sure what snacks will be kid-friendly, ask the parents for guidance.
Keep in mind, these snacks may make up the bulk of what the kids eat for the evening. “Make sure there is something for them to snack on early because by the time dinner rolls around, they probably won’t eat,” says Cherlyn. “I have seen so many full plates left over by kids because by dinner time, it’s so late for them!”
If you do want your little guests to get a full meal, then discuss with your planner and caterer what the options are for kids’ meals. This should be a major consideration for the food you choose to serve at your wedding. “Some caterers surprisingly do not offer children's meals and force you to serve a kid with a full adult plate at cost!” notes Sharia. “Or you have to pay an additional cost for kids’ meals that they may not even eat because, let's be real, most kids eat from their parents’ plates anyway!”
If you really want to make your wedding a kid-friendly place, put their dietary needs first, and trust that most adults will be okay with a more laid back meal. NYC photographer and Catalyst co-owner, Amber Marlow remembers her laid back wedding fondly. ”At our wedding, which was a backyard wedding behind an inn, we loved having a handful of kids there,” she says. “I looked out and there were two brothers wrestling in the grass. It was so great. We also had tacos and s’mores, so it was unsophisticated and wonderful.” If having kids at your wedding is important to you, then make sure you’re creating a menu that everyone will enjoy.
Have Kid-Friendly Activities and Games at the Reception
The little ones at your wedding are unlikely to want to sit still for very long, so make sure they have fun activities at their disposal to keep them occupied. Creating kid-friendly gift boxes as their favors is one great option. “Put together their own little gift with things like washable (or even invisible) markers and paper, mini slinkies, or even create a safe space for them to play,” says Jonelle.
Depending on your wedding venue, you can also make space for bigger games or outdoor activities. “Consider lawn games that they can participate in or other types of games,” says Cherlyn. “A couple of mine who were so thoughtful of their guests had a Lego station equipped with a person to watch over it, too.” Any time you’ve got little ones under the age of three make sure that you aren’t providing them with any items or toys that could be a choking hazard. As always, the type of activities you want to have during your wedding is going to determine what type of venue will work for you, so give this some consideration before picking a wedding location.
“This bride and groom worked for Lego, and chose to have a huge field day for their wedding,” shares Teresa. “They had FORTY EIGHT kids under the age of 18 at their wedding! They worked the entire wedding around the number of littles they had, and kept it super casual. Food was kid-friendly, and instead of a dance floor, they had giant Jenga, Legos (of course!), playground equipment, frisbees, a ring toss, jousting, and a MASSIVE tug-of-war.” If you center your wedding around making sure the kids are having a great time, your guests who are parents are likely to have a great time, too. Who doesn’t want an excuse to act like a kid again?!
Arrange for On-Site Child Care
One of our favorite new trends in wedding planning is businesses that provide traveling on-site child care for kids. This allows parents to be nearby, but still able to fully enjoy themselves at the party knowing their little ones are taken care of. If you plan to have more than a handful of kids present at your wedding, this is definitely something you’ll want to consider.
“One wedding I photographed was serviced by Black Tie Kids, a professional babysitting service JUST for weddings and other fancy events,” says Los Angeles wedding photographer Rebecca Aranda of Rebecca y Las Otras. “They were great! They had babysitters and activity packs for kids. They kept the kids entertained and fairly out of the way of the rest of the party.”
Hiring professional child care services is the best way to ensure that your little guests are cared for throughout the day. “Kids can be SO MUCH FUN on a wedding day. They add so much joy to the entire day, and lots of kids love the dance floor! However, I do think it's important to set expectations in terms of what will be required of kiddos,” says Teresa. “Make sure they've got lots of opportunities to snack, nap, and be entertained.” Professionals will make sure all their needs are met so you can party away!
Beware of Hazards at Your Venue or in Your Wedding Decorations
Anytime kids are present at a wedding, safety becomes a major concern. When you do a walkthrough of potential venues, you’ll want to keep the safety of kids in mind.
“Wedding venues aren't always the safest places for kids,” says Erica, “and parents often want to be able to fully enjoy the party, which can sometimes mean those kids are going unsupervised. Do an evaluation of your venue and decor for potential hazards.” Some common hazards to look out for are old buildings with stairs or balconies with low or insufficient railings, access to any sharp objects or tools, uneven floors, steep stairwells, and, of course, anything flammable, such as chafing dishes, candles, sparklers, or any kind of fireworks. You’ll want to make sure that all candles are in deep hurricanes or thick glass so that they can’t accidentally burn tiny hands.
When in doubt, talk to your venue about whether or not the location is truly kid friendly before you book.
Avoid Self-Serve Alcohol
We all know that kids and alcohol don’t mix, and that’s why you will definitely want to avoid self-serve alcohol stations if you are planning to have little ones at your wedding. “Hire a professional bartender to make sure the kids and teens don't get into the alcohol,” says Erica. Having alcohol around minors without a professional opens you up to legal liabilities, so it’s best to leave this to the pros.
Even with professional servers, you might want to think critically about creating some boundaries around alcohol, especially if your party starts to get a little raucous. This can look like limiting drink service or dancing until a specific time. “Drunk adults around kids can be kinda scary!” notes Rebecca. “Each couple will know their own guests, though, so it all requires a personal evaluation of what’s best.”
Create a Kids’ Retreat, Nap Zone, or Breastfeeding Space
Depending on the age of the kids attending your wedding, you may need to provide a space for little ones to escape, take a break, have a nap, or to be breastfed with privacy.
“Create a comfortable place for parents with babies and young children to retreat to if the child gets fussy or needs a break from the party,” says Erica. Having this space will make it that much easier for your guests who are parents because they won’t have to try to get their child to nap during a noisy reception.
No matter what you decide, creating a kid-friendly wedding is likely to make for a wedding day that everyone can enjoy!
Jen Siomacco is the CEO and Editor-in-Chief of Catalyst Wedding Co. She works to mesh together her love of feminism, love stories, accessibility, equality, and design into the Catalyst brand. When she’s not traveling the country working to make the wedding industry a more inclusive place, she’s writing on her couch and snuggled up with her husband and SUPER lazy cats.
Photo by Tiffany Josephs Photography