Will Your Wedding Be Child-Friendly or Child-Free?

Read Anna Post's etiquette guidelines for the youngest guests at the wedding.

Whether your celebration is a grown-up affair or full of small guests only knee-high to a grasshopper, there are a few things to consider for a successful event.

Photo: Elisabeth Millay Photography

The bride looks radiant. The groom takes her hand. As she looks up, he opens his mouth to recite his vows, and… wailing interrupts. Though to some, a wedding wouldn’t be complete without cherub-faced children chasing each other between the dinner tables, many couples choose to keep their weddings just to adult guests. Whether your celebration is a grown-up affair or full of small guests only knee-high to a grasshopper, there are a few things to consider for a successful event.

Addressing the Issue

Getting the news out tactfully yet effectively that children won’t be invited can be nerve-wracking, but the answer is simple: The place to denote exactly who is and is not (by omission) invited to a wedding is on the inner envelope of the wedding invitation. If there is no inner envelope, the outer envelope is the place for specifics. So, if little Susie and Sam are invited, their names should be listed below their parents’, or included as “Mr. and Mrs. Malcolm Smith and family.” When teens turn 18 years old, it is time for them to receive invitations of their own, even if they are living at home with their parents. Tempting though it may be, avoid printing “no children” (or the cringe-worthy “adults only”) on the invitation. 

No one likes to imagine his or her child was singled out, so apply your no-children policy to all fairly. Flower girls and ring bearers (usually age three to seven), as well as any children you have from a previous relationship, are exceptions everyone can understand. If you can’t avoid it, it is okay to set an age cut-off, which means some children, but not all, will be listed on the inner envelope.

If you think a particular parent might not understand, speak to them as soon as your decision is made: “Jen, we just dropped the wedding invitations in the mail. We are very excited to see everyone, but we also wanted to let you know that we have decided not to invite children to the wedding. It was a tough call, but we hope you understand and know how much we really hope you and Colin can make it.”

A Minor Misunderstanding

Despite your best efforts to make it clear, some parents might not understand how to correctly read a wedding invitation’s addressees, and include their little ones when they respond for themselves. Worse, some parents will decide their children should have been invited, and reply accordingly. The only thing more frustrating than not getting a response from a guest is receiving a response that requires an awkward phone call – and awkward though it is, it is necessary. It wouldn’t be fair to make an exception for one child when so many other guests were respectful of your wishes and arranged for childcare. Be firm but gracious: “Kara, I’m so sorry if there was a misunderstanding, but the invitation was just for you and Paul. We aren’t inviting any children to the wedding, and we can’t make exceptions. We both hope very much that you and Paul can still attend.”

A Thoughtful Resolution

Many brides and grooms find a happy compromise by offering childcare during the ceremony and reception. Let parents know about childcare options on the wedding invitation’s enclosure and, if you have one, on your wedding website. Some couples hire a team of babysitters and reserve a nearby room at the reception site; others provide names of local babysitters for parents to hire if they wish. In either case, provide references.

Child-Friendly Events

Weddings that include infants and toddlers run smoothly when parents have an easy exit if children get fussy, so instruct ushers to offer parents seats near the aisles or the back for the ceremony. And yes, despite the fact that children were invited, the assumption is that they will behave. If they are distracting from the ceremony, it’s time for a break outside, even if that means mom or dad misses the “I dos.”

At the reception, children can be seated with their parents, but it may be more fun for all to arrange a children’s table. The kids will require some supervision so plan accordingly. Kid-friendly food, games, coloring books, and crayons are always a good idea. Consider timing, too; with lots of kids it’s a nice nod to bedtimes to serve dinner a little earlier and cut the cake before it gets too late – that’s the age-old signal that it’s fine to leave the reception without appearing rude. 

With or without children, weddings are about two people getting married and sharing that day with the ones they love. The decision to invite children isn’t about right or wrong, it’s about respecting the couple’s wishes. The important things to remember are to be consistent with your invitations, and to make things clear and easy for your guests, be they little or big.