- Mo Oh
Weddings used to be fun. All through my twenties, I tore open invitations, visions of open bars and romantic locales dancing in my head. Sweet, I'd think, I guess we're going to Scotland this summer!
Then, almost two years ago, I had a baby. Since then, every time my husband and I receive an envelope blinged out with gold calligraphy, I have to take a deep breath. I'm happy for the couple, but also suddenly ... stressed.
Instead of thinking, Ooh, what am I going to wear? I'm thinking, Can we bring Joni? If not, who's going to watch her? Can we afford plane tickets, a gift and a babysitter? Why does the thought of leaving her in a hotel room with a strange babysitter still make me feel so unhinged?
Assuming kids are invited to the wedding is a relatively new phenomenon, according to Lizzie Post of the Burlington-based Emily Post Institute. Back in the day, she says, "You would only see kids at a wedding if they were in the wedding. Now, everything is a DIY, out-in-the-backyard, invite-the-whole-neighborhood kind of thing."
It's very easy to offend parents, Post adds, by informing them you don't want their precious children at your big celebration.
Professional wedding planner Meg Schultz says one of the first questions she asks her clients is "Do you want kids at the wedding?"
"Sometimes it's a logistical decision, and sometimes it's more of an emotional one," says Schultz, who has been planning nuptials through her Moretown-based business, Meg's Events, for a decade. Plenty of couples want a family vibe. But some people just don't like kids. Or they want to go formal. Others may want to include a niece or nephew in the ceremony, but they don't want guests bringing additional children. Some wedding venues simply don't allow children.
"Having kids at the wedding completely changes the dynamic," says Schultz. "But it is tricky, because a lot of groups of friends get married and have kids around the same time. If you're the last couple to get married, and all your friends have really young kids, then it becomes a touchy subject."
Not that all parents want to drag their kid along to a party. When it's an all-adult affair, says Schultz, many guests "do really like the element of not having to look over their shoulder every 20 seconds to make sure their kids aren't running into the road or pulling things off the tables."
I can relate. My college friend Carolyn got married last June at an enchanting lodge tucked into the woods along Maine's Sebago Lake. She and her fiancé, Paul, didn't want a lot of children at the wedding.
"The most recent wedding we had attended as we were planning our own had crying toddlers," Carolyn tells me. "We didn't hear a word of the ceremony and were very disappointed to feel like we missed it."
Still, Carolyn and Paul wanted to avoid instituting a strict no-kids rule. Instead, they made a tactful suggestion in an email sent directly to all their parental guests: "We thought a lot of folks would appreciate getting an adult weekend, so we're encouraging everybody to plan for a couples getaway. That said, we totally understand if that's not an option for you, in which case feel free to bring the kiddos. Just let us know what you'd like to do. We haven't budgeted for babysitters, but there are a few different options we can help you figure out depending on how many kids we have coming."
The couple ended up with just three infants at the wedding, all of whom were perfect angels at the outdoor ceremony. I recall only momentary crying, which seemed to get carried off on the wind.
My husband, Daniel, and I took Carolyn's suggestion to heart and left our daughter, then 14 months old, with my parents for the weekend. It was the best 36 hours we'd had in a long time.
Still, child-free weddings can be tough on new parents. Daniel and I were invited to my friend's black-tie wedding at the Bowery Hotel in New York City when Joni was just six months old. After some handwringing, we left her for the night with my nephew's babysitter. (His parents, my brother and sister-in-law, were invited to the wedding, too.)
It was a joy to watch one of my oldest friends marry the man she loves. Still, I spent much of the wedding worrying about how the babysitter would manage to get both babies to sleep. The rest of the time I was pumping breast milk in the coatroom.
"Brides and grooms can choose a wedding to be however they want it to be," says Post. "Guests with kids can always look at the invite and decide they can't come, decline, send a gift — boom, done."
So what's the best way to approach kid-free wedding planning without further stressing the parents of small children in your life?
Schultz says it's important to let your guests know as soon as possible. Your child-free policy doesn't need to clutter up your save-the-date card, but it should be easy to find on your wedding website.
Never put the words "adults only" or "no children" on your invitation, urges Post. "That invitation has one purpose only, which is to let you know, 'I'm going through something really big in my life and I want you there for it.'"
According to Post, the politest way to ensure you're only inviting adults to your wedding is also the simplest: Don't include the names of the children, or the phrase "and family," on your wedding invitations. "The No. 1 indication that the children are not invited is that the envelope has just two names, and they're both over the age of 14."
Still, Post acknowledges that this gentle approach is lost on occasional guests. "We live in a world that does not always pick up on subtleties," she says.
Accordingly, all the nitty-gritty should appear on an enclosure (that bit of paper tucked in with the invite) or on a wedding website. But be careful how you present your no-kids policy. "It's really, really hard to find the language that politely tells a parent that their child's not welcome," Post says.
Schultz advises her clients to say something like "'We love you, we love your families, but we prefer this to be a child-free wedding.' People sometimes try to get cutesy, beating around the bush or trying to come up with something that rhymes," she continues. "Just be clear."
Then, advises Schultz, offer an "olive branch." Let out-of-town guests know that you can connect them with local babysitters. Many resorts and other venues work with a roster of childcare providers.
The couple getting married isn't obligated to provide childcare, or even information on babysitters, Post and Schultz agree. But that extra considerate step does a lot to ease your guests' nerves.
"What I've found to be less stressful is hiring an on-site babysitter, or group of babysitters, where the parents can come in and check on the kids," says Schultz. "We order a pizza. We might have a kids' menu from the caterers." Some couples choose to cover this cost; others work out the logistics and then ask guests to chip in.
"The downside is that, on-site, the kids can be a distraction wherever you put them," says Schultz. "The upside: It's easier to organize for everybody. Plus, these kids might already know each other, so it becomes their own kind of party."
What if the couple wants to include one or two children in their ceremony but doesn't want guests bringing the whole family?
In this scenario, Schultz recommends hiring babysitters to come and pick up the flower girls and ring bearers after the newlyweds have finished their vows. "People can get offended when those kids stay longer than the ceremony," she observes.
Schultz recalls working a wedding where only kids from one side of the family were invited to take part in the ceremony. After it was over, those kids lingered well into the cocktail hour. "I had all these mothers [from the other side of the family, whose kids were at home] getting really pissed off at me," she says.
My cousin Lizzy is getting married in September in Vail, Colo. She and her fiancé opted for a child-free wedding — or at least ceremony and dinner, "which we're paying $160 a person for," she points out. "It's an adult event."
I'm stressing a little about the air travel with a toddler, the extra adult-priced plane ticket, the strange babysitter in a strange place. But I love my cousin and couldn't be happier for her. And I know I'll have a blast once we get there.
In the meantime, it helps to remember what all the fuss is about. "The honor of being asked to be there when two people commit their lives together," says Post, "is massive."