Should weddings be a family affair? While some couples wouldn’t dream of excluding children from their guest list on such a momentous occasion, others dread the thought of a cranky kid throwing a fit in the middle of a ceremony.
Some couples who get married at Spokane’s St. Aloysius Church – the site of at least 50 weddings a year – prefer not to have little children at their formal ceremony. Others, however, want to be as inclusive as possible.
“Some of the weddings are less formal,” explained Kathy Yates, the church’s marriage pastoral associate for the last 18 years. “They’re all about relationships and all about family and children so the couples don’t mind a little bit of chaos and the unexpected things that children might bring them.”
There’s really no right or wrong answer, said Brenda Rollins, a wedding coordinator and owner of Kustom Occasions in Coeur d’Alene. “It’s a matter of personal choice,” she said.
Ultimately, however, guests should honor the wishes of the bride and groom, Rollins and others stressed.
But even if the couple decides to invite children, parents should still consider several factors before bringing their child, according to wedding planners.
Some of those variables include: the wedding’s venue; whether or not it’s formal, casual semi-formal or casual; the added cost to the bride and groom; whether or not a babysitter or children’s entertainment will be provided; and most importantly, their own child’s level of maturity.
“I’ve seen kids be as good as gold at weddings, but I’ve also seen some as rotten as can be,” Rollins said. “When they’re rotten, they can definitely ruin the wedding. Is that what a parent really wants?”
At her own wedding 20 years ago, which took place in a Catholic cathedral in California, Rollins’ 4-year-old nephew started screaming when she and her husband exchanged their vows. Since his mother was part of the wedding party, the boy’s grandmother had to pick him up and take him out of the church.
Rollins, meanwhile, stood at the altar with a smile on her face.
“I could’ve said, ‘No kids,’ but when you come from a large family, that’s just not an option,” said Rollins, who has seven brothers and sisters.
Despite the debate, most people choose to invite kids to their nuptials. According to The Knot, a wedding planning Web site, eight out of 10 couples make kids part of the celebration.
At Greenbriar Inn and Catering, a historic building and one of the most popular wedding venues in Coeur d’Alene, children are often included in these big events, according to owner Kris McIlvenna. In fact, kids usually account for about 10 percent of the guest list at weddings.
Special accommodations are therefore made to keep them entertained, she explained. They get to sit at their own special table complete with balloons and a kid-friendly menu that can include everything from pizza and pigs in a blanket to miniature hamburgers, fruit platters and seasoned French fries and dips. Since their menu is different from the food eaten by the adults, Greenbriar also uses a cheaper price structure for their meals.
Children 10 and older usually can take care of themselves, said McIlvenna, but when the guest list includes younger kids, she often recommends that the bride and groom or the children’s parents hire an on-site babysitter. Some sitters have taken younger kids to the park. Other families rent a room where children can watch DVDs, play with toys and do art work while their parents enjoy themselves at the reception.
McIlvenna and others often discourage parents from bringing babies and children 4 and younger to weddings, unless the child is the ring bearer or flower girl.
“I don’t think small children are able to participate and enjoy these events,” she said. “They can be a distraction. …Children (age 5 and older) have a place at these celebrations, but we just have to make sure that there’s someone looking after them.”
While some little girls get excited over brides and wedding gowns, some kids simply don’t enjoy these formal events in which they’re required to dress up and remain still for several hours, according to Rollins.
So when preparing for a wedding, McIlvenna – who has been operating her business for 23 years – often stresses to couples that it’s important to know ahead of time how many kids will be attending in order for special arrangements to be made. Yates said couples also should be clear about the kind of ceremony they want by talking to guests ahead of time.
At one of the outdoor receptions that Rollins helped coordinate, the couple were so inclusive of children that they not only hired a babysitter, they also provided hot dogs, a bouncy castle, face-painting and a clown.
Those gatherings work best when they’re outdoors or at a barn or some other casual venue, Rollins said. When a wedding is formal and held at a mansion or cathedral, it’s not as easy to take little kids, she said.
Families with infants who attend weddings at St. Al’s usually sit near an exit so they can make a quick getaway if their child starts to cry, said Yates.
“Parents are wonderfully sensitive if a little one gets disruptive,” she said. “Guests (at St. Al’s) are savvy about being appropriate and being as silent as possible to honor the couple.”
Besides the limits of a venue or the fear of children running amok, some couples simply can’t afford to invite children to their weddings. According to The Knot, the average cost for a 150-person wedding is about $25,000. Since catering can cost about $50 or more per person, some people don’t want to pay that kind of money for a child who may not necessarily enjoy an expensive gourmet dinner.
If you decide to bring your kids to a wedding, don’t forget to remind them about proper etiquette, Rollins said.
“More parents just need to take their kids out in public more and talk to them about their behavior,” she said. “If you want to be welcome somewhere, you have to act like a guest. If you can’t behave, then you have to leave.”
Parents also should be prepared when bringing their child to a wedding or any other formal occasion, reminded Yates. It helps to have some snacks or maybe crayons and a coloring book. Toys – as long as they’re not battery-operated and don’t make noise – also might come in handy.
Rollins also advised parents not to take it personally if their children aren’t included in a wedding invitation.
“People get to choose what they spend their money on,” Rollins stressed. “Don’t get offended. Just look at this as a night out for you and your spouse. Hire a babysitter and have a good time.”