When Judy Stern got married, she limited the guest list to adults. Children, she believed, might ruin her special day.
“At the time I got married, my only experience with babies was when I babysat,” said Stern, a resident of Silver Spring, Maryland. “Those babies were constantly crying.”
She regrets her decision now. Having her own children shed a new light on the demands she made on her wedding guests who were parents, and what her wedding might have lost in the process.
“After I had children of my own, I realized how hard it was to leave them, and that they were quiet and happy as long as I was with them. I now think having well-behaved children at a wedding adds to the joy,” she said.
With so much riding on the wedding to be a beautiful, joyful, meaningful, “perfect” day, adding children to the mix might seem guaranteed to take the focus off of the bride, the groom and their happiness.
For those who do invite children, there are ways to accommodate their energy and attention spans, according to wedding planner Donna Lawrence.
“I strongly encourage hosts to provide sitters for their young guests to allow their parents to participate fully in the wedding,” she said.
And that’s what Stern did when her
own children got married. She hired
teenagers to babysit.
“We used separate rooms in the hotel and shul for the children and babysitters, and the parents — as well as the bride, groom and I — would occasionally stop by to say hi.”
“It is definitely not uncommon for couples to have a no-children policy at a wedding,” said Lawrence. “Exceptions are made for babies and nursing mothers. It shouldn’t be the responsibility of the couple to allow children to attend if the parents can’t find a sitter. They also shouldn’t worry about offending anyone with this policy.”
Sometimes it’s the situation that determines whether children participate. Maharat Ruth Balinsky Friedman was 9 when her widowed father remarried. She and her younger sister walked down the aisle, but were absent from the reception. “Our father didn’t believe in children at weddings,” said Friedman.
At her own wedding, babies accompanying out-of-town guests were welcome. “If a woman was coming from out of town with a baby, it was clearly a big step for her to come, and she probably was bringing her baby because her baby needed to nurse,” Friedman explained.
“We did have a babysitter during the chuppah, so those mothers could actually be there, and we didn’t want babies crying.”
If you do include kids, here are some tips to keep them entertained and well behaved.
1. Let them eat treats
If your little wedding party attendants act up, they might be just hungry. Keep them cheerful with something sweet.
2. Keep ’em busy
Offer tabletop entertainment during a long dinner, with cups of crayons (or any other non-staining drawing materials). For younger kids, turn one area into an arts and crafts space.
If kids are in a separate room, try a kid-friendly DVD, board games, Game Boys or a child-friendly playlist. You can rent or
borrow ping-pong or air hockey tables. For a more relaxed outdoor wedding, set up lawn games and activities like a
3. Get an entertainer
If your budget allows, hire a professional caricature artist, fortune teller, clown, storyteller, magician or impersonator.
4. Stagger the meals and/or serve
Consider dividing dinner in two — first kids, then adults. While you and your guests may enjoy lingering over a five-course meal, most kids are ready to call it quits after 15 minutes.
Be thoughtful about choices. Most kids will eat only fun foods like little pizzas, chicken fingers or mini hot dogs. For dessert, a make-your-own-sundae bar is a hit.
5. Don’t forget naptime
Very young children will probably be asleep before the event’s over, but you may also have tired older kids. Set up a quiet room where they can rest after a long, exhausting day (or night).
6. Be clear about who’s invited — and stay firm
Parents tend to make assumptions, so make clear who’s included. To avoid hurt feelings, if you’re having some kids (such as the flower girl) and not others, explain the parameters. If you back off on one person, someone else will expect the same. Try saying: I want you to enjoy yourself; leave the kids at home. Or: I have budget or space limitations.
7. For kids in the ceremony
Young children sometimes get scared and bolt. If a parent, grandparent or familiar caregiver is waiting at the end of the aisle, the child is much more likely to walk all the way down.
8. Keep a sense of humor
If your toddler can’t keep her hands off the wedding cake, don’t throw a fit. Instead, laugh and tell the photographer to catch it on film. JN
Barbara Trainin Blank is a Washington, D.C.-area writer. This article originally ran in Washington Jewish Week, a Jewish News-affiliated publication.