A Family Occasion

5th September 2014

Amidst all the excitement surrounding a newly-engaged couple, several
issues arise that can, in some cases, cause tension.

Alex Gray picks carefully over the contentious issue that is Inviting Children to Weddings.

Or Not, as the case may be.

No sooner is the engagement announced than the tricky matter of assembling the guest list looms into view. Should you invite the aunt you haven’t seen since you were 12? What about the cousin that you never got on with as a child, but who still sees your mum regularly? What about workmates, what about your boss? It’s all open for discussion, and there are no right answers to any of these questions (whatever your mother or mother-in-law-to-be might say)… but nothing, dear reader, polarises opinion more than whether to invite children to the big day.

About a year ago a wedding invitation dropped on our mat from close friends of ours. We were thrilled that they had decided to get married, and I rang them in great excitement to talk about arrangements. Specifically, how we thought we could manage to attend the entire do despite having two small children. “They’ll happily fall asleep in their buggy during the evening reception!” I gushed. The bride fell silent, before informing me that children weren’t invited.

I was crushed. These were close friends who had spent lots of time with us and our offspring. They’d even babysat for us, yet they wanted to exclude the children? For me, a wedding is a family affair, an all-inclusive celebration of one of life’s great milestones. The all-inclusive bit really matters. Parents have to be responsible, obviously, and I would frown hard on any parent that let their child holler their way through the ceremony – but leaving them out altogether? Really?

We still went, though; the friendship too important to let a difference of opinion get in the way. Once we’d got some childcare in place – no mean feat – we made it our business to enjoy ourselves. Looking back, it was lovely to spend a stress-free day and evening in my husband’s company, something of a rarity then. Besides, I was in no real position to criticise: we went abroad to get married, long-haul at that, which counted anyone who had small children pretty much out. I never even had to consider the issue.

I canvassed opinion among friends and family for this piece, and, as you might imagine, came up with some opposing views – but also some interesting ideas for resolving the dilemma. Read on…

When a wedding invitation that specifies adults only lands on Nic Packard’s mat, she couldn’t be happier. “Why would I want my children there?’ exclaims Nic. “They don’t want to sit quietly during a ceremony, or eat their dinner at a funny time of day, then have to sit quietly again while some more grown-ups talk and then have a quick run around/dance before being sent off to bed! They had a much lovelier time at Grandma and Grandpa’s!’

Mareike Graepel’s opinion is more along my way of thinking. She says that some of her fondest memories are of weddings she was allowed to take her children to: “My children were a lovely addition to the wedding party when they were invited and did not annoy/disturb anyone. They have to behave, of course, and as a parent you have to be well prepared for a special day like that. But it is possible. And can be absolutely beautiful.”

Sue Wilcox is undisturbed by the issue; the priority, for her, is the wedding couple: “It’s the couple’s choice and their day, whether it is money, lack of tolerance of children or just a desire to be the only people everyone is watching – it’s just one day of a very special friend’s life. It’s not a snub if they don’t invite your children, rather a welcome excuse for a well-deserved break.”

The trick, I believe, is that if you’re going to invite children, make it a truly child-friendly affair. With that in mind here are some cracking ideas on how to achieve this.

Emma Lewis and Hayley Ryllo went the whole hog. They each wanted to embraced all age at their nuptials, and bent over backwards to make their weddings child-friendly.

Emma Lewis got married in a cathedral. For the reception, she chose a child-friendly hotel that was happy to welcome small people. Her reception was held in a marquee in the garden, but Emma also had an entirely separate marquee specifically for her younger guests. “It was red and white striped like a fairground tent, and accommodated a small army of nannies and stuffed toys. It kept the little ones entertained, especially throughout the wedding breakfast and speeches,” says Emma. “For the evening reception, guests could pre-book babysitters in the hotel, so that they could enjoy the evening without having too many overtired ankle-biters skidding across the dance floor as the adults partied. A highly recommended solution.”

Hayley Wootton got married at a stately home. “I’ve always dreamt of a big wedding where all my family and Jack’s family could come together for one day and just have fun together. I not only wanted the children to be part of the day, but I also knew that if I was to say that children weren’t invited, I would risk some members of the family being unable to attend. From my own experiences of weddings growing up, I remember that having to sit still during a church ceremony wasn’t always fun and as the church that belonged to the venue was very small, I was conscious about space.”

Undefeated, Hayley came up with a neat plan that catered for everyone’s needs and coped with the space restrictions.

“Our solution was to provide some alternative activities for the kids to do during this part of the day. We hired some nannies and invested in a truck-load of craft materials. The great thing was that they made a lot of stuff that we could then hang onto as a keepsake. My favourite is one that has all of their hand prints on with their names.”
Later, the children ate their meal in another room, leaving the adults to relax and enjoy the speeches. “The kids had loads of supervised fun. This also meant that their parents didn’t have to worry at all, they could check on them whenever. The children in my family are wonderful and I couldn’t imagine them not being there, but I was glad that they were able to have lots of fun whilst their parents were able to have a relaxing day and enjoy themselves.”

The key to both Emma and Hayley’s weddings was that they were actively committed to all-inclusive occasions that were fun for all their guests; both found child-friendly venues and came up with imaginative solutions. To do the same, find a welcoming venue who will work with you to develop entertainment ideas for the younger members of the family. Here are some to get you started.

• Provide giant garden games such as Connect 4, Jenga and Noughts and Crosses. A bouncy castle is always popular, too.

• Give a goodie bag to each child on arrival including one large toy (a doctor’s set, say, or a racing car) along with plenty of colouring and craft materials. You could even make these wedding-themed.

• Serve them a packed lunch at the table or in a separate room, rather than the same meal as the adults so they don’t have to wait for it to arrive. Be wary of filling it with too much high sugar content, however: you don’t want them swinging from the chandeliers. A good mix of carbs and protein (such as an egg or tuna sandwich) plus a drink and a yoghurt, then maybe a cupcake

• Turn a small room at your venue into a mini cinema. Have a plentiful choice of family DVDs and serve ice-creams and popcorn. Make sure to have some adult supervisors, either hired or recruited from sensible teenage nieces/nephews/cousins who might also find the main part of the day dull.

• Buy a box of magic tricks and ask the older ones to learn some – and even demonstrate them before or after the meal

• Provide a dressing up box. Include a box of crazy hats, scarves, gloves, fake moustaches, novelty glasses
• Book a Punch and Judy show, face painter or other children’s entertainer

• Book activities for them such as biscuit decorating, stone painting or origami

• Set up a scavenger hunt in the grounds of the venue

• Give each child a disposable camera and encourage them to play photographer; depending on numbers this might be a hefty investment but you’ll end up with some hilarious pictures to complement the official photographs – and some wonderful memories of a proper family occasion…

Find Your Local