For many newly engaged couples, a picture-perfect wedding embraces children or eschews them from the guest list.
"At weddings, children can be fun, warm and endearing," says Darcy Miller, editorial director of Martha Stewart Weddings, "but they can also be uncontrollable."
Miller and other experts offer advice on preserving nuptial bliss.
Bride and groom, know thyself. Couples intent on a flawless outcome should limit the number of young guests. "If the thought of a kid screaming during the middle of your vows is unacceptable, you need to know that about yourself before you send out the invitations," says Jeannie Bertoli (drbertoli.com), a marriage and family therapist in Santa Barbara, Calif., and host of the radio show/podcast "I Want a Better Life." "A metaphor that describes inviting children to your wedding would be to think of a scale, where a need for more control equals less children. But if you are the kind of bride who doesn't care if a toddler is twirling around the dance floor during the toasts, you will probably be fine with more children. Either way, you need to know that families can incur resentments at weddings that last for decades."
Parents: Prepare in advance. As soon as you accept an invitation, discuss the event with your kids. "Let them know that some people don't invite children because they can (misbehave), and ask them, 'Do you think you can do this?'" suggests Karen Ruskin (drkarenruskin.com), a marriage and family therapist in Sharon, Mass., and author of "The 9 Key Techniques for Raising Respectful Children Who Make Responsible Choices." She also advises dressing kids in classic outfits with soft, comfortable fabrics, not stiff, fussy formalwear. However, she cautions, even the most well-mannered children (and parents) can be prone to misbehavior when they are up late and overwhelmed by the excitement. "You can't expect them to act like Stepford children," Ruskin says. "And parents need to remember, this is not your special night out. Don't use someone else's wedding to kick back and let your kids run wild."
Parents: Prepare survival kits. At the ceremony and reception, kids are being asked to sit still for what seems to them like an eternity. They'll likely be bored and hungry, a dangerous combination, Ruskin says. She suggests packing a quiet activity, like a book or small noiseless toy, for either event, and treats their kids can enjoy at the reception. "If the bride and groom are not kid-friendly, don't take it upon yourself to ask for a different meal for the children," she says. "This wedding is not about you, so don't be needy."
Bride and groom: Designate a kid's table. For couples who view children at their wedding as a delight, the Martha Stewart Weddings staff suggests asking the caterer for simple meals that kids will enjoy. Paper place mats and tablecloths can serve as canvasses for art projects (but supply crayons, not markers!). Miller suggested giving kids a goodie bag stocked with drawing pads and mini-puzzles to keep them busy. If you can afford it, hiring a baby sitter or two can prevent chaos and keep kids safe, as well as allow parents to enjoy their evening. For more ideas, go to marthastewartweddings.com.
It starts with the invitation
Couples opting for an adults-only wedding must be sure their invitation is clear about which members of a family are invited. For starters, address it to Mr. and Mrs. John Smith, or John and Jane Smith, not the Smith Family, says Darcy Miller of Martha Stewart Weddings.
"You need to be clear about who is invited, starting with the names on the invitation and the return envelope," she says. "But you never want to come right out and say, 'no children allowed.' "
In addition, Miller suggests that if children are not invited to the wedding, and a family has to travel from out of state, couples can offer to assist with finding a local baby sitter for the evening.