I’ve been to dozens of weddings over the years, in at least nine states and three countries. I’ve been a guest, a flower girl, a wedding singer, a wedding planner, an usher, a guest book attendant, a bridesmaid, and even a bride.
Along the way, I’ve been witness to the full spectrum of child wedding experiences, from adorable unplanned moments that enchanted every guest to full mid-vow meltdowns.It’s perhaps the latter that gives parents pause when filling out their RSVP card. Bringing children to weddings can feel like bringing a bull to a china shop. But what my years of wedding guest observation has also imparted is that there is a way to bring the whole fam where everyone actually enjoys themselves. Here are five simple tips that can save major embarrassment--and your parental sanity!
- Pay very close attention to the invitation. This is important: If the wedding invitation is only addressed to you (or you and your spouse/partner/+1), the children aren’t invited. This is--probably--not because the bride and groom hate children. Perhaps they needed to trim the guest list for budgetary reasons, or have sat through a bad wedding/child experience and want to avoid repeating it. Other weddings may have special arrangements for portions of the festivities. For example, at our wedding we offered free childcare in the church’s on-site nursery for young children, but welcomed all ages at our reception. Whatever the couple asks, politely abide by their request. It’s their day!
- Rehearse your role. When I was in kindergarten, I was asked to be a relative’s flower girl. Even though I was already an obvious extrovert with nary a shy bone in my body, my mom procured the silk petals and basket well in advance and made me practice throwing petals, even in front of visiting neighbors. At the time, I thought it overkill (albeit fun, fancy overkill), but now I realize she was trying to protect me from what I call Flower Girl/Ring Bearer Shock. This very common ailment causes an otherwise well-adjusted child to completely freeze and/or wail at the exact moment they’re supposed to be charming the crowd. My point: if your child is asked to have an official role or task in the wedding party, however small, it pays to rehearse and discuss expectations with them. Should your parental instincts warn that your particular child will dislike all eyes on them, it’s perfectly acceptable to politely decline. Trust your gut!
- Set yourself up for success. How many times have we well-meaning parents dragged the family on a three hour car ride in scratchy dress clothes, only to arrive to the wedding tired, itchy and hungry? Spoiler alert: this never ends well.
For a better result, travel to the general area of out of town weddings the day before whenever possible, or allow a little breathing room for extra stops or rest/play upon arrival. When it comes to meals, ask in advance if there will be any kids meals or kid friendly food at the reception. Regardless, tuck a few discrete snacks in your bag or jacket pocket for back-up/emergencies. Bring enough for the whole family--even grown-ups get hangry at weddings, where wait times can be longer than anticipated.
- Sit and stretch strategically. Ask to be seated at the ceremony along an exterior aisle, preferably near an exit. This way, you can make a quick, clean getaway if fussiness or a potty emergency arises at an inopportune moment. At the first wedding my then infant daughter attended. She held up admirably until the end when the couple was pronounced husband and wife. The guests burst into boisterous applause, at the exact moment I remembered that group applause terrifies my daughter into screaming tears. Providentially, I was seated in the back row and was able to duck out and comfort her before making too much of a scene, but I vowed to always remember to have a quick “emergency” exit path from then on.
- Dance like no one’s watching. Enjoying a wedding with young children isn’t just about mitigating potential disaster. It’s also about enjoying the experience together and seeing it through new eyes. At my nephew’s recent wedding, my four-year-old daughter so enjoyed seeing the wedding process she hears about in so many fairy tales play out in real life. She loved the decorations, the dresses, the music and the novelty of it all. And while wedding dancing is typically not a highlight for me, cutting loose with her on the dance floor was so much fun. The three of us boogied the night away, taking a lead from my daughter’s utter joy and freedom from self-consciousness. She was so tired from all the dancing, she napped the whole way home--and we all lived happily ever after, until the next day, at least.
Happy wedding season to you and yours from the Cubshrub team.
Brooke Preston is a lifestyle, copy and comedy writer (and work at home mom) based in Columbus, Ohio. Her work has been featured in National Lampoon, McSweeney's, The Second City Network, The Huffington Post, Romper, Columbus Monthly, Columbus Parent, Travel Portland and more. She's the co-founder of The Belladonna Comedy.