Should kids be invited to the wedding? That's a major dilemma for a bride and groom.
Couples can weigh the pros and cons of the situation, but there's no right answer.
"It's a really sticky topic," says Peggy Post of The Emily Post Institute. She calls the kids-at-the-wedding debate "one of the hot-button issues of wedding planning."
At a recent wedding coordinated by Kimberly Pilson of The Wedding Sitter, the bride and groom honored the groom's 6-year-old daughter throughout the wedding. They incorporated fun with a butterfly release at the ceremony and potato sack races at the reception.
"They did so much because the kids were such a part of their lives," says Pilson, who doesn't see children often at weddings.
*Deciding Yes or No
"Children bring an element of surprise to an otherwise very controlled day," says Cathleya Schroeckenstein, editor-in-chief of the blog "Weddingbee." "To many time- and detail-oriented couples, adding an element of unknown to the day is nerve-racking."
That wild card chance of a disruption dissuades lots of couples from inviting kids to the wedding. Also, even if the children are well-behaved, it's often tough for the kids' parents to relax and have a good time.
Still, there are advantages to inviting kids to a wedding. "Children often are the highlight of many wedding ceremonies," Schroeckenstein says. "Nothing quite evokes 'aw-w-' as much as an adorable troupe of flower girls and ring bearers. They're often a huge part of our families, and many couples can't imagine celebrating their day without the children who mean so much to them. And children are often the first on the dance floor and the life of the party."
*Spreading the Word
Couples who don't want kids at their weddings need to be careful with their invitations.
"It's still considered not a great idea to write 'No Children, Please,'" says Post, who thinks it's more effective not to include the kids' names on the invitations. She also recommends that brides and grooms follow up with guests who have children, reminding them that kids are not included at the wedding.
"Be really careful of making exceptions," Post warns. "If you make exceptions, it can backfire."
Dealing with upset friends and family members can be tough, but brides and grooms need to be firm.
"If someone tries to bully their way, be very gracious and say, 'It's a shame you feel this way. We hope you can join us,'" Post says.
Many times, the only children at the wedding are members of the wedding party or close family members.
Brides and grooms inviting kids to the wedding should be prepared with entertainment for the little guests, e.g., snacks, toys and books.
In some instances, "couples will hire baby sitters to watch the children," Post says. The sitter will entertain the children with coloring books and games, allowing the parents to cut loose and enjoy the wedding.
"If you invite a sitter, make sure to seat parents somewhere where they have a good view of the kids' table," Schroeckenstein says. "That way, they can have peace of mind that their kids are happy and safe while they're enjoying the wedding."
Other times, guests will bring baby sitters to chauffeur the children. "The kids stay for the ceremony and the cocktail party and then go home with the sitter," Pilson says.
"Above all, if you choose to invite children, make sure they feel welcome," Schroeckenstein says. "Happy children make for some of the best wedding guests."
*Etiquette About Kids
Generally, kids older than 12 are OK to invite to the wedding because they're mature enough to handle the events without acting out.
If children of any age are invited to a wedding, Pilson says they should dress up. Boys should wear long-sleeve shirts and pants, and girls should wear dresses.
A bride and groom should coordinate with their planner and their caterer for kids' meals. A popular entree for kids is gourmet macaroni and cheese, which runs about $20-$30 per child.
Food and activities aside, the decision to include or exclude kids is up to the bride and groom.
"Certainly, children can be at the wedding if that's what the couple want," Post says. "And it's OK not to include children if people prefer."