When I first approached this topic, I was all, “La la la, obviously everyone knows weddings without kids are totally fine, let’s talk about making your parent friends comfortable… if you care.” But then I realized that not everyone thinks that child-free weddings are cool, so let’s backtrack a little.
First, the obvious: kids can be a joy at your wedding, and weddings can be a great way to celebrate with a multi-generational community. All that said, there are times where it just doesn’t work to have kids at your wedding. Two of our kid-loving staffers had child-free weddings. Deputy Editor Lucy had a kid-free wedding because the only possible kids on the guest list were her sisters’ kids, and both her sisters wanted an excuse for a kid-free day. Digital Director Maddie (one of the most kid-obsessed people I know) had a (mostly kinda) kid-free wedding, simply because they had a 250 person guest list without kids. (Maddie’s rule was they didn’t formally invite kids, but if anyone asked if they could bring their kids she told them, “Yes,” because she figured that caring enough to ask was reason enough.)
So if you’ve decided not to have kids at your wedding, and probably have your reasons (and I’m betting “hating children” is not among them). What’s next? First, I would propose that you ask yourself an honest question (honest answer is not to be repeated outside the four walls of your home). That question is this: Do we care if the parents on our guest list attend? It’s possible the answer is no. Maybe the only parent on your guest list is your super annoying cousin, and if she ends up staying home with her out of control children, you’re fine with it. If that’s the case, read point number one, and then go take a nap. But let’s assume you do really hope the parents on your guest list come. Then read on, because this post is for you.
What follows are our best possible tricks for getting your parent friends in the door, spit-up and toy free.
1. Let everyone know early. The time to let people know that your wedding is going to be adults only is when you send out your Save The Dates. Nothing is quite as much fun as someone planning a trip around your wedding, or getting their kids super excited about seeing you get married, only to have them realize six weeks before the wedding when the invitations go out that they can’t bring the kids. Yes, technically, if kids are not included in the invitation’s address, they’re not invited. But in reality A) People throw out the envelope without reading it carefully, and B) People with small children are used to family mail still being addressed to them as a duo. So you need a bit more obvious of an approach.
Opinions vary on this, but if you have just a few parent friends, I tend to be a fan of the one-on-one email. Something along the lines of, “It’s black tie, and we’re not having kids, but let us know if there is anything we can do to help out with little Johnny.” However, often this approach is too time consuming or otherwise not practical. In that case, I suggest something gentle but obvious. A wedding website is a great place for this information, because you can expand it beyond NO KIDS PLEAZ, to “Since we have huge extended families we’ve chosen to limit our guest list to fourteen-year-olds and over, and we hope you understand. Let us know if there is anything we can do to help.” As we always say at APW, your job is to communicate your needs and expectations around the wedding as clearly and kindly as possible. Once you do that, people will make their own choices.
2. Are your guests local, or not? If most of your guests are local, having an adults-only wedding is going to be relatively straightforward for most parents in the crowd. Sure, some of them simply won’t be able to make it, but most of them will be able to call a trusted sitter, or drop the kids off with family, dress up, and enjoy a night on the town. However, if you have parent friends that would need to come in from out of town for your wedding, the situation is decidedly more complicated. While some parents may be able to leave their kids with someone else and come to the wedding, it’s best to assume that this isn’t an option for everyone (particularly families of small children). Check with individual families, but it’s wise to assume that at least some people will have their kids with them.
3.Provide childcare Information. If friends are traveling to your child-free wedding with kids in tow, that means they need to find childcare that they trust in a probably unfamiliar city. Then, they’re going to have to negotiate leaving their kids with strangers, in a new place (quite possibly at night, when kids tend to be the most clingy). For some parents and kids that’s going to be no big deal, and for other families it’s going to be difficult. (Clingy stages come and go… for parents and kids.)
To maximize parental attendance, it’s helpful to come up with a list of trusted childcare providers who can come to the hotel, campsite, church, wherever where the wedding is being held. Provide this list (or let people know you will be providing this list) as early as possible. This is a great use of your wedding website. As a parent, it helps to know that someone who knows the area has vetted the childcare recommendations, and you’re not leaving your kid with someone the hotel concierge found out of the phonebook.
The extra credit option is to offer onsite childcare. Only you will know if this is right for your wedding. And it mostly will depend on if you have enough parents that would like it and use it. This doesn’t just provide care, it also means the kids will have company (often good in an unfamiliar environment), and will be nearby in case of (probably minor) emergency.
4.consider making a (possibly nursing) mother of an infant exception. (And Figure out how FLEXIBLE you are.) If you have any new (and possibly nursing) mothers in the crowd, consider bending the no-kid rule for those moms. (This, happily, is pretty standard etiquette.) New motherhood is isolating, and if you can avoid your girlfriend having to sit out a wedding because the baby won’t take a bottle, do it. Don’t worry about other parents being upset. “She’s nursing and it’s the only way she could come,” is explanation enough.
Beyond that, have a conversation with your partner about how flexible you want to be. Maddie’s rule that people who ask to bring their kids can is obviously the maximum flexibility. But there are other ways you might be asked to be flexible. Are you okay with parents bringing their kids if childcare falls through at the last minute, or would you rather they skip out with less than twenty-four hours notice? If a toddler with the hotel sitter has a meltdown, are you okay with mom or dad bringing him in for a quick cuddle during the toasts? If you have a flower girl or a ring bearer, are they invited to the reception? There are no right or wrong answers to these questions, but it’s best to have early conversations about where your own boundaries are.
5. Don’t have your wedding at the zoo, and please have babies at brunch. It’s relatively easy to explain to a kid why they won’t be coming to Auntie Beth’s 9 p.m. cocktail reception at the museum. It’s noticeably tricker to explain that you’re not invited to Auntie Beth’s balloon-themed wedding at the zoo. While you can have a child-free wedding anywhere, think about your location and timing. If you feel like kids in your life might have hurt feelings, talk to them, and promise a trip to the zoo to see the llamas soon.
And finally, if your wedding is a non-local affair for some of your guests, they’ll understand that the kids are not coming to the wedding and reception. But if you’re hosting additional events (a welcome dinner, a brunch), parents will probably need to bring their kids to that. If it’s an adults-only weekend, make that clear up front, and expect lower attendance from the parents in the crowd.
In Short… The reality of having an adults-only wedding is that some people won’t be able to come. They might have unreliable childcare, or a kid going through separation anxiety, or they might just be too damn tired to make other arrangements. That’s fine. You’re wedding, after all, is not an imposition, and people are going to decide if attending works for them. The goal (as always) is to maximize the attendance of people you love, and hurt as few feelings as possible. How to do that? Well, the same way you should do everything wedding related. Talk to people. Don’t apologize for your choices, but try not to be too rigid either. If there are llamas, invite everyone. And always, always, be extra nice to brand new mothers.
For those of you who are having kids at your wedding, see: How To Have A Parent-Friendly Wedding.