How to Throw a Child-Free Wedding (Without Alienating Your Parent Friends)


And have your parent friends come

by Meg Keene, CEO & Editor-In-Chief

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.

Meg Keene

Meg is the Founder and EIC of APW. She has written two best selling wedding books: A Practical Wedding and A Practical Wedding Planner. Meg has her BFA in Drama from NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. She lives in Oakland, CA with her husband and two children. For more than you ever wanted to know about Meg, you can visit MegKeene.com.

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  • april

    “The goal (as always) is to maximize the attendance of people you love, and hurt as few feelings as possible. …. 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.” I feel like you could slap this on the banner, take down the rest of the website, and retire. It’s pretty much the only wedding advice anyone really needs ;)

    • Meg Keene

      <3

    • lady brett

      truth. although, i’ll say it’s not really wedding-specific after “attendance”. this especially is life advice i’ll be keeping in mind: “If there are llamas, invite everyone. And always, always, be extra nice to brand new mothers.”

    • RageFace

      Well, llamas obviously?!

  • JDrives

    Been waiting for this post, thanks Meg! Deciding to have a kid-free wedding was one of our first decisions in the planning process but it’s one I felt the mostly keenly that we needed to communicate about and be sensitive to for our guests. A year out, we reached out to every couple with young kids to let them know our decision and find out how we could support them. Reactions ranged from “YESSSS date night on JDrives!” to “That’s totally cool but spouse might not be able to come if we can’t find a sitter.” Nobody expressed being pissed off and everyone just seemed grateful for the heads up. It was indeed time-consuming but really important and I think it contributed to the general positive feelings of our parent friends.

    • Meg Keene

      Bless you. I swear, communicating kindly is really all anyone actually wants. I find this is info that’s often A) Not communicated, or B) Communicated really rudely. (A is super forgivable, B is slightly harder to get over.) My bet is if we cleared up the communication issue this might stop being such a stupidly fraught and debated topic.

      • JDrives

        It’s entirely possible and worth a try! Still, I think it just inherently ruffles some people’s feathers. If you’re looking at it as something totally inconsiderate of parents no matter how it’s handled, then I don’t think any amount of communication will soothe the desire to debate about it.

        • Meg Keene

          I think that is the issue for some people, but not for a lot of people. I think it’s something that cuts both ways, in that both parties communicate badly and it’s a mess from the start. Though plenty of people communicate child free beautifully (if awkwardly) I’ve occasionally had situations where my takeaway was… I’m sorry, do you feel that it was inconsiderate of me to have kids and I wasn’t thinking about your FEELINGS and your CELEBRATIONS enough? At which point there is just no salvaging how that convo is going to play out. Or not play out, as one generally ignores those sorts of invites with no response other than a “not attending.” ;)

          AKA, I think communication could solve so much of this.

        • Jules

          *sigh* I just wish people wouldn’t waste so much energy on reading soooo far into things.

          “They had a kid-free wedding and that is such an INSULT to my children!”

          Or, “She didn’t get a +1 so OBVIOUSLY she wasn’t invited to bring a date! I can’t believe she had the nerve to ask me!”

          “How DARE she put a $350 item on the registry!!!” (…..Well, did she put a $50 one too? Buy that.)

          These are all things I’ve read on the real interwebs (or in real LIFE). I guess I’m …. already tired of people assuming the worst rather than assuming the best. Isn’t this the 21st century? Can’t we talk like adults? Aren’t these your friends? Why are some so quick to jump to the worst conclusion possible? /endrant

          • Chev

            Well said!

  • I’m glad you mentioned the nursing exception. Not a wedding, but at my husband’s department holiday dinner last night we asked as soon as he got the invitation if we could bring our nursing baby. Otherwise he would’ve gone alone.

    This year she’s not nursing so we’re not even asking. His boss is child-free by choice and there’s no reason we should ask her to toddler proof her house for one night. So we’re leaving her with a sitter. Besides, I love going to those dinners and talking science and politics with adults and pretending I get out of the house more often than I actually do. :)

    • Also, his boss’s husband is in to fire poi and usually does a little after dinner. There’s no way I want my very curious and independent toddler wandering around during that.

  • Juliet

    This is great advice- the location dictating the attendance of kids is something we addressed with our wedding. We had always intended on having a child-free wedding; a year ago when we started planning we didn’t have many friends with kids, and were never really around kids. Then we started planning: daytime wedding, very short casual ceremony, outdoor venue with lots of fun lawn games and a playground, casual picnic BBQ meal. We realized the only thing making our wedding not very kid-friendly was US, that kids would have a blast, and there was really nothing that they could disrupt.

    So we changed our minds! We made it very clear that kids were more than welcome, and we are excited to play games with all of the kids this weekend at the wedding. Had we gone with our other wedding idea, an evening cocktail party at a swanky bar, you bet we would have (politely) asked our parent friends to not bring their children.

  • Laura C

    We put the word out quietly among our friends, and put a note on the website about being happy to provide a list of babysitters if people needed it. Luckily, it turned out that most of our friends with kids either were local, were staying with local family members, or had babies, and we did have a blanket exception for babies in arms, up to around a year old. Partly, honestly, because our venue didn’t count them against our head count.

    Our biggest problem was with my mother-in-law, who put up a huge fight to get a few kids in her extended family invited. No amount of “if you invite those two kids, then the parents of these four will wonder why their kids weren’t invited” made her reconsider. Largely, I’ve come to realize, because the kids she was inviting were the kids whose parents she was afraid of pissing off to begin with. In the end, we concluded that if she wanted to use a couple of her allotted invitations on kids AND be responsible for the reactions from families of excluded kids, it wasn’t worth continuing to fight with her over it.

    And of course a few people — again in my husband’s extended family — showed up with their kids despite their kids not having been invited and the families being local. And, for that matter, the parents having been B-list invites themselves! But whatever. Happily, my MIL handled that without us knowing what was going on, just went to venue staff and said these kids unexpectedly showed up, we’re not over the head count we gave you because of some late cancellations, can you just stick extra chairs in at the following tables and their parents will just have to make it work. And they did, as far as I know.

  • Amy March

    Love the nudge to consider a “mother of newborn” exception rather than/in addition to a “nursing mother” one. I’m not sure I would ever have come up with that phrasing/concept, but yes. You and your two month old, breast or bottle, because tiny.

    • Sarah

      Yup, one of my best friends could only come with her nursing one-month old–though we had a most kid-friendly wedding anyhow. And my best friend elected to leave her four-month at home because she wanted to be a free adult for a few hours. Just be prepared for those teeny babies to hijack the wedding pictures! Luckily they are very cute interlopers.

    • Nell

      We have been talking (amongst ourselves) about purse-sized and non-purse-sized babies. There is a big difference between a baby that is going to be in a carrier or on a parent’s lap for the duration of the evening, and a toddler/kid who can run around on his or her own steam.

  • z

    Don’t forget the expense. If people have to get a babysitter, that’ll be $50-$100, depending. Parents of little kids tend to be financially pinched, and on top of flights, gift, missed work, hotel, meals, all the expenses of attending a wedding, it might put them over the edge.

    One thing that worked well at a wedding I attended was a “baby room”- just a room in the venue where you could nurse, leave your diaper bag, etc., and there was a babysitter to play with the kids while the parents were at the reception. So they didn’t have to leave their child with a stranger in a strange hotel, instead they were just moments away. I don’t think it would work as well with toddlers, but if you are doing just little babies. Having one babysitter for multiple babies was super cost-effective. And a nice place to breastfeed was much, much, much appreciated.

    • Meg Keene

      Oh this TOTALLY works and is appreciated with toddlers! OMG yes. Toddlers, more so than babies, tend to do better if there are other kids and toys, and not just a random adult they don’t know. Plus it means you know where they are, you can pop in, and you have a place to take care of issues. And you still have a diaper bag, and may still be nursing.

      • z

        I hope it would, I just dunno how late after bedtime you could get before the kids started melting down. We had great success with this at 8 months because she just passed out in her car seat in a corner of the room around 9 pm. But I really don’t see my toddler doing that.

        • We keep our toddler out two hours past bedtime on Friday nights right now when she comes with us while we officiate at high school football games. She hangs out on the sidelines with a babysitter we bring along. She completely crashes on the way home, but all the activity and stimulation keep her attention at the game and she really enjoys it.

    • We gave our nephews and niece a room like this. We hired an acquaintance to babysit, and she put together activities for them to do during the majority of the reception (they came in for the cake-cutting and a bit of dancing).

      • Kara E

        We did this for the younger kiddos at our wedding (2-6/7) during the dinner part of the reception and had two high school aged (super responsible) babysitters. They were in another room at our venue. The parents AND kids loved it and it made it a lot easier for family members who were traveling (the only local kiddo in this age group was my pseudo niece and it was important to include her).

  • Acres_Wild

    We’re not having a “child-free” wedding, exactly, but the only kids we know are the flower girl (invited – she’s our niece and a pretty fun/well-behaved five-year-old), two one-year-olds (invited, but pretty sure their parents will get a sitter anyways), and then our friend’s kids who are 8 and 10. I’d really rather not have the 8 and 10 year olds there, since they are pretty crazy and it’s going to be a night-time art museum cocktail party reception, but it seems rude to leave them out if there are other kids technically invited. I think we will invite them, but I’m hoping our friend will decide she wants an adult night out and just find them a sitter anyways. Mostly I just don’t want drinks spilled because the kids are running around or food wasted because the kids decided to see how many shrimp they could shove in their mouths, you know?

  • z

    Another important point is not to take it personally if parent friends don’t come to the wedding. Sometimes it’s just too much. Too much hassle. Too expensive to buy extra plane tickets and a babysitter. Too much missed work already. Screaming on plane. Milk leaking through my dress, boobs hurting from not nursing. Staying up after the reception to pump. Baby wakes up at 5 AM to nurse. So, so, so tired. No can wedding.

    It’s not because of you. Choosing not to invite kids was your choice, and I understand. Choosing not to come is mine. Please understand.

    • z

      Another note on not taking it personally– we had a yay-kids wedding, but several of our friends with toddlers didn’t come and didn’t offer much of an explanation. Turns out, they were secretly preg. Air travel+toddler+morning sickness? No. Thank. You. There is no fatigue like pregnant-with-toddler fatigue. When it happened to me I thought I had mono.

      • Kara E

        Funny. I just HAD mono (and have a toddler) and took like 15 pregnancy tests.

    • ann

      I see your point, and I think it holds for a lot of life events (some planned, some unplanned) that get in the way of doing everything we might like. That said, I think the communication here is really important as well. If I were told “it’s just too much of a hassle” by close friends, I’d be pretty offended, especially if I’d done a lot for them over the years. It may well be a hassle and feel overwhelming, but I don’t think it’s the best way to convey one’s planned absence. I’d also be really sad if a friend whose life events I’d made a priority didn’t try to find a solution of some sort — maybe they don’t come but they take the couple out to dinner and look at pictures later, or skype in to be part of the getting ready festivities, or send one half of a couple or some other creative way of recognizing the day even if they couldn’t (all) make it. It’s about conveying the importance of friendship, especially if you’re relying on those friends as part of a supportive community.

      • Exactly! One of my friends no-call-no-showed to my wedding a few weeks ago. I was legitimately worried about her, but when I texted the next day to find out what had happened, it turned out that the kids had had a meltdown about the sitter, so she just couldn’t leave. And I mean… what? I feel like I can’t complain about this, because as everyone I know who has kids keeps telling me, I don’t know what it’s like. Ok, I get that, but this hurt a LOT.

        • Meg Keene

          No showing without any sort of message is pretty inexcusable. (That happened at our wedding too for other reasons.) However, if you can’t bring kids to a wedding and your sitter falls through, that means you can’t come and it’s SUPER last minute. Like, possibly far to late to call the couple, because they’re getting ready to walk down the aisle. That is one of the really realistic issues I wanted people to think about with this post. It’s compounded if you traveled. What happens if you spend a ton of money, travel to a wedding that’s child free, and then the sitter falls through or the kid can’t cope? That means at least one of you is sitting in a hotel in a cocktail dress with a child. Not only are you missing the wedding, you’re counting up the gazillion dollars you just spent for a wedding you can’t go to.

          I’m not saying that to say you can’t have a child free wedding, obviously I think you can. But those are the issues parents know they’re facing, and are going to have to contend with. If you know without a doubt you can’t bring your kid (which is fine), it can be really reasonable to conclude that you can’t afford to take the, whatever, $1,000 risk plus exhausting travel with a child, if you know the odds are 50/50 that the kid won’t take to a strange sitter in a strange place (for example). And by “won’t take to” I mean, sometimes your small children are in a stage where they sob uncontrollably the whole time they’re with a random person… at which point everyone involved is like, “UH. THIS ISN’T WORKING.”

          So anyway! Those are some of the things parents will be thinking about when they’re making a decision, and those are some of the reasons they might have to miss a child free wedding at the last minute, no matter HOW much they hate missing it.

          • ann

            I appreciate the context and the behind-the-scenes thinking. But… is it really all that different than someone coming down with the flu or getting food poisoning or breaking an ankle at the last minute? I mean, the money is a sunk cost at that point, no matter the reason. Maybe you go into knowing that parents may alternate time at the wedding and time with the kid–is that really so different than the food-poisoned person hugging the toilet while the partner dances at the wedding? There’s always a gamble that things could go wrong (heck, a flight could be canceled, a tornado could muck up the train, etc).

            Maybe it’s statistically less likely than the toddler meltdown, but it still seems to me that friendship means trying your hardest to be present at *important* moments in your friends’ lives and finding alternative ways to celebrate when you can’t. Would you not go to a friend’s parent/sibling/partner funeral because the toddler was screaming or would you apologize profusely to the last-minute unfamiliar sitter, extract yourself from the situation, and go to support your friend?

          • Sarah

            No, I would not leave an over-wrought, screaming and distressed child with an unfamiliar sitter in a new location. I would miss the funeral/wedding/party/inauguration at the last minute, send apologies to the host, and feel frustrated and guilty. The person on the receiving end of the apology can decide whether to accept or take offense and I can’t control that. Similarly, I cannot control when my kid will get unreasonably upset. Such is life.

          • Meg Keene

            It is different, because your odds of food poisoning are about .05%, and your odds of a toddler meltdown are about 50%.

            And it depends, is my point, and it’s really not our job as the non parent to judge the parent in the situation. Would I go to my siblings/ partners funeral with a screaming toddler? Yes, but I’d bring that child with me, because they were part of the persons life, and slip in and out as needed. If I had a kid that could not cope and I couldn’t bring them? I’d have to weigh things. What often gets left out of the equation is that kids are people too. So it’s not “screaming kid, oh well,” it’s “human in emotional distress who I care for, I now have to weigh my options.” The problem with child free is just that it just gives you fewer options. Normally you’d pick something like, “attend with kid, bring sitter, slip in and out as needed.” If it’s go or not go, you’re weighing the needs of two humans, your needs are not even included, and you’ve got to figure it out. The right answer is going to depend on the situation, and no outsider can judge what’s right there.

          • ann

            I should add that my position is very much colored by my parents’ experience. They went to a number of funerals early in their marriage and committed to making every possible effort to go to celebratory events (e.g., weddings). There are pictures of me with them at a family wedding at 6 weeks old and there are pictures of me with babysitters when I wasn’t invited. But their attitude was commit to going and figure out the logistics as necessary. It makes it hard for me to understand not doing so.

          • z

            Maybe you were an easy baby. My parents took me everywhere when I was little– but my mom didn’t work, so she had plenty of time for that kind of thing, and they didn’t have student loans. I had a full-time job, a colicky baby, and a ton of debt. So it’s different. It’s great that your parents were able to do that, but different families have different circumstances. Is that really so hard to understand?

          • ann

            Different families, different circumstances: absolutely.
            Not doing your best to prioritize attending the life events (or events that matter a lot) to friends who have done a lot to support you: nope.

            {As noted above, my point is not that this necessarily means attending the wedding. But if you don’t/can’t/won’t, then I think it’s important to do something else to show your support — be that via a nice dinner with the couple, skyping into a mutually agreed upon time, writing a thoughtful card, hosting them when they swing through your town, whatever. I feel like there’s this undercurrent of “kids make life hard and that absolves parents of tangibly supporting their friends because: life is hard” and that’s the real locus of my inability to understand. If I’ve brought you meals and traveled to visit you and taken care of your kid in a pinch, I don’t see why I can’t expect that there will be reciprocity in the form of making my life events (wedding or otherwise) just as important. Perhaps this is the frustration of getting married relatively late (30s) and having supported a number of friends through the past decade and feeling like my turn means very little because: kids. Again we can disagree on what friendship means and entails, but I hope you can see where my frustration, perhaps misplaced, comes from.}

          • Meg Keene

            The issue comes when you CAN’T bring a kid. If you can’t bring a kid and childcare falls through at the last minute and you can’t find a substitute (which is common at the last minute), you’re out. That is a risk of a child free wedding, and you have to know you’re taking it. In the 1980s, it was pretty rare to have child free weddings (or funerals). So you might get a sitter, but if that fell apart, you’d just bring the kid. Done and done. If there isn’t flexibility to bring a child, you have to face up to the fact that childcare is almost inherently un-reliable. It’s often WAY worse for things like weddings, because for us, and for a lot of people, all of our backup childcare is in our social circle. So if our primary falls through and everyone else is at the wedding, with no family in the area, that’s it for us. And that could happen a hour before the wedding. That’s what happens when there is no flexibility.

            In short: for better or worse, that’s a risk of the child free wedding. Parents tend to be VERY aware of it, but I think often the couple throwing the wedding isn’t as aware.

            (Note: when this happens and it’s not a child free wedding, it’s a different issue. A parent might not feel comfortable bringing a kid, I don’t know. That’s not my parenting style so I can’t speak to that. But I just want to point out that with child free weddings, this is something to consider in advance._

      • z

        Well, I wouldn’t SAY “hassle” to someone. I would put it more tactfully with sincere apologies. And I would try very hard not to skip a wedding at the last minute. But, truth be told, “it’s all just too much time and effort and money and lost sleep” is the real reason I have missed some weddings. Things that used to be easy for me are now much, much harder with the constraints of parenthood. I didn’t really understand this until I experienced it myself.

        • Meg Keene

          Yeah. I mean, let’s be for real, I think we all miss weddings for those reasons WITHOUT kids. And with kids, it’s the same calculation just way dialed up.

          • Another Meg

            Hello grad school. :/

            Had to miss a wedding that was difficult to get to, (flight + 4 hr drive in rental car during the semester) sad as hell about it.

            But! Dinner out once they’re settled in at their new place and I can really get to know the new husband? I am down for that. As a bride who had a child-full wedding in a really tricky location, I’m on the receiving end of dinners like that as well. I am A-ok with it.

        • Lau

          That’s all fine, but the people that made an effort to attend your wedding/kids’ christening/birthday/whatever, while they may try to be understanding if you miss their wedding, will likely be very, very hurt that their celebration was ‘just too much time and effort and lost sleep.’ I’m not saying lie about it, or torture yourself by going when you just can’t, but something can be understandable without being the right thing to do.

          • z

            Wow. “The right thing to do”? Judgey, much? Look, you don’t know what people are up against. Maybe the right thing to do is getting some sleep so you don’t get PPD. Maybe the right thing to do is to stay out of credit card debt. Maybe true friends would understand, or at least would understand later, when they have kids and see what it’s like.

          • Lau

            So…there’s no such thing as right or wrong then.

            I am making a judgement; in my opinion, you should try and attend your close friends’ big events. If you can’t make it for non-emergency reasons, and your attendance was important to them, you should expect them to be, though empathetic, disappointed and hurt.

            ‘Maybe true friends would understand…when they have kids.’ So basically the options as you see it are understand/forgive/don’t be upset now, or once (if?) you have kids. And you don’t, you’re not a true friend?!

          • z

            Look, the other thing that sometimes happens with parenthood is a sort of editing of the friend list. There are still a very small number of do-anything-for-them friends. But a smaller number. A bunch of people get bumped down the list, at least during the toddler years, from top-priority friends to medium-priority, or from medium to low-priority. It just isn’t possible to maintain all prior friendships at the same level as before. So if people made the effort for me before they had kids, I don’t necessarily expect it from them after they have kids. And I don’t feel I owe it to them either. This can be hard for people on the receiving end, and I would never say to someone’s face that they have been demoted, of course, but that’s what I’ve experienced and it’s a normal part of life.

            Personally I’m fine with this, and I understand when others do it to me. True friendships will endure a few years of toddler misery. Keeping life manageable, not over-extending for weddings, and being understanding about kids is “the right thing to do” in my opinion.

          • ann

            Wow. I expect friendships to ebb and flow because: life. But I also expect a general sense of reciprocity. Not tit-for-tat, but a commitment to being there for one another when you need it. Sure, kids make things tricky. But so do major illnesses and family deaths and travel-heavy jobs and all sorts of other life-changing experiences. Over the past couple of years, I’ve had friends who made it through cancer, faced the sudden death of a parent, and dealt with a major traumatic injury. Many of the things people need are quite similar to the needs of parents of young kids (because in this period, I’ve also had tons of friends have kids). But those situations didn’t stop those same friends from also supporting me when I needed it. So if friendships can endure (shift, sure, but be maintained) through those, I fail to comprehend why kids are so different.

            {I appreciate your candor and I think this discussion speaks to fundamentally different ways of approaching and valuing friendship. And I suppose that’s just fine. But I think it also explains the chasm here — how one approaches weddings or other events probably speaks more to how one values friendship and what one expects in these moments derives from views of friendship as well.}

          • JDrives

            It sounds like you’re equating “the right thing” with “never hurting the feelings of others” which is not the same thing, and is sometimes downright impossible. I think grownups whose other grownup friends miss important events because of kids or grief or illness or whatever can find room to feel empathy towards the situation while also honoring feelings of hurt, letdown, etc.

          • Lau

            Actually, I’m equating ‘doing the right thing’ with ‘being there for your friends’ big life events the way they were for yours’ – to the extent you can. I’m not talking about times when you suddenly get the flu, have a car accident or your child slams their hand in the car door. But those situations are emergencies; ‘I have children’ or ‘I am a poor student’ are not. In those cases, you need to explain to your friend (I’m making all kinds of assumptions that it’s a friend you care about and have been there for each other over the years) what the deal is.

            I’m not saying never upset your friends, that would be impossible. If you don’t have time or it’s not a priority, that’s fine, but be prepared to deal with the outcome, which could be your friend is upset, even though they might also be empathetic.

            If you think that lack of money/lost sleep/etc are likely to get in the way, rsvp no, by all means. The likely outcome though, is your friend will be upset, and they might not consider it a good excuse.

            If “the goal (as always) is to maximize the attendance of people you love, and hurt as few feelings as possible”, that includes the couple getting married. Of course hosts should be empathetic, but feelings will still be hurt when close friends can’t make it for vague/sketchy/non-emergency reasons.

          • DM

            During sensitive situations, and we all know weddings are, it’s important to remember that people make decisions based on the information they have at the time. As much as we would love the world to be black and white, it’s not. The world operates in shades of grey. People making decisions based on the circumstance they are in is, not only understandable, but the right thing to do for their family.

          • Lau

            ‘People making decisions based on the circumstance they are in is, not only understandable, but the right thing to do for their family.’

            It’s impossible to disagree with that statement, because of course people would make decisions based on their circumstances. But what’s the point in a discussion (one of the great things about APW comments) that basically says ‘everything everyone does is fine, do what’s right for you and no one will be upset.’

            There can still be right(er) or wrong(er) ways to behave and we can have opinions and make judgements on that.

  • LE

    Great advice! Reasons we decided to go mostly child-free (with the exception of our nieces and nephews and one infant): we couldn’t fit anymore people in the reception venue; and most of the kids are children of our (many) cousins, all are great kids, but all probably did not care one bit about not coming and don’t really even know us at all. Also, almost everyone was local. But, no matter your reason, it is valid! It is hard, but don’t take it personally if people choose not to come.

    • ZRT

      Same — 75% of the children we would have invited were my husband’s cousins’ children. We don’t have a relationship with the kids and we really wanted the people at our wedding to be people that we really knew and cared about. We invited kids to the rehearsal dinner and brunch on Sunday which seemed like a good compromise to us.

  • z

    Look at it like a balance. On one side is your friends’ desire to attend your wedding. On the other side is the hell of traveling with toddlers, the expense, the work that goes into finding a babysitter in a strange place, and whatever other miseries are involved (like having to bring breast milk through airport security). Your choices as host can tip the balance in one direction or another.

    One huge factor that hasn’t come up is the importance of children spending time with close friends and extended family, especially those they have not yet met. That is really important to a lot of parents, enough to motivate them to travel when they otherwise might not. If you say no kids, you’re pulling a huge “pro” factor off the scale. To neutralize this factor, I would strongly consider inviting kids to an auxiliary event. For example, if there’s a brunch the next day, or if your folks are having an open house, or the rehearsal dinner if it’s casual. That way people can meet the kids in a more appropriate situation.

    I think it’s totally fine to have no-kid weddings, for the record.

    • BettyGemma

      Yeah, wow that’s a super good point.

    • Meg Keene

      Agreed. This is all really well stated.

      And yes, if I want to take my kid to see family they don’t get to see, and then realize we’ll travel all the way there and they still won’t get to see them, at that point I may just throw up my hands. It’s not logical, but it can feel like “well, I know it’s going to make me want to cry knowing they’re in a hotel room and their great grandmother is down here, and this is probably one of the few times they’ll have a chance to see her.” So, wanting to cry, plus everything else, might make me very nicely bow out. WHICH DOESN’T MEAN THE COUPLE DID ANYTHING WRONG, btw. That’s just my grown ass adult decision.

    • JDrives

      I really, really love this. Our kid-free decision is a fait accompli but I will definitely let our friends know kids can come hang at the football brunch the next day. This also motivates me to reach out to those families to spend time with them after the wedding, maybe bring dinner over or have Disney movie night.

  • Mary Jo TC

    When I was wedding planning, we had to cut back on inviting kids for space reasons. The line we drew was that my cousins were invited but their kids were not. But my cousins on the other side who were ages 9-13 were invited. I was one of the first of my age group/friend group/generation to get married so it wasn’t a huge issue with the people we were closest with.

    I’ve been invited to five weddings since having my baby. We went without the kid to three of them. Grandma provided child care for two of those, and a cousin for the other. We brought our little boy to my brother’s very much NOT child-free wedding. We declined one invitation because it was on a Friday night and out of town, and we couldn’t miss work, not because the kid wasn’t invited.

    We’ve traveled overnight and out of state for weddings the kid wasn’t invited to, both with and without him. I don’t think I would have left him alone overnight before he was one, but after that point a wedding was a great excuse for a vacation from the baby! If we didn’t have a relative who could keep the kid overnight, it might have been harder though. Imagining myself in this situation, this advice would be exactly what I would need to be there for a bride who wanted me really bad.

    Of these weddings, we had the least fun at the one that we brought our kid to. He was in a crappy mood and wrecked the family pictures and wanted to go up and down the venue steps through the whole reception, not too easy when mom’s in heels. I think everyone else liked seeing him, and his presence enhanced the event for everyone else who wasn’t responsible for wrangling him. We had the most fun at the two child-free weddings with our college friends.

  • emmers

    We’re having a mostly child free wedding, but it’s actually not by choice. About 2/3 of the kids we invited aren’t coming, both a mix of in town and out of town folks. I was surprised by this, but it seems to be what the parents want! I’d originally envisioned having a whole passel of kids around. We’ll have a few, but it will be more muted than I originally thought. We’ll still have crayons and such for those who’d like.

    • emmers

      Also, our wedding is during the day, so that made it extra surprising for me!

      • Ragnhild

        I heard from some parents that their kids (boys) would probably be bored, so only the oldest girl (9) came. Since I don’t have kids I didn’t really consider that until it was mentioned, and it makes sense!

      • SarahG

        Ours was daytime and we had the same thing happen — the parents told me it was way easier to get sitting for daytime stuff, plus then the sitters (mostly grandparents it seemed) didn’t have to deal with bedtime meltdowns. Total opposite of what I had thought.

    • lady brett

      taking kids out somewhere nice *can* be a lot of fun, but it is *definitely* work, which isn’t always what someone wants to deal with at a wedding =)

  • SarahG

    Originally I was like “all the kids!” but then realized we had limited space (more limited than our venue initially made us think) and that “all the kids” meant 21 kids, and so ended up deciding that out-of-towners could bring kids, but asked locals (individually, very politely, over email) if they wouldn’t mind leaving the kids behind, but also said that if this wasn’t feasible that we would make it work. We also did the infant exception. We had four kids at the wedding (of about 85 people total) and they were all fantastic. Two little toddler girls were the hit of the dance floor — they just would not stop gettin’ down. It was hilarious. None of the local parents were offended, from what I could tell, and most of them had already decided to get babysitters for the reasons mentioned below — more fun for them, etc. I think Meg is right — it’s just about how you communicate it, and understanding that it’s not that they don’t want to come to your wedding, but making sure their little one is taken care of is their top priority, as it should be. If the kid is having a meltdown or separation anxiety or whatevs… the kid will come first, and that’s OK.

  • Sarah

    None of our friends have kids, save for two, and most everyone in both our families are at least our age, excepting my two cousins. So we’ll have a 4 month old, a 19 month old, a 14 year old, and an 11 year old. I went to a couple weddings when I was around 7 or 8 and I had an absolute blast ordering unlimited shirley temples and dancing my face off. Soooo, I don’t need to provide any other entertainment for these various kids, right?? Haha :)

    ETA: Our wedding is a cocktail style event in a contemporary art museum that starts at 6 PM and ends at 11, if that is relevant to advice.

    • SarahG

      We had four kids at ours as well (an infant, two toddlers, and a 6 year old). Didn’t have anything special; we didn’t have a long ceremony and the kids were all over the dancing. However, we *did* have an interactive polaroid scrapbook complete with stickers, markers, washi tape, etc and the 6 year old dove into that and made us the cutest damn guestbook pictures/messages (complete with drawing of me “the bride” with a princess crown on my head, adorable). She was absorbed the entire time. That’s kind of her style, though — the toddlers were all about the dance floor. It partly depends on the kids, especially with a small number of them — no point in spending a lot of time creating “kid stuff” if the two kids who might use it only want to be playing Candy Crush. I don’t think you have to have anything special. But if you are so inclined I’d just ask their parents before buying anything.

    • Meg Keene

      No, you don’t need to provide anything.

  • Meg

    We had a child free wedding by using two methods of birth control at all times B)

    • JDrives

      This made me laugh-snort into my coffee.

    • Jess

      This is how I’m maintaining my child free life right now! I feel paranoid talking to some of my friends, but like, c’mon. <1% IS NOT LOW ENOUGH.

      • Meg

        it reminds me of the joke from fraiser when ros was like “my birth control is only 99% effective…I can’t handle those odds!!”

        • Jess

          So true!!!! I love that joke.

  • jspe

    Dumb question. We want kids at the wedding, but, as I relayed during happy hour, we are having a serious numbers game issue and so planned on a no kids but yes babies policy. As it turns out, the kids we can guess might need to show up will be between 2-4. It just seems silly to try and work chairs into a crowded room for little people, when there’s nothing little people hate more than sitting in a chair. Our venue has a room downstairs that would totally work for babysitting – is there a diplomatic way to say “if you bring your kid they can hang out downstairs with a babysitter or on upstairs on your lap”?

    • jspe

      or is this a “talk to your friends carefully and with love” kind of moment?

    • lady brett

      i apparently have really thick skin, so i may not be the best to vet this, but exactly what you said makes sense to me. also, having *both* of those options would pretty much make it the best parent-friendly wedding i can think of (because…eating with a toddler trying to interlope in your food is hard. and, bedtime. and the occasional adult conversation. but also, cuddles, dancing with your kids, *and* not having to scrounge up a babysitter!)

    • Meg Keene

      Yes. That’s totally cool. FUCK, I’d be so happy if there was a downstairs room with a babysitter I’d probably kiss you.

    • Kara E

      Yes, say it exactly that way!! As a parent, I’d love that level of directness.

  • Jules

    This is already causing me anxiety. There are 21 children (and hopefully an adopted baby) on my family’s side ALONE. However, 90% of those are out-of-town kids. While I really want my cousins (their parents) there, I also find 21 children (plus the kids on his side, plus our friends’ kids) to be so overwhelming when our ideal number is like 100-125.

    :(

    • BettyGemma

      Omgosh yes. I have a huge family with lots of cousins, and if we invite all their tiny kids that’ll push the guest-list over 150!

    • TeaforTwo

      Is there a second room in your venue? I have been to weddings where the kids were invited to hang out in a separate room with a sitter, and the hosts ordered pizza for them. Waaaaay cheaper than paying $100pp to feed kids a multi course meal, and obviously also preferred by 100% of children ever.

      • Jules

        That is TBD! I think that we will be looking for a similar solution though. (Heck, sometimes even I prefer pizza….) I really want to be able to extend invitations to the entire family because that’s how I grew up and got to meet my out-of-state cousins. Most of these children are ages 0-8ish and not quite in the zone where it’s easier to leave them for the weekend (say, at a friend’s house or something). Also, I DO actually like kids, but some of these can get quite rambunctious and it would be great to give them a space of their own to toddle around in.

        • Kara E

          We had similar numbers: 125 people at the wedding with maybe 12 kids 6 and under and another 10 under 12. *phew* We invited everyone to the ceremony and cocktail reception and had babysitters, pizza and fruit, and fun games when dinner started for the little ones. They were welcome to come for dancing and cake and all of that -I left it up to the parents to decide. And I sent emails to all the parents in advance of the wedding — and most of the kids were traveling in from elsewhere. The 7+s REALLY stepped it up behavior-wise when they realized they were being included with the adults. It was pretty sweet to see.

  • Bethany

    Communication question that my partner and I have discussed back and forth for ages. Is there a nice way to communicate to parents that if their children start to loudly cry/scream/yell during the ceremony, we would like them to take advantage of the cry room and not just keep the crying baby/child in the church?

    I have a medical problem that means I physically twitch when there are loud, unexpected noises (I realize baby noises are expected, but my body doesn’t). Normal gatherings with a lot of child noises leave me exhausted from my reactions to these noises. Normally I just suck it up because my medical issues should not dictate other people’s actions. I did give a massive thank you to a friend who took her crying baby to another room during a party when she noticed I was twitching. Many cousins though would not think twice about letting their kid just cry it out while in a pew. When we tie the proverbial knot, I don’t think it’s bridezilla-y to want to reduce the reasons to twitch. My partner wants to simply ban children from the ceremony, but I feel like that would cause a lot of hurt feelings, plus I do honestly like the kids and babies we know.

    However, I really worry about how it would sound to tell people that we really want crying loud children removed from the ceremony. Any advice?

    • Nell

      I was just about to ask this! I thought this was pretty standard etiquette, and then I went to a wedding where a kid screamed through the whole thing – and his parents just sat there.

      I’m sure your medical issues make it more extreme for you to hear a screaming baby – but I personally get agitated when I’m straining to hear a couple make vows to each other, and all I can hear is a screaming kid.

      At our venue, we have these weird little side rooms, and we’re dedicating one to new parents and babies who need a time out. We’re hoping by informing parents early on that this space is available, they’ll make use of it. I saw an outdoor wedding where the kids were invited to go off to the side of the ceremony (still within eyesight of parents) and play with bubbles and hula hoops in the grass so that they wouldn’t get squirmy in their chairs.

      • Bethany

        Thank you! I always feel so weird bringing it up because I don’t want people to think I hate kids. The side room sounds awesome and I kind of want to play with bubbles and hula hoops!

        • JDrives

          I’m not a parent but I feel pretty confident that if you respectfully mentioned a cry room in a way like Amy March suggested, I would not at all think you hated kids. I mean, you still invited mine! Clearly you do NOT hate kids! It’s totally fine to look out for your sanity/well-being in this way.

    • Amy March

      Ask your officiant for ideas- they may have language that they usually put in programs, or be able to give a brief welcome spiel “dearly beloved, in about 5 minutes we’re getting things rolling. Please silence your cellphones. If your baby/child/over-emotional uncle starts to cry during the service, we have a cry room located at the back of the chapel.”

      Basically- yes on providing info on where the cry room is in a tone that encourages using it, but stopping short of telling people “if your baby cries you must leave” feels polite to me. I would also ask the ushers/usher like people to offer to show people with babies where the room is when they are being seated, and possibly also tap them on their shoulders and escort them out if they are a problem during.

      • Bethany

        Thank you! I like that language and the usher idea!

      • Meg Keene

        I LOVE CRY ROOMS. I was just in one that was soundproof, with toys, and a nursing rocker, and a window into the sanctuary. BINGO!

      • lau

        I love the idea of announcements like this rather than writing things out. There’s something about reading a written instruction in a program or on a sign that comes across as so much harsher (and not as funny) as hearing it.

  • BettyGemma

    Don’t know if anyone has asked this yet, but is there some kind of guideline depending on the age of the kids involved? Like, I have a bunch of cousins with kids, who are all interstate, and they’re all under 5. On the other hand, we have a family friend who’s kid will be like 11-12 at the time of the wedding (plus these guys also live in our city).

    So is there a difference depending on ages? At 12, most kids can kinda sit at a dinner table until 9-10pm and behave (they might be bored), but under-5s is a whole different thing. I’m guessing?? Even with bedtimes. I don’t want my cousins to have to leave as soon as dinner is over to take the kids to bed.

    So is it ok to invite older kids, but not younger ones? Will the parents be ok with that?

    • z

      Personally I think it’s fine, but sometimes there is not an obvious place to draw the line. For example if siblings are 11 and 12, inviting one and not the other might get awkward. It really depends on the circumstances and your family culture.

      Nobody can tell you whether the parents will be ok with it. And it depends what you mean by “ok”. Do you actually care if they come, or do you just want to avoid seriously offending them?

      • BettyGemma

        Oh I really want my cousins there! Crazy dancing with my cousins during the reception has been something I’ve been looking forward to for ages.

        All of the cousin’s kids are under five, so I don’t think the sibling thing would be an issue (that’s a good point though!).

        Its just, not being super knowledgeable about kids myself, I don’t know whether the parents will be keen to have a night/weekend away from the kids, or if they would infinitely prefer them around. (I should probably ask them, lol).

        • z

          It just varies by the parents. Myself, I can go either way depending on the circumstances. Sometimes I feel like I haven’t spent enough time with my kid lately, other times I’m itching for a kid-free date. How much hassle would it be to bring the kid– short drive vs. airplane connection, what are the babysitting options at home or at the wedding, etc. It’s very fact-specific.

          The fact that they are relatives definitely cuts in favor of wanting to bring the kids. I’ve brought my kid to things I would rather have not brought her to, because it’s important that she see family and there are family members who want to see her. A wedding is a great chance to get a ton of family time out of one travel weekend. Of course, people other than parents have opinions about this too, and that cuts both ways. I know my MIL would be really, really annoyed if she didn’t get to dress up her preshus grandbabies in matching outfits and parade them around!

          Anyway, it might be kind of awkward to ask people their preference and then not invite kids. But if you invite the kids I would be prepared for a lot of them to show up, since they are family.

    • Gina

      I would try not to draw an arbitrary age-line and instead talk to your cousins on an individual basis if you’re really concerned–“hey, the kids are totally invited but how long do they usually last? Should we get a sitter for the little ones at [nearby hotel/some room in the venue where they can pass out]? We want you guys to be able to stay to party!” If all the cousins know each other, maybe that would be an easy option for everyone to go in on a babysitter and they’ll appreciate your get-out-of-jail-free card.

      Truth is, some of them will leave earlier because it’s just easier for them. You can’t really help that. But I don’t know if drawing a line between the littles and the “big kids” is the appropriate solution because it really, really depends on the kids. I have friends who keep their toddlers out until 9 or 10 and they do just fine, and I have friends that head home at 7 pm with their “big kids”.

    • Libby

      Just a thought on the under 5 crowd as I’ve been reading your comments: I have a cousin who is only 2 years old – I really wanted him there and knew my aunt and uncle would too (after speaking with them), but we also knew he would need to go to sleep far before the reception ended and didn’t want one of them to have to leave. So we helped set up a babysitter that was right near the reception. The babysitter came and met them to pick him up (but they also had the option to just drop him off and head back to the reception if they felt more comfortable with that). It worked out really great because they were able to have him there, but also enjoy the night! If all your cousins could go in on a babysitter it would be perfect. We paid for the one for my cousin,but I definitely don’t think that’s required.

  • Caitlin

    Is it rude of me to just mention that after the first hour, the dance is requested to be adults only? I don’t enjoy weddings where no one wants to start to party because there are children running all over the dance floor, but I’m trying to at least compromise.

    • TeaforTwo

      The tricky thing about that is that if it’s a no-kids wedding, your parent friends are going to get sitters. If it’s a wedding where kids need to leave at a certain time, their parents are going to leave then, too. (Assuming that almost no one will have a sitter come pick the kid up from the wedding at 9pm or whatever.)

      If you really want a huge kid-inappropriate party, maybe start things a bit later and the kids will weed themselves out? I don’t know – most of the evening weddings I have been to with kids featured ALL OF THE KIDS on the dance floor for the first hour or so, followed by all of the kids either being taken home or falling asleep on a pile of coats while their parents lingered.

      • Caitlin

        I have considered providing a few babysitters, would that be enough to make it work?

        • z

          I think your request could be doable, with maybe less than 100% actual compliance. As to the babysitter, it’s hard to say. Some kids tolerate babysitters better than others. And some parents will prefer to put their kids to bed, because some kids don’t do well with staying up late, or they have an early morning flight or whatever. If you have already invited the kids, it’s probably best to just ask the parents what they would prefer.

          The best way to get a dance party started is to pick your best-dancing friends and make them pinky-promise to dance from the very first song, as a Wedding Responsibility. That and dancing yourself will kick the party right off.

    • Sarah E

      Probably a tricky request to pull off. A great way to get all your adult friends on the dance floor is for YOU to get on the dance floor. They will all follow, trust me. Also, if you literally pull someone with you (in a happily excited, “let’s go!” kind of way), they won’t say no to you on your wedding day. Then enough adults will be on the floor that the kids will be over in a corner, where the older non-dancers will be amused by their antics.

  • Jenny

    Thank you for posting this! Being the young-ripe age of 31, I am the youngest out of my friends and family to be getting married. Most of our friends and family have 1-2 kids and I have so much anxiety when I look over our wedding guest list (our venue has a max 160 and, to top the cake, I’m Asian with a large extended family). I chose our venue because it just had those certain qualities I was looking for and I really wanted to spend the night with friends and family that really care and know us personally. There’s been great advice to put a note on the wedding website or on the save-the-date but, how should I word it? Also, I’m sending out a save-the-date video via email. Do I personally address each email? Or should I just wait until someone asks?

    • JDrives

      I put this under the “Guest Information” section on our website:

      We love and have special relationships with many of your children. However, for many reasons, our wedding will not be a child-friendly event, so we are asking all of our loved ones to please leave kids under 13 home for the evening. Please consider this a date night out on us!

      The website was listed on our Save the Date but the StD did not specifically spell out “no kids.” I’ve heard (and believe) this is not appropriate to do. I also strongly recommend sending a separate email or making a call to the families with kiddos just to head confusion off at the pass.

      • Jenny

        Thanks for the great advice!!!

  • Sarah

    We attended an extremely child-friendly wedding this summer (the couple had a 15-month old, so obviously), and I actually wish they had just decided to do a child-free event. Firstly, this wedding was FAR away, like for nearly everyone. Second, it was HUGE. Easily over 200 people, and I counted at least 40 children under 12. This woman is one of my husband’s oldest friends, she was in our wedding, and we were so, so excited to travel for a full day in each direction, with a 10-month-old, pay for two nights in a hotel, and re-jigger nap and feeding schedules to accommodate the wedding. Really! We were really excited!

    And now, after? I wish we hadn’t gone and had just sent a long letter and a nice gift. We didn’t even have a conversation with the bride because there was so much going on at the wedding. Having so many kids was probably fun if your kid was 4 or older and ready to meet new kids and play a little independently, but as the parent of a toddler who wasn’t walking yet, but needed, desperately, to be crawling around, the whole thing was just over-stimulation-central for both me and my partner. If it had been a child-free event, I would have stayed home with the kid, my husband would have gone on his own, one night, not two, and we would have saved, literally, over $1000.

    It really was a lovely ceremony, but I wish she had told us it was going to be such a big event. We came, and really extended ourselves because we thought we were important to the couple. That may be true, but it felt, deeply, like we were just random faces in the crowd. Before adding the kid to the family this would have bothered me much less. Now, I’ve just put my child, myself, and my husband through a pretty harrowing weekend of strange places, new food, a strange bed and lots of new people, and I didn’t even get a “Thanks for coming!” from our friend? The whole thing left us feeling pretty sad and confused. I would have preferred (and understood!) being edited from the guest list.

    • Lau

      Thank you so much for this comment, which so clearly explained what’s always hinted at but not clearly articulated about what’s it’s like to have kinds (especially a toddler) and do things like attend a bit party. I’m often told, as someone without kids, that I just won’t get it, and I think what you’ve written really makes it easier for someone like me to picture the actual process of decision making and what this kind of decision (attending an out-of-town wedding) can do to a family.

      I’m going to keep it in mind when planning my own wedding. I was getting pretty anxious about including peoples’ kids (I’m thinking of kids we don’t know – friends who live far away and we aren’t close with their kids or haven’t met them) – those kids likely won’t be invited, whereas teeny babies and kids we know will be (basically, they’re guests, because children are people). I was stressed this may mean some people won’t make it, and I’m sure some won’t. But some might not have made it even with their kids invited, some may welcome a kid-free evening, and some may just call up and ask us about it, explain their situation and we can deal with it then.

  • Amanda

    I’d love to hear more on this whole topic, like how late-marryers have managed to have a great dance party even though their peers are all parents. I’m very concerned about being shortchanged in this regard. Actually, it makes me want to give up and elope.

    • z

      I’m sure you can find a way to have a wedding you’re happy with. It depends on your definition of “great dance party” and the circumstances of your venue and guest list. This is a great comment thread for how to stack the deck in favor of a kid-free wedding with good attendance.

      But, uh, “shortchanged”? Nobody’s entitled to their dream wedding. Plenty of people blew off my wedding for reasons that seemed inadequate to me, and I think that’s a very common experience. Realistic expectations might help you avoid disappointment.

      • Amanda

        Of course no one is entitled to anything. But perennial social late bloomers like myself do tend to get the short end of the stick when it comes to life milestones. We get left behind. It’s great to know yourself and be happy, but at certain junctures it can be isolating when your peers done with whatever your going through.

        • ann

          I just want to affirm your feelings, Amanda, as another social late bloomer (great phrase, btw). It’s isolating enough not to go through life milestones when your friends do, but it’s even more lonely when you have the milestone and no one seems to care.

          I think a lot of people assume they know what it’s like to say, be single, but being single for 2 months at a time or being single for a year at 22 or casually dating through your 20s is really different than perpetual singlehood or being single for 5 years in your 30s. Or a lot of people say “you’ll know what it’s like when you have kids” but when my kids are 2 and theirs are 12, well, it’s back to feeling isolated again b/c the milestones are so old for them and totally new for me.

  • Kathryn McKinney

    We’re having an adult only reception, but children are welcome to come to the ceremony, in a week and a half (!!) Be prepared for your guest count to be down, I was going by the rule of thumb that 80% accept, but we’re closer to 60% and have one couple who will attend the wedding as a family, but only the husband it coming to the reception.

    I won’t lie, at first it hurt my feelings because all I hear from other couples getting married is how TOO MANY people RSVP and what will we ever do with ALL THE PEOPLE who want to come to the wedding. We had to bring our count down with the caterers and nobody likes to throw a party that isn’t well attended. But, I’ve been reminding myself of all the awesome people who will be there, and it’s still the largest party we’ve ever had, so it’s a win.

    We did have some distant relatives who first invited themselves (in an email, ‘we can’t wait for your big day’ after not receiving an invitation), but then declined the invitation I gave in and sent because of a 1 year old’s birthday party that they didn’t wan’t to miss! Ahem; the party of someone who isn’t even cognizant to know you’re there is trumping the party I’ve been planning, and saving for for a year?! I’m sorry, I don’t understand that one.

  • Pingback: Best How to Throw a Child-Free Wedding, DJ Prices, DJ Reviews()

  • Totes McGotes

    I thought the tone of both the advice and the comment thread was interesting in that I don’t really relate to this idea of fretting about how to accommodate parents. It’s sweet for people to want to set up babysitters and cry rooms and play areas, but I know I truly did not have the bandwidth for that even had I been so inclined. I think Meg’s message of open communication is key, because you could spend all this time and energy organizing stuff for kids that you didn’t want to invite in the first place, and then maybe no one uses it because they either were excited to leave the kids at home, or preferred to just skip the wedding if they couldn’t bring their kids.

    That is one aspect that was not addressed in either the advice or the thread – people simply not wanting to do certain things. My wedding was child-free not because I couldn’t afford it (although I couldn’t), but because I simply didn’t want kids there. I don’t hate kids, I like to play with certain ones sometimes, but overall am not enthusiastic about interacting with kids, and I strongly feel that they don’t belong at weddings. So we included a little card with our invite that only went to parents, that said “For a number of reasons, we are not able to accommodate guests under 21. Thank you so much for understanding.” What we didn’t say was that the number was one, the reason was “we don’t want to,” and “are not able to” meant “don’t intend to.”

    The flip side was that one (local) couple we used to be close to only sent the husband, with the explanation being “Well, we’re attachment parents.” They absolutely were capable of getting a sitter, but did not wish to do so, and even if I had arranged for free childcare for them, they wouldn’t have used it. In that case it really is all or nothing. It was slightly disappointing since their wedding was on my husband’s birthday and we attended without complaint and stayed till the end, but that doesn’t mean my wedding trumps their approach to parenting even if I disagree with it. Brides need to be prepared for that as much as for people saying, “It’s such a hassle/expense/whatever.” Actually, you probably need to be more prepared for that because it’s easier not to take it personally if it seems like something out of the guests’ control. I would recommend making a list of the parents you sincerely care about coming, asking what their inclination is, and proceeding with that in mind.

    TL;DR: In my opinion, it’s okay NOT to have a reason for a child-free wedding other than “It’s what I want,” and we need to have more conversations about how to be comfortable with making that choice, how to communicate it nicely, and how to be okay with it if someone skips your wedding because they don’t *want* to leave their kids, no matter what accommodations you may have made.

    • Chev

      Hi Totes, Thank you for your post! I don’t want children at my upcoming wedding and I’m tired of being portrayed as selfish for that! I don’t hate children either, I just want an adult occasion where I can actually speak to the parents about a sensible topic for more than 5 seconds without a baby/toddler interrupting, or having a tantrum during a once-in-a-lifetime moment on my big day. Sometimes it’s the parents that are being selfish, not the couple.

  • macaroni

    We didn’t have children at our wedding, both because if we’d included the children of close family and friends, we would have had 20 attendees under 6, and our venue wasn’t kid-appropriate. (There are several open water areas, and a small alligator lives in the pond.)

    We spread the word early via our parents and ourselves that we weren’t inviting kids, and mentioned it on the website. A lot of our guests were from out of town, but thankfully only a few needed childcare – the rest left their kids with the grandparents. It helped that my parents live where we were getting married, and knew of lots of wonderful sitters. My biggest suggestion/bit of advice is to make sure, whether it’s true or not, to mention how much you WISH each person’s child could come. (Even if little Bobby is a hell raiser who might’ve set your dress on fire.) Because more than likely you feel that way about most of the kids you can’t/won’t invite, and the parents (and kids!) will appreciate it.

  • Francheska Medina

    In my country there’s a saying that goes like this ”Where they don’t want my kids they don’t want me”

  • HCGB

    I found this article because I’m currently in a predicament. Our friends are getting married in a town 2 hours away. They asked my husband to officiate and he was thrilled to accept. Only recently (6 weeks until the wedding) has a game of telephone revealed that the bride wants it kid-free. I have no one to watch my still-nursing-twins. This is a really uncomfortable position to be in. I can’t afford a sitter in a strange town on Labor Day, my husband has an important role, and the bride and groom have not directly asked us to be kid-free.

  • andyrwebman

    Sorry, but I can’t see why there should be an exception for nursing mothers.

    If anything, babies and toddlers are the ones you MOST want to keep away from the wedding – because it’s their cries, shrieks, and general mindless drivel that’s most likely to ruin a good moment. If you can’t keep them out, there’s no point in going for child free status.

    But I admit to disliking children a lot more than the author.

    • Jess

      The reason for the exception is that a nursing mother is generally pretty physically dependent on her child. So, firstly, in many cases she can’t actually leave the child for more than a couple of hours because the baby won’t eat anything other than her milk from the breast. But even if the baby will take a bottle, her body will be expecting the baby to feed, so she will miss is a big chunk of the day expressing milk and not being able to use it, and feeling very uncomfortable physically. Also, to get the milk for while she was away could take several weeks of pumping.

      I think it’s fine for people to have child free weddings, as long as they don’t mind when parents turn down the invitation.

      I think it’s worth bearing in mind that for parents of babies and young children the financial and time costs of attending a wedding (childcare, travel, time preparing the child to accept a sitter, expressing milk, taking a day off work which means having to pay for an extra day of childcare when school’s out etc) are almost invariably many times greater than the cost of including children at the wedding.

  • ryan

    Your wedding is your wedding. Period. If you don’t want kids, you don’t need to justify that. If some parents have a problem with it, then they don’t have to attend.

  • Jaimee

    I love, LOVE this article! It can always get so awkward telling someone that you are having an adults only wedding but at the end of the day it is YOUR decision for your big day! We have a similar article at Best Bride that can help you decide on the type of day you would like! Check us out! http://www.bestbride.la/inviting-kids-to-the-wedding-or-not/

  • KM

    For me, the desire for a child-free wedding is about two things. 1) Inviting 20 kids, ages three or less, would shift the focus of the event to the children. It’s okay with me that everyone has kids, but the kids have been/will be the focus of literally every other party/event until they’re teenagers and stop hanging out with us. Call me selfish, but I don’t want anyone crying through the vows or tearing down the decorations. But more than anything, 2) I want to party with my friends as grown-ups, free from parent mode. I want my best friend to dance, I want my sister and brother to laugh, I want us to drink and be silly. I’m just asking for one day for my friends/fam to let loose and focus on having fun instead of having to wrangle their children. I guess I am being selfish – for my squad’s grown-up time. And I’m not sorry for that.

    But I get that it’s hard to travel and/or attend a wedding without kids. So we’re not advertising it, but if people are coming from afar and need help with sitters, we’re going to have a baby room either on-site or down the road. My fear if it’s onsite, is that my 3-year-old, night owl nephew will join the party and then my sister and brother in law won’t really get to celebrate. I also fear if it’s onsite, that the parents who left their kids at home will be hurt that other people brought theirs and got free childcare. At this point we’ll only have four kids so I’m hoping it works out.

  • I really appreciated this post, along with the one linked at the bottom so much. I read something similar from The Knot that addressed the same issue by saying “Don’t back down” as if it is a battle of wills and boundaries. Meg’s advice is so much more…. human. You are free to make a choice for an adults only wedding, and sure, technically, you aren’t doing anything wrong. The opposite side of this, however, is that you are making a choice that is going to be challenging for some, not all, but certainly some parents who really want to be there. And that’s just it – people *really want to be there* for you – because it is *your day.* I see a lot of “just don’t come” sentiment, but engaged couples, its not that black and white. Sure, I’d miss a Christmas Party if it conflicted with the needs of my children, but a wedding is more than a party. Its a wedding – one of the biggest days of your life! Again, loved ones really do want to be there, and not taking the kids isn’t always going to work for everyone for a vast number of colorful reasons. I recently attended my brother’s adult-only wedding as an international guest with a 6 week old nursing baby, leaving my husband and other two on a different continent for 6 days over a holiday because we didn’t have childcare (everyone my kids had a relationship with were at the wedding). It was a huge effort for me to be there – 18 hours worth of flights and airports one direction, and 24 hours the other. I wouldn’t have missed my brother’s wedding for the world, I’m so glad I went, but it was very hard physically and emotionally. It would have been extremely helpful for us if they would have made a compromise and let my children attend. We could have stayed in town longer, I would have had my husband present, and just been there with a fuller sense of excitement about the event (I’m totally excited about their marriage – its the wedding that was hard). Of course its *your day* and *not about anyone else.* I know it wasn’t about me, which is why I put the effort forward. But it also makes a gracious statement to honor the sacrifices people are making to actually let the day or weekend be about you. Making a compromise can be a statement of relational maturity – strength, not weakness – and it can honestly be a win all around. People are going to have more fun when they feel their needs are being considered, and if your guest are having a great time, that makes for some great wedding memories. I hope you all have beautiful events and even more beautiful marriages to follow! <3