I am from one of those big, boisterous families where everyone lives on the same street and works together in a litany of family businesses. We have a restaurant where family gatherings from birthday parties to funerals are celebrated with three generations present. It’s beautiful. And I didn’t even know about this until maybe five years ago.
My parents moved an hour away from the town where everyone else lives before I was born, so we weren’t there for any of the birthday parties. My mom and dad would still see the family at weddings, but kids were not invited to the weddings. My mom maintained her close relationship with her cousins on the phone and at the weddings throughout my childhood, but I can’t remember meeting them until I was twenty-five years old.
When I moved back to my home state a few years after I finished college, suddenly I started to be included. Now that I was no longer a child and no longer “out of town,” I got invited to the weddings. Big, boisterous weddings… of people who were strangers to me. But only some of the weddings, because as a second cousin, I’m usually too far down the family tree to make the cut.
Fast-forward to my own wedding planning. Because my fiancé and I are the last people in our social group to get married, all of our friends come with spouses and most of them come with two or three kids. Most of our friends live out of state, so if we don’t invite their children, some of our closest friends may not be able to attend our wedding at all. My fiancé and I are paying for most of the wedding ourselves, and we decided that it was important to us to invite children, both so that our friends would be able to come, and because it seemed incongruous to us to celebrate creating a new family, which will be open to children, with a party that is closed to them.
My mother and I have argued over the guest list, because she wants to invite all of her fifty first cousins. The usual solution in her family is to make up for the extraordinary number of first cousins by excluding children. But because we plan to invite children, we need to limit the number of adults attending to stay within our budget. I just could not understand why my mother fought so hard for us to exclude people with whom we do have a relationship in order to invite more adults that are essentially strangers to me.
Eventually I realized that the cause of this impasse was twenty-five years in the making. Weddings are family reunions. If you don’t invite the next generation to them, you will end up with a generation of cousins who don’t feel connected to one another. My fellow second cousins and I just don’t know each other. We didn’t grow up together, playing tag at our older cousins’ wedding receptions and making faces at each other during long church ceremonies. We’ve got our own families now, so when we do attend weddings, we’re sitting at different tables, instead of all together at a kids’ table. The big, boisterous family that my parents and their cousins now enjoy is not going to be like this anymore in a generation. When our parents are no longer organizing the parties, I doubt that we will remember to reach out to one another. And that’s the close side of my family. The other three sides of my family are not nearly as close.
Kids become part of the family through being included, even if it’s “boring” for them. When all the kids are off together, making noise and being raucous, adults may not like the noise, but the kids are busy forging the bonds that will keep the family together in the next generation. Having an adults-only reception may seem like a good solution in the short term. It’s cheaper, it’s more fun for the adults, and many kids are bored by weddings. But a lot of things that are good for kids and families are boring, expensive, or tedious.
Some of you will probably still not invite kids to your wedding. That can be okay—but if you make that choice, keep in mind what the unintended consequences may be. And make an effort to invite them to the birthday parties, BBQs, and baby showers.
Photo by Lisa Wiseman