How To Have A Parent-Friendly Wedding

Kids generally take care of their own entertainment

Q: When you’re having children attend your wedding, at what point should you consider hiring babysitters? How exactly does that work? Is this a bigger consideration for the ceremony or the reception? Do they go off in a side room somewhere? Do they sit at a kid’s table? Would parents even be comfortable handing their kids off like that? What do parents appreciate for their kids at weddings?

A: Back when we were planning our wedding, my mom had an enthusiastic day, and called me telling me she’d bought a bunch of plastic bubble dispensers for kids at the wedding. I distinctly remember that was the same afternoon that I’d just found out that my $300 hair and makeup quote had turned into an $800 hair and makeup quote, and I was not in a good place. “Ugh,” I said, “Thank you, that was really thoughtful. But I feel like the idea that kids need special things at weddings is just some kind of WIC nonsense. I’m pretty sure that kids at our wedding can just do what we always did as kids at weddings—run around and play in the flowerbeds, make friends, and get into trouble.” I was right. The kids at our wedding ran around, and got muddy, and cut in on dances, and made best friends, and sat on my lap for most of the toasts, and made me hold them while I danced. They were happy, but even better their parents—our friends—had a fantastic time.

There are a million articles online that tell you how to have a kid-friendly wedding. Some of them are helpful, some of them are way overboard. But today, in light of an APW commenter’s really smart question, I’m going to flip the tables, and talk about parent-friendly weddings.

It’s not that hard to have a kid-friendly wedding. Kids, bless ’em, are pretty oblivious. They’re going to have too much punch, and possibly barf, and team up in packs to “explore” the “wilderness” behind the off limits to wedding guests sign. Unless they’re being yelled at, they’re going to do their thing, without thinking too much about if it’s the right thing to do. But as a mom, like the other parents around me, I spend a lot of time jumpy that my kid is going to offend you by doing something… childlike. We live in a culture that’s increasingly divided into kid-approved spaces and adult spaces. And it’s trickier and trickier to navigate being a parent in a space not designated for families only. That means that at your wedding, I worry he’s going to touch something special, or run when he should walk, or cry when you want silence. So today’s article is about how to put your parent friends at ease at your wedding, which automatically is going to improve things for their kids. (We’ll cover making a childfree wedding manageable for your parent friends next week.)

On our wedding day, our littlest girl guest whispered to me, “You’re the prettiest one here.” That? Made having her there (and making her parents comfortable) worth every second. So here are the basics to making parents—and their adorable offspring—feel welcome at your wedding.

1. You don’t have to provide anything special. But you can. I was right, back when I was planning my wedding. As much as wedding magazines like to produce spreads of all the cute and crafty things you can supply to keep kids entertained at your wedding, you don’t actually have to provide anything. Kids past a certain age tend to be pretty resourceful when it comes to keeping themselves entertained (particularly if there are other kids to get to know, run around, and drink punch with). Below that age, parents usually know what their kids need, and come with a bag full of books or cars or snacks. If you provide things for kids to play with, they will be appreciated. But they’ll fundamentally be appreciated as a goodwill gesture. When I sit down at a restaurant and they bring my toddler crayons, I breathe a sigh of relief. It’s not actually about the crayons (which, frankly, he’s probably just going to try to throw), but it’s a gesture that lets me know that in an often child-unfriendly world, my kid is welcomed here. Think of any toys you provide at your wedding that way—fun, but mostly welcoming. And don’t worry about overthinking it. Kids could care less if the coloring book you provide them was hand designed to fit your wedding theme.


Babysitting, or not. Let me preface this by saying that babysitters are not an expected part of a normal wedding. If kids are guests at your wedding, you probably don’t want babysitters for the ceremony, because hey! You invited the kids to be there as part of your wiggly, wild community. For receptions however, it’s possible for babysitters to be helpful (depending on the situation), or just a really nice treat (depending on your crowd).

If you’re having a daytime wedding, or an evening wedding where everyone lives close by and has access to good childcare and/or the option to bring their kid, I wouldn’t even bother considering a babysitter. Likewise, if you only have a few kids coming to the wedding, and you know their parents are the hands-on types and will want to keep them close, don’t even think about it. However! While babysitters are never expected, there are times they might be helpful. If you’re having one of the following scenarios, it might be worth considering hiring a sitter:

  • A late night party, where you’d like the parents to be able to stay on after bedtime. If you want your wedding to go on well into the night, and you’d like people with kids to be able to stay past that seven or eight o’clock bedtime, you can consider an onsite babysitter who can put sleepy kids down for the night. Know your crowd, and talk to the parents in question to see if this is something they’d be into. For many of us though, being able to bring your kid, AND stay to have another drink? That’s the dream.
  • A childfree wedding, with parents traveling from out of town. We’ll discuss how to have a childfree wedding (while maximizing parent attendance) next week. But for now, suffice to say: if you don’t want kids at the wedding itself, but you do want your far-flung friends with kids to be able to show up, consider having an onsite babysitter, ideally watching the kids physically close to the wedding reception. That way, they don’t have to find childcare in an unfamiliar town (not fun), and can go help with or comfort their wee ones as needed without leaving the wedding.
  • If you just have a passel of small kiddos (and want to do something nice). Parents bringing kids to a wedding really generally don’t expect much, other then general toleration of their children (and maybe even enjoyment of them). But if you know you’re going to have twenty kids, and you want the parents to be able to party without worry, having a kids table and a baby wrangler might not be the worst idea you’ve ever had. It’s an unnecessary special treat, but sometimes doing nice things is… nice. If that’s something you’re considering, talk to the parents and see if they’d be into it. If they are, go for it.

3.  Welcome the kids as they are. While bubbles are nice, and a free babysitter can be a treat never even dreamt of, what parents mostly hope for is that your wedding will be actually child friendly. Real child friendly-ness has nothing to do with the toys you might or might not provide, or the decor, or the theme. Formal black tie cocktail weddings can be child friendly, and picnic weddings can be child unfriendly. What parents hope is that the hosts will realize that kids are kids, and even well behaved ones need to run around to let off steam, and might have a meltdown if they get tired, and might break something (God forbid). If the hosts have made it clear that they want your kids there, and love them for who they are (tiny people who don’t totally understand the rules yet), it makes the wedding so much more pleasant for parents and kids alike. Plus, it will make the wedding even more awesome for you, if you’re the type who likes baby hugs, and whispers about how pretty you look.

And now to you APW! What did you do for kids at your wedding that worked (or didn’t)? Parents in the house, what do you appreciate as a wedding guest with wee ones in tow?

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