A friend who is an event planner and I recently shared the dilemma of what to do when guests, often family, want to bring their (young) children to formal events. Having planned three weddings in the last 22 months, it is a question that is not unfamiliar to me. For one of our weddings a family member flat out refused to come if she could not bring her infant child. And many years ago at my children’s B’Nai mitzvah the spiritual atmosphere of the sanctuary was shattered by the wailings of my husband’s colleague’s baby. Most people have been on one side or other of this quandary…the host, the honoree, an invited parent, or an affected guest.
With some formal events, it is very clear that children are invited. Often in these cases, accommodations are made for the kids—age appropriate activities, supervision just for the children, food intended for the children (that the adults often love!) In these cases, the hosts’ plan is for the children to attend.
(And sometimes no matter what is planned for the children—games, play sitters, DVD’s—not every child is going to submit to the “play plan.” The visiting guest has to be prepared with a Plan B to make sure the host or honoree/bridal couple will not be disturbed in anyway if your little angel turns into Godzilla for the evening.)
But sometimes it is not so clear that it’s okay for children to attend.
I know that your baby/child/tween is really a great kid. I know that he is well behaved and that you are sure the rest of the guests won’t even know he is there. I know he is used to going everywhere with you, and that he likes being with grown-ups. I know that your child would really love being there, that it might be a fabulous experience for him. But bringing a child to a formal event just may not be about your child. It might be in consideration of everyone else. And as disappointing as it might be, one of life’s lessons is that sometimes children cannot be included.
While there is no one-size-fits-all answer to this question, to bring or not to bring, there are some considerations which might help you make your decision.
1. Consider the host and the honorees. Was your child’s name on the save-the-date card? On the invitation? That’s a dead giveaway! If it is not, you can assume it is an adults-only event. But if you are still not sure, ASK; do not assume. Even if your child is an infant, ask. Truth be told, infants, though the easiest to transport, are often the most unpredictable and can be highly disruptive to services and celebrations. And even the precious voice of a better behaved four year old asking questions can ruin a wedding vow!
2. Consider the child. What is your child like? What is his temperament when he is away from home? How is he in strange places (with hoards of people)? How adaptable is he? How patient? How needy? In most cases, children are not happy at these kinds of events, the ones not intended for children. It’s not fun for them (and especially if none of his friends are in attendance.) It might start out being exciting, but it wears off fast. Just as your feet ache in your heels after the second hour, he has had it with the bow tie pretty quickly.
Black tie events can be the epitome of “lousy local conditions.” The mini tuxedo/ the scratch party dress, the knee high view of most of the guests, the deafeningly loud band music, the food –Eeewwww! I hate salmon—served at 10 p.m…all make for a less than child-friendly environment. Are you setting your child up for failure?
Even if your six year old son has a special relationship with his favorite baby sitter who is getting married, weddings are different than one-on-one sitter nights. He imagines spending the night with his best gal, but they won’t be playing Checkers on the dance floor. He won’t be happy.
3. How will it be for you? Often the child, feeling out of place, will cling and expect to be entertained by you. Will that be fun for you? Will you be able to celebrate in the way you like? Dance with your partner? Have relaxed glass of wine as you chat with friends? Parents forget to consider that you don’t get to “party hearty” when your child is present. And which one of you will take him home when he collapses before the first toast?
Having carefully considered all the variables, there are always compromises that can work—ceremony-only attendance, hiring a sitter to whisk the child away after the first Shirely Temple, etc…,as long as it’s sanctioned by the hosts. And there are events at which children are both invited and welcome. But it is a parent’s job to be considerate of the hosts’ needs and desires, not placing them in an awkward position. After all, it is their special occasion and the memory ought not be tainted by tales of the tantrumming 3 year old or the sulky 7 year old.