As a civil celebrant, I am often asked whether children should be invited to a wedding. There is a range of factors that must be taken into consideration, before the ultimate conclusion can be drawn.
How young is too young?
The first question that needs to be pondered, is how old are the children attending?
In my experience, children under 4 years of age, can be often become quite restless during a ceremony, especially very young boys. The word restless needs to be explored, because it varies in intensity.
For example, I have experienced parents with 1-2 year olds verbally interrupting (constantly) during a ceremony, as well as 2-4 year olds performing antics at the front of the ceremony, providing (on one hand) entertainment for the guests, but detracting from the overall meaning of the ceremony (on the other).
Managing young children in a ceremony
Once a bride and groom have made a decision on a final guest list, they then must ensure there is a contingency plan to help manage any unexpected interruptions, if young children are going to successfully partake.
As a celebrant, I often commence a ceremony with a preamble (prior to the entrance of the bride and procession), thus empowering parents to move away from the ceremonial spectrum, should their children become restless. Difficulties can arise when children become restless, and parents fail to take their children out of the ceremonial space.
It stands to reason that since very young children have limited ability to make rational decisions regarding social correctness during a ceremony, then the question of management falls to the parent or guardian. This in turn redirects the argument from managing children, to managing parents.
Older children at a wedding ceremony
With children over the age of 4, I often find less of an issue with interruptions and distractions. The bigger issue for children of this age group is boredom and fatigue, which is generally combated by using either electronic devices (running in silent mode) to preoccupy the child, combined with a shorter style of ceremony.
Flower Girls and Page Boys
It is always baffling why so many couples select very young children to be flower girls and page boys. Whilst it is definitely cute to witness a 3 year old flower girl or page boy making their way down an aisle, it is also rare that it happens without obvious incident.
I have witnessed the usual gamete of antics from flower girls and page boys, and have concluded that it is simply impossible to predict how they will respond on a wedding day. Often a bridesmaid (or parent) is assigned to assist young ‘bridal party children’ down an aisle, which often results in a child being carried, thus changing the entire dynamic of the processional.
It may also be worth noting, that flower girls and page boys do not stand with the bridal party during a ceremony, so it’s very important to have a guardian on stand-by, ready to look after the child.
Giving parents a break
For many wedding couples who are designing a guest list, there is an assumption that guests will want to bring their children to a ceremony. In actual fact, there may be parents who would prefer to leave their children (at home) with a relative or baby-sitter.
This could be because the children will understandably be bored or restless, but also because the parents would like a relaxing (focused) stress-free experience at the couple’s wedding.
The irony is that parents often feel obligated to bring their children (if stated on the invitation), whilst couples feel obligated to invite them. A well thought-out guest list often requires communication between the guests and wedding couple, in order to devise the optimum ceremonial dynamics.
Are there any positives when inviting children to a wedding?
The short answer is ‘yes’.
Weddings are arguably about people (and more importantly about family), and families involve everyone from the very young to the elderly.
Since children are a vital part of a family heirarchy, they in-turn become an important element of a wedding. But as discussed above, children at weddings are more about the management of the parents, and having a well thought-out contingency plan, rather than their complete exclusion.
Put simply, if children are going to partake successfully in a wedding, then they must be assisted in every way, with careful consideration given to the elements discussed above. The assistance must be driven by the wedding couple, empowering the parents to make well-planned decisions, thus creating a harmonious ceremonial atmosphere that can be enjoyed by all.