Young at Heart



For Billy and Beth Mayer, who were married Oct. 11 on the beach outside of The Dunes House, exchanging their wedding vows wasn’t so much about saying “I do” as it was proclaiming “we all do” — the bride, the groom and the bride’s two children.

“This was about us forming a family, not just getting married,” says Beth, whose 12-year-old son walked her down the aisle and was the best man, even giving a speech he wrote himself. Her 9-year-old daughter, Mia, was a junior bridesmaid at the wedding, and the groom’s then-4-year-old niece served as flower girl.

The couple chose to include the bride’s children in the wedding and invite their guests to bring their little ones because the couple couldn’t imagine celebrating their marriage any other way.

“I love kids; kids are my life,” says Billy, an elementary school principal in Ohio. “We wanted the kids there. There was no issue.”

But not all couples feel the same about hosting an all-ages party, and that’s perfectly fine too. There are some key ways to make either wedding style — adult-only or family-friendly — a successful affair.

If you’re including kids:

Give them age-appropriate — and personality-appropriate — jobs. Everyone loves to “Awwww” at an adorable 2-year-old in a frilly dress and crown of flowers, but can she really toddle up the aisle all by herself while leaving a perfect trail of rose petals? If you are asking children to be in your wedding party, give them a role that suits their abilities, attention spans and personalities. Terribly shy children might not want to stand without their parents at an altar, and a pre-teen might feel silly in a “flower girl” role. Talk to their parents to find a suitable way for them to be part of your ceremony or celebration.

Be kind to little taste buds. Some small children have adventurous palates and enjoy “big kid” food; most, however, prefer kid’s meal staples like mac-and-cheese and chicken fingers. Talk to your caterer about what options can be made available for kids. “We were hearing parents say, ‘Oh my gosh, thank you for the kid’s meal!” Billy says. “Having juices and chocolate milk was a big deal. It’s the little things.”

Give them something to do. A good host entertains all their guests, not just the ones who can sidle up to the bar. Goody bags with small puzzles, coloring books and little crafts or favors will keep kids busy and parents happy. And photo booths with fun costumes and accessories are a hit with all ages. “For me,” says Beth, “the biggest thing I felt was if the parents are bringing their kids, I want the kids to have enough fun that they’ll be occupied so the parents will be able to have fun too.”

Relax your expectations. Kids are often unpredictable and occasionally messy, so put away your rigid tendencies and understand that there might be spills or tantrums, or a small someone who doesn’t perhaps do exactly what they’re supposed to do when they’re supposed to do it. The thing is, the unpredictability of children is often what makes them so charming, so get ready for some of your most memorable moments to feature some of your smallest guests.

If you’re not including kids:

Be clear but be tactful. It’s not necessary to print “ADULTS ONLY” in boldface on your invitation to get your message across. Start by addressing the envelope to exactly who is invited to the wedding. Some couples opt to include wording such as “We’ve reserved 2 seats for you!” on the response card. Also, your wedding website is a good place to be clear about what kind of reception you’re aiming for. And if there are families you think are considering bringing their children, give them a call to personally address the situation.

Try not to make exceptions. Nothing is more infuriating to parents who arrive at a wedding after hiring a baby sitter because the invitation said “Adult reception,” than to find half a dozen kids of varying ages who somehow made the cut. Apart from special circumstances pertaining to immediate family members, if you say no kids, mean it. If you find yourself bending the rules, it might be time to reconsider if you really do not want children there.

Don’t take negative RSVPs personally. Some people just can’t or don’t want to swing a night out without their children. When you make the decision to exclude kids from your party, do so with the knowledge that their parents might opt out of your big day, too.

Help out-of-town guests. A good way to be family-friendly while keeping your party for grown-ups is to offer baby-sitting services for your out-of-town guests. You can either hire a few sitters and pay them yourself, setting up a suite at the reception location that includes games, an animated movie and a pizza delivery, or simply give parents a list of personally vetted caretakers or a local baby-sitting service.