Is it Okay Not to Invite Young Children to Your Wedding or Special Event?

Is it Okay Not to Invite Young Children to Your Wedding or Special Event?

Is it acceptable to have a wedding or special event and not invite the young children of a close friend or family member? Debi Lewis says that excluding kids from an event sets a certain tone and has consequences for your relationship with the hosts. Lisa Sadikman argues that it’s the hosts’ choice full stop, the world doesn’t revolve around your children.


It’s Not Okay That You Didn’t Invite My Baby to Your Wedding

By Debi Lewis

images-2In the swirling cold of a winter fourteen years ago, my husband and I called all of our closest family members to announce joyfully that we were expecting our first child at the end of May: the first baby on both sides.

After the news sunk in, I received a phone call from my brother’s fiancé. I liked her and the way she and my brother had fallen for each other. Their romance was lovely, and their engagement quick. I’d only met her a few times, but my brother sounded so happy and talked about her so much that I felt like I knew her. Their wedding was planned for the end of June, and she’d asked me to be a bridesmaid.

She called me at work and asked if I had time to talk about something.

“I want to offer you some help,” she said. “When you come for the wedding, I know the baby will be so little…I wanted to offer to help you find a good babysitter.” In the moment, I didn’t understand. It was my first baby; the idea of a babysitter had not even occurred to me, and so, at first, I considered it: did I want one? And then, I had my very first intense parental instinct, and it whispered insistently inside my head: hell no.

“That is so sweet of you, Carrie*,” I answered, “but I can’t imagine wanting a babysitter. The baby will be nearly brand new! My brother said you’ll be inviting my mother-in-law, which is fantastic. I’ll just ask her to hold the baby during the ceremony. I think that should be fine.”

Carrie paused, and then said: “Well, we’re not really having children at the wedding.”

I know now, years later, that the topic of whether babies or young kids should be allowed at weddings has been debated ad nauseam. There are dozens of articles that take each side of the question, and then hundreds more that analyze the merits of setting a cut-off age, hiring a babysitter, inviting children to the party but not the service or the service but not the party, and every other permutation of making a wedding work for families that include children.

When Carrie told me that they weren’t having children at their wedding, my stunned response was that I wouldn’t be bringing a child, I’d be bringing a baby. That baby would not be able to cry loud enough to be heard from behind a sanctuary door, or run up the aisle and grab flower petals, or throw food at the reception. That baby would be nestled against me in a sling or sleeping in someone’s arms. I could not for the life of me understand how that newborn baby—who would be whisked away by my mother-in-law if she made any noise—posed a threat to the success of her wedding. But after a while, the real reason the baby wasn’t invited emerged: the bride did not want to “compete” with it.

While I believe that the bride and groom are the stars of the day, the idea that a baby might usurp that stardom says much more about the wedding couple than it does about the baby in question. There are many solutions to the concern about interruptions and distractions potentially posed by a child at a wedding: a frank conversation with the parents about the amount of noise the bride and groom will tolerate; a relative or friend poised to take a crying or fussing kid out of earshot; or, if none of those is possible, the suggestion that the child only be present for portions of the celebration where their noise won’t be noticed. If distraction is the main concern, that is easily managed.

To be clear, I accept that it is the wedding couple’s prerogative. If the question under consideration is, “Does etiquette allow for a couple to invite only adults to their wedding?” the answer is yes. It allows for a bride and groom to invite only the people they want to invite. If, however, the question is, “Is this decision likely to affect your relationship with the parents whose children you are excluding?” the answer is also, unequivocally, yes.

There are as many acceptable ways to get married or stage an event as there are people who stage them, but none is without consequences. The consequence of not inviting a guest’s children is that the guest is likely to feel their children are unwelcome—both at the event and, to some degree, in the hearts of the hosts. Parents might welcome an opportunity to leave their children at home, but an invitation for the entire family allows the parents themselves to make that choice. Being forced to decide between an occasion and one’s children is something a parent will never forget, and that parent will remember the hosts as the ones who forced the decision. For more casual relationships, maybe this doesn’t matter. For close family, it probably does.

No matter how acceptable the decision made by my brother and his wife was according to the rules of etiquette, there is no getting around the tone they set. This applies to any couple at their wedding; when they choose to exclude the children in their extended family, the wedding ceases to be a celebration of their two families joining together. It is not the prelude to a life of messy beauty and generosity. While it is a performance that they have every right to choreograph, the way they do so sends a message about their priorities.

When I remember my brother’s wedding, I don’t remember the beautiful ceremony, the joy on the bride’s face, or the love with which my brother must have given her their first kiss as husband and wife. I remember the bride’s grandmother coming to me at the reception and grabbing my hands. “Where is that new baby?” she demanded. “Why didn’t you bring her!?”

I steeled myself, my breasts aching, and answered. “She wasn’t invited.”

*This name has been changed.

Debi Lewis is the mother of two daughters and blogs regularly at You can find her essays at Brain, Child Magazine, RoleReboot, Mamalode, The Mighty, Kveller, and ChicagoNow. She is currently at work on a memoir about her younger daughter’s journey through medical mystery.


It’s Okay If You Don’t Invite My Children to Your Wedding

By Lisa Sadikman

imagesMy husband and I sat in the front row nervously holding hands as the sanctuary filled with family and friends. In a few minutes, an emotional year of learning and planning would all come together as our eldest daughter chanted from the sacred scrolls to mark her bat mitzvah. Our two younger daughters, ages ten and four, were sitting with us. Well, the ten-year-old was sitting. The four-year-old was squirming around as she set up her miniature princess dolls. At least she wasn’t making too much noise—yet. Ten minutes into the service, however, she decided to crawl under the seats to look for the sparkly silver flats she’d immediately shucked when we came in.

“Here they are Mommy!” she yelped, flinging them excitedly in my lap.

“You have to sit down honey,” I whisper-yelled. “Your sister is about to start.” She gave me that classic you-can’t-make-me grin and took off up the main aisle. My husband and I looked at each other, exasperated, the decision made. I followed her out the double doors and took her down to childcare. She’d lasted all of 12 minutes.

Not every event, be it a bat mitzvah, wedding or run-of-the-mill party, is meant for children of a certain age or children at all. While excluding kids, even babies, from grown-up events may seem harsh or selfish, hosts have every right to invite whomever they choose. Maybe they’re on a tight budget. Maybe the venue isn’t kid-friendly. Maybe they simply don’t want kids at their event.  

This is not a popular stance to take, especially if you’re a parent. In a culture that encourages us to include our kids at every turn, it can be difficult to be okay with leaving them out. From the moment we give birth, we are urged to wear our babies, sleep near them, nurse them and be in physical contact with them as much as possible. When my first daughter was born, my worldview altered dramatically. Instead of wondering how to get a reservation at the latest hotspot, I wondered whether or not she’d nursed enough. Instead of logging hours at the gym, I logged the color and time of day of each dirty diaper. Waking and sleeping, showering and eating, my ability to carry on a coherent conversation all depended on the needs and demands of the baby.

Without question, my world revolved around my child and then two children and now three, to varying degrees. Whether we mean to or not, we often place our kids in the center of our universe, at least for certain periods of time. That doesn’t mean everyone else has to, though.  

While I wasn’t ever invited to an event without my girls while they were infants, if I had been, I’m sure I would have been indignant and angry: How could so-and-so expect me to leave my newborn at home? If they really wanted me there, I figured, they would understand that I have to bring the baby with me. These are valid feelings and arguments. But just as the host has the right to include whomever they choose, I have to right to opt out of the event. As a parent, I think you have to be willing to swallow your disappointment and, in some cases, outrage and RSVP “Will Not Attend.” If it’s an event you really can’t miss, such as the wedding of a close family member, you might need to find another solution: shell out for a babysitter or bring a caregiver with you.

Depending on their ages, having kids present at a grown-up party, performance, service or ceremony is stressful and distracting. They can change the dynamic of an event with a cry, a giggle or an ill-timed potty break. Just the act of having to walk them out of the venue can shift the atmosphere. I’ve learned that no amount of cajoling or bribing guarantees that they’ll behave “nicely” or even semi-appropriately simply because they’re at an adult event. Even if by some miracle they do, my attention is quietly divided between whomever I’m talking to, tracking their whereabouts and keeping an eye on the clock so we don’t totally blow their bedtime. It’s exhausting.

The boundaries between parent and child often feel almost nonexistent. We tote our kids on every errand, take them to our appointments with us and dedicate entire weekends to watching their sport games and recitals. They hang out with us while we pee and interrupt our phone conversations with snack requests. We eschew Date Night for Family Time, or, if we’re desperate, we take them with us on a sort of hybrid Family Date. We’ve given up on relaxing, grown-up vacations instead opting for hyperactive family trips that include amusement parks, water slides or both.

My parents had no problem leaving me and my younger sister at home while they went on vacation or to an event or even over to the neighbor’s house—and we were fine with it too. Whether it’s financial or time constrains, the lack of safe and caring support systems, or a parenting philosophy that says we must spend all of our waking—and sometimes sleeping—hours with our kids, most of us simply don’t indulge in adult-only time.

The truth is, I’m relieved when my kids aren’t invited to social occasions with me. Having permission to leave them at home without feeling guilty is a gift. It’s an opportunity to reclaim myself, collect my scattered parts and recharge in ways only possible in the company of other adults. I think it’s also healthy for my kids to see me and my husband as individuals apart from them and for them to develop relationships with other caregivers, like older siblings, grandparents and babysitters. It’s okay for them to realize that the whole world is not actually their oyster—at least not just yet.

Lisa Sadikman is a writer living in Northern California with her husband and three girls. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Club Mid, Brain, Child Magazine, Mamalode and others. You can read more about her adventures parenting a teen, a tween and a preschooler, managing marriage and living a grown up life on her blog, Flingo and by following her on Twitter @LisaSadikman.


Join us on Twitter this Thursday, 11/5, at 1:00 EST for a discussion on this issue. We welcome your thoughts and perspectives. Please remember to use the hashtag #braindebate.

Utopia Lost and Value Reframed

Utopia Lost and Value Reframed

By Debi Lewis


Am I home because a woman should be home or am I home because, as a woman, economic forces guided me there?


Here is the utopian dream, masquerading as a concrete plan, which I formulated before my second child was born in August of 2005:

My well-paying, full-time flexible-hours technology job at a national nonprofit organization would continue as it had for the next year, after which I would begin a PhD program in writing at a local university (which happened to have on-campus childcare). I would fill my days with heady conversation and scoop my children up in the afternoon to eat ice cream on the campus lawns and return home to my husband—who would keep us afloat with his job in finance, the one he loved as much as I loved the idea of academia.

This plan never came to fruition.

My baby was born with a host of ambiguous medical problems. She was in the hospital with dangerous respiratory infections twice in her first four months, and her doctors gently and then less-gently told us that daycare would continue that cycle. She was considered medically fragile. By the end of the second hospital stay, which was five days long, we had decided she could not stay in daycare.

We did the math; if we hired a nanny, the cost per year would have been more than half of my salary. Our older daughter would still need to attend preschool, adding another several thousand dollars. My husband made more money than I did. It made more sense for me to leave my job. Our baby was five months old when I did.

My well-paying, good job had been my identity for five years. Prior to that, I’d been employed in one way or another for the previous fifteen years—starting in high school.

Suddenly, I had no income.

My husband was working, earning a salary that covered our expenses, though not as easily as when I’d been employed. I sat down at my kitchen table on that first day when my husband left for work—and I didn’t—and I cried. I was in my pajamas, and when I went upstairs to put on clothes, the baby still slung over my hip, I looked at my closet and realized that most of what I owned was business-casual.

Then I got a rejection letter from the graduate program to which I’d applied. The last piece of hope I’d had for an identity which declared to the world that this woman is making something of herself had vanished. Though there was hope that my daughter would outgrow her fragile state by the time the fall semester came around, I would have no fall semester to attend. Instead, I nursed, rocked, held, walked, medicated and worried over my constantly-sick baby. What just happened? I asked myself, over and over for months. I remained, for a long time, shocked to see what I thought I had become: bored and boring.

In the years that followed, I scraped together a new life, starting my own consulting business in hours snatched from naps and, as my daughter’s health improved, while she was in preschool. I now have new dreams—smaller dreams, always tied to my need to stay flexible for my children. With both of them in school these last few years, I work out of a local coffeehouse that sells scones delivered warm every morning. It has not been terrible; at times, it has felt like a close second to my original plan.

Still, I resent those early days, the burden falling on me and the perspective-shifting I had to do. I resent that, as a natural progression of being the one at home and being a woman, I’ve fallen into gender roles I never intended. I am the one who cooks. I am the one who shops for the organic berries and the mint Oreos, knows the children’s friends and teachers better, and manages the laundry. In a nine-to-five job that, inclusive of commute is really a seven-thirty-to-six-thirty job, my husband has become the one to pop in and “help out” with occasional rides to Hebrew School and play rehearsals, but the real burden of making sure everyone is where they need to be is left to me. It’s my job because, nine years ago, I left my other job to stay home with my sick baby, a baby I both loved fiercely and resented quietly.

How to unravel all of that? Am I home because a woman should be home or am I home because, as a woman, economic forces guided me there? What if my husband and I had made exactly the same amount of money? Would he be home? What if medical insurance covered at-home childcare for children like my younger daughter? Would neither of us be home?

I feel very lucky that we made it work, un-utopian as it felt to me at the start. As I struggle with what it means to be an at-home parent—even with my part-time consulting business—I have a partner willing to struggle through it with me, to talk about and name this arrangement for what it is: fragmented. My daughters are now thirteen and almost nine, and they see the juggling every day. I am in and of both worlds all the time—sometimes from the same spot in my kitchen, on the phone with a client and stirring the soup.

Now, most mornings, I walk to the neighborhood elementary school with my once-sick baby—now a thriving nine-year-old. In one hand, I hold hers. In the other, I hold the bicycle I’ll use to ride to the coffeehouse where I’ll work for much of the day. There’s dinner to prepare, and laundry to sort. Rides to give, and counters to scrub.

It is, in the end, a comfortable life. I am there for it all. Sometimes, on the playground after school, we even eat ice cream.

Debi Lewis is the mother of two daughters and blogs regularly at You can find her essays at Brain, Child Magazine, RoleReboot, Mamalode, The Mighty, Kveller, and ChicagoNow. She is currently at work on a memoir about her younger daughter’s journey through medical mystery.

What To Do

What To Do

By Debi Lewis


Cry, a lot, alone in your car, at intersections, without noticing the teenagers and old people and truck drivers around you, or the people at the corner stomping their feet in the cold and blowing on their hands. With the radio murmuring about wars and genocides and snow plows and someone’s book, someone’s article, someone’s question, you can heave your mother-strong shoulders together toward the steering wheel, clench your jaw and release it, clench and release, open it wide and howl, then when the light turns green, shudder and put your foot on the pedal and go, leaving it back there.

Or cry at your kitchen counter, silently, just a tear or two running down onto your collar, listening to your daughter laughing, and feeling fully and painfully how beautiful it is to give her the gift of not knowing. Wipe the tear from your finger on your pants, stare at the pot with oil sizzling around onions, and don’t see it anymore. The pot is sucked into a hole in the world. The onion smell lingers, but you can’t feed your family a smell. Come back to the world in time for a dinner across from her.

You can cry with other people watching, but not too much. Let some tears bubble out of you until they become like the flu and spread across the table, and then you must stop. Yours plus theirs are more than the sum of each set, and the table can’t contain them all, the roof will blow off the building, the other people will fly away, pulled into the typhoon of tears you can’t control. Pull yourself together. Get into the car. Get to an intersection.

You can always just run away, not really, but a little. There’s an adult way to rock in the corner with your thumb in your mouth, and so you can do it in furious motion, anywhere you like. In the shower, raging. You can imagine the wreckage of muscle, of flesh, of reaching tendons and joints bent. You can make it so your heart is visible, naked, pounding under your skin. Look at me, it says, I might just break.

What you can’t do is look at your daughter’s skin, the skin of the place they’ll cut. You can’t look there at all, you mustn’t, you’ll wrap it in fleece and cashmere and angora and mink, if you have to, you’ll cement bricks around it before you’ll look. You are, however, allowed to touch it, with your lips, in the dark or with your eyes closed. It feels like any other skin on her, soft and young and warm, smooth and brushed with the faintest scent of you, somewhere, deep, from when she was in you. Linger there, on her skin, just the right amount of time to memorize it, not so long that she’ll wonder why it’s interesting.

You can look around you and plan, gently, for what to delete from your life after. You can imagine the holes: furniture, books, clothes you could never wear again, games you could never play, places you could never go. You can picture the spaces that would emerge, the new set of choices, the caverns in your day to fill with something else.

Actually, no, you can’t.

You can list a thousand horrible things said to you and by you, you can fill up with bitter and sour, you can hurl your buckets of boiling oil at the telemarketer, the bus driver, the barista. You can dump trays of badly made food in the garbage, scrub ugly stains from the floor, throw the trash bag in the dumpster harder than you need to. You can weigh your fantasy of breaking dishes in an alley against your terror that waste is waste is waste is points against you, somewhere, from someone keeping score, someone you don’t believe is real, but just in case.

At night, while someone is sleeping next to you, you can press your hands into your chest and feel your heart push against your little finger. You can breathe into that pushing, mouth as loose as possible. You mustn’t scream, even if the dream turned out to be not a dream, but something real that’s going to happen. You mustn’t run to her room, mustn’t wake her and take her away somewhere, mustn’t steal her. She isn’t yours.

You can lie there in the dark and list the things that are real about her: the baby sounds, the feel of her head under your palm, the smell of her sweat, the songs she sings, the way she pulls a blanket to her chin on the couch. You can shoot your love straight up through the floorboards to her bed, you can jam it hard through anything until it fills her while she sleeps.

The stakes are high. You may never have thought about that phrase much before, but now, you can ponder it, sipping at the edges of the words like a bitter drink you’re supposed to be old enough to enjoy. You can picture the stakes, hammered in high above your head, holding your arms up as if there was a gun pointed at you, redundant because the stakes themselves might just kill you anyway. Those high stakes trap you so you can’t pry them out. Every word you say is designed to detract attention from what’s left you dangling, childish—or like a puppet—high in the air.

Some days, you can wait as patient as a moon, you can watch the slow flow of days pool under and around you, you can wax and wane anxious, calm, melted, spreading, colder, frozen. Several cycles of this will reveal the pattern, and so you can start watching for the next phase, planning appointments around the coldest spots, where your face can freeze into whatever shape you set.

Your books never told you about this, and you can get angry about it here and there. Someday, you might be able to crack those bindings again and see, yes, this is just a heat rash, this is a cold virus, these are growing pains. Someday, you might not. There is no someday. You are now trapped in a Mobius strip of time overlapping on itself: there is just this moment, and there are also all the moments you must plan. There are also rules for what you should or should not plan, and people who want to help and need instructions you can’t possibly write. This is how it has always been, even if you didn’t know it, and this is how it always will be, as time folds back on itself now and again later, simultaneously.

You can do whatever the fuck you want. Except that. And no one will tell you what that is.

In the end, your only real plan can be to stand on the edge of your love for her, staring out at the waves coming in, and look up at the sun. The waves will hit. The sun will be warm—sometimes warm enough, sometimes not. Stand right there. Your orders are clear.

Debi Lewis is currently at work on a memoir about her family’s experiences throughout her daughter’s journey to health. Their story is underway at