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
In 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 swallowmysunshine.com. 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
My 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.
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