Are Child-Free Weddings a Blessing or a Burden on Mums?

The invite for my sister’s wedding arrived, and after cooing over the chic design and Googling the venue there was an unexpected footnote that caught my attention. “PLEASE NOTE,” it read in capital letters, “THIS IS NOT A CHILD FRIENDLY EVENT.”


Well, um, okay.

If you want to open Pandora’s box of pain, it turns out there’s your shortcut. BOOM.

Check any parenting or bridal forum on the topic of child-free weddings, and you’ll discover singles and parents often on opposite sides of the fence—with fierce tempers and hurt feelings all around.

Kids are unpredictable, one side says. They make messes, throw tantrums, bump into things, and are known to stick their fingers into places they shouldn’t. They pipe up when you want them to be quiet and melt down when the festivities are just revving up.

But kids are family, the other side responds. They’re at an age when being involved in a special event will create memories that resonate for their entire life. No matter how difficult, rebellious or—let’s just say it—annoying young ones are, kids are family and that makes them the important guests at a ceremony that celebrates kinship, fertility, and lifelong commitment.

Of course, all that high-faluting stuff is completely separate from the logistical conundrum of extricating yourself from young children. For parents with breastfed little bubs, leaving them for more than a few hours simply isn’t an option. Bottle-fed newborns might be a little easier but, with a twelve month old and seven year old, it seems I’m facing the trickiest of both worlds. Take Miss One (my youngest): she can’t stay with just any babysitter—she needs to know and be comfortable with them, which is difficult when every family member and friend will be attending the wedding themselves. On the other side, Miss Seven (my older daughter) understands that theoretically it is possible for her to attend, and she’s fully able to comprehend the fact that she is being left out.

I know I’m not the first to go through this, so I hit the forums to find out how other mums have handled this same thing in the past:

“It’s not being unreasonable,” says Viperbunny on Reddit. “It’s difficult to have kids at weddings. I love kids and my wedding was child-free (although it wasn’t an issue for us because no one had young kids). For us, it was a child-free wedding because all my cousins have teenagers and if we let everyone take their kids we would have never been able to have the venue we did and the cost would have been about double.

“Kids cry,” she adds. “They are unpredictable and they require attention. This is [the bride’s] day and she is allowed to have it go smoothly. It is not reasonable for you to expect her to let you take your son. If she let you take your son then other people would expect the same. If he is having  severe separation anxiety then he would probably cry if not in your arms and that isn’t fair to the bride and groom.

“I understand it’s hard because you don’t want your child to be upset, but maybe you could start preparing him by going out for an hour at a time over the next month. Let him be with a baby sitter, show him that mommy and daddy have to go out sometimes and come back. Let him see that you aren’t going to be abandoning him. If he starts to get more tolerant, increase the time. One hour, then two, etc. If that doesn’t work one or both of your are going to have to opt out of the wedding.”

“I think it’s bullshit,” writes CooperMom23 on “Not only is [my husband] having to spend $$ to rent a tux, we’ll have to spend $$ on a gift, and now we’d need to spend $$ on a sitter?? I’m refusing to go. To me, weddings are a celebration of life and love and the beginning of a new family. Why can’t children be involved?”

In her story “I Used to Firmly Agree with Child-Free Weddings … Until I Had Kids”, writer Suzzane Jannesse describes the motivation behind her sans enfants ceremony. 

“I didn’t want my best friends all leaving at 6 pm to do bath time! I wanted them to stay and enjoy the evening, to celebrate and dance with me. Never again would I celebrate my union with my husband. Never again would I gather all those I loved so dearly in one room, so was it a lot to ask for just one day?” 

The repercussions of her decision? “Here I am, post-kids, and the whole thing brings me out in a cold sweat.”

“As a parent myself, I’ve come to believe weddings are meant to be about family. Isn’t there beauty in the slight chaos of things? Children bring spirit and energy to an event that adults simply can’t. If I could go back, I’d phone my dear friend Hannah and tell her of course she can bring her 3-year-old son alongside her 1-month-old baby. (I had also invited Hannah’s parents to the wedding, so she found it almost impossible to get a sitter.) I wish I hadn’t put her through that stress and now understand how difficult she must have found the whole thing.”

As for me, I’m determined to keep my composure and see the event through just the way my sister wants. No matter how close we are, there a million subtle-yet-significant differences that separate parents from non-parents. There’s something about raising kids—something that happens between the hours of bottom-wiping and the shoosh-patting—that stretches and changes us. I know that on the other side of that growth, she’ll see where I’m coming from. But there’s no chance of true understanding until then. 

How do feel about a kid free ceremony? Did you have children at your wedding? How would you feel if your little ones were not invited to a family milestone?

image: Getty/Keri Pinzon