Why child-free weddings are totally insulting

I used to be all for child-free weddings. Then I had a kid…

Photo: iStockphoto

Photo: iStockphoto

Before I had a kid, I thought all children were noisy, messy, smelly, thoughtless poop machines. After I had a kid, those suspicions were confirmed: My son is a noisy, messy, smelly, thoughtless poop machine. But he’s mine, and he’s a miracle: laugh-out-loud funny, a great hugger and one heck of a dancer. So, the idea of getting a wedding invitation stating that he isn’t welcome makes me want to mail back a worthless penny as a wedding present. After all, not inviting him isn’t just a rejection of him but of me and my ability to parent him.

Increasingly, couples are opting for kid-free nuptials, and parents are reacting badly—very badly. One couple’s baby-free wedding is “destroying” his family, while another couple encountered a serious backlash when the bride asked for “adults only” on the invitation. This guy thinks you should definitely invite his kids to your wedding, while this childless woman thinks guests should just follow instructions—there isn’t much of a middle ground here.

When I got married in my mid-20s, I was relieved that none of our close friends had children and family members travelling from other provinces opted to leave their small kids at home. The horrifying prospect that a baby would—gasp—cry through our ceremony or dinner or our first dance was something I didn’t have to worry about. Now that I have a toddler, I see the issue more clearly—and from both sides. From a practical perspective, kids are total chaos, antithetical to what a wedding is supposed to be. Kids will not make your special day more serene, magical or romantic or help people be, as everyone says, “present.” Yet, they are an integral part of our lives, so why should they be excluded?

This tension cuts right to the heart of our deepest unspoken hopes and fears about two of the most polarizing things on the planet: weddings and children. When you’re quieting a screaming baby, chasing kids around the dance floor or trying to keep teens away from the spiked punch, how “present” are you really able to be? The mental construct—and actual reality—of a screaming toddler is an understandably frightening one, particularly for someone like me, who feels relatively ambivalent toward other people’s kids. As someone who has sat through numerous meals with a food-throwing, shouting dictator on my lap, I am acutely and painfully aware of the challenges of having kids around. Of course, I miss enjoying long, lazy meals with friends, going to bed after midnight and indulging in a novelty-size glass of wine without being interrupted by my son. I am an adult who enjoys adult company, and there is something to be said for carving out some adults-only time in the world.

But I’ve also met a surprising number of well-behaved kids who, looking back, would have been a joy to have at our wedding. After all, kids are full-grown adults waiting in the wings, and they’re going to have to learn how to use dinner napkins sometime. Practically, it can also be prohibitively expensive and logistically impossible for some people to find a sitter or family care for their kids.

Here’s my radical proposition: If you love and trust the people you’re inviting to your wedding, then love and trust that they will make the best decision for you on your big day. By explicitly saying “adults only” or “no kids,” these invitations are dictating terms, taking guests’ best judgment out of the matter entirely. Let’s remember, these invitations are to a wedding, where people are celebrating the “eternal” love of a couple who might even have kids one day.

Two years ago, some friends of ours were married at a remote ranch in Salt Lake City. They hired a kid-friendly school bus to ferry guests to the venue and hired a gaggle of registered nurses to run an entire cabin as a child-care option. Parents came and went with their babies. The hosts left the decision of when and how to include children in the festivities up to those who knew them best: their parents.

Last summer, two other dear friends got married on British Columbia’s Sunshine Coast, and there was never any doubt in my mind that we’d be there—all three of us. Our son was only six months old, and the whole thing was a bit of a logistical nightmare. Instead of staying at a romantic seaside bed and breakfast, we opted for a cabin rental with a llama in the backyard. When our son started crying in his carrier during the ceremony, my husband whisked him down the driveway, far away from the joyful, tearful vows. As the band played on into the night, I asked the hosts if I could breastfeed in their sunken master bedroom and listened to my husband play drums from another room. In an ideal world, I might have been drinking gin and tonic and busting a move on the dance floor, but I live in the real world—not the ideal one—and I wouldn’t trade our son and the chance to be a mom for all the dance parties in the world.

Looking back, the most important part of that wedding was love. Breathe it in with me: love.

By open-heartedly embracing the tiny human who had only recently joined our family—this noisy, messy, smelly, thoughtless poop machine—those friends opened their hearts to our friendship, to their entire community and to the whole reason we were there in the first place. Now isn’t that something to celebrate.

Read more:
Kids at weddings: Essential dos and don’ts
How to stay close to friends without kids
Babysitting 101: Finding and keeping a super sitter

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