We’ve all been there – sitting in a waiting room, watching a movie, enjoying a pleasant dinner – when suddenly, the calm is interrupted by the pitiful, disruptive sound of a child in full blown meltdown mode. After the cries of a wee one hits our ears, most of us, at least those of us who have been parents, look around to see if there is anything we can do to help, meeting the eyes of an embarrassed and frustrated parent with a sympathetic look, if not a “so been there. It'll get better. I promise” reassurance.
We get it. You have to go out and even though you’ve done everything you can to plan for every contingency, there is your little tike, inconsolable because the sprinkles on his ice cream aren’t even or she wants a purple crayon but there isn’t one in the package the nice hostess gave her a few minutes earlier, unaware she was setting the timer on a meltdown bomb triggered to go off the minute the main course arrives.
We all wish we were those mythically unicorn perfect parents. Those who plan ahead for every possible contingency, and before the crisis can occur, they are digging in their bag for the purple crayon they knew would be needed averting the meltdown before the countdown even begins.
But alas, most of us are mortal parents, doing the best we can. Try as we might, we find ourselves smiling apologetically to those around us, gathering up bags and backpacks as fast as we can to make a hasty exit, screaming baby or toddler in tow. Parents have to go out. They have to run errands, eat, and just get out of the house, and it is on all of us as a society to adopt a “been there done that, so glad it’s not me, but I understand” attitude and, when we can lend a helping hand, or at the very least not make a struggling parent feel even worse than they already do.
But there are exceptions. There are those few occasions when, even if our best friend, our husband’s closest fraternity brother, the cousin you’ve always envied, or the senior partner at your firm’s daughter is getting married and you cannot find a babysitter you have to decline the invitation or sit out the ceremony. And, possibly most of the reception.
No matter how close you are to the bride or groom, even those mythically perfect parents should ask, “what if little Johnny or Sara Beth decides this is the one time they are going to have a meltdown?” What if their first tantrum was right in the middle of your bestie’s I do?
Forget about the adorable pictures of little girls dancing at a wedding. And the shots of little ones dressed up to look like miniature adults that make Facebook posts that your family will share with everyone on Facebook.
What we don't see on social media are the pictures of a little tyke wailing and sobbing because he didn’t get French fries instead of the Chateaubriand, artisan carrots, and roasted potatoes the bride and groom provided at their very formal reception dinner. Do you really want that to be the thing the happy couple talks about every time you get together?
The reality is, no matter how wonderful your children are, other people just don’t love your kids as much as you do, and sometimes, they don’t want them around. And that’s ok, especially when you are invited to a day devoted to them, and not your kids.
So how do you tell if your children should attend this celebration? As with many wedding questions, the invitation is the best place to start.
Most invitations are worded in the most tactful, polite way possible, and a careful reading will allow you to discern what the bride and groom want. Some couples have no qualms about including an “adults only” indication, making the decision easy. If this is the case, be respectful of the bride and groom’s wishes.
If the RSVP says Mr. & Mrs. Smith, you should assume that it is parents only. If the invitation includes a phrase like “the family of” or includes the children’s names, bring the kids.
If there is no indication, use the formality of the wedding to make your decision. The more formal the wedding, chances are children will not be included. While an afternoon casual wedding outdoors might be fine for children, a formal evening event probably isn’t. Still unsure? Check directly with the bride or groom rather than air on the side of bringing along little unexpected plus ones.
Err on the side of caution and respect for the day if the invitation isn't explicit. And even if Brooks' name is on the invitation, if he is a two-year-old in the throes of learning "no" and given to tantrums, find a sitter and enjoy a day with your spouse.
If you have attempted to contact the bride or groom, or someone within the wedding party to determine if children are welcome and have not received a straight answer, assume they are not invited. Bite the bullet and get a sitter. What’s the worst that can happen? You end up having a romantic night out, without the children and grow closer as a couple.
Unless you are the best man or maid of honor, it is likely that the bride and groom would rather have their wedding wishes respected than play host to an impromptu daycare because their guests were unwilling to put them first.
Skip the wedding. Or let whichever of you has the closest connection to the wedding party go. If you are both friends with the bride or groom, tag team. One of you go for the wedding and the first part of the reception, then head back to the room and let your spouse go for the dinner and the after party.
If you get to the wedding and there are kids there, don’t spend the night wishing you hadn’t paid for a sitter. Appreciate the short break, and enjoy the night as just the two of you, you probably deserve it.
If you can't find a sitter and you know the wedding is a kid free event, sadly, you must decline the initiation. Do not assume that the bride and groom won’t mind.
Bring the kids to brunch the next day and show them off. Everyone will be glad to see you and your adorable mini-me. And the bride will greet your little ones with a big smile and a hug because you honored her day in the best way possible for everyone.