Monday, August 17, 2009

Popping Another Question: Invite Children?

THE $150 HAPPY MEAL Some couples see children as cute wedding guests; others think they are disasters waiting to happen.

IT’S a question almost every bride thinks about. Does she want children — at her wedding?

There are pros and cons: They photograph well, but they steal attention. They don’t drink, but don’t always keep the costly food on their plates. Are children cute guests or annoying disasters waiting to happen?

Surprisingly, there is less professional guidance on the topic than a bride and bridegroom might hope for. Of the hundreds of wedding planning books on the Barnes & Noble Web site, there isn’t one exclusively devoted to it. Yet for all the histrionics associated with brides, few of their decisions are as likely to bring similar caterwauling from the guests.

“It is one of the biggest questions: ‘Are you going to invite kids?’ ” said Sharon Naylor, the author of “The Bride’s Diplomacy Guide” (Adams Media, 2007). She is inviting 30 children to her own wedding in April at the Park Savoy in Florham Park, N.J., where she plans a children’s food station, set low to the ground, so “the short people can help themselves to hot dogs and mac and cheese.”

According to Ms. Naylor, many event sites (including the one she is using) have begun offering free or discounted meals for children. This has made their inclusion easier on the budget, especially if inviting one cousin’s child requires you to invite the offspring of your other six cousins. “The trend is changing,” she said, because more families are spread out geographically and weddings have become one of the few opportunities for older and younger generations to bond.

But that doesn’t mean children are implicitly welcome at every wedding. Ms. Naylor said one of the biggest complaints from brides is that guests write in the names of uninvited children on R.S.V.P. cards.

Charifa Clark, 32, chose not to invite children to her wedding in Oklahoma City in November 2006. She was shocked, she said, when one of her guests sent back an R.S.V.P. card with 10 names, including children and grandchildren.

“They attached a paper with the names, because they couldn’t fit all 10 on the card,” she said.

Ms. Clark, who owns a real estate development and management company in Brooklyn, called the guest. And though the call was uncomfortable for both parties, she said, the guest apologized for the misunderstanding.

“Nobody’s sure of the etiquette,” said Annabel Torrey, 28, who said that she wished she had made calls before her invitations were sent to explain why she wasn’t inviting children.

The location she selected in Malibu, Calif., was not a traditional event site, meaning that she had to provide kitchen equipment, chairs, linens, tableware and even electricity generators.

“I felt overwhelmed at the prospect of planning for kids, too,” Ms. Torrey said.

And it never occurred to her that guests would bring children who weren’t included on the invitation. “You’d be amazed how many people wrote in the names,” she said.

Jessica Casano-Antonellis, 28, was blunt about the subject. “It was $150 a plate,” Ms. Casano-Antonellis, a public relations executive, said of her wedding to Alexis Casano-Antonellis in Quincy, Mass. “Why would we want to pay for a five-year-old?”

The only children present were in their wedding party, and their parents were forced to leave early, she said, “because the kids were falling asleep.”

Yet Alex Cohen, 35, and Richard Dean, 42, never considered an adult-only wedding.

“For us it was a no-brainer,” said Ms. Cohen, a reporter for National Public Radio, who welcomed 10 children among her 100 guests at the Villagio Inn and Spa in Yountville, Calif. “Our nephew played ‘Here Comes the Bride’ on the violin, which was the hit of the wedding.”

Of course, it helped that Ms. Cohen, who is also a member of a roller derby team, wanted a laid-back, offbeat affair. With ushers on skates and dogs in tuxedos, the children had to fight off the grown-ups for a turn in the inflatable bounce house.

There are more conventional options for including children.

Rachel Payne, a children’s librarian in Brooklyn, invited 15 children but “we didn’t have the resources or space to have a huge party,” she said. Ms. Payne, 38, who was married last November in Manhattan, decided to have a children’s party in a separate room, providing baby sitters and child-friendly food.

The under-age crowd was invited back to the big room for dancing after dinner. “We could have more space for adults and allow friends to have some time away from their kids and enjoy the wedding,” she said.

Ms. Naylor called that approach “a kids V.I.P. party,” which she said is becoming very popular.

She recommended renting carnival games and DVDs. And she urged couples to use licensed baby sitters, preferably certified in C.P.R.

Ms. Naylor said that couples should expect to provide sitters for the children of out-of-town guests even if they are not invited. “Whether they’re there or not, you have to plan for children,” she said.

But Kate Edmonds Donner, an event planner in New York, said the best plan is to leave children at home or send them home after the ceremony.

“If it’s a formal wedding, children should go home after the cocktail hour,” she said. Practicing what she preaches, Ms. Edmonds Donner and her husband, Alex Donner, the society band leader, did not invite children to their wedding last year in Garrison, N.Y.

“I wanted my friends to have a relaxed, fabulous, romantic evening,” she said. “Children under 10 need to be watched like hawks.”

She is not immune to the charms of “adorable children dancing their hearts out,” she said, and appreciated the entertainment value.

But she remained skeptical. “Shouldn’t everybody be watching the bride and groom?”

By DEVAN SIPHER "New York Times"

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