The wedding party is an important intersection of sentimental meaning, and practical application. What people you choose to include will reflect what that group of people means to you, and it will impact how your planning and wedding day unfold, in a practical sense. Knowing this, you’re going to want to balance those two ends of the spectrum as best you can. For your own sake, each person you choose to include in your wedding party should probably be some mix of “I love you” and “I can rely on you”. But you know all of that already. You’ve probably already had to make some tough decisions trying to strike that balance.
I’d like to talk about one specific wedding party member that comes with their own caveats that you may not have considered, but probably should. I’m talking about children. The ‘junior’ bridesmaids and groomsmen.
It’s a special memory and a meaningful experience…
Depending on how old they are, being included in a wedding party as a kid is definitely a memory that’s going to stick with them. Hopefully a positive memory. They’re going to carry that memory foreword and it’s going to have meaning to them; “I remember being in aunt Jane’s wedding”. It’s going to affect how they view the relationships surrounding the wedding as well. They’ll remember what their parents were like during the wedding. They’ll remember the strangeness of being in the room with everyone rushing around to get ready. They’ll remember catching the bouquet on the dance floor, or cutting a rug with every single one of the bridesmaids.
It’s hard to say how that memory will evolve and what meaning will be attached to it, but it’ll probably have some element of the feeling you had when you decided to include them in the wedding party in the first place. That is to say, love.
But, it will also stress them out.
Aside from life experiences and a knowledge of facts, the primary difference between a child and a mature adult is the ability to modulate the responses to one’s emotions. Adults “feel like crying” more often than they actually cry. Adults have the urge to throw a tantrum, far more often than they do. Adults can see a cookie, be allowed to eat that cookie, and still decide not to. Children have not developed this ability yet, so they telegraph their feelings, in real time, with everything they do. This is not a bad thing! It’s part of being a kid and growing up.
This has some significant implications, though. They are highly unlikely to be capable of appreciating this as “your day”. Kids naturally want to make things about themselves. They’re curious and they crave attention. They’ll do almost anything to satisfy their curiosity and get that attention. They haven’t figured out the reciprocal nature of those things yet. “Weddings”, as we know them today, are already a fairly unusual thing, and even more so for a child. The people who typically give them attention are not giving them as much of it. And, there are a gazillion things they’ve never seen before and are curious about, but are not allowed to touch, or play with. All of this is going to stress them out.
What are their responsibilities and what will they be included in?
This leads us to our primary question: “Should you have kids in your wedding party?” Unsurprisingly, it depends. I am an advocate for (sometimes uncomfortably) deep honesty with yourself. We sooth the discomfort we might be feeling right now by telling ourselves untruths about ourselves or our circumstances or the people around us, and so making greater discomfort, disappointment and anger for ourselves later. I have learned, through an unconscious game of trial and error, that it’s better to face the truth as soon as you recognize it.
So, whether you should have kids in your wedding party or not is a question you can only adequately answer if you’re being honest and realistic.
Answer these questions honestly—no caveats, just ‘yes’ or ‘no’: Is it important to you that they fill some specific role (Carry the rings, toss out flowers, walk people up the aisle, show guests to their seats)? Is it important to you that they are in the photos with the wedding party? Is it important to you that they are in a good mood? Is it important to you that they stand up at the front of the church with the rest of the wedding party?
Okay, now, answer this question: Knowing that kids can’t be reasoned with the way an adult can, are you willing to do what it takes so that they want to act the way you want them to act, or do the things you want them to do?
The fact of the matter is, there is no “should” when it comes to including kids in the wedding party. Some people do, because it’s important to them and that is great. Some people don’t because it’s not important to them, or they are unwilling to make the adjustments necessary. That’s also perfectly fine. But, I wouldn’t recommend simply rolling the dice and hoping for the best. Kids are unpredictable, especially if they’re in a bad mood—which they are, unfortunately, likely to be if the wedding has not made them a significant consideration.
If you’re rolling your eyes at this and thinking that a couple shouldn’t have to make their wedding day about the kids in some way in order for them to behave, that is probably your answer right there. Perhaps kids should be able to behave for one day, but that doesn’t change the fact that an awful lot of them can’t. If you’re not interested in accommodating for their mood or unpredictability, instead of putting them in the wedding party, consider including them in a less official capacity. There’s nothing wrong with that!
What’s your plan if they’re not feeling it?
If it is important to you to include them, and you choose to do so, don’t just cross your fingers and hope for the best. Sure, it might be fine, but it’s quite a gamble to make when you’re investing so much energy and spirit and money into this event. I strongly recommend coming up with a game plan. It doesn’t have to be extensive, all it has to do is help insulate you from what might otherwise be drama on your wedding day.
Here’s a scenario—Your five year old ring bearer did fine at the rehearsal dinner, but the wedding day messed with his routine. He didn’t eat at the normal time, and unlike usual, he didn’t get any tv time before being rushed out the door. His mom has been preoccupied with wedding things and hasn’t been answering his little-kid questions as diligently. His bowtie pinches a little bit and the shoes are uncomfortable compared to his sneakers. He’s throwing a tantrum, but his mom and dad get him out the door on the way to the ceremony. When it’s time to walk up the aisle with the rings, he’s decided to make his stand and he will not march up that aisle. They coax and coax and coax until the cuteness has faded and it’s become embarrassing for the parents, as well as the bride and groom. Eventually dad picks him up, walks him up the aisle kicking and screaming the whole way.
That story up there, it happened. It was embarrassing, like a scene in the office or some other cringe-sitcom. A similar story that we’ve seen play out on more than one occasion involves the formal photos. Like the ring bearer up there, the day itself set the kid up to melt down sooner or later, but in this case, it happens just before or during the formal photos, where following instructions is pretty much the only thing there is to do. Without having thought of this possibility ahead of time, the couple, and especially the parents if they happen to be in the wedding party also, spend large amounts of time trying to get the kids to behave. The photos take longer, faces look more strained, the images have less of that elated feeling you’d hope for.
The best thing you can do if you plan to include children in the wedding party is to decide in advance how you’ll respond to their mood and unpredictability. If they are in a bad mood when the moment comes, we recommend allowing them to just depart to somewhere else without incident. Let the ring bearer go to his seat and one of the groomsmen can walk the ring up the aisle with a tongue and cheek grin. Let the flower girl skip the formal photos and instead try to get some impromptu photos with her during the reception.
If that doesn’t sit right with you, or it doesn’t match your values, you’ll need to adjust the other aspects of your day to accommodate the kids. Make sure there is plenty of time for formal photos, and plan the day prior to the wedding so that it won’t have to disrupt very much of the kid’s routines. Avoid giving the children’s parents responsibilities that will divert their attention from their child, and consider relaxing your expectations about the kid’s wardrobe, and be ready to dole out special treats and snacks, more or less, whenever they want them.
We’re here to help
If you’re still looking for a wedding photographer, take a few minutes to check out the Wedding Services page on our website. We’ve worked with clients of practically every kind, and we have a great reputation for working well with children too. We’ll be glad to help you figure out how to work it out so that you feel good, and everyone has fun, while still being sure you’re going to get some really amazing photos!