Some people (such as this wally) think that kids and weddings are oil and water and just don’t mix. I don’t agree – though I do think they certainly increase the workload. Having brought babies to weddings a few times, last year we graduated into the big leagues when we went to a family wedding with our 6-month old, 3-year old and 5-year old. Like any family occasion it was a mix of lovely and pure-awful. But we survived and even got to enjoy parts of it – albeit in a radically different way than in the pre-children days i.e. fairly sober. Based on bitter and beautiful experiences – and ignoring the begrudgers, here’s my top tips on surviving a wedding with small kids.
A thought about kids and weddings
No wedding is complete without invitation-based drama, and in fairness, when it comes to kids presumptuous parents are a common source of hassle. For a variety of reasons young kids often aren’t invited to weddings – all of which are of course up to the bride and groom. Yet there are plenty of times where guests either RSVP on behalf of their entire semi-uninvited family; contact the bride in advance to self-invite their kids or – even worse, show up with children on the day. Personally I think it’s all very simple: kids – like any guests, are either explicitly invited or they’re not. So check the invite and take it as read that if you’re name’s not down, you really aren’t coming in.
But now, working on the assumption they ARE invited, here’s how I think you can make the day with your mini monsters, go a little easier.
Bring everything you need and all the ‘just in case’ things
Is it only my children who wear what they eat and drink? Well I’d suggest anticipate the worst and pack a respectable change of clothes for everyone. Assume that with minutes to go to the ceremony a full tub of yoghurt will be deposited on every single child’s clothes and work from that point. Also don’t forget that even the daintiest of sequined cardigans; the cutest dickie bow and the sparkliest shoes can be uncomfortable after a few hours – let alone that there is always the possibility of an ‘I’m not wearing that’ break down, and have a back-up plan for each kid.
As well as clothes, assume the usual ailments and accidents will arise. Pack wipes, thermometer, paracetamol / ibuprofen medicine, and anything else you know it’s handy to have to hand. Needless to say spare underwear is a must for any piddlers. Leave it all in the car but at least you can rest easy knowing you have what you need, if you need it.
Having buggies, slings and any other usual bits and pieces to hand will be invaluable. At our family wedding Woodie got good naps in his buggy and later in the sling – and we at last got to sample the bubbly while the other pair ran up and down corridors playing with the other kids.
Work out the timing
We’ve had to travel distances to weddings and also show up very early to take part as members of the wedding party, and with kids in tow both are tricky. If a journey is involved ideally travel the night before. If travelling that day is unavoidable and your kids are as bad in the car as mine, then good luck.
If you’re part of the wedding party – or if one of your kids is, bear in mind a Bride’s house / hotel room only holds so much interest for a young kids. See if you can get yourself sorted hair and makeup wise and let the little ones arrive into the pre-wedding chaos with less than an hour to go. It’s enough time to feel involved, get dressed and say have a flower girls hair curled but not so long that the little one runs amok. Feed any small members of the wedding party about half an hour before leaving for the ceremony and try to stick to low-sugar snacks like sandwiches, water, etc. and only do the last change of clothes when they’ve finished their snack. One quick trip to the loo and little people should be ready to go. And from personal experience: check any little flower-girl dresses aren’t tucked into their knickers before the head down the aisle! They’ll thank you for that.
Find out in advance how the day is scheduled so you can plan naps and that around meal times and the reception itself. We fared very well at one wedding where the baby slept for nearly the entire meal – although he did make up for it by staying awake half the night, but handsfree dining was worth it. Likewise for feeds make sure you know you’ll have what you need to hand. As (another) not-so-subtle promo for breastfeeding I’ve fed each of my monsters at a wedding or two and it was always convenient – once the logistics of ‘boob get out of dress’ was sorted.
Be realistic about performances and pictures
Whether part of the wedding party or not, little people get a lot of attention at weddings . As they’re under the spotlight AND being reminded what to do, it’s a perfect storm for some very grumpy children. Don’t be afraid to ask people to back off a little – and if you need to escape a little wander around can calm some frazzled nerves. Kids get anxious about playing starring roles too. At our wedding, with about 2 minutes to go my own little flower-boy refused to walk down the aisle so to avoid tears or drama (his or mine) he scarpered off stage-left to his Daddy and the show went on. Be realistic about how the day might go and make a few alternative plans if things start to unravel.
Kids are generally at their worst when you’re trying to get a family photo. Fingers crossed any wedding pictures will involve a child-friendly photographer but where that’s not happening just be sensible. If the offer of a bribe or a small distraction doesn’t encourage a screamer to smile for the camera than give up and try again in a few minutes. There’s nothing worse than a long battle to get an unhappy smallie to look happy. It also rarely works. Also some of the nicest kiddie photos are impromptu so it’s hardly the end of the world if the staged ones don’t work out.
Nip the heckling in the bud
Whether civil or religious, no wedding ceremony should be all about the screaming / whinging / manic child in the background. While you might be able to get a child of three or four understand that they need to behave there’s no guarantee that they will and they may need to be evacuated pronto. How a toddler or baby will fare is down to pure dumb luck so you never know what you’ll get on the day. Sometimes kids just aren’t in the greatest form to sit through a ceremony so the only sane option is to head off for a walk around the outside of the hotel / church to distract them. Whether its leaflets by the back door of the church, or a little stomp around the hotel reception area, a little distraction can work wonders – and any bride or groom will appreciate you distracting the mini heckler.
Having an extra pair of hands is also great. As I was a Bridesmaid at my brother’s wedding I was ‘up top’ with the rest of the wedding party and Yoda – a flower-girl, was with me. As Granny and Granda had their hands full watching their youngest child tie the knot, we lined up an extra set of arms in the guise of my Auntie – who knows the kids well, to help out should the need arise. We made sure she was sitting beside my husband and the boys for the ceremony and was on standby to help with the baby or Spidey if there was a meltdown.
Packing a few portable bits – like colouring, dolls, action figures and a non-messy snack, also helps to allay the boredom. Also maybe give an older kiddie a job – like taking photos, even if they’re going to primarily feature bums and shoes!
Check out your accommodation early
If you’ve arrived direct at the wedding, think about using the gap between the wedding and the reception –yes, that delicious gap you used to fill with bubbly, canapés and chatter, to check out your accommodation. It’s a good time to check everything is as it needs to be and also it’s good to let the kids see the room they’ll be sleeping in and to just unwind for a bit. Don’t leave it to bedtime to discover you’re one bed short or for the strung-out kids to see where they’ll be sleeping. That’s a disaster waiting to happen.
Feed the Beasts
Don’t be a slave to a hotel / restaurant’s food schedule. Pack low-sugar snacks and drip-feed food to little people throughout the day. My reliables are crackers; croissants; sandwiches; fruit, bottles of water and an emergency stash of jellies for the ultimate bribe. It’s temping to lash sweets into little ones all day but beware of the strung-out-kiddie going wild in the corner half an hour later and pace the sugar rush.
If you’re staying in the hotel, don’t forget the early rising time of little kids and pack something for the next morning. You don’t want to find yourselves at 6am with an hour til breakfast starts and nothing but a pricey mini bar full of snacks at your disposal. Pack easy things like individually wrapped brioche rolls etc. and loads of extra water for that morning-after gap filler. This maximises your chances of a cat nap while the kids revel in the luxury of tv in bed – albeit while sitting on your head.
Go for a wander
It may require you to forsake a few more of the tipples and nibbles, but weddings can mean kids are stuck indoors all day so think about a bit of a wander to stretch those mini legs, burn off a bit of energy and build up an appetite.
Meal plan for kiddies
Depending on the age of the kids there may be a kiddie table or you may be lumped with your offspring for the entire meal. Either way suss out ahead of time that the food on offer is something your kids will eat. If something suitable isn’t on the menu then consider organising ordering something they will eat – even if you’ve to foot the bill yourself. Also make sure you’ll have a high-chair available if needed. It’s surprising that these are often forgotten in the wedding dining room and can take a bit to source. We always ask that the kids’ food is served at the same time as our starter, and their dessert at our main course as this avoids total meltdown. Some hotels oblige and it’s worth asking as it does make life easier.
Think ahead of time about the soft drink option too. My own guys don’t get soft drinks but a jug of cordial on the table is a perfect treat – and one that can be endlessly watered down. If soft drinks are ok with your kids keep an eye on ‘kindly’ relatives and make sure you’re not left with an over-sugared, over-caffeinated madzer who has been plied with seven Cokes and a Fanta.
Pack a bag full of distractions
Waiting through a couple of courses of food with kids is the definition of torture. For my brother’s wedding I did the same as at my own and made up ‘Wedding Survival bags’ for each of the kids and left them at their tables, each one individually labelled and with age-appropriate stuff. The aim of the bags was to distract and entertain. I tend to pack them with tack but not sweets as with them coming out at the table the last thing anyone needs is a fight over treats.
Here’s my tips on what to pack:
- The bag –a paper bag will disintegrate in seconds but cheap fabric shoebags are great for or you can pick up cheap totes / shoppers or ‘clutch’ style tablet bags for older kids, both for a few euro each . Look around in the likes of Tiger, Penneys, Claire’s Accessories, H& M etc. I found these fabric ones great as the kids could trek around with them at the wedding and they’re still being used for swim gear at home. Whatever you choose make sure the loot fits in there.
- Stuff to keep them interested at the table, like:
- travel games or activity sets
- colouring books,
- a few comics,
- joke book for any readers,
- fake tattoos,
- jewelry – bracelets, ring, clips, etc.
- Stuff they can get a kick out of with other guests, like:
- whoopee cushions,
- glo sticks,
- fake moustaches
- joke glasses, fangs, teeth etc.
Note: it helps to have the sense of humour of a child!
Basically we’re talking tat. Entertaining tat but tat.
Make it through the speeches. Or don’t.
Once they’ve eaten kids have a low tolerance for hanging around so expect some wandering. This part is a real pain in the arse as just as you settle in for the speeches, the kids start to go bonkers. We’ve done a mix of things. The older kids should be entertained enough by their family picking up the mic and the distractions of the Survival Bag may work but you may also need to produce a few sugary bribes. For any long-winded orations I’d honestly say cut your losses and take smallies them out for a wander. It might just be the easiest option.
Know when to call it a day
The day will not be a walk in the boozy park. Though there may be plenty of people – relatives and friends, around the reality is they’re not there to babysit your kids. While they may offer a few minutes of light relief you really are on the hook to mind your own sprogs from beginning to end.
One of the smartest babysitting gigs I ever had was to come to a friend’s family wedding at 9pm and pick up all four of their exhausted kids, bring them home and get them to bed, while their Mummy and Daddy got on with some serious celebrating. A lovely luxury if you’ve the option.
If the kids are staying with you bedtime depends on how they’re doing with the general mania of it all and also what arrangements you’ve got for babysitting. We’ve used a hotel babysitter shared with friends on one occasion and I have to admit it was frantic nipping back to check on the Precious First Born who in fairness was only 16 weeks at the time. For my brother’s wedding my MIL came to the hotel about 8pm and sat with the sleeping younger pair while the big fella tore up the dancefloor for a bit longer! He hit the deck about 10pm and we then had two hours of frantic socialising before admitting we’d never catch up on the tipsy masses and it was time to call it a day. We didn’t reach the glamorous heights of friends who left a wedding and retired to their hotel room bathroom to drink a bottle of wine while the kids slept next door. Now that IS classy!
So there you have it. It’s such as exhausting round-up of what to do that I’ve probably encouraged everyone to re-read the invite in case they’ve a licence NOT to bring the kids but if you do have a big day out coming up I hope these are helpful.
Also I’ve only a mob of small people so anyone with older ones please send your top tips this way! Please. I’m actually begging.