The discussion of whether to invite children to a wedding always becomes a passionate one. In one corner, you have people (oftentimes with children of their own) who think kids add a certain magic to the atmosphere -- those precious moments otherwise only available at a card store. In the other corner, you have those who feel as though that "magic" is more the black variety -- the screaming, the messing, the ruining. But including kids in your festivities doesn't have to be a horror movie in the making. Follow these guidelines to ensure that your wedding is fun for all ages.
Decide Who's Included
Don't feel as though having kids at your wedding opens it up to everyone under 13. Although it may seem tough to exclude, it's perfectly fine only to invite children who are part of your or your fiance's family -- or those of close family friends. Just because you want your niece at your wedding doesn't mean you must have everyone else's niece. If you let yourself get caught up in the drama of "Why wasn't my child invited?!" you're going to find yourself in a big (and expensive) mess, with every child of every random guest coming out of the woodwork looking for an invitation. Stand strong, and tell people you're sorry you can't include everyone -- that you're trying to limit the guest list.
Knot Note: Don't extend "ceremony only" invitations to children. While you may feel like you're doing the child (or his parents) a favor by including him in something, nothing's worse to a child than seeing other children head off to a party while he has to head home.
Make It Clear Who's Invited
Parents tend to make assumptions about their kids making the list. They assume their kids are or aren't, but either way they often don't ask. So you need to make it abundantly clear who is included. If you are inviting kids, adding the words "and family" to the invitation envelope indicates as much. If you aren't including children but someone RSVPs for theirs, you may be put in the uncomfortable position of calling them to let them know you're sorry but you couldn't invite everyone's children. To avoid hurt feelings if you're having some kids (such as the flower girl and ring bearer) make sure you explain your inviting parameters.
Managing the Kids
If possible, seat all the parents and their children together at one table or at tables close to each other. The quickest way to ruin a single guest's time is to stick them at a table with lots of kids. While it might seem like a good idea to put all the children at a table alone, an unsupervised group of kids is the fastest way to go from elegant reception to kindergarten madness.
Another way to keep the kiddie contingent under control: Hire a chaperone. If you know a teenager or young adult who'd be willing to be a designated adult for a few hours, hire her to keep an eye on things. She'll be less babysitter and more lifeguard -- someone who can take the kids to the bathroom, put a Band-Aid on bumps and bruises, or simply say, "Bobby, please get off the wedding cake."
Offer a Kid's Meal
Be thoughtful when choosing the food you want to serve to the little ones. This isn't the time to be a culinary snob -- most kids will eat only fun foods like little pizzas, chicken fingers, or mini hot dogs, so spare yourself the heartache and extra dollars and forgo the foie gras. For dessert, a make-your-own-sundae bar is always a hit. And since little people have small appetites, you should ask your catering manager for a lower per-person price. Also be sure to ask if the kids can get their food early and quickly -- especially at an evening reception -- since kids eat on a schedule.
Keep Them Entertained
Since children have short attention spans, you may need to create diversions -- a kid-friendly DVD, a few board games, or a couple of Game Boys -- set up in a separate room. You could also prepare goodie bags for them. Arts and crafts stores have great bead sets, drawing kits, and the like. Our advice: Get every boy the same gift and another gift for every girl, if not the same gift for all. You don't want anyone to be fighting over that lone box of scented markers.
Don't Freak Out
Despite the fear that people will instill in you for inviting kids, children do bring instant surprise to a wedding (not to mention a lot of laughs). Keep a sense of humor about having the little ones there: If Isabel can't keep her hands off the cake, don't throw a fit. Instead, laugh and tell the photographer to catch it on film.