In a little more than a month, my younger brother and his wonderful fiancée are finally tying the knot (it's a day I've been hoping for since about five minutes after I met her . . . and saw how great she is with my kids). Their friends are just starting to have babies, so I wasn't surprised when they decided to make their wedding kid-free. I made the same decision for my own wedding seven years ago, and even after having two children of my own, it's one I still totally get behind. Unfortunately, they've made an exception for exactly two young children: mine. My 6-year-old daughter is their flower girl, and my 3-year-old son is also potentially walking down the aisle (he's a crazy one, so they've smartly made it a wait-and-see situation).
Of course, I'm honored that they love my wild ones enough to include them in their big day, but their very presence means my own enjoyment of that day will be different. Instead of solely basking in the union of two people I love, I'm also going to have to parent two other people I love . . . who happen to be way less well behaved, way more demanding, and, in one case, way more likely to poop his pants. If you're attending a wedding with your kids, here's what you really need to know before you hit the ceremony.
- Don't expect your wedding experience to be the same. For me, weddings without kids usually involve the following: drinking way too much champagne, dancing until I sweat, eating late-night food after I chose champagne over dinner, staying out too late, and waking up the next day realizing my wicked hangover was totally worth it. Bring your kid along and the fun factor can still be there, but it will be tempered by diaper changes/trips to the potty and searching for kid-appropriate food . . . then making sure your kid doesn't eat his own weight in cake, ruin a photo op, or scream during the ceremony. You know, mom stuff. And if you manage to find the time to consume enough champagne to warrant a hangover? Not so worth it.
- Even if your whole family will be there, help might be hard to come by. I brought my daughter to a couple of family weddings when she was about 18 months old, thinking that being surrounded by my parents, brother, and cousins would make easy work of caring for her. I was wrong. Sure, they helped a little, but mostly they were focused on enjoying the wedding (as they should have been), so the heavy lifting was on my and my husband's shoulders.
- Be prepared to impose boundaries (and remember: it's the bride's and groom's day, not your kids'). Kids aren't great at knowing things like maybe don't run up to the bride and groom during their first dance, have a temper tantrum during their vows, or interrupt the father of the bride's speech with your own interpretive dance. It's on you to keep those behaviors in check. Even if you think that dance is sort of cute and funny, the bride and groom probably do not.
- Exit plans are important. Look for easy exit routes at both the ceremony and reception so if your child starts crying, acting inappropriately, or distracting from the guests of honor, you can remove them before the situation escalates.
- Bring in reinforcements, if possible. I asked my favorite sitter to come with us to my brother's wedding more than a year ago. That's how much I knew I needed her. If you can swing bringing along some extra help — a person who will be focused only on the kids, not the wedding — you'll be glad you did.
- Plan bedtimes (and bedtime enforcers) in advance. Even with a kid-size plus-one, it can be easy to get caught up in wedding festivities, and then realize it's 11 p.m. and your toddler's epic meltdown is completely your fault. Go in with a plan for when their party needs to be over and who will be taking the kids home; then stick to it.
- Bring your camera. While bringing your kids to a wedding pretty much ensures that your experience won't be as hedonistic (dance! drink! eat cake!) as the weddings of your past, it does mean you're going to force your kids into some pretty cute outfits. So bring your camera and, at the very least, you'll get some great photos out of it!