As the bride and groom turned toward each other to say their vows, the ocean sparkled in the background and white sand warmed the guests' feet. The moment was interrupted only by a toddler — mine — yelling, "I want to sit in Mommy's lap!"
I scooped him up, only to knock the pacifier out of my 2-month-old's mouth. Her lips quivered, preparing for a full-blown wail. I popped it back in just in time.
Double meltdown averted. Still, the ceremony was a harrowing half hour for me.
Bringing the kids along to "destination weddings" — those that require travel to exotic locales — has become a priority and a challenge for many bridal couples and their guests.
Brides and grooms who invite kids to faraway weddings must consider everything from properly addressing invitations to bedtimes to custody issues.
"If you're asking guests to travel and including children, you have to be doing some research ahead of time," says Jeanne Hamilton, author of "Wedding Etiquette Hell" (St. Martin's Press, 2005). "The bride's responsibility is making sure guests are comfortable. If you're including kids, then you should ensure the experience for kids is just as pleasurable as it is for adults."
As for parents, it's up to them to make sure kids behave.
It can add up to one sticky situation — in some cases, quite literally, says Hamilton, who more than once has seen the frosting get licked off the cake before it's served.
Whether to invite kids is completely up to the bride and groom, she says.
Stephanie Clarke, a wedding planner at the resort we stayed at, the Sheraton Grand Bahama Island Our Lucaya, recommends going for the full-family affair if the location calls for it.
"It's an island atmosphere with sand, sun and sea, and it's not just about the wedding," she says. "It's about relaxation and fun for the kids too."
Many guests with kids might just R.S.V.P. "no" to a far-off wedding because of expensive or complicated travel arrangements. Amy Swedberg and Michael Hagen of Minneapolis found that many of their invitees — including Swedberg's sister — couldn't attend their wedding in the Bahamas.
"I'm going to be 37, and all my friends had babies recently," Swedberg says. "Three years ago, it would have been one big party."
The couple is planning a reception at home to accommodate friends — kids included — who can't make the trip.
Since many guests do, however, agree to come with kids in tow, here are some suggestions for brides and grooms trying to make them feel welcome:
- Invitations: Etiquette says envelopes should be addressed to everyone invited, children included, says Cindy Post Senning, co-author of "Guide to Good Manners for Kids" (Diane Publishing, 2006) and a director at the Emily Post Institute.
Swedberg and Hagen sent invitations by e-mail, which they realized later might have been a mistake, in part because it wasn't clear whether kids were welcome.
- Baby-sitting: Hamilton suggests providing professional sitting services during the ceremony and the later hours of the reception.
- Diversions: Consider setting tables with paper placemats and crayons, stocking a table with games during the dancing, and leaving gift bags with small toys and snacks on toddlers' seats during the ceremony.
- Think twice about including children in the ceremony, Senning says. "They could freeze - or have a tantrum. Some adults almost pass out from the anxiety of being in a wedding, so it's no wonder that kids will have screaming fits."
Parents should be prepared to walk down the aisle with their child, if need be.
And even if kids aren't directly involved in the event, it's parents' responsibility to make sure they don't wreck it, Senning says.
Some advice for parents:
- Plan an escape route: Sit near an exit and be prepared to use it.
- Designate an adult companion for each child: Especially if you're in the wedding party, make sure your child has a trusted adult with whom to sit, and play if need be. Hand the friend a bag of small (quiet!) treats, like Cheerios or hard candy, with instructions to dole them out slowly.
- Or, find a baby sitter.
Kristin Benson of Minneapolis left her toddler at home with grandparents when she and her husband attended a friend's wedding in Charleston, S.C. She did bring her 2-month-old, who seemed to enjoy the party in a sling around mom's neck. But Benson says she would have enjoyed herself more had she been kid-free.
"She was a trooper and slept through most of the night, but we didn't get to fully have the adult experience," Benson says.
As for me, after my son's outburst at the Bahamas wedding, my 2-month-old sobbed through most of the dinner. Still, watching the toddlers running through the sand and dancing with abandon at the reception, I was grateful kids were included in the invitation.