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Everything you want to know about planning a child-free wedding

Hint: it's not rude, and there are actually perfectly understandable reasons to leave little ones off your guest list.
The mention of a child-free wedding often opens a can of worms. Much like unplugged weddings (where guests are asked not to use their phones and/or post anything on social media), it can cause serious debate. Some people are on board with the idea and others aren't. While the concept of a child-free wedding doesn't need much explanation, it's the 'why', 'how' and 'where' that might need a little clearing up. Why would a couple choose to keep kids off the guest list? How do you tactfully let guests know their kids aren't invited? Where can exceptions be made? With the help of an etiquette expert, we've put the must-knows about organising a child-free celebration in one place. 

It’s not a new trend

It’s actually been around for decades. “In the early days of weddings, think Downton Abbey era, children were rarely out at events at all,” explains Anna Musson, founder of The Good Manners Company. “Traditionally, weddings have been occasions for adults, with flower girls and page boys the only exception to children being included. Weddings should be considered an adults-only occasion unless stipulated otherwise – it isn’t the other way round.” Surprised? We were too. According to Anna, the reason children are now more accepted at weddings is because couples are moving away from the conventional wedding. “In the last 30 years or so, we have become more open to flexible timing, unique wedding styles and bringing blended families together at weddings,” she says. “Traditional weddings are now less popular as couples decide exactly how they want their special day to look and feel.”

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If you have your reasons, stick to them

Not inviting children to your wedding doesn’t mean you don’t like children. Guest list and budget are two of the most common reasons couples choose to have an adults-only celebration. Your guest list can easily double if children are invited, and accommodating extra numbers may mean not inviting some adult friends. Other reasons for not inviting children could be your theme  anything black tie or that goes late into the night isn't always child-friendly  or your venue's capacity.

Heads up: inviting children could also mean you have to navigate the world of children’s menus. Some venues and caterers may not offer kid-friendly fare so they'll need to have an adult’s meal – even though they may not get through five courses or appreciate a brie-laden risotto with black truffle. This could be especially relevant to couples keeping an eye on their budget.

On the other hand, you may love your friends’ children but decide you want to treat your pals to a great night out away from the kids. After all, everyone needs to let their hair down and cut loose every now and then – especially parents! 
Not inviting children to your wedding doesn’t mean you don’t like children.

Make sure you tell your guests in advance

Choosing not to have children at your wedding is like the decision to have a destination wedding: it’s best to let your guests know early. Not only is it the polite thing to do, but it also gives them plenty of time to organise a babysitter if they need to. Telling your friends and family starts with your invitations. Traditionally, only those whose names are printed on the invitation are actually invited. So, if you address an invitation to a whole family  the Smith family, for example  then the expectation is that the entire family is welcome. "The best way to ensure you have an adults-only wedding is to personally address the invitation to the adults only. This is all that is required," Anna recommends. If you're worried about ruffling feathers or guests assuming children are invited, Anna says tactfully talking to your family and friends can help smooth things over. To put extra emphasis on your adults-only celebration, you can also include a note with your invitations about why you're choosing not to invite children or specifying that the day is strictly for over 18s.

Choosing not to have children at your wedding is like the decision to have a destination wedding: it’s best to let your guests know early. 

It might not suit everyone and could influence your final numbers

Truth: not everyone will be on board with your decision to have a child-free wedding, and this can put you smack-bang in the middle of a sticky situation. Having an adults-only wedding inevitably means your parent friends will have to arrange and pay for a babysitter. They also might have to leave the celebrations early. Your guests will have to weigh up these factors when choosing how to RSVP. There are some situations where it’s almost impossible for parents to leave their children at home, especially when it comes to nursing mothers or destination weddings. If you're getting hitched overseas, Anna suggests couples think about ways to enable the whole family to attend. This could be having the wedding during the day, arranging a babysitter or organising a low-key children’s table stocked with colouring books and games. Resorts or hotels also often have an on-site creche or kids’ club. 

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Yes, you can make exceptions

It’s your wedding – you can do what you like! “The host couple are free to make exception with any children they see fit,” says Anna. “They may wish to include nephews and nieces but not other guests’ children and that is absolutely up to them, no explanation is required.” There is a 'but' though  if you make exceptions for a niece, nephew or godchild, you can likely expect a question or two about why another guest's child couldn't attend. "In the interests of keeping the peace, it may be prudent to just include flower girls and page boys. A discreet way to include the children you would like present is to give them a role in the ceremony," Anna says. 

Another alternative is to open an invite for all children to come along to the ceremony, especially if you're tying the knot in a park, on a beach or another setting where space isn't an issue. This will help out parents who won't have to hire an all-day babysitter, plus you'll be able to get the kids involved in some cute photography. Just include a line on your invitations saying children are welcome at your ceremony. To be even more specific, you can also include the start and finishing time of the service. 

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