Are adult-only weddings selfish? Are weddings with kids lame? Before we even try to answer that, I’ve got a more pressing concern: Approximately 99 percent of the time I’m invited to a wedding, I can’t even tell if it’s OK to bring my kid or not, so I have to spend extra time and effort deciding whether or not I should be pissed.

It’s important to say right here, also, that the question of the etiquette surrounding whether or not to let kids come to your wedding; that’s relatively impossible to answer in any sort of definitive way. Everyone you know has an opinion about it—usually based on whether they have kids or not, how hard it is to find a sitter, what they did at their own wedding, what their friend’s cousin did at her wedding where she wasn’t sure what to do, or whether they think kids “belong” in certain spaces or not. As with anything that involves individual choice and circumstances, there’s no one correct answer.

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But there’s a new essay at Time, reposted from YourTango, about how expensive it is for parents to attend weddings where kids are not allowed, and it compels me to say: Yes, it sucks to shell out $100 that you don’t have in order to make it to a wedding where you can’t bring your kids. Also, though, there is an underlying problem before the issue itself is on the table, and that is the fact that many people do not specify on the wedding invitation whether or not it’ll be a child-friendly event in the first place.

Most of the wedding invites I’ve gotten in the last five years have not indicated this one way or another. I’m not a wedding expert, of course, nor have I received every possible iteration of wedding invitation. But typically, always, the trickiest thing about a wedding invite is who’s invited to come with you. If you’re single, then most of the time the invite is addressed to you, and maybe (or maybe) not the option of your significant other or unknown plus-one. If you’re married, the invite is addressed to you and your spouse. But if the recipient has children, it’s time to get down to business parsing that wording, and that’s a problem all on its own.

How are you supposed to know? If the invite doesn’t say either way, does it mean A) yes, they are allowed, or B) no, they are not allowed, or C) please spend an inordinate amount of time speculating, then ask me directly so we can all feel awkward when I say no.

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Wedding site The Knot says yes, that is, in fact, how it’s done—if kids’ names aren’t on the invite, then no kids are allowed, and they suggest this approach:

If you don’t include each child’s name, you’re implying that children are not invited. That said, don’t be surprised if some guests still mistakenly assume their children are welcome. If you’re concerned this will happen with your guests, ask your immediate family and bridal party to help spread the word that the wedding will be adults-only. In the end, you may have to follow up with guests who don’t get the message via phone to gently explain the situation.

But also: Don’t be surprised if some guests assume their children are not welcome when they actually are, because you left their names off the invite. This has happened to me many times. The invite did not mention the child, although the couple was planning their wedding to be a family and kid-friendly affair all-around. But you still have to ask to be sure, which makes you feel bad, so you then have to go through the whole thing of making sure it’s clear you’re just asking and you don’t mind either way because hey, it’s their wedding—you do this delicate little preemptive dance of reassurance that everyone could’ve avoided if they’d just put it on the invitation.

Complicating this is the fact that, to a lot of people, specifying No Kids is considered rude. In a post at forum WeddingWire asking how to “nicely” word no kids on the invite, a woman writes:

Hello ladies,

I was just wanting your advice and help on how to nicely say no kids on our invites. I personally think “no kids” or “adult reception only” is fine, but my FH doesn’t like the “no/only.” I need your help I need to submit the invitation for the wording no longer than this weekend :/. Also if any of you know Spanish what is another nice/appropriate way to say “no ninos”?

I feel if we put “adult reception” might sound a little “ well what will they be doing then” kind of thing.

Responses include:

I put NO CHILDREN wedding party only! on the invites!

and:

In proper etiquette they actually say that you shouldn’t include anything like “no kids or adult reception” on the invitations you should actually just tell people and have the word spread around...me personally I will be putting “Adult only reception to follow” on the reception card but I have also been telling people who ask that we aren’t inviting kids so they know upfront

and:

Don’t use the word “and family” on the envelopes address them to who is actually invited.

or:

On the RSVP card you could include

“___ adult seats have been reserved in your honor”

and you fill in the blank.

If anyone lists their kid on the RSVP you’ll have to call them back and explain the invitation was only meant for them.

Other posters included the no-kids allowed info under an FAQ on the wedding website. Great, now I have to go to a website and search the fine print to find out if my spawn can accompany me. But even those are all for clarity on the invite front fear the wrath of having offended the etiquette gods:

I’m conflicted with this too! I feel that it must be spelled out - NO children but I think its a little rude. Also, in our latino culture everyone brings their kids and grandkids so I don’t want to offend people.

I am still trying to figure out how to state it on the wedding website and getting my mom to spread the word.

Enlisting others to ensure that every guest knows the unspoken rule? Isn’t this getting out of hand? (LOL, we are talking about weddings.) If the stated goal of etiquette is to make things as easy and comfortable for your guests, you now have guests and even your own family doing backflips to figure out if they can bring their legal charges to a wedding.

This is the opposite of how it should work! Don’t make people guess!

Again, for the record, I don’t really care whether you want kids at your wedding. I get how no kids at a wedding can make the party feel like more of a blowout, and also less fraught, less expensive, less whatever it is you don’t need jacking your shit up. On the other side, I get that kids at weddings can also be incredibly sweet and fun, even when they are doing all the annoying kid stuff. My husband took our daughter to a wedding once where she danced her ass off and then vomited all the apple juice and cookies she’d eaten all over the dance floor. It takes a certain kind of person to welcome the often literal messiness of children into their big special day in stride. Before I had a child, I was definitely not that person. So no judgment.

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But how about you just make it easy and clear for your guests to know whether they can bring kids so they can get down to the business of resenting you. Isn’t that what weddings are for? The beginnings of, yes, hopefully, lifelong love, but also long-held, simmering resentments?

Might I make a humble suggestion for those of you who are partnered off and don’t want to spend money you ain’t got paying for a babysitter for a wedding you don’t want to go to: Socialize in tandem. You can do this at weddings! Take turns with your partner letting them go out while you stay in, and you go out while they stay in. Don’t sweat getting a babysitter so much. Sometimes it’s great to have an actual date, to do things together, and all that jazz, of course. But alternating staying home with a kid while the other person goes out and has fun can solve so many problems.

For one thing, it’s cheaper. For two, the person going out can stay out as late as they want, like a normal person and not someone who has to cram a bunch of fun into exactly 3.5 hours. Three: Time apart having fun is good. Besides, this is your life now. Don’t apologize for having responsibilities that might make you have to sit certain things out.

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Of course, that won’t work for everyone or everything. You need a partner in order to soak off that child for the evening. And if any wedding is too expensive for whatever reason, you too can find just as nice a way to word that: Decline. Not attending. Can’t make it. Best wishes. RSVP: Zero. Tell me that doesn’t feel good just thinking about it.


Contact the author at tracy.moore@jezebel.com.

Illustration by Tara Jacoby.