When it comes to organizing your big day, most people agree you should get to enjoy the celebration just as you’ve always imagined it. For some, that might mean swapping out a sit-down dinner for snacks from a taco truck. For others, it means asking guests to leave their little ones at home.
Adults-only weddings aren’t a new concept, but they’re definitely a controversial one. Deciding to host a kiddo-free event may put you at odds with friends and family members. But knowing how to handle the announcement with tact and grace could make all the difference.
Kid-free weddings: why do parents care?
Many soon-to-be spouses who are considering having a kids-free wedding don't yet have kids themselves. It’s easy, then, to imagine that inviting parents to a wedding without their kids is almost a gift. They have an excuse to leave the little ones at home for a night or even a weekend and kick up their heels… right?
That works in theory, but having a child-free night involves a lot of coordination and even financial maneuvering that people without children might not take into consideration. In addition to all the typical costs wedding guests incur — flights, fancy clothes, hair and makeup, wedding gifts, hotel and rental car fees, etc. — they also have to find and shell out money for a trustworthy babysitter.
Add in the unseen costs of parental guilt and unease about leaving your child at home, and it becomes easier to understand why not all guests would be thrilled you’ve decided on an adults-only wedding. Of course, it’s still 100% your decision, and a respectable one at that, but use the tips below to ensure you get the big day you’ve always wanted without alienating anyone in the process.
Use the wedding invitation to make your intentions known
Make it clear on your Wedding Invitations exactly who you’re inviting to your celebration. Most wedding experts say this is not the time to use phrasing like “adults only,” but you can convey your intentions by addressing invites to only those people expressly invited.
Use the exact names of both invitees on the outside of the Wedding Invitation, for instance:
Mr. and Mrs. Abdullah
Jenny Varsa and Jules Bennett
Chris and Mallory Klein
Further underscore your meaning by partially filling out the response card yourself. You fill in the names of the invitees and leave the food choices and other options to be completed by the intended guests.
Though traditionalists might recommend against avoiding specific child-free language on your Wedding Invitation, sometimes that’s the best way to get ahead of potential problems. This is especially true if you’re having a less formal wedding. If you feel it’s appropriate, you may place simple, concise phrasing such as “No children please” or “Adults Only” at the bottom of your wedding invitation or on the RSVP cards. This information should be easy to spot yet still discrete.
Mention your vision for a kids-free wedding on your wedding website
It’s not considered proper etiquette to use words like “child free” and “adults only” on your Wedding Invitation, but you should absolutely do so on your wedding website. After all, that’s where you’re free to talk about all the other nitty-gritty details of your day too, including where you’re registered for gifts and the particulars of your dress code.
As for specific language, here are some ways you can get the point across without being accidentally offensive or overly blunt:
“We politely request that all attendees be over the age of 18.”
“We kindly remind guests that the Smith-Jones wedding is an adults-only event.”
“Please join us for an adults-only reception starting immediately after the ceremony.”
“Although we adore your children, we’ve elected to limit our ceremony and reception to adults only.”
“Even the best parents need a break sometimes! Take yours at our reception, which has been planned with an adults-only crowd in mind.”
“Due to capacity limits at our ceremony and reception venues, the only children at our wedding are those in the wedding party and immediate family.”
“Unfortunately, our venue is unable to accommodate guests under the age of 18. There will be babysitters available in a designated room on site.”
“Family-friendly ceremony with adults-only (18 and older) reception to follow.”
“Due to budget limitations, we’re unable to accommodate children under the age of 16.”
“To allow all our guests the opportunity to let their hair down and enjoy themselves, we’ve elected to make our wedding a child-free event.”
“Bring your party shoes, but leave the littles at home! Our wedding has been planned as a child-free event.”
Try to pair mentions of an adults-only event with helpful tips that will soften the blow to parents just realizing their precious kiddos aren’t actually invited. Offer a list of trusted babysitters or the contact information for a local nanny agency. Source hotels that have kid-friendly amenities. Discuss any non-ceremony/reception wedding events like a post-wedding brunch or pre-wedding scavenger hunt and BBQ that kids are welcome at.
Consider offering on-site babysitting
If you’re concerned your desire for an adults-only wedding might pose an undue burden on guests who do have kids, think about hiring a babysitter (or several) to watch kids on-site during the reception. That way you have the kid-free party you want and parents also know their offspring are nearby and under a watchful eye.
Some venues offer so-called “crèche service” or nursery care as part of their laundry list of amenities. Others are happy to offer a room you can use, including AV hookups for a movie night and tables and chairs for snack time.
But it may be up to you (or the nanny agency you contract with) to provide other toys, blankets, refreshments, etc. You can even hire kid-specific entertainment. It will add to your budget, but the peace of mind you’ll give to parents eager for a break could be well worth the expenditure.
Be calm but confident and stand your ground
Once you and your partner have decided on an adults-only wedding, it’s important that you abide by that decision wholeheartedly. No making a single allowance for one family’s child or children and denying others. That’s a sure-fire way to create tension that could very well blow up right in the middle of your first dance.
You may need to call guests individually if they write in their children on the RSVP card or if you get wind your cousins are insisting on bringing along their entire brood. Those one-on-one conversations are rarely comfortable, but they are necessary.
Stay calm and keep your voice as measured and neutral as possible
Have a “script” you can refer to — a simple phrase (use the kids-free language suggestions listed above, if you need) you can repeat if things start to get heated
Don’t give in unless you want every other family member and friend with kids to get wind that you caved and expect you to accommodate their kids too
For families you think will be particularly off-put by the adults-only announcement, call them personally: “We always love to see [child/children’s name/names], but unfortunately this one event is limited by our budget/space constraints. We still very much hope to see you and [spouse’s name] there.”
It’s still okay to have children in your wedding party
While in most cases it’s not okay to pick and choose who gets to break the no-kids rule, the wedding party is an easy and understandable exception. After all, it’s tradition to have a ring bearer and flower girl, and if you want to carry on that tradition, you should absolutely be able to.
Another possible exception is children that belong to your immediate family. It can be a little more difficult for other guests to understand seeing a child not in the wedding party when they weren’t allowed to bring their own. But again, if you make this line clear on your wedding website or in person, the expectation will be set and any objections will hopefully be brought up and dealt with long before it’s time to say “I do.”
What to do when guests just won’t listen
While you hope your guests will get the message and keep their kids at home, some people either won’t see it or will simply choose not to acknowledge it. Whether that’s an oversight or a sign of disrespect, it’s important to handle the issue in the same way.
For guests indicating by phone, email, or RSVP that they’ll be bringing their kids anyway, reply promptly and reiterate the exact same wording used in your invitation or on your wedding website. “Hi Jack and Sandy, I’m so glad you’ll both be attending, but as a reminder, our wedding will be a child-free event. There is a list of qualified babysitters available on our wedding website. Thank you!”
If you continue to get pushback, reply with sterner wording: “We regret you won’t be comfortable attending without [child/children’s name/names]. We’ll miss your presence on our big day and very much look forward to catching up once we’re back from our honeymoon!”
As for dealing with a guest who shows up to your wedding with a kid in tow, that’s a much touchier subject. For some people, the answer is to let the wedding coordinator or venue deal with those problems as they arise. If the venue is truly 18 and over, it’s out of your hands. If you have limited chairs and food, have a third party explain to the offending guest that there is not space or refreshments for their child, as that child was not invited or included in the final guest count.
Sometimes, though, there isn’t much to do except throw up your hands, allow the child and parent or parents into the reception, and go about your business. Even the best-laid plans are bound to develop wrinkles at some point, and going with the flow ensures you still have a wonderful, memorable day — exactly as you deserve.