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Saturday, June 12, 2004 - Page updated at 12:00 A.M.

Should brides embrace inviting kids to ceremony?

By Stephanie Dunnewind
Seattle Times staff reporter

Bride Kim Krueger receives hugs from Emma Kim and Isabelle Parkin at her wedding reception in May. Krueger, a preschool teacher at Cascade Children's Corner, felt it was only natural to invite children to her wedding.
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Tips for keeping children happy at weddings

Kim Krueger couldn't imagine celebrating one of the biggest events of her life without children. A preschool teacher at Cascade Children's Corner, she invited 30 children from three weeks to 10 years old to her May wedding. Seeing their smiling faces in the audience helped her relax as she walked down the aisle.

"People were very surprised when I told them we were inviting kids," said Krueger (formerly Sistek). "I figured it would just be a fun party. It felt very natural to have them there."

Then there's the other side of the kid-and-wedding equation: "Many couples do want children to be part of the celebration, but have fears of children running around at the reception ripping down table linens or taking flower arrangements apart," said Daniela Ferdico, owner of event-planning company Bella Signature Design. So what's a bride to do — welcome kids or not? And should parents bring children to weddings if it's not clear they're invited?

"There is no formal policy of etiquette that dictates their exclusion or inclusion," notes Kim Shaw in "The New Book of Wedding Etiquette." Instead, experts suggest looking at the formality, time and length of the ceremony and reception, as well as space and monetary limitations.

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Nationally, the average cost of a wedding runs upward of $22,000, with $7,000 to $8,000 for the reception, according to Condé Nast. Even with a discount for children's meals, the $20 to $80 per person catering bill can add up.

Children add charm, spontaneity and a sense of family, but their unpredictability can be stressful. "When you're saying your vows, the last thing you want is to hear a baby cry or a child talking loudly during that sacred moment," said Kelley Moore, president of Red-Letter Day, a Seattle event-planning company.

Couples who wait until their late 20s or early 30s to marry often find friends and family members have young children and they may or may not be comfortable hiring a sitter while they attend a wedding. Second-marriage ceremonies commonly involve the bride and groom's own children, with friends' children welcome.

Guests themselves may be divided about bringing children. Some parents welcome a chance to socialize without children, while others are reluctant to give up weekend family time.

As a bride, Rachel Hart had so many friends with 3- to 4-year-olds that she ended up with half a dozen flower girls, with her goddaughter as "head" flower girl. "There's always little kids out dancing on the dance floor," said Hart, the editor of Seattle Bride magazine. "To me, that's a wedding."

Kyler Terrell and Corinna Oswell take a turn on the dance floor during the wedding reception for Kim Krueger.
When she became a parent, she took her newborn son to a good friend's reception after a sitter watched him during the ceremony. Now that he's 2, she plans to leave him with a sitter for a couple of upcoming weddings. "It's a night out for us," she said.

Sometimes the welcome mat is yanked without much subtlety. "I've noticed a lot of invitations will say flat out, 'Adult reception to follow,' " Hart said.

It might offend some, but others appreciate the heads-up. "If you take your children someplace where they aren't explicitly welcome, you put them in a terrible position," notes Carol McD. Wallace in her book, "Elbows Off the Table, Napkin in the Lap, No Video Games During Dinner: The Modern Guide to Teaching Children Good Manners." "It may be hard for them to behave according to the standards of the event."

She suggests parents get a feeling of the situation in advance and leave children at home if: they'll be up past their bedtime ("A tired child is not a pleasant child"); there won't be other kids there; they'll be bored; they'll have to behave like grown-ups.

Elizabeth Sumption of Queen Anne said she and her fiancé, Rodel Broas, "really pondered" the question of how and whether to include children in their July wedding. Broas has a huge family with 41 first cousins, all of whom have kids. With 260 guests already, "kids greatly add to that number," she said.

"It's emotionally charged," she said. "It's the one thing I'm really stressing about."

They decided to discourage kids by word of mouth, but not absolutely refuse them. She added information on Annie's Nannies to her wedding Web site and will hire three to five nannies to staff a children' room with games, art activities, a movie and kid fare such as chicken fingers and French fries.

"I remember being a kid and being bored out of my mind at weddings," Sumption said.

Experts say a separate kids party is a great way to make children feel welcome and still allow parents some adult time.

Couples can send special invitations directly to youngsters, Moore advised. "Make it an event in and of itself," she said. "It's fun for kids, rather than something they're dragged along to."

She's planned weddings where professional nannies set up arts and crafts stations so kids could decorate tiaras with fake jewels and feathers or paint T-shirts. Some go so far as hiring a children's entertainer, such as a clown or balloon shaper. "It's all about keeping little fingers busy," Moore said. "As long as they're focused on a fun party, they're not crying and running out into the reception to find mom and dad."

Children can eat in a separate room or caterers can serve a cheaper children's menu to kid tables set up in the main room. Children's table décor can be similar to adults' but include goodie bags with small toys and crayons or feature lollipops in the flower arrangements, Ferdico said. If there are no hired sitters, teens might head each table to keep younger children in check.

The big hit at the Kruegers' reception were the chocolate fountains where kids could dip treats. They also had a ball with the disposable cameras. "We got some belly shots but some cute ones too," said Krueger, a six-year employee of Cascade Children's Corner (which is subsidized by The Seattle Times).

She kept it simple, with children going through the regular buffet and sitting with their parents. (The ceremony was "short and sweet" so it didn't push past kids' dinnertime.) But she made sure the music started quickly.

"The kids were the ones who really got people out on the dance floor," she said. "They made it fun for us."

Stephanie Dunnewind: sdunnewind@seattletimescom

Copyright © 2004 The Seattle Times Company

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