You catch your breath as the bride walks down the aisle. Not because of her beautiful dress, however, but because the flower girl, your darling daughter, has got her fingers stuck firmly up her nose.
Attending a wedding with your kids is a very different experience from going as a child-free guest. Rather than letting your hair down, you’re braced to spend the day acting as usher and entertainer rolled into one. And while Prince William and the Duchess of Cambridge might have access to rather more help than the average couple, that question of how (or if) to juggle kids at a wedding will be pressing ahead of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle’s wedding on Saturday 19 May.
Children have traditionally not only been invited to royal weddings, but have actively taken part in the proceedings - and in many cases they have stolen the show. Who could forget the three-year-old bridesmaid who couldn’t stand the noise from the crowds as William and Kate shared their first public kiss as man and wife?
Such moments can become cherished memories, but knowing that does little to ease the fear that your child is going to overstep the mark by using their most piercing voice to make their feelings about how boring the ceremony is abundantly clear.
Thankfully, there are tried and tested ways to make the whole experience less painful for you and your kids, (because let’s face it when given a choice between a day watching ‘Peppa Pig’ in their PJs or getting all dressed up to sit quietly while adults discuss love, we know which one most kids would plump for).
We’ve spoken to the experts - wedding planners and parents who have survived enjoyed their friends’ and families’ special days - to gather their most realistic advice:
A Well-Timed Pit Stop
“Plan your journey carefully, scheduling a stop somewhere with outdoor space nearby, for a quick pre-service run-around,” advises Hamish Shephard, from Buckinghamshire, founder of wedding planning app Bridebook. The idea is to tire kids out enough that they’ll be happy for a rest during the service. But make sure you leave the house early enough for this - the last thing you want to do is get them all riled up without time to burn off that excess energy.
Scout Out A Quiet Refuge
From the service to the speeches, weddings can be an endurance test for the best of us, so there’s no point expecting someone whose attention wanders during a 20 minute cartoon to be able to sit quietly throughout.
Charlie O’Brien, mum-of-two and ChannelMum contributor from Kent, advises arriving a little early and doing a recce of the venue. “Be realistic as they will get tired, so make sure they have somewhere quiet to sit,” she suggests.
Brides Aren’t The Only Ones Who Need Assistants
The Duchess of Cambridge has previous experience corralling children, having taken on an unofficial helper role at the wedding of her sister Pippa Middleton and James Matthews, when she took charge of ensuring the young bridesmaids and page boys stayed in line.
If the bride and groom have not tasked anyone with this role, it is wise to do some recruiting yourself. “Whether it’s other mum/dad mates or friends who are thinking about having kids, babies and weddings mean teamwork,” advises Corrine Marie Hounslow, a mum-of-two from Portsmouth. “Let a pal hold your baby while you have a dance, or help you change a nappy so your outfit stays immaculate. Kids love to be the centre of attention and weddings mean lots of fusses from friends both old and new.”
Hounslow’s son Harry was the ring bearer at her wedding. He was two years old at the time. “Just before the wedding he was tossing the cushion around and the rings flew off. I didn’t know this till after I got back off honeymoon. My two friends (one was a bridesmaid) looked after Harry and changed his nappy when he needed it,” she shared.
What’s In Mum/Dad’s Bag?
“Take a special wedding activity bag,” suggests Katie Conlon, a ChannelMum contributor. “Mine always contains bubbles, a disposable camera, colouring book and crayons. It never fails to keep tots occupied.”
Snacks are also a wise addition, include something sweet to help kids avoid the temptation of the proudly displayed cake. But beware of anything crunchy, sticky or in crinkly packaging if you don’t want all eyes to be on you.
You can find a round up of activity packs for kids of different ages at wedding planning site Confetti.
“Taking a baby or toddler to a formal wedding can leave you feeling stressed and harassed,” said Lucy Roberts, mum-of-three (soon-to-be four) from Essex. “There can be lots of waiting around so make sure you’re seated at the back so you can nip out quickly if you need to.”
And if all that doesn’t work - there’s nothing wrong with a little...
“Try cheap presents your child has never seen before wrapped up in paper. Let them unwrap them as the day goes on, it holds their attention and they won’t get bored,” suggests O’Brien, who ensured kids were involved in the ceremony at her wedding.
One very important point to note well in advance of the big day: Ensure you are making the right decision in taking your kids with you. Out of 20,000 couples, 55% invited kids to their wedding with the average number of children invited being just eight, according to Bridebook’s research.
Be sensitive to the bride and grooms’ wishes, and don’t ever think of yourselves as an exception to the rule unless you’re specifically told you are. With budgets to think about, child-free weddings are on the rise according to Sarah Allard editor at hitched.co.uk. “When you consider that many venues charge the same price per head for a child as they do for an adult, it can be difficult for couples to justify spending so much on a little one when they have a limited budget to play with,” she explains. “Add in factors like paying for extra entertainment for children, then it’s easy to see why couples are struggling to justify inviting younger guests.”
Try not to take it personally if your kids’ names aren’t on the invite. Yes, there will be childcare to sort and pay for, but there is a bright side: “Lets be completely honest and admit a wedding without kids is a lot more fun and less stressful,” said Bonnie Barry, mum-of-two from Richmond, Surrey.
“I agree they can look really cute when they are dressed up, but they are also completely unpredictable and you have no idea what may happen on the day. Not inviting children also helps eliminate arguments between partners. You can both drink, as no one has to say sober to watch the kids.”