Welcome to Mothership: Parenting stories you actually want to read, whether you're thinking about kids or not, from egg-freezing to taking home baby and beyond. Because motherhood is a big if — not when — and it's time we talked about it that way.
Putting on a nice dress, dancing with my husband, and mindlessly picking bacon-wrapped scallops off a tray as I clink glasses with other adults sounds like a great way to spend a Saturday night — and a scenario that would not be improved upon in the least if children were introduced into it. So can we just not?
In a recent op-ed, Salon’s David Andrew Stoler admonished engaged couples to “Invite my kid to your wedding: Trust me, you’ll regret it if you don’t.” And though his piece is a fun read, as a mom, I take issue with his six-point argument in favor of putting kids on the guest list.
Admittedly, I don’t have the most active social life these days; I have a 1-year-old daughter, with whom I happily spend almost all of my free time. But if there's a wedding on the horizon, I see it as a Big Night Out: a rare and exciting chance to put on some impractical shoes, see how many times the “Ooh, what’s this?” line works with the waitstaff carrying crab cakes, and celebrate a couple that I (presumably) care about a great deal. It's almost impossible to do all that while parenting.
I have taken my daughter to exactly one wedding; she was five months old and, I’m ashamed to reflect now, I don’t think she was technically invited. I spent much of the ceremony in the church’s lobby, fearful that she might become disruptive. My husband and I spent the reception loitering in a separate area of the hotel ballroom, one of us watching her sleep in her stroller while the other quickly scarfed down an entrée that had been left sitting a little too long. We spent almost no time actually enjoying the party together, barely thanked the bride and groom, and retired to our room early (where, silver lining, we snapped one of my favorite photos of the baby, sleeping alone in a cushy queen bed).
I also washed an adorable, tiny party dress and pair of tights in a church bathroom that day, because of a poop situation that happened mere minutes after we'd arrived at the ceremony. (Stoler and I do agree on one point: Kids in dress-up clothes are cute as hell.) And here’s the thing: My experience wasn’t remarkable in the least. When you have a young child, these inconveniences are all but guaranteed.
So I wonder how many weddings Stoler has actually attended with his kid. Was it really all cute photos, great dancing, and a meltdown-free exit “sometime within a couple hours of her bedtime,” as he describes in his article? Was he ever forced to wipe a tush while wearing a tux? Seeing as diaper-changing stations are usually confined to women’s bathrooms, I suspect the messy, unpleasant parts of bringing baby along may have fallen to his wife — including potentially dressing for the event with breast-feeding (or smudgy toddler hands) in mind.
As for the wedding we attended with my uninvited infant daughter, I am glad the newlyweds and other relatives got the chance to meet her. But my husband and I later acknowledged to one another that maybe we didn’t think it through. We would’ve enjoyed the night more without a baby; we certainly would’ve been more engaged as guests; and if leaving her with a sitter wasn’t an option, everyone would have understood why we couldn’t be there.
Stoler’s main argument is, won’t you just think of the parents? Do them a favor; make their lives easier by allowing them to bring the kids. “I got married, had a wedding, and only invited the kids I absolutely had to,” he writes. “And I just really regret being so self-centered and selfish and forcing my friends-with-kids to shell out the dough for a babysitter; or split up for that night so one could booze up with a handsome groomsman while the other stayed home…I should have been more thoughtful, more caring, more giving.”
Granted, he is trying to be empathetic here, which I appreciate. I also understand that childcare costs may be prohibitive for some wedding guests (Stoler cites the $120 outlay for a babysitter, “plus tip!”). But if there’s one thing that’s generally understood about weddings — for both hosts and guests — it’s that they tend to be expensive. And compared to what the hosts are likely spending, Stoler’s complaint about springing for a babysitter feels petty and self-involved. At the very least, it does not do much to reinforce his overall argument that it’s in the couple’s best interest to invite children.
Yes, in some cases, kids can be great additions to a wedding, and if you want to have a kid-friendly event, then by all means, include them. But arguing that your kid should be the star of someone else’s wedding albums, or the center of their dance floor (Stoler’s points four through six), is just helicopter parenting in formalwear. As this anonymous mom told us last month, "We all need a break from each other sometimes." Just as it’s beneficial for kids to see their mothers working outside of the home, it’s good for them to understand that their parents enjoy adults-only fun sometimes. It shows children that everything in this world is not for them and acknowledges that, in some situations, they can be downright disruptive. And don’t forget: The couple getting married might not want to have kids there — and that is 100% up to them.
As a wedding guest, your main job is helping a couple celebrate their love. If you don’t think you can do that, because of kids, or financial strain, or whatever else you have going on, then don’t go. Because the moment you’re telling a couple what they “should” do at their wedding, you have gravely overstepped. It’s not about your personal preferences nor mine; it’s not about us at all.