W.C. Fields once famously cautioned against sharing the limelight with children or animals. But most brides are willing to ignore his crotchety advice for the chance to include a flower girl or a ring bearer -- and all the sweetness and spontaneity they bring -- in their celebration. In fact, these days, it's hard to look at a wedding album without seeing as many flower girls as petals trailing behind them. And lots of little boys, as pages or ring bearers, aren't uncommon either. Says party pro Marcy Blum, of Marcy Blum Associates in New York City, "Slightly older couples are taking their cue from people in Europe and are having kids stand in for bridesmaids and ushers. It's a really good option if you don't want to force your 30-something girlfriends into gowns."
Event planner Elizabeth Allen of New York City agrees: "People are getting married older, and their friends and family members may have already started having children, so more and more young people are involved." For Martha Stewart Weddings style director Theresa Canning Zast, having lots of little girls precede her down the aisle offered a way to let her entire (enormous) family participate. "I am the youngest of eight kids, and we're a very close family," says Canning Zast. "I would joke that I knew who my flower girls would be before I knew who my groom was!" In fact, Canning Zast ended up with 12 nieces performing that role -- "the only requirement was that they could walk down the aisle" -- and tapped her 14-year-old nephew to play the trumpet during the ceremony.
But whether you invite one child or ten to participate, there are some things to keep in mind if they will be featured in the festivities. Of course, the most obvious is that, depending on their age and temperament, kids often don't stick to the script. So if you're the type who gets stressed over stray hairs or favor boxes that don't perfectly match the seating cards, you may want to pass on a passel of young attendants -- or limit yourself to placing older children in such roles as junior bridesmaids, groomsmen, or readers.
Even if you don't keep your party to adults only, there are ways to increase the odds that things will go smoothly. First, think about the ages of the children you want to ask, as well as their personalities. Most etiquette experts recommend that flower girls and ring bearers be between the ages of 3 and 7 (and junior bridesmaids between 8 and 12), but, says Allen, "I've had some 2-year-olds that were perfect and some 5-year-olds that didn't make it." Consider, also, the time of day your ceremony will take place. If you will be holding your black-tie ceremony at 8 o'clock (with dinner starting at 10), it might be unreasonable to expect even the most mature 4-year-old to make it the whole way through without a fuss.
Explain to each child ahead of time how honored you are that they have accepted your invitation and what an important responsibility they have -- no doubt they'll be excited to know they've been chosen for a special role and will do their best to fulfill it. Calm any fears or anxieties on the day of the event with toys, games, and puzzles before the ceremony.
"Generally, once you get them started down the aisle they're fine; it's the time leading up to it that they can be iffy," says Joann Delgin, director of wedding strategy for Sandals Beaches and Resorts. Distract them with activities at the reception, too. Depending on how open you are to kids being kids at the party, you may even consider hiring a bonded babysitter if you have more than ten children attending the wedding (whether as participants or merely as guests). But most of all, let the little ones know they're an integral part of the day. Suggests Delgin, "Give them a little disposable camera, for example -- make them feel like a photographer." And don't forget to thank them each with a small token and a mention in the program.
As for ensuring your own happiness, just be flexible and go with the flow. Says celebrity wedding planner Yifat Oren, "Sometimes kids walk sideways, or sometimes they wander into the pew. Once a flower girl at a wedding decided she wanted to go back and pick up all the petals she'd strewn. But guests are always charmed by whatever kids do -- you just have to laugh along with them."