Dear Dr. Debbie,
My children, ages 7 and 3, have been asked to be in my cousin’s out-of-town wedding. I’m honored, and they’re excited (and a little nervous).
What’s a good way to prepare them for their roles as ring bearer and flower girl?
Mother of the Children
The key to helping the children meet the needs of the family is to meet the needs of the children.
It’s best to help children connect to what they already know when they are facing a new situation. Review the cast of characters in the wedding party and in the gathering of the dearly beloveds. Highlight the children’s past experiences with the people they are well familiar with. Use photographs, if you have them, to help the children to be able to instantly recognize some of the many faces they will encounter at pre-wedding events as well as at the wedding itself.
If they haven’t been to many weddings (who has at their ages?) it would be nice to familiarize them with the proceedings of such rituals. There may also be specific cultural traditions for the upcoming ceremony and reception that you can help the children to look forward to. Here is a list of picture books that can help:
Beni’s First Wedding by Laura Breskin Zalben
Harry Gets an Uncle by Barbara Ann Porte
La Boda: A Mexican Wedding Celebration by Nancy Van Laan
Lettice the Flower Girl by Mandy Stanley
Lilly’s Big Day by Kevin Henkes
The Ring Bearer by Laura Godwin
Katy Duck, Flower Girl by Alyssa Satin Capucilli
Don’t Sneeze at the Wedding by Pamela Mayer
Maisy Goes to a Wedding by Lucy Cousins
Make all the necessary arrangements well in advance. Take care of travel plans, overnight accommodations, and any other logistics required for your family to be away (pet care, mail pick up), to minimize ordinary travel stress.
Work out the children’s clothing for the wedding, and yours, with enough time for alterations. Depending on the length of time before the actual wedding, give enough room to grow, especially for their shoe sizes. A week or two ahead, let the children try on their outfits a few times and have them practice walking down a pretend “aisle” to be sure the clothes are comfortable to move in. Remember to add a pillow for the ring bearer and basket for the flower girl for your pre-rehearsal rehearsals.
Considering the times of events, keep as close as you can to the children’s regular schedules for eating and sleeping. Pack easy (and nutritious!) snacks if there are likely to be foodless periods of time during which your children would be eating on a more normal day. For example, if the wedding rehearsal is scheduled for late afternoon, followed by a rehearsal dinner, expect these activities to be more on an adult’s timetable than a child’s. Prepare to excuse yourselves earlier than others at the dinner in order to get the children to bed at their usual time. Better behavior can be expected from children who are neither hungry nor overtired. Likewise, be sure to fit periods of exercise into your travel days as well as the wedding day. Long periods of sitting are much better managed if a child has had ample opportunities to run around beforehand.
Bedtime routines are particularly important away from home. Bring favorite books and stuffed animals to assure the necessary coziness that will help your children to get a good night’s sleep before the big day and to unwind afterward.
One further suggestion would be to rehearse the table manners for a fancy dinner, complete with cloth napkins on their laps. A few days before taking my young children to my best friend from childhood’s wedding they followed my leads of, “Would you be so kind as to pass . . .” and “So gracious of you to offer . . .” as we dined on macaroni and cheese.
Weddings are often occasions for adults to re-connect with relatives they haven’t seen in a while. There will also be family and friends of your new in-law for you to get acquainted with. As a general parenting tip, identify the team members you can “tag team” with so that each of your children always has an “adult on duty” to supervise them while you are not. Some weddings are planned such that the reception has a separate area, with built-in supervision, for children to eat and or have age-appropriate activities. If this is not the case here, you or your tag team designee may have to improvise with engaging the children in Twenty Questions or other such diversions when it isn’t time to eat, dance, or have pictures taken.
Also, consider each child’s tolerance for being the center of attention. The valiant duty of a thirty-second walk down the aisle, with all eyes upon them, may require the promise of sitting next to, or snuggling on the lap of, a beloved adult immediately afterward. Each child’s launch at the start of the promenade also demands a trusting adult with encouraging directions.
Room for Compromise
Children, or any individual with special needs, often necessitate adjustments of the expectations of others. For example, I recall a stunningly dressed flower girl, age four, who gracefully carried out her duties of sauntering down the aisle while sprinkling petals at every step. I saw her later in the evening in a simple sundress. Wondering if something tragic (maybe food related) had happened to the beautiful mini-gown, I struck up a conversation with the woman who appeared to be on duty. Turned out to be her aunt. Auntie laughed telling me the sundress was a compromise to get the little girl to put up with the “too prissy” dress the adults had asked her to wear for the ceremony. “Twenty minutes, tops,” she had been promised. (Several accomplices had been involved in her planned departure from the ceremony such that it went unnoticed!)
In my family we created a new wedding role to accommodate my sister’s daughters – a four-year-old and a ten-year-old with special needs. A “flower matron,” wearing a gown of the same fabric as the girls’ dresses, but in the style of the bride’s attendants, elegantly accompanied her daughters in their walk.
Children add charm to a family wedding, reminding us how quickly childhood passes and symbolizing the hope that a marriage will produce future generations.
What do you think? Email your comments or questions to Dr. Debbie at editor[at]chesapeakefamily.com.