The Invitation Suite
According to Emily Post, the queen of etiquette, it is not appropriate to actually say "No Children" or "Adults-Only" on your invites. She states,
"The way an invitation is addressed, whether on the inner or outer envelope, indicates exactly who is invited, and, by omission, who is not invited to the wedding. If the envelope is addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. Hayward,” then Mr. and Mrs. Hayward should not assume that their children are included. If the envelope is addressed to “The Hayward Family” or “Mr. and Mrs. Hayward, Sarah and Elliott Hayward” then it can be assumed that all mentioned are invited."
List every person invited on the envelope. People still may choose to ignore the invitation etiquette, and RSVP their children anyway, or even just bring them to the wedding, blatantly ignoring your request. Or, they may bring them, just not realizing the etiquette of addressing.
I'll admit, when I first had my son, I brought him to a friends wedding when he was about 9 months old. It was hard. I did the best I could to keep him under control, but had to miss part of the ceremony because he wouldn't sit still or quiet, and we were on the edge of the reception the whole time, because, let's face it, kids have lots of energy, are loud, and unless it's a big, boisterous, possibly outdoor reception where kids are allowed to run around, it's hard to keep them under wraps during the whole thing. My friend didn't mind, but looking back on it now, I feel silly and embarrassed because I didn't even think to check or ask if my son could come, was invited, or would be welcome. I just didn't know!
There can be no assumptions that your guests will just know not to bring their children, so make it clear as possible from the beginning. I feel like the wording on the envelopes just isn't enough- there needs to be more "clues" so that people get it.
One way is to replace the word "guests" in your invitations with "Adults".
Here are some sample RSVP cards:
Here are some other wordings for the invitation that may be helpful:
"Adult reception to follow"
"In an effort to include and accommodate all of our family and friends within our seating capacity, we have opted to celebrate this day with adults only." (I don't know if Emily Post would like this one, but I feel many people will understand)
Stress "Small Venue" or "Limited Seating"
Word of mouth is also great. Tell a gossipy cousin that no kids are invited, and word will spread like wildfire. Or, enlist the help of those closest to you to make sure that everyone knows.
If a guest RSVP's themselves, their spouse, and their 3 kids, when the children weren't invited, you will have to be prepared to address the issue. This is where it can get tricky. You have the right to tell them that their children weren't invited (the same goes for someone bringing a "Plus 1" that there is no room for). Here are some ideas of how to say it:
"I'm sorry if there was some misunderstanding. The invitation is just for Mr. & Mrs. Johnson".
“I’m sorry if there was any confusion, but the invitation was only for you and Chris. We hope you can still attend.”
"Oh, I'm sorry Melissa, we only have enough seating for you and Michael."
"I'm sorry, but our venue is very small and we have limited seating. We only have room for you and Jamie"
"Unfortunately, we weren't able to invite everyone we would have liked, and the invitation is only for those listed."
Be firm and don't make exceptions. If they get upset and say that they are not coming, then so be it. Just say, "I am sorry to hear that. We will miss you." If they get angry, as Emily Post says, "The breach of etiquette is theirs, not yours".
Have your speech prepared if guests will be calling you to RSVP. If they are mailing in cards, you may need to call them to clear things up. Designate a brave, but tactful, friend to do it, if you are afraid of confrontation. Just don't be afraid to stick to your guns about YOUR wedding.
Keep in mind that there may be more people that just won't be able to make it if their kids can't come too. Maybe they can't get a sitter, or the child is too young to leave with a sitter. Many breastfeeding mothers, and couples with infants simply can't be away from their children for long periods of time (even just a few hours away from a newborn can be excruciating to a new mother! Hormones!) In choosing to have an adults-only wedding, this may just be something you will have to accept.
It's also ok to invite only certain children. Inviting children in certain circles, like nieces/nephews, cousins, or children from families that will be traveling from out-of-town is your call. It's your perogative. This may cause more drama than excluding all children though, depending on how sensitive your family and friends can be.
Age Cut-off? Generally an adults-only wedding is for people 18 years and older, although sometimes 16 years and up is acceptable. An age cut off of 10 years and older may just be too confusing and complicated to families that have children older and younger than the cut-off. It's probably less complicated for your guests if families are not split up, but once again, it's YOUR wedding.
The Wedding Website
Include a FAQ on your wedding website, and say something like:
Am I allowed to bring a guest? Yes, 1 adult guest can accompany you. Due to budget constraints, we are unable to cater to anyone under the age of 12.
The Big Day:
"Guess what!? We brought our kids anyway!!"
The hardest part is going to be if someone ignores all your requests, and shows up the day of, uninvited children in tow. There are two sides on how to react if this happens.
Side 1: Some people aren't afraid of turning guests away at the door:
"Oh! You brought your kids! It said 'adults only' on the invite. There's no way we can accommodate children-- I'm so sorry you won't be staying!"
Or have someone who works at the venue, or your wedding planner escort them out. It can be harsh, but if that's what you want and you aren't afraid of drama, do it.
Side 2: You bite the bullet and do your best to graciously accommodate the uninvited guests.
Ask the parents to be prepared to move to the back of the room if the child gets fussy during the ceremony. TheKnot.com suggests that the added stress and drama of asking a guest to leave is not worth it on your big day, and to just be gracious and enjoy the day, without letting it ruin it for you.
Despite your best efforts before the ceremony, you will have to decide how you react once the day happens and parents decide to bring their children. Just remember- how they react to your adults-only invitation is up to them, but how you react if they ignore your wishes is up to you. There will always be unexpected snags and mistakes that happen, despite your best planning efforts, and hopefully you can enjoy your Best Day Ever despite any unexpected surprises that show up, the day of.