Weddings and uninvited children

    A mother from Washington shares the following concern with a question about wedding budgets and uninvited children:Question: My daughter is getting married in October. The ceremony will be an “open invitation” to all of our friends and their children. However, due to size, venue, and cost the reception is only for specific adults and children over the age of 16, with the exception of a few close families. Please advise on the correct wording to make this clear in the invitation. Years ago it was protocol that only the family members whose names were specifically written on the envelope were invited. However, today, people might not be aware of this. We need to avoid the awkwardness of families attending the reception with all their children. We also, do not want families to assume that because they have received an invitation to the wedding ceremony, they are also automatically invited to the reception. Thank you so much for any advise you can post.
Answer:Oh my! Sounds like your friends are many and your heart bigger than your pocket book. So it is for many of us today. Weddings are times when thoughtful people shine. They are the ones who realize that only the people named on the invitation are invitees. They also send a prompt response. Failure to send timely acceptance or regrets poses a hardship on the hosts. So does bringing along anyone, even our beloved children, not named on an invitation. Considerate guests know that most receptions come with cost based on the guests in attendance. They also realize its not their place to include others not specifically invited by name.

Whether or not people understand that an invitation is extended and addressed only to specific people-this protocol governing invitations is not passé. It’s an obvious and longtime practice where ONLY the designated family member’s names written on the envelope are the invited guests. Children who are invited have their individual names included on the inside envelope with their parent(s) name. Teenagers receive their own invitations. This current and enduring protocol obviously signifies that ONLY named persons are invited guests.  Most people with any sense realize this–but, you are right. Some do not. Your concerns–and many others–would be eliminated if everybody learned more about their social obligations and served others by practicing basic etiquette.  It’s not rocket science-its simply considering others and complying with a few common sense rules.

About wording: Including “educational” wording on your invitation is risky business and provides opportunity for hurt feelings. I know of no correct way (neither do any of the other various etiquette authorities consulted) to tell people on an invitation that some aren’t included –nor should you have to do this. Better that you consider a few of the following suggestions.

First, you, your family members, and the bridal party watch for opportunity to discreetly spread the word, with sincere regrets, to those who might assume their children are included. Tell them, “I’m so sorry we can’t include the children.” Let them know why–that budget and space constraints mandate a limited guest list. This shows you care for their feelings.

Please know that you are not the first to struggle with this issue. When you find your guest list outgrowing your pocket book, rather than an “open invitation”, consider sending announcement cards to long distance friends and acquaintances who may have difficulty attending or have their own budget constraints.  Wedding lists do not mean inviting everyone a person knows. Announcements show that you value your relationships without expecting a gift. They are a thoughtful and considerate gesture when a wedding list grows too large. When in doubt, however, as whether or not to send an announcement or invitation to someone, I would opt on the side of sending the invitation, thus putting the ball in my friend’s court. This gives them the option of acceptance or regrets.

Here are a couple other things to consider: If you go the “number” route on a response card, some may think they can bring un-named others along if they give you a head count and then you are in a worse pickle should they decide to invite and bring along their five or twenty children.  If you write “Mr. & Mrs. So and So Only” or “No Children” on the invitation, the invitation takes a negative tone and becomes a direct exclusion. Therefore, to solve the problem of uninvited guests as well as for orderly flow, some hosts send out pew or table assignments on a card after the guest’s acceptance is known–a labor intensive (and more costly) solution.

For a private reception (usually in a different location from the ceremony) you will include a “reception following” card only inside the wedding invitation for those you want to attend and that’s the best way to address your concerns. There should be no mention of the reception in front of uninvited people–especially not at the wedding ceremony. At the end of the wedding ceremony, ask the officiating pastor to dismiss and thank everyone in attendance at the wedding for the honor of their presence, without mention of the reception.

In addition, you might consider using the reception card as an admission card for each guest that you want to invite. Thus, if only Mr. and Mrs. Jones are invited (and not their five or twenty children), only two cards are included with their invitation. This type of card is most often used when a ceremony or reception occurs in a building open to the public. The card is presented at the door and generally reads:

 Please present this reception card


                                          Name of place

                                       Date of reception

This polite message indicates that the invitation is only for specific people. It also protects the hosts from party crashers, uninvited people or the general public.

Lastly, in this imperfect world, you may have someone show up who did not receive a card. In this case, grin and bear it…they obviously think much of you and the bridal couple.  Your care on how to best handle this is a common dilemma and one that shows the need for all of us to learn more about our social duties so that we treat one another without presumption or self-centered actions that cause undue hardship on another. I suspect many of your friends, like you, know that protocol matters and they won’t bring uninvited children.

2 thoughts on “Weddings and uninvited children

    • Author gravatar

      written by Erin , August 12, 2008
      For what it’s worth, my friends had a large ceremony and a limited dinner reception. After the ceremony, they hosted a cake reception at the church for all guests. It was short and sweet, but gave them time to greet guests, take pictures, and allow everyone to spend time visiting. The “rest of us” knew what time to get to the “real reception” and were careful not to blurt “see ya there!” to too many people 🙂

      • Author gravatar

        Thanks, Erin, for your input–this can be a good solution in certain instances. How thoughtful of you to share it with us.

        I should also mention that asking the couple’s church to publish an advance generic “wedding etiquette” reminder in its bulletin or newsletter is a helpful remedy to rudeness and stress. People appreciate knowing the protocol for weddings, giving, gifts, and duties as guests. The church’s role in helping its members grow in grace includes social duties. Who better, than community churches to shed light on these issues.

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