Music filled the church.  The guests stood, rapt and breathless.  Suddenly, the ring bearer appeared with the ring pillow held not in front of him but over his face, and walked to the alter that way.  "I guess he thought that if he couldn't see the crowd, they couldn't see him either," recalls Phil Cantor, who was the wedding photographer.  Fortunately, the bride burst into laughter over his shyness.  Another bride, however, might have burst into tears.

Including children in your ceremony or as a guest at a reception can add a wonderful dimension to your wedding.  Children provide levity and charm, make adorable subjects for photographers, and infuse the celebration with a sense of family warmth and continuity.  After all, it wasn't long ago that marriage was considered solely for the purpose of having them. 

On the other hand, children can introduce a factor as mercurial and capricious as Mother Nature herself.  Junior bridesmaids sometimes throw temper tantrums at the precise moment they're supposed to be walking down the aisle, babies may start wailing just as the brides and grooms exchange their vows, and little ring bearers may be seized with stage freight. 

"Children are unpredictable creatures at almost any age," says Rita Bigel-Casher, Ph.D., author of Bride's Guide to Emotional Survival (Prima Communications, 1997).  "If you're going to involve them in your wedding, you have to understand the details may not go exactly as planned, and if that happens, you must be able to handle it without getting upset."

A number of simple strategies can help make weddings with youngsters happy occasions for everyone.  Start by selecting a venue, time of day, and level of formality suitable for young guests.  A casual celebration in the afternoon, for example, is much more appropriate than a black-tie dinner lasting long past their bedtime. 

If you hope to have young relatives serve as flower girls, candle lighters, or other junior attendants, discuss the idea with not just with the children's parents but with the children themselves.  Explain to each child that you would love to include her in your wedding, provided she wants to participate.  Children tend to be more enthusiastic if they feel included in the decision-making process rather than ordered to perform by adults.  Assure the child shortly before your wedding day that it's ok if she changes her mind about participating.  A dark church filled with adults can seem frightening to a small child, and last minute jitters are very common among young attendants. 


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