Kids at weddings: Tips for ensuring your kid rocks (not wrecks) the wedding


It was a wedding Deb Oliveira-Godinho will never forget—though not for sentimental reasons. While the grown-ups focused on the beautiful ceremony, Oliveira-Godinho’s then-five-year-old daughter, Isabella—the flower girl—decided to entertain herself by painting her nails with red polish, courtesy of her cousin. Her white silk dress was ruined and the bride furious. “It’s funny now, but that day I was fuming, too,” the mom from Port Colborne, Ont., says.

When you mix young kids and weddings, there’s always the risk that calamity will mingle with the cute. So if your little one’s in a wedding party, here’s how to set the stage for success.

Know your child: Not every kid is comfortable in front of an audience, and while many couples love the charm of having children in their wedding, you know best. “If your kid isn’t meant for the job, it’s OK to decline,” says Karen Cleveland, a Toronto etiquette consultant. “You’re probably doing the couple a favour.” But if your child loves the spotlight and is excited to participate, go for it, but consider skipping some of the formalities, like the fancy updo—she’ll be better behaved if she can burn off some energy pre-ceremony instead of sitting in a stylist’s chair. And keep a watchful eye throughout the day, even if you know what kinds of things she’s prone to do (and not do). Kids can be unpredictable, especially when they’re bored.

Prep for success: Preschoolers’ attention spans are notoriously short. “It depends on the child, but many will change activities every five to 15 minutes,” explains Andrea Nair, a London, Ont., psychotherapist and parent educator. “During the ceremony, give him a job to do, like asking him to be the ‘tissue keeper’ for emotional moments, or taking photos with a little camera,” she suggests. Letting kids know what’s expected of them in advance can also curb issues on the big day: Watch wedding videos, do dry runs and practise picture-perfect smiles. If a babysitter isn’t an option for the reception, Nair recommends setting up some toys in an out-of-the-way corner to keep kids entertained.

But she doesn’t think bribery’s the way to go—no matter how tempting it may be. Instead, keep the mood light and fun to avoid creating power struggles. If your child sees you stressed out or frustrated, it will impact his mood and willingness to co-operate. Try using phrasing that gives him a little control in the situation. For example: “It’s time to take pictures. Would you be able to stand here, or here?” Adding some humour is bound to help, too: “What do you need to find your smiling face? Some tickles?”

Put parenting first: Be prepared to mix parenting with partying. Some restlessness during the ceremony is no big deal, Cleveland says, but if your child’s behaviour disrupts others, take him out of the venue. You can help prevent meltdowns by making sure your little flower girl or ring bearer is well rested, has a full tummy and has already visited the washroom, but Cleveland also suggests lightening up. “Parents often worry more than the couple does.”

When Annemarie Tempelman-Kluit’s sister asked her daughters—then ages four and six—to be flower girls in her out-of-town wedding, the Vancouver mom was nervous. It was a long flight, the wedding site wasn’t kid-friendly and no rehearsal was planned. “I felt the anxiety of not wanting my kids to ruin my sister’s wedding,” she says. Tempelman-Kluit talked through the importance of the day with her daughters and conducted her own mini-rehearsal at the venue. Everything went smoothly—which she attributes in part to the girls sharing the role. “They gave each other confidence,” she says.

Have a plan B: In case things get hairy at go-time, discuss alternative strategies with the bride and groom. Is it cool if you have to opt-out at the last minute, or are they OK with you walking down the aisle with your child?

Cleveland says it’s important to remember that weddings are fun celebrations, not flawless events. “Little quirks that come with having kids in a wedding are what makes it feel authentic and creates wonderful stories.”


(First appeared in the July issue of Today’s Parent, and online here)

Should Mothers Get Presents Post-Birth?

Traditional etiquette suggests, never demands, that certain life occasions call for gifts. Presents, of course are never mandatory, but let’s be real: attending a birthday party, wedding or shower typically means bringing a gift.

Modern twists continue to shape protocol (diamond solitaire engagement rings are a relatively new phenomena, for example) on what items mark various occasions. The concept of the “push present” is yet another shining example.

Notionally, I get it. A proud new father witnesses the love of his life enduring the miracle of birth and wants to give her something nice for her hardship/efforts/bravery/magic. But are push presents now a thing? Hollywood says so. Jessica Simpson was lavished by her baby’s daddy with a collection of bespoke jewelry. Rachel Zoe’s husband Rodger Bermann gave her a 10 carat diamond ring after the arrival of their son. Nicole Kidman was treated to a Cartier Trinity dazzler to mark the birth of their daughter. Marc Anthony bestowed his now ex Jennifer Lopez a canary yellow diamond ring rumoured to be worth more than $300,000 after their twins were born.

All of this got me thinking — once I was able to move past the awful moniker of “push present” — so I undertook a national scientific study* (*asked my followers on Twitter). I was surprised by the discussions it sparked.

Marc Rigaux, about to be a first-time father any day now, feels the push present is akin to a food craving. “I think there is a nine month window where women can tell men anything and we have to believe them.”

JJ Thompson, proud papa to two cuties says, “personally, not my thing. The best gift a father can give is agreeing with everything, listening to instructions and changing diapers.”

The phenomena is apparently bona fide for Manhattan moms. New York-based photographer Michael Williams says push presents are “definitely a real thing. Pretty much every woman I know has either been given a push present, or given themselves one.” And in keeping with this, he treated his wife to a luxe handbag before their son came along.

Not yet a mom, but with a bun in the oven, Nicole Paara had absolutely no idea what a push present was. “Is that present a beer? A glass of wine? A high five? Or are we talking diamonds? This is a foreign concept to me, though I must say some kind of treat (other than that beautiful baby you just went through hell to push out of your body) I’m sure would go over well with any exhausted, emotional, hormonal woman.” She does offer a small caveat, that “though I wouldn’t turn my nose up at jewelery, I’d suggest sticking to anything that can be worn even with swollen joints.” Smart woman.

Marsha Mowers, mother of a handsome little devil, shared a similar sentiment: “The thought of being rewarded for giving birth to my child never even crossed my mind when I was pregnant. A day of relaxation a few weeks later at a spa to help me feel like a semi-normal woman again? Definitely. But a piece of jewelery or some other lavish gift to commemorate the occasion? That seems a bit self-serving to me.”

Megan McChesney, in the final stretch of her first pregancy, has heard some dads-to-be describe it as a nice way to acknowledge all of the hard work that moms-to-be do during pregnancy and delivery. She adds, “I would just hate to see it become one more obligatory present that couples feel they have to indulge in — there is enough to buy when you have a baby on the way.” It may be worth noting, because it is a cute story, that Megan received her push present in advance, a pre-push present, she has dubbed it, in the form of an an Xbox.

The takeaway? It truly is the thought that counts. A gift offered out of a sense of obligation or duty just doesn’t feel as good to give or receive as something that comes from the heart. Even if it is rooted in a bump.

(First published on The Huffington Post Canada, June 2012)

The Dos and Don’ts of Hosting an Adults-Only Wedding

The decision to have an adults-only wedding is just that, a decision, and a perfectly acceptable one. The pressure to invite everyone to your wedding can not only tax your budget, it can also cramp your style. If you have your heart set on an elegant evening event, a setting not really conducive to little ones toddling about, stick to your guns. Mollify any potential hurt feelings by sharing your intentions in a clear but gentle manner.

· Plant the seed early — As early as possible into your planning, lay the foundation by sharing that the affair will be adults-only. As the question will inevitably come up, treat it as an opportunity to let people know and do it with conviction.

· Choose your words carefully — The difference between saying “we have decided” and “we are thinking about” leaves too much room for interpretation. Be very clear in your diction.

· Ensure your invitations reflect your plans — Address invitations to precisely whom they are intended for, meaning specific individuals or couples, rather than families.

· Feel like you have to field this alone  – You and your fiancé should both tell your close friends, family and wedding party your plans, so the word will spread quickly, and not only through you.

· Lament about children  – Avoid disparaging how children will ruin your wedding. Even if that is genuinely how you feel, it is not a sentiment that any parent will agree with. Instead, focus on the elements of the wedding that are decidedly grown up (perhaps an elegant menu, or your favourite champagne).

· Waffle by making concessions — Be mindful that your guests who have left their own children at home might be surprised, and let’s be honest, miffed, to see children in your bridal party — and rightly so. It is all or nothing when it comes to an adults-only wedding.

(First published on Weddingbells, April 2012)

Are you a control freak over your kids’ gift?

by Tralee Pearce

If you’re looking for a gift for Anna Cohen’s boys for Christmas or Hanukkah this year, the Vancouver mother of two may send you a link to one of the wooden trains they collect on eBay – and include her address. Or she may simply ask for a toy-store gift certificate.

“I have absolutely no problem telling people what to give my kids,” she says.

In her case, most of her gift suggestions are welcome, since her family lives in Australia and isn’t well acquainted with the boys’ interests – or, perhaps more importantly, their parents’ aesthetic.

“We generally do ask for wood and definitely not-tacky toys,” she says, adding that she tries to offset the cost by suggesting second-hand sources like eBay. Still, there are always a few relatives who ignore her missives and want to “do it their way,” she says.

While parents have always triangulated their kids’ Santa lists with loved-ones’ requests for gift ideas, this generation of parents is increasingly taking on the role of vigilant gatekeepers when it comes to what crosses their threshold.

As the world of commercial toys has exploded exponentially, and along with it the cache of toys the average kid owns, so too have parents’ anxieties. For some, made-in-China plastic is a no-no. Others have a problem with anything made by powerhouses like Disney or Fisher-Price. Some veto sparkly princess gear or fake guns. At what point does a prudent parent morph into a holiday kill-joy?

It is a generational issue, often pitting parents against grandparents who enjoy doting. (And, it is, surely, as the Twitterverse would call it, a #firstworldproblem.) But there are infinite bad choices out there – and, many toys aren’t made as well as they used to be. Frankly, modern parents have a right to be picky, suggests Ms. Cohen.

This urge to curate starts early. Toronto mother Janine Lad began directing toy traffic months ago at the baby shower celebrating her now nine-week-old baby. She registered at two independent, eco-friendly stores, not just to suggest items she’d like, but also to set the tone for the kind of childhood she hopes to give her son.

Her extended family hasn’t been quick to get with the program; if the baby-shower experience was any indication, she will be finding shiny branded plastic toys, not organic cotton stuffed animals, in her son’s stocking this year. She’s already donated a bag of plastic cellphones and other gewgaws to charity.

“You don’t want to sound like a big eco-snob,” says Ms. Lad. “But with some people I have to be more forward; they don’t understand this eco-friendly stuff.”

Faced with an onslaught of questionable toys, however, some parents take a deep breath and pick their battles.

Toronto mother of three Rebecca Keenan, for instance, has given up on her early optimistic vision of an eco-organic brood.

“Gift gaffes range from too loud, too cheap, too many batteries, too violent, too slutty, too tacky, too many pieces and even too expensive,” Ms. Keenan, writes in an e-mail. “But they’re almost always given out of love.”

So she mostly just lets people buy what they want – with one exception: video games. “I have already discussed my feelings about video games and my kids with anybody who might buy them presents.”

Vancouver mother of two Karen Chester says she has directed gift-givers toward books and even food-bank donations. But she recognizes that calling out transgressions is a bad idea – even in the face of a replica handgun. Once her son received one that she says looked “like a sidearm for toddlers.” She kept her mouth shut because the gift givers were dear relatives. But because she, ultimately, can decide what stays in her home, the toy went MIA a few days later.

“What’s the point of making a fuss about it or vetoing it – usually an unwanted toy is so easily ‘lost’ and disposed of. There doesn’t seem to a point in causing problems in your relations with the gift-giver.”

But how can parents best balance their desire to man the barricades with the very real possibility that they’ll be labelled the family Grinch?

Don’t forget about what will make your kids happy, parenting and etiquette experts say. Plus, you may want to consider recent research from Stanford and Harvard University that found people get more pleasure from gifts they had requested. So, while you’re happy about that non-toxic tea set, is it something that your child actually wants?

Beyond that consideration, experts say most friends and family will welcome gift ideas – but it’s best to wait until they ask. “It’s very bold to assume that everyone cares about exactly what you want,” says Toronto etiquette columnist Karen Cleveland.

When asked, general suggestions and even favourite stores may be better received than overly specific lists. Try to include some context, too, Ms. Cleveland says, such as the fact that you’re trying to steer clear of non-ecological gifts. “Or, ‘Little Johnny’s in a huge gun phase right now and it’s freaking us out. We’re trying to get him out of that,’” suggests Ms. Cleveland.

Consider being asked for gift ideas your ultimate chance to influence what your kids will be unwrapping, says Vancouver-based parenting expert Kathy Lynn. “The parents who have trouble are the ones who aren’t being asked.”

That doesn’t stop Ms. Cohen, who says she draws the line around her own parents and siblings – inside that parameter, she feels fine sharing her views, unsolicited. But politely, of course. “You shouldn’t go all bossy.”

And what if you’re thinking of overriding a request and bringing precisely that off-gassing plastic monstrosity parents have diverted you from? Well, then you’re the jerk, not them.

“You’d be putting a strain on a friendship or relationship over a really trivial issue,” says Ms. Cleveland. “Parents pull rank, for sure.”

(First published in The Globe and Mail, December 2011)

Other people’s children

Some children are awesome: impossibly cute, funny little people.

Sometimes, so I’m told, even the cutest can run amuck, seemingly to a parent’s blind eye. So when, if ever, is it appropriate to discipline another person’s kid?

Firstly, if their safety is at stake, speak up. I’m occasionally baffled by who has bred (Darwin! Help!), but if a child is about to run into traffic, it is not the time to worry about offending a parent. Which leads me neatly to my next point: potentially offending parents.

I’ve spoken up to parents sometimes, tentatively, and if that fails, I’ve taken up my case directly with the wee offender. A toddler cutie was tugging on my purse waiting in line at a store. I made eye contact with his mom and she wasn’t getting it. I made a joke about his strong little arms making my heavy bag that much heavier. Still, no dice. At that point, I asked the little guy to please let go of my bag, which he did, without issue. I’ve done the same with tiny legs kicking the back of my seat, which, let’s be honest, when you’re three, is probably a really good time.

Please though, don’t confuse bad behaviour with kids just being kids. They cry, throw world-class tantrums and occasionally say silly, uncivilized things that don’t warrant an outsider getting involved.

(First published on She Does the City, October 2010)