'I love kids, just not at my wedding!' Bride-to-be Eimear O'Hagan has committed the ultimate sin by banning children from her wedding - at least that's what her friends think...
"I went to a lovely wedding last year. Picture the scene: a quaint country church, adorned with fresh flowers. As the stunning bride and her handsome groom exchanged their vows, the emotional atmosphere was shattered by a piercing scream. 'I need a wee!' screeched a little boy in front of us. 'Look I'm a fairy!' yelled a little girl seated across the aisle, who then raced out of the pew and up to the altar to bash it with her light-up fairy wand.
Astonishingly, their parents did nothing but smile indulgently at their badly behaved charges, while it was left to the bride's mother to glare at them angrily. At that moment, I swore (yes, in church) that my wedding next April will be a child-free zone - with the exception of two flower girls, my eight-month-old-niece and 10-year-old-cousin.
Don't get me wrong, I love children and one day I'd like my own. But there's a time and a place for them- and a wedding is neither. I've been to too many that were ruined or dominated by children, and I'm not allowing it to happen at mine. Luckily, my fiancé Malcolm feels the same way- we may not yet agree on the menu or the perfect honeymoon destination, but when it comes to little people at our big day, we're united.
We implicitly trust our flower girls' parents to whisk them out of sight at the merest hint of a whimper. But experience has taught me that not all parents are so understanding of what's appropriate when it comes to their offspring. Malcolm looked on in shock at a recent wedding when two five-year-old boys, hyper on fizzy drinks, scrapped over a toy noisily in the middle of the marquee as the groom attempted to make his speech. And we were both completely put off our meal when a toddler had her extremely smelly nappy changed on the floor beside our table because her mother, and another guest, presumably couldn't be bothered to take her to the bathroom.
A friend of mine recently attended a wedding where the maid of honour was forced to leave after the ceremony because her child fell outside the church and had to go to A&E for stitches. She missed the photos and most of the evening reception, much to the bride's and her own sadness.
Another memorable kid-friendly wedding was ruined when my chatty table of friends was asked to keep it down during the meal by a stressed-out mum next to us because fractious child was taking a nap. Talk about killing the fun.
I've seen delicious (and expensive) meals go cold as parents spoon mashed banana into their little one's mouth, and mums and dads become so wrung out by a day of nonstop childcare that they're too exhausted to join in the dancing. Call me selfish, but a wedding should be about the bride and groom, and in my experience children shift the focus away from the couple, as harassed parents spend the day dealing with their offspring. And I'm not alone. According to a recent survey by wedding blog Love My Dress, one in three weddings is now unashamedly a kiddy-free event. But despite this, it hasn't been an easy decision due to the quite unbelievable reactions of other people. Naively, when I started planning my wedding, to be held in a five-star hotel in my home town of Belfast, I presumed guests would observe our simpler request. After all, I've spent years bending over backwards to accommodate their wishes- from taking off work to fly to Italy for a ceremony, to forking out for a ballgown for a black-tie reception. I'm there to play a part in giving the couple the day they want, irrespective of how inconvenient it might be to me.
But since relaying the news that children won't be receiving an invite, I've felt like a cross between Cruella De Ville and the Childcatcher from Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Granted, some parents have welcomed it, excitedly planning a weekend where they can have fun away from their usual routine. Others, though, are deeply insulted- incapable of understanding that while they may, rightly, dote on their children, it doesn't mean the rest of us do. I've already had at least one email a friend promising we 'wouldn't even know' their child was there. Permission denied. Others have grumbled to me about the childcare arrangements they'll need to make in order to attend my wedding. While I understand it can be difficult to find a babysitter, I'd rather they just made a decision not to attend than burden me with their childhood woes and make me feel guilty. I can only hope they somehow find a way, as everyone on my guest list is very dear to me and I want them there to share our wedding. Although, when one mother called to brazenly tell me she thought it was 'unfair', it took all my good manners not to strike her from the guest list, and I shed a few angry tears that night at the pressure I felt she'd put me under.
We thought being up-front as early as possible, so there could be no confusion, was the right way to go. Instead, all we've done is subject ourselves to complaints and disapproving raised eyebrows from some of our nearest and dearest. Don't these people want to let their hair down on the day and catch up with friends without nappy changes to distract them?
And I'm haunted by horror stories from other brides about couples who brought their uninvited children anyway (can you imagine?); including one pair who arrived with their nanny and demanded space be found for her at their table. Just you try it..."
As featured in the January/February 2014 issue of Brides. Words by Eimear O'Hagan