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What Are the Appropriate Ages and Roles for Children in a Wedding Party? And How to Avoid the Stress Surrounding Your Choices

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The flower girl in my wedding turned 14 this week. That means I'm getting old too because Morgan was only 4-years-old when I got married. Wow! Time flies when you're happy. Seeing her mom's pictures of her now-teenage daughter reminded me that I've been wanting to blog about the roles of children and young people in weddings. Sometimes brides and grooms want to do the strangest things for unusual reasons, and it's my job to make it happen. But a 30-year-old ring bearer, or an overgrown 12-year-old girl in a tutu tossing petals isn't always a good idea, despite your best intentions.

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Flower girls should be between the ages of 3 and 7. Eight is a stretch if she's a big kid. Junior bridesmaids are 12-16, although you can extend that younger if you need to. Better to have a younger JBM than to have an Amazon flower girl. Anybody older is a bridesmaid, or maid or matron (if she's married) of honor.

Ring bearers should be between the ages of 3 and 7 as well. Anybody older, especially if he's hitting a growth spurt, looks silly. Generally speaking, all the young men and adults are groomsmen -- there is no "junior" category. As long as they can stand still and behave themselves, you can dress them up and put them in the lineup. All they have to do is follow the groomsman ahead of them. The best man can be put in charge of shepherding the younger guys in the wedding party, if necessary. But the ring bearer and the flower girls should be kept together with supervision until the bride is ready to go down the aisle.

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You might be thinking that I'm being too bossy, telling couples what they should and should not do as far assigning roles to children, but really, I'm just trying to help. There's being "non-traditional" and then there's being just plain stupid. A few years ago we started seeing "flower boys" at weddings. Not just here on Vieques, but even at a few of my friends' weddings I attended back in the states. I just about peed my pants laughing when I saw the little guys with their flower crowns and garlands, and then thought, wow, those are pictures most of them will LOVE in a few years. Really? REALLY? Look, I'm the most open-minded planner in the world, but draping little boys in flowers and forcing them to walk down the aisle behind the flower girls is just more than I can take. I can't even make eye contact with my staff as I'm sending these little guys down the aisle because I'll totally crack up. Fortunately, flower boys are no longer a trend and we're seeing less of it, at least at destination weddings.

There are other things you can have children do in a wedding if you want to include them but they don't fit the established age categories for traditional wedding party. If you're having communion, you can ask children between 8 and 14 to bring up the gifts. If you're having a sand-blending ceremony, kids can help with that process too. An older child might be asked to do a reading if he or she is particularly good at that sort of thing. The potential roles for children in a wedding are endless so there's no good reason to force them into roles that are not age appropriate and risk making them feel silly. Also, you run the risk of having your wedding pictures look weird, for lack of a better way to phrase it.

Many of my clients opt to host child-free or "adults only" destination wedding weekends for their friends and family. They make it clear from the beginning that the little ones aren't included, and the only exception should be members of the wedding party, such as the flower girl or ring bearer. That's certainly their privilege, but be warned -- if you have some guests or family who are upset you aren't including their children, you may take a little heat for the wee ones in your wedding. You don't have to take it -- that guest is totally out of line. But I've seen it happen. One absolutely insane uncle at a wedding actually emailed me that he'd heard there might be children in the wedding party (there weren't) and that it better not be true because IF there were, his daughter should be a flower girl. Can you even imagine the nerve of a relative to email a veiled threat to the wedding planner? Seriously, A) I'm not the bride, and B) Back off rude guy -- you are so far out of line! And he was shocked that I forwarded his missive to the bride and groom.

Sadly, lots of my clients include children ONLY because they've been told they had to by their parents (adorable nieces and nephews, ya know) or because they would hurt their friend's feelings if her little girl (who happens to be the bride's goddaughter) wasn't asked to be in the wedding. It's frustrating because brides usually cave under that sort of pressure. They feel like it will forever hurt their relationships. And it isn't just about the children in the wedding party. A groom I know recently forced my friend to have his younger cousin as a bridesmaid, despite the fact the bride had never met this cousin. The young lady was a pain in the ass from day one, long distance. And an even bigger disaster the wedding week. If she had it to do over, the bride would put her foot down because she now she thinks it would have been worth it dealing with immeasurable blowback from the groom's family to do without the cousin. Doubly weird, the "baby" cousin had also been a bridesmaid in the groom's first wedding. But I'm not going there.

People out there who already have children, take note: it is rude to push your adorable little kiddos at your friends for their wedding party. Wait and see if an invitation is extended. Asking forces the bride into a difficult position where she either has to invite your little darling or not have a flower girl or ring bearer at all, lest she hurt your feelings and choose another child. If you're insulted your child wasn't asked, keep it to yourself or grumble to your spouse. And get a good pictures of the ring bearer standing at the altar picking his nose for the bride's scrapbook. But do not make a big deal out of something that will cause the bride stress and won't really matter in your life six months down the road.

You should have flower girls and ring bearers in your wedding if you want to, and really, you can do anything you want with those roles if you like. We pre-petal many an aisle before the itty-bitty flower girl wanders down it because we know she's not quite up to the task. And the ring bearer NEVER has the real rings. Are you kidding? Not over a sandy beach! That would be crazy. But choose children whom you love, and that mean something to you and the groom. You should look back at the pictures from your wedding and see the adorable pictures of the children and be really happy to remember them at that age playing such an important role in your big day. If you're bullied into making a too-young niece a junior bridesmaid or you're forced into a pair of badly behaved ring bearers because your fiancé just couldn't say no to his cousin, you may end up regretting having children in the wedding party at all.

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Discuss it with your fiancé, agree on who you're going to ask to be in your wedding party together, and then make it so. Invite the kids, and spread the word as necessary (not on social media, for God's sake), and move on. If anybody gives you a hard time, remember they're the ones who are out of line, not you. Smile sweetly and say "I'm sorry you're not happy with my choice." And then keep on going. This is your wedding day. You should have exactly what you want. But for the love of God, please don't make those little boys carry flowers!

Until next time, happy wedding planning from Weddings in Vieques and Weddings in Culebra!

Sandy