A Member of the Wedding

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Once again my son will march down the aisle, carrying a pillow. No, he’s not sleepy. He’s been asked to be a ring bearer in his cousin’s wedding. It’s an exciting time and an honor, but my immediate thoughts revolve around catastrophe. What if he isn’t well behaved? What if he changes his mind at the last minute? What if her wedding is ruined?

“Four-year-olds aren’t the most reliable people in the world,” I tell my niece. “Don’t worry,” she admonishes me. “He’ll be fine.”

I know that this optimism stems from her excitement in planning a special day. Also, she’s never been a mother. I know that no matter how much money is being spent or how formal the occasion is, little boys and girls have minds of their own. Things could go either way.

After months of preparation, the wedding went off perfectly. He looked great and performed his ring bearer duties without a hitch. It was touch and go, though, when with a look of fiendish glee he started swinging the ornate pillow back and forth at his older brother (also in the wedding) while they were standing at the altar.

In a period of about 13 months, my sons made several appearances in family weddings … everything from ring bearer to junior usher. Here’s what I learned from those experiences. I hope these hints help lower your anxiety level when your child is asked to be a flower girl or ring bearer.

The Best Age

Emily Post’s Complete Book of Wedding Etiquette (HarperCollins), states that the most common age for a flower girl or a ring bearer is between 3 and 7. However, no one knows your child better than you do. If the bride and groom are planning a large, formal wedding, ask them approximately how long the ceremony will be. If sitting or standing still for that long is too much to ask your 3-year-old, you may wish to decline the honor.

If you think your child is up to the challenge, tell him how long the ceremony will last. “There will be a stretch of time during the ceremony when children will have to sit still and be patient,” cautions Caroline Plaisted in In the Wedding Too (Dutton Children’s Books). Her book gives practical advice for children in weddings. She advises that parents prepare children to listen and enjoy the quiet parts but also to be ready to dance with the guests and cheer for the bride and groom at the reception. In other words, prepare them for responsibility and fun.

Often, arrangements can be made for participating children to sit near the ceremony with other adults after walking down the aisle with the bridal party. It’s also helpful to have a familiar face stationed nearby to direct the children to where they should sit. If the child’s parent(s) are also in the wedding, ask a trusted relative or friend to take on this responsibility.

After all the hoopla of walking down the aisle, it may be difficult for a young child to sit quietly during the remainder of the ceremony. The temptation for the flower girl and the ring bearer to be disruptive may just be too great. While vows are being exchanged, no one is interested in a pillow-fighting ring bearer or a fussy flower girl. If you suspect that your child would be better behaved if he were sitting with you or your spouse during the ceremony, then suggest that option to the bridal couple. The bridesmaids and the groomsmen who are there to honor the bridal couple will appreciate not having to “babysit” during this very special occasion.

In the case of a second wedding, where the parent of a smaller child is bride or groom, it’s imperative that another family member take charge of the child for all formal functions of the wedding, from rehearsal to reception.

Consider Comfort

If you can get your child used to what they’ll be wearing ahead of time, everyone will be happier. I still have vivid memories of my 6-year-old dancing at his cousin’s wedding reception in his socks. He had spent a very trying day dealing with shoes that hurt his feet. If I had to do it over again I would have brought sneakers for him to wear after all the pictures had been taken.

Other clothing items that can cause problems are tuxedo jackets with tails, bow ties and collars that are too stiff around the neck and cuff links. Dresses with lots of layers, gloves, floral hairpieces and heels can also pose a challenge. These can be difficult for a little girl to get used to walking and well, little girls run, too. Practice ahead of time!

Expenses

The flower girl’s family is responsible for her dress and accessories, which can include special shoes, socks or tights, hair dressing and a headpiece. Often flower girls and junior bridesmaids are invited guests at showers and bridal luncheons. If you are not in the wedding or an invited guest, ask the hostess if you can accompany your daughter.

The parents of the ring bearer pay for the tuxedo rental or some other formal attire agreed to by the bridal couple. Depending on the couple’s preference, you may be asked to provide the ring bearer’s pillow.

I highly recommend that the actual wedding rings be given to the best man and the maid of honor, not to the ring bearer. It’s easy to find inexpensive costume rings to sew on the pillow. After the ceremony, when the bridal party exits the church, have your ring bearer turn the pillow over to the blank side. The sewn-on rings will be underneath and no one will ever know the difference.


What to Practice

I often had my son practice walking slowly down our hall holding a small sofa pillow. It’s not the same as walking down a church aisle with hundreds of people watching, but it did give him the feel of pacing his steps.

If your daughter’s a flower girl, find out if the wedding site allows her to drop flower petals. She’ll have fun practicing her graceful walk while scattering petals down your hallway. Note: If she’s wearing gloves during the ceremony, the petals may be harder for her to grasp.

Posing for Pictures

Plaisted also advises practicing best smiles in the mirror in order to prepare for day-long picture taking. Professional photographers know the limitations of children posing for pictures. Even if they are dressed in their finest clothes, the best-behaved child will run low on patience if he has to wait too long. You can help this process along by knowing what types of photos will be taken with your child in them and when.

Typically, before the wedding, the bride, flower girl and ring bearer will be photographed together in a setting of choice. The parents of the ring bearer will also need to get him to the wedding site for photos with the groom. After the ceremony, the entire bridal party will be photographed. You may be able to whisk your child away after all the group shots have been taken. But make sure your child won’t be needed for any other pictures until you reach the reception.

This may be a good time for a break for your little one. Squirrel away an inexpensive toy prize that will keep him interested. Stay away from candy, chocolate or anything else that can mess up a frilly dress or a tuxedo before all the pictures have been taken.

At the Reception

At many weddings, members of the bridal party are introduced to the guests at the beginning of the reception. You can explain this process briefly to your child when you line him up with the rest of the bridal party. Usually the smaller children won’t be seated at the bridal table. Ask where your child will be seated. It’s often better to have the children sitting with their parents during a sit-down dinner, than with relatives they may not know very well.

If the bride and groom have a receiving line, the younger members of the bridal party aren’t expected to take part. After all the toasts and cake cutting, you can relax. Your child helped make a special occasion memorable and joyful for the bride and groom and your family, too!

When They Get Tired

After a long day of festivities — not to mention all of the activity leading up to “the big day” — your flower girl or ring bearer may become fussy, worn out and not interested in the partying. As members of the bridal party, they are invited guests to the reception, but there may not be any other children there. It’s possible that that five-letter word b-o-r-e-d will pop up.

Some parents are able to bring a babysitter along to entertain the child. Since weddings are an expense, the bridal couple probably won’t want to pay for this additional guest. However, you may be able to work something out if they are not dining with the rest of the guests. You could also offer to pay for the additional cost incurred by including a babysitter. It’s a small price to pay for the chance to enjoy the wedding of someone close to you.

Another option is to inquire about the accommodations at the reception. My 4-year-old son, Seth, wore himself out after a day of “ring bearing.” Fortunately for us, there was a couch in one part of the reception hall, where he laid down and fell asleep.

Since it was in the same room, it was easy for his dad and me to keep an eye on him while we enjoyed the rest of the party. Some reception halls have a small area or side room with a TV. Ask the bridal couple if you can inquire about transforming that room into a play area for the smaller guests. The other parents will be glad you did.

If something does go wrong, don’t worry or make a scene. Those are the stories most wedding memories are made of. At my wedding, our ring bearer walked down the aisle with one hand holding the pillow and the other covering his eyes. It’s been nearly 20 years and we still laugh about that.

Claire Yezbak Fadden is a freelance writer and mother of three former ring bearers.

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