Child-free weddings can be a minefield for parents. An etiquette expert shares how couples and caregivers can avoid any hurt feelings.

L’Oreal Thompson Payton is a mom, journalist and motivational speaker. She’s also the author of Stop Waiting for Perfect.

Before I became a parent, wedding invitations would elicit excitement and genuine joy for the couple. Since becoming a mom, there’s also now a healthy dose of logistics to consider in addition to which gift to select off the registry and what dress I’m going to wear.

Last year a good friend of mine got married in Washington, D.C. My family lives about an hour away, so my husband and I could leave our daughter (who was still under 2 years old at the time and therefore able to fly for free) with them and enjoy a nice weekend to ourselves. Next year we have friends getting married in Arizona and we were looking forward to the prospect of another child-free vacation — until said friends asked if our daughter would be a flower girl. Well, there goes that plan.

But not every couple wants to include children in their wedding party — or even invite them all. What’s the best way to handle hosting a child-free nuptials? The sooner you can relay this information, the better, says Jenny Dreizen, an etiquette expert, former wedding officiant and chief operations officer of Fresh Starts Registry.

A wedding invitation might say something like, “To ensure all guests feel free to celebrate without worrying about tiny eyes and ears, this event is 18+ only. We appreciate your understanding,” she suggests. And if you get pushback or someone RSVPs with their children, it’s time to pick up the phone and have the hard conversation.

For that, Dreizen recommends the following script: “I so appreciate your prompt reply to the invite! I saw that you RSVP’d for three of you and, unfortunately we aren’t able to accommodate kids at the venue/wedding so the invite is just for you and your partner. I totally understand if this means you won’t be able to attend, so if you’d like to change your RSVP you can let me know. I would love to see you and [kid] soon though, either way! Can we do a coffee?”

“If you’re grown up enough to get married, you are grown up enough to have awkward conversations,” she says. “When sharing with wedding guests that your event will be child-free, it’s best to stand confident in your choice and present it as such: ‘I just wanted to let you know that while we wish we could, we aren’t going to be able to have kids at the wedding.’ They will probably push on the why, [so] come prepared with your reasons and don’t budge. Your reasons aren’t points of entrance to negotiation, they’re boundaries. Hold firm.”

Whatever you do, don’t be evasive or, worse, lie about your reasoning. And if you plan on making exceptions to the rule — say, for your own close family members — it’s best to be up front about that so no one is caught off guard (and potentially offended) when they see your 5-year-old flower girl or a toddler on the dance floor with Aunt Judy.

“If you’re planning to not have kids except your beloved nephew, say that and make it clear this is what’s happening,” says Dreizen. “I believe the insult often comes when someone’s left their child behind to be surprised by another child at the event.”

In planning a child-free wedding, it’s important to recognize — and accept — that some people will choose not to come. If you can, Dreizen suggests finding another time and way to celebrate with that person outside of the wedding.

“Do understand that this might mean people can’t make it to your wedding, and just like having a child-free event is your prerogative, not coming to your wedding is theirs,” she says. “And that also has to be totally OK with you”

Of course, there are special circumstances in every scenario and it’s up to you how to handle them. While hiring a babysitter may be financially feasible for one family, it may be cost-prohibitive for another, especially when you factor in gifts, travel and accommodations.

“It’s not your job to tell them to change their family values, rules or needs; it’s your job to decide if you would rather accommodate their needs or not have them there — and again, you’ve got to be OK with that,” explains Dreizen. “Be confident and clear in your decision. Clear is kind; confidence is key.”

The same philosophy goes for parents who may be undecided about attending a child-free wedding.

“Just like we ask the party throwers to be honest, open and confident, we ask the same of the parents. If not bringing your kid makes it tough to come, that’s OK. Stand confident in your decision with understanding and empathy,” suggests Dreizen. “Make a plan to connect with your soon-to-be-wed friend/family member after the wedding so you can celebrate their love. RSVPing clearly, asking questions if it’s unclear and being prompt with responses is the best way through.”

As far as explaining the situation to the kids in question, you’ll want to be mindful of their age and understanding. Whereas a toddler will most likely be fine if left with grandma and snacks, a 10-year-old may be more curious about why they haven’t been included.

“If it were me. I’d lean hard on how boring and grown-up the whole thing will be, which is not untrue,” says Dreizen. “Remind them that there won’t be food there that they’ll like, won’t be anything to do, won’t be any games to play, they can’t bring their iPad. And they’d have to be on their very best behavior in uncomfortable clothes for many hours on end. Again, all true and all seemingly deterrents.”

Want insight on a parenting or family health topic? Reach out to L’Oreal on Instagram or X, or email with your question, and it may inspire a future column.

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