If kids are included at wedding, you must plan for unexpected

Every bride-to-be fantasizes about hosting a flawless wedding.

Imagining that the success of her special day could be a prelude to the fruition of all her girlhood dreams, every detail of the wedding arrangements can become magnified.

The question of whether to invite children and how to plan for their inclusion can present some thorny problems for families.

"Every wedding is unique. To make definite rules isn't good," said Bonnie Schwartz, owner of Bonnie Schwartz & Company, an event-planning business in Bethesda, Md. "A lot depends on the formality of the wedding. If the wedding is a Sunday brunch, it would be less distracting to have children."

The caveat for Schwartz is that "you don't want children to be the center of attention and take the focus off the bride and groom." Crying kids during the ceremony can "take away from the solemnity and sanctity of the occasion."

Reluctant to state a specific, acceptable minimum age for wedding attendance, Schwartz said a key factor is the "maturity of the child." Some children are better at sitting quietly than others. However, consistency must be maintained. Just as one sometimes has to cut the list off with first cousins," we have to cut the guest list off "at a certain age so that no feelings are hurt," said Schwartz.

However, once having decided to invite children, there are some rules of etiquette for addressing the invitation, according to Schwartz. If you have an inside envelope, the outside envelope should be ad-dressed only to the parents. On the inside envelope, the parents' last name, without first name, and the children's first names should appear:

Mr. and Mrs. Cohen

Rachel and Jonathan

If there are more than two children being invited, group the girls together and then the boys together, in order of age on the inside envelope:

Mr. and Mrs. Cohen

Rachel and Melissa

Jason and Daniel

If an inside envelope is not included, all of the children's full names should appear on the outside envelope, as follows:

Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Cohen

Miss Rachel Cohen

Mr. Jason Cohen

Amy Heimberg, owner of a personalized stationery business, suggests that a boy up to 7 years of age should have "Master" preceding his name on the outside envelope (Master Jason Cohen). For boys ages 7 to 18, the name with no title should appear on the outside envelope, (Jason Cohen). In the case of a girl invitee, Heimberg suggests writing "Miss" for a girl up to age 13, and Ms. or Miss for those 13 to 18. If an inside envelope is included, no title should be used for boys or girls if they are invited without the parents.

If children live outside the home and they're over 18, a separate invitation should be addressed to them.

Even though etiquette doesn't require it, Heimberg suggest that "if you're able to send a child a separate invitation, do it. It's fun for them.

"If it is important to have children at the wedding, have entertainment for them," Schwartz advises. When the reception consists of a seated, served dinner, she arranges for the children to sit at a separate table. "Whereas the adults take 1-1/2 hours to eat, the children take 15-20 minutes" and need something to do while the adults are still eating.

She suggests having some form of entertainment in a separate room for about an hour, such as "a magician, story teller or puppeteer."

Schwartz once plan-ned a Sunday brunch wedding at which the twice-married bride didn't want the standard wedding cake. Therefore, the children's table had a "small, scaled-down, two-tier wedding cake," which substituted for the flower centerpiece. The children ate French fries, chicken fingers, cake and ice cream, and then met with a story teller for an hour. The parents were thrilled that their children were entertained and proclaimed the wedding to be "the most enjoyable they ever attended," said Schwartz.