I really love kids, so this is a tough one because I've seen weddings where children absolutely make the party whether for their pure adorableness or hilarious dance moves... I have also seen kids cry through the ceremony, eat the fancy appetizers as soon as they came out of the kitchen and put their parents, or even other adults at the party, to work chasing after them.
A friend of mine was so adamantly against the kid factor that she wrote on her invitation: "While we love your children, we ask that you leave them at home." This cracked me up, which admittedly is easier for me to say since I don't have children yet. But I also completely respected her and her groom for knowing what they wanted and communicating it.
In my case, I split the difference. We wanted our adorable cousins and second cousins to be a part of our day, we wanted to be sensitive to the fact that parents traveled with their children to witness our wedding, and we were aware of the added expense of a babysitter. On the other hand, we wanted the reception to feel like an elegant, adult party. As an added complication, we had an open chairlift transporting guests to and from the wedding ceremony and reception.... this was unsafe for kids under 2 years old.
So we communicated the transportation obstacle to parents with babies and connected them with one another for babysitter shares weeks in advance. We then invited children old enough to take the chairlift to join us for the wedding ceremony, cocktail hour and first hour of the reception - allowing them to tear it up on the dance floor, have memories with us from the wedding, and most importantly feel they were special. After an hour of dancing, the children left and dinner was served. I think this worked well for the parents - it cut their babysitting bill in half, allowed them to enjoy the day with the kids and enjoy the evening without the kids.
Here are a few solutions to common kid dilemmas:
You Want Kids to Come But You Don't Want Them to Ruin the Vibe In this case, you have to be a bit realistic with yourself. Kids are like the weather - unpredictable and out of your control. Embrace the unpredictability and be ready to roll with the punches. Think about details like their table placement (in the back of the room:)) and entertainment - offering games like color books and playing cards for the little ones will go a long way.
You Don't Want Kids to Come But You're Worried About How to Communicate That Without Sounding RudeI feel you! I stressed about this. Email the parents individually to explain your thought process and provide them with babysitting options. Remember it is your wedding; you don't need permission from anyone; as long as you are very clear and polite with your communication, there is absolutely nothing wrong with that.
You Are Worried About Asking Parents to Foot Another Bill, Babysitters If you'd like to be very respectful of expenses, connect parents so they can co-share a babysitter. Alternatively, if the logistics align, you could centralize a kids location for parents and arrange or pay for a few babysitters to entertain the kids, a $30 investment in pizza and movies is a nice touch.
You Don't Know What Your Age Cut Off Is I understand. Assess how many children you have at each age group. There is no wrong answer here; it's up to you. Since we had about 15 children of all different ages, we decided kids under 15 should go home at 8pm.