News & Politics

The Ring Bearer Won’t Go Down the Aisle

When kids take part in the wedding, you never know what will happen next

By Lindsay Moran

When Kathy Bain was married in Annapolis, her seven-year-old ring bearer handed over the wedding bands and promptly fainted. “He was overwhelmed by the pressure,” says Bain, who lives in Severna Park.

A gasp rippled through the crowd. The boy’s mother, one of the bridesmaids, rushed to retrieve her son.

“He’ll be okay,” she told the bride and groom. “Just give him some water.” The minister said, “It’s usually the groom who does that.”

For many wedding planners, nothing spells snafu like a small child. Or worse—children. Even kids who aren’t in the wedding can wreak havoc: darting into the aisle, crying during the vows, overturning dessert carts.

Some couples struggle with the decision about whether to include children on the guest list. Will parents be insulted if their kids aren’t invited? What’s an appropriate age cutoff? Do second cousins count as close relatives?

For every planner or officiant whose eyes roll at the notion of children, there’s a bride who loves the sight of little girls in matching dresses scattering rose petals, or a young boy toddling down the aisle in a mini tuxedo and proffering a velvet box.

When Hillary Berman’s sister, Sara Gladden, was married in September, Sara wanted Hillary’s three-year-old son to bear the rings. Hillary, who lives in Rockville, warned her sister that this was a bad idea.

At the ceremony, the toddler wouldn’t wear his bow tie or tuck in his shirt. No big deal, Berman thought. Then he refused to walk down the aisle.

“He had done great at the rehearsal,” she says. “At the ceremony he took one look and ran the other direction, screaming, ‘I don’t want to do it!’ I had to proceed—I was one of the last ones down the aisle before the bride. Everyone could hear my son yelling, ‘Mommy, no! Mommy, no!’ ”

Planner Linda Garner is a firm believer in bribery when it comes to kids and weddings. “Tell them they’re going to get a treat once they make it down the aisle,” she says. Garner, president of Gala Events in Bethesda, advises having someone the child knows sitting on the aisle within three rows of the altar.

At her son’s wedding, she says, “We had a good friend lean out and wave around my granddaughter’s favorite stuffed dog. As soon as she saw ‘Wawa,’ she started down the aisle.”

Lori-Ann Miller, who included four flower girls, one ring bearer, and one child bell ringer in her wedding last November, used a different strategy.

“Kids are going to do what they want,” says Miller. “The best tactic is to make them feel special.”

Miller’s flower girls were disappointed when they learned they couldn’t scatter petals in Saint Mary Catholic Church in Alexandria. So Miller gave each girl a ribbon-wrapped bouquet adorned with a flower that signified a tenet of matrimony: baby’s breath for everlasting love, irises for hope. “I told them they’re all princesses,” she says.

Ceremonies that involve children can take unexpected but happy turns. When Chip and Andra Bousum of Annapolis were married in December 2002, the plan was for Andra’s eight-year-old son, Tony, to recite a pledge with Chip. They’d written it together, as soon-to-be stepfather and stepson.

“When Tony saw all the people, he was shell-shocked,” says Andra. “He just sort of collapsed.”

Chip sank to his knees, faced Tony, and delivered the pledge himself. By the time he managed to say, “We will always take care of Mom,” there wasn’t a dry eye in the church.

Most parents don’t want to chase their kids around a ballroom or leave a wedding early—so what can they do with children at the reception?

Some guests bring babysitters. Brides and wedding planners sometimes arrange for sitters, which typically costs the wedding couple $100 to $150.

“For one wedding at the Willard Hotel, we set up a meeting room with sleeping bags and brought in five or six kindergarten aides to play games, do puppet shows, and watch DVDs,” says Garner. “The kids could pop into the reception for a hug or dance with Dad. Parents didn’t have to worry because the children were just down the hall.”

When Kelly Nelson was married in 1999, she hired two adult sitters and two Annapolis teens she knew to run a “camp” for two dozen youngsters during her reception at the Governor Calvert House.

Children were invited back into the reception for the dessert bar, which included chocolate fondue. Nelson left with a kid-size chocolate handprint on the back of her wedding dress.

Don’t Miss Another Big Story—Get Our Weekend Newsletter

Our most popular stories of the week, sent every Saturday.

Or, see all of our newsletters. By signing up, you agree to our terms.