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Childfree Weddings Make Me Sad – YourTango

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Editor’s Note: This is a part of YourTango’s Opinion section where individual authors can provide varying perspectives for wide-ranging political, social, and personal commentary on issues.

Eighteen months ago, I didn’t know child-free weddings were a thing. I’ve since been invited to three and attended two.

I can think of quite a few good reasons for excluding children from one’s wedding. They’re expensive, for one. I’ve been told they typically cost the same as any full-grown guest, even if they sit on their parents’ laps, don’t drink alcohol (we hope), and eat only a fraction of what their adult counterparts consume.

Children can also be disruptive. They make noise at inopportune times. They spill things. They sneeze, cough, and cry with abandon. All couples have the right to choose their guest list, to set the terms of who they’re willing to pay for and how much potential for chaos they are willing to endure.

RELATED: Mom Brings Baby To Childfree Wedding After Refusing To Leave Him With Family Babysitter

I got married in a rustic cluster of cabins, 11 miles off the nearest paved road and four hours from the nearest major airport. In making this choice, I inadvertently precluded my grandmother from attending. The best man also left a day early because his wife couldn’t stomach the prospect of taking a shower outdoors. But I wanted a wedding with a beautiful view that wouldn’t cost an arm and a leg — for us, and also for our guests, many of whom camped in tents.

So while child-free weddings do indeed make me sad, I’m not passing judgment on anyone’s individual choice. I’m not saying they’re wrong, or that I have the right to impose my children on whomever I please, wherever and whenever I please.

It’s not any particular child-free wedding that has made me sad. But their increasing popularity exemplifies a broader trend that I find worrisome, to say the least. The New York Times recently reported that of “4,000 couples with 2024 wedding dates, 79.5% are in favor of kid-free weddings.”

Just a few short years ago, it seems, weddings were one of the last bastions of multigenerational socialization — a place where children were forgiven for acting like… well, children, and where adults were forgiven for maybe getting a little tipsy in front of said children. They were a place where everyone, toddlers and great-grandparents alike, were welcome on the dance floor.

In other countries, such gatherings are commonplace. My sister, who lived in Argentina for several years, tells me of going to parties that lasted until 3 a.m., as parties in Argentina do. By midnight, the walls were lined with sleeping children while the adults carried on. No anxious parents were shuttling their families out the door at 7:30 p.m. to leave enough time for their kids’ elaborate bedtime routines, and no single folks rolling their eyes at the presence of children. Everyone just partied together.

While I don’t think American parents have ever partied as hard as their Argentinian counterparts, we did once live in a world where children ran underfoot. They ran in packs up and down streets, they circulated through houses at dinner parties and potlucks, they squirmed during church service, and yes, they scurried about at wedding receptions.

Over time, and for various reasons, kids have stopped roaming about outside with other neighborhood kids. Dinner parties, and other social gatherings involving sharing a meal in one’s home, are on the decline. The majority of Americans don’t attend weekly church services.

RELATED: You Have A Societal Obligation To Invite Kids To Your Wedding

But, up until very recently, we still had weddings. Every time I attended one, particularly during the rash of weddings I went to as a young adult before I had children of my own, I found myself thoroughly enjoying the unique energy that comes from multiple generations gathering together to break bread and make merry. At that time in my life, I lived far from my parents and was thoroughly immersed in my young adult world — living, socializing, and mostly working with other young adults.

I’ve never considered myself a “kid person,” and during those years, I didn’t think much about kids in my day-to-day life. But whenever I had a rare opportunity to interact with children, I felt a pang of nostalgia for the first 18 years of my life, years during which kids were just always around. Even when I became an adolescent and didn’t want much to do with them, the kids were at least less boring than the adults.

The weddings I attended in my early 20s made me realize that I had become one of those boring adults. My friends and I generally sat around and talked, as boring adults do. Occasionally we went dancing, but never once did I have as much fun at a club as I had on a wedding dance floor. The dance floors with children were the best because they inspired adults to push past any self-consciousness and just move their bodies. They gave us all permission to be a little silly.

The two child-free weddings I’ve attended were both lovely in their own right, but they were just one more adult gathering in a world filled with adult gatherings.

A bride quoted in the aforementioned New York Times article says that children at weddings can be a “distraction.” She explains her decision to have a child-free wedding this way: “We knew that we wanted alcohol, and for our guests to have a good time at the reception.”

This whole notion that adults can’t have a “good time” if children are present is what makes me so sad. We live in a society that compartmentalizes fun.

“Fun” for kids, we’ve decided, means hordes of other kids, often crammed into germ-infested, exorbitantly expensive indoor spaces, while adults huddle with juice boxes on the sidelines, making frequently interrupted small talk and mindlessly scrolling on their phones.

“Fun” for adults, meanwhile, generally means drinking alcohol with other adults.

The first kind of “fun” is decidedly not fun for adults — and, as I can vouch from experience, also a nightmare for sensory-sensitive children. This kind of “fun” automatically excludes adults without children because few self-respecting adults would willingly submit to the shrieking chaos of kid-dominated fun.

The second kind of “fun” is decidedly not fun for kids (unless there are other kids present with which to run underfoot). This kind of “fun” not only excludes adults who don’t drink but also for adults with young children. It’s enough of a nightmare to find childcare that enables us to work, let alone play.

What do we end up with? A whole bunch of people are missing out on opportunities to have fun with one another. Children miss opportunities to have fun with children of different ages. Adults miss opportunities to have fun with children. Parents miss opportunities to have fun with childfree adults.

And so it goes… endless cycles of “parallel fun” while chasms widen, divisions deepen, and opportunities for silliness decline.

Do I ever want to have fun without my children present? Absolutely. A multigenerational gathering seething with children is not always what I want or need.

It’s not that adults in the “old days” (or “back in the 1900s,” as my children like to say) never convened without children underfoot, but most had social lives that involved children by default, whether or not they were actively raising children of their own. Opportunities for multigenerational interaction used to simply be built into the fabric of American life — in neighborhoods, churches, and social gatherings. Social gatherings like… weddings.

RELATED: Bride Wonders If She Is Wrong For Charging Parents Who Brought Their Rowdy Kids To Her Child-Free Wedding

But our defaults have shifted. The default is now isolation of the connection, all of us simply following the well-worn grooves of our social lanes. Siphoned off by age, parental status, politics, religion, and income.

I sometimes think back to my wedding, which not only brought together a diversity of races, politics, incomes, and religions but also people of all ages. The eight-year-old boy who, from that day forward, I would call my stepson showed up knowing no one, and by the end of our three-day stint in the woods, he had his crew, scurrying around with cousins and kids of family friends.

During the reception, the kids got their hands on a Sharpie and drew all over their faces, thinking it was hilarious. It was, in fact, hilarious, though I knew I shouldn’t laugh and in the back of my mind, I wondered how in the world one goes about removing permanent marker from one’s face. I had not yet made room in my head for all the ridiculous things mothers are supposed to know.

My adolescent cousin ended up confiding to my best friend from high school about boys and drugs, and an older teenage cousin danced so hard that he sprained his ankle and ended up on crutches. Kids and adults lined up at ping-pong tables. Beer flowed, joints were passed, and to my knowledge, not a single child was scarred for life. Nearly everyone remembers it as The Best Wedding of All Time.

Sometimes I wish our life could be like that wedding… all of us all mixed up, out in the woods, just having a grand old time.

As a newly minted stepmom that summer, I dragged my stepson out to various social gatherings during my husband’s 24-hour paramedic shifts and realized the extent to which my life was built around boring adult spaces and activities. He got bored quickly because he was always the only child. After all, I didn’t socialize with a single person who had children of their own.

So instead I started taking him to swimming pools and playgrounds, where I sat on the sidelines because I’ve never been the type of adult who swoops in and “plays.” Thankfully, we enjoyed each other’s company on those long summer weekends, but we both felt a little lonely and a little bored.

The best fun, in my mind, takes place with people of all ages, where no one is relegated to the sidelines or told to be quiet or told to sit still. Where there are snacks and desserts and lemonade and beer and perhaps some music that everyone can get behind. Where the mood is generally rambunctious but also where there’s a quiet corner to slip away to if the need arises. Where parents can speak in full sentences because their kids are busy running underfoot, and where adults without children feel inspired to act a little silly.

It’s hard to find that kind of fun these days. And that’s what makes me sad.

RELATED: I Have Kids And I Think It’s Selfish To Have An Adult-Only Wedding

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Kerala Taylor is an award-winning writer and co-owner of a worker-owned marketing agency. Her weekly stories are dedicated to interrupting notions of what it means to be a mother, woman, worker, and wife. She writes on Medium and has recently launched a Substack publication Mom, Interrupted.

This article was originally published at Substack. Reprinted with permission from the author.

This post was originally published on this site

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