This week: children aren't invited to the wedding Anita's son is getting married. She's given the bride's mother the guest list and notified everyone, including children, in advance about travel plans. It turns out that none of the families' children have been invited. She and her husband are shocked. What can they do?
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Virginia Ironside

Whose day is it? The bride will say it's her day; the groom will say it's their day. But in fact the day belongs to neither of them. It is a public day, a day when they are announcing their love for each in front of all their friends and families. Families include everyone, from very old people in wheelchairs, babies, children, the mentally ill, the whole shebang. You could say it was your day if it was your birthday. They could say it's their day if it were a silver wedding anniversary. But a wedding belongs to everyone, including the stray gawpers who might come and goggle at the bride and groom outside the church.

A wedding, too, is the moment a couple solemnise the creation of children. This is part of the wedding service and it's partly why the role of bridesmaids and pages are frequently given to tinies, who remind us of the fact that a wedding is part of the cycle of life. A bride and groom who exclude children must be a pretty peculiar couple, unless they themselves never want to have children.

Of course they may be forgiven because they have never yet had children, and don't know how strongly parents feel about their offspring. What they are saying, in effect, is that the children of everyone coming are almost certainly going to be badly behaved and scream throughout. They have a vision of children as being only interested in playing Batman and Robin down the aisles. Some small children will find the service tedious, and babies may scream their heads off, but a good parent will manage to keep control of them, and if they are extremely disruptive, take them out for a few minutes' stern words in the churchyard. Parents take it very hard if their children are criticised, particularly if they are judged in advance of an event; you only have to ask any teacher who has meted out a small punishment to a child and then had a visit from an axe-wielding parent.

Being at a wedding - usually only three-quarters of an hour anyway - is often an awe-inspiring event for small children, who love the ceremony, the bride in white, the flowers, the ritual of it all. Children are people too, just very small versions of them, and they can feel hurt if they know they've been excluded. And, according to all reports, God loves little children, and so did Jesus, and to exclude them from a religious event is to give them a very poor view of any kind of God who only loves you when you're an adult.

But what should Anita do about it all? Obviously if the bride's parents, or the bride and groom, are adamant that they want a child-free marriage, she's up a gum tree. But an astonished and incredulous conversation on the lines of "Surely there must be some mistake here?" might weaken their ungenerous resolve and change their minds. A high-level meeting about the matter might have an effect, attended also by the Vicar, who has to love children compulsorarily by nature of his religion, despite the number of times his sermon is interrupted on Sundays.

Keeping children from a wedding is far worse a punishment than refusing them pairs of Nike boots. The children may not realise it at the time, but attending a wedding or a funeral is all part of a preparation for life - as having children attend the wedding is also part of preparation of life for the bride and groomn

What readers say

The children were banned, so I didn't go

I can still remember how upset I was when some years ago, when I was eight months pregnant with my first child, my sister-in-law handed me the invitation for her son's wedding, saying, "By the way, you won't be able to take the baby, as children are not invited."

To me, children are a welcome addition to any occasion.

In the event, we declined to attend, acknowledging that it is the prerogative of every wedded couple to invite (and exclude) whoever they want to their special day, and that it is the prerogative of every guest to refuse to come if part of their nuclear family is not welcome.

Mrs E Hill, Leigh-on-Sea

How about a compulsory creche?

Having spent too many weddings in a graveyard with a squawking child, I now always ask if there will be a creche. Most churches have a room or hall where children can play, leaving their parents free to enjoy the wedding. Children find weddings terribly dull and would rather be occupied with toys and games. Offering to pay for creche-helpers shows you are serious.

We had a creche for our own wedding. My only regret was not making it compulsory. An otherwise splendid service was marred for me by one family allowing their boys to run up and down.

If you get nowhere with the creche, why not get a friend to take the kids to Legoland for the day? Everyone will be happy.

Mrs AT Rust, London W5

We want our guests to hear the ceremony

I am getting married in a year's time and my fiance and I have also made the decision not to have any babies and toddlers at our wedding. By the time we get married we will have two nephews at the ages of two-and-a- half and one year, two six-month-old babies belonging to bridesmaids, plus friends' younger children - none will be invited.

The reasoning behind this is that we want all our guests to be able to hear the ceremony, us making our vows to each other, and not be distracted by a screaming baby or toddler entertaining everyone. We have already caused family rows in trying to justify to relatives why we do not want their children to attend. It will not cause the children to feel left out as they are all too young to know any better.

I think that people tend to lose the plot that it is one of the most important days of the bride and groom's lives. Obviously what the bride and groom want and a small sacrifice of getting in a babysitter for a day is not really too much to ask.

Sharon Cutts, Ruislip

A wedding is for the whole family

How selfish of your son and fiancee to exclude children from their wedding.

A wedding is a special time for the whole family to come together and enjoy a day of great happiness. By not inviting children, a clear message is given that the bride and groom see their own relatives as incapable of looking after a few children.

Warn your son and fiancee that excluding children will cause hurt to family members and it may take many years to repair the damage.

Catherine Riordan, Cardiff

Little Joe's tantrum: a nightmare scenario

I too will be getting married in a year's time and want my day to be as near-perfect as possible. I think it is perfectly reasonable to request that children, say under the age of three, not attend. The last thing anyone wants is little Joe throwing a tantrum in the aisle. Leading up to the big day is stressful enough and trying to keep a child under control can be a nightmare for the parents and very frustrating for the child, who doesn't really understand what is going on.

Carmen Fielding, Chingford E4

Next week's problem: how long will I ache with loneliness?

Dear Virginia,

My husband left me eight months ago and I cannot get over the loneliness I feel. I have guests round endlessly or go and see friends, but the loneliness is still unbearable. I can't even see the point of buying food if there is no one to share it with. Also, I just long for physical contact - sex, hugs, anything, even the accidental brush of a hand is better than nothing. How long will the aching loneliness go on, or do I just have to wait till I find another man - any man?

Yours sincerely, Sally

Comments are welcome, and everyone who has a suggestion quoted will be sent a bouquet from Interflora. Send personal experiences or comments to me at the Features Department, `The Independent', 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London E14 5DL (fax 0171-293-2182) by Tuesday morning. If you have any dilemmas of your own you would like to share, let me know.