When you get married, and you already have children, you’re doing more than just committing to your partner – you’re committing to the children and the family that all of you have become. Including children in your elopement takes planning, but it is a meaningful way of showing them that you’re truly all in this together! Your new adventure as a married couple is an experience you deserve to cherish for the rest of your lives, and planning a day that involves your children can foster feelings of connectedness and belonging amongst all of you.
Reasons to include your children in your elopement plans
Our children learn from watching us. Their mimicry and imitation of our words, actions, and emotions can sometimes be frustrating, but it’s also a strong motivator for you to be intentional and authentic. Involving them in your elopement plans gives you a chance to show your children what matters most to you – your relationship with your partner, with them, and with our planet. It’s an opportunity to set an example, align your actions with your beliefs, and demonstrate your values in an immensely tangible way. By eloping instead of planning an expensive and wasteful traditional wedding, you show your children that you value experiences over things, and that time spent outdoors with your loved ones is your favorite way to celebrate! By sharing this celebration outdoors in your favorite space, you’re forever connecting intention and celebration with your deep love of nature.
Our children benefit from experience outdoors
Showing our children what we value most will help them appreciate those same things as they grow older. Developing a connection with nature at a young age helps your children in so many ways! Yes, an elopement is just one day outside, but it’s an immensely important one! And it could very well be the spark that ignites a lifelong love of nature!
Reason 1: Nature facilitates the development of creativity & imagination.
- Natural environments and their contents are more open-ended and less structured, which allows children to use their imaginations, to dream of new possibilities, and to use objects in novel and inventive ways.
Reason 2: Time in nature helps our kids build confidence.
- They learn to take calculated risks, and discover they can do things without the constant help of adults.
- Kids have freedom to act outdoors, instead of actions being completely dictated by a curated interior environment, which gives kids a greater sense of efficacy.
Reason 3: Nature helps children build connections and take responsibility.
- Children who fall in love with wild places are more likely to grow up wanting to protect them.
- Being outside stimulates a sense of wonder! Children become interested in the Earth and the systems on our planet that foster life.
- Being outdoors is the most natural way to teach Leave No Trace principles to our young ones. When they are outside, they learn firsthand what happens if they forget to water a plant, or what happens when they pull a flower. They come to understand the power their actions can have on the planet.
By planning your dream outdoor elopement, you’re teaching your kids that anything is possible, and to follow any kind of dream they may have. By watching you act upon your convictions, they witness evidence that untraditional and intentional actions can have great reward, and result in the most meaningful experiences!
You are embracing YOUR adventure, prioritizing your relationship in front of your children, and modeling an Earth-centric way to commit to your partner and your family.
Things to think about when planning your family-friendly elopement
Remember this: Your relationship with your partner is still the focus of your elopement, even when your kids are along. Involving your children in your wedding day doesn’t mean you need to sacrifice intimacy with your partner. It’s okay to preserve the elopement ceremony for just the two of you! There are many ways to include children in your elopement day, even if you do choose to step aside at the ceremony to privately share your vows. If a family-friendly elopement is your dream wedding, you’ll find creative ways to involve them below!
Whether you want to involve your kids in your ceremony or not, you first have to decide what kind of ceremony you want to have! Yes, there are more ways than one to have a wedding ceremony – now is your chance to choose the method right for you and your family.
Your answers to these basic questions will influence how your elopement takes shape:
- Will we get legally married at this elopement, or will this be a commitment ceremony?
- Commitment ceremonies are basically just wedding ceremonies without the legal paperwork. For many reasons (such as, timing, location, and guest count) couples choose to separate the legal requirements from their elopement. This means you don’t have to have witnesses or an officiant present on the day you say your vows.
- Commitment ceremonies are sometimes called “symbolic ceremonies,” and they give you the freedom to do things in whatever way feels right for you! Write your own vows, celebrate your own traditions, and remember that there’s no “wrong way” to celebrate!
- Will we be self-solemnizing or will an officiant be marrying us?
- An officiant or celebrant can be a minister, a best friend, a close relative, or even your photographer (I’m actually a licensed officiant and can do this for you!). If you’re not getting married in one of these self-solemnizing states (PA, IL, WI, CO, DC, CA, ME, NV, KS), you will need a licensed officiant, and likely witnesses, at your ceremony.
- If your ceremony destination is remote and requires some effort to get to, you may have to find an officiant who is as adventurous as you are!
- If you’re in a self-solemnizing state, anyone can lead the ceremony – no license required!
- Will there be a religious component?
- Some religious ceremonies necessitate the inclusion of specific passages and readings.
- Certain religions also have strict rules regarding who can and cannot be involved in the legally binding portion of your marriage union, so keep that in mind as you look to include your little ones.
After nailing down the details of the kind of ceremony you wish to have, you can start dreaming up ways to include your children. The following will help!
Ideas for involving your children in your elopement activities
Have your little ones help you during the “getting ready” phase of your day
- Have your daughter brush your hair, and brush hers. Have your child zip up or button your dress (even if they have only started practicing zippers and buttons). Have your child tie your tie, or button your jacket. Even if they don’t manage to actually accomplish these tasks from beginning to end, I promise these getting ready moments will make beautiful photographs and memories for all of you. You can do this whether your children are coming to your ceremony or not. It’s a way to both involve them meaningfully and to make them feel a part of the action.
- Expert tip: Make sure to set aside plenty of time for getting ready when small kids are involved. I am familiar with the anxiety that stems from needing to be somewhere at a certain time, despite small children wanting to do everything on their own (and painfully slowly!). Kids move at a different rhythm than adults, and there’s no sense in trying to impart in them a sense of urgency. It won’t do you any good. Give yourself time to enjoy moments that naturally unfold during this intimate part of your wedding day.
Family First Looks
- Have a first look with your little ones, before or after a first look with your partner. Your child will feel so important seeing you ready to get married before your ceremony, and the sweet moments this creates are such a lovely addition to an already incredibly meaningful day. And they photograph beautifully.
Ask them to be flower children or ring bearers
- Yeah, it’s a more traditional role, but remember elopements don’t have rules! You can take what you like from traditional weddings and leave all the rest! Just don’t forget outdoor weddings require a bit more care, and LNT principles should be followed at all times (it’s also a great time to teach your kiddos what LNT principles are all about!). LNT means that you won’t be throwing confetti or flowers in wild places. Instead, let them get creative! Have them brainstorm how they would like to perform their role. I promise, they will think of ideas you would never imagine.
Write vows for everyone
- Write vows for your partner, and your kids! Or ask your kids to write down their feelings to share during the ceremony. If they aren’t old enough to write yet, they can tell an adult what they want to say in their letter (maybe an older sibling, or grandparent). If they’re too young to really verbalize their feelings, have them draw a picture!
- Including vows to your children shows them the commitment being made is not only to your partner, but to them, and to your family as a whole.
- You can write your vows to your children in the cover of their favorite childhood book as a special keepsake for them.
Set aside a special time during your ceremony to let them talk
- Your marriage is a change for them, as much as it may be for you. Even if your typical living situation hasn’t altered much and you’ve been living with your partner for years, there’s something solidifying about tying the knot and making it all “official” with a ceremony. Your kids may feel this weight even more than you do, as kids find a lot of meaning in rituals (especially young ones). Give them an opportunity to talk about what this means to them and what they are looking forward to. You may be surprised and really touched by their earnestness.
Tips and inspiration for writing vows
Vows are often quite personal, may be handwritten, and are filled with and elicit a lot of emotion. You and your partner can write these together, or compose vows separately and have it all be a surprise, steeping your day in that much more emotion. There’s absolutely no need to memorize your vows. Your wedding day will be filled with so much emotion; take some pressure off and hand write them in a vow book. Or, as a memorable sentimental gift, hand write them in a favorite book and give it as a special gift to your partner at the end of the ceremony.
If you’re writing your own vows, here are a few questions to ask yourself to kick-start the writing process:
- What is one of your very favorite things about your partner, about your children?
- Describe one of the times you were proud of your partner, or children.
- What’s one of the craziest, most adventurous things you have done with your partner?
- Why did you fall in love with your partner and, importantly, why are you still in love with them?
- And finally, What are you promising your partner, or your children?
Family-friendly elopement ceremony ideas
In a unity ceremony, you take separate things and combine them, turning them into a new singular item. These ceremonies take on many different forms, so there are options for anyone wishing to add some symbolism to their wedding day, and to include their children in the process.
- Unity candle ceremony – Light one large candle from smaller candles held by you, your partner, and each of your children, symbolizing the union of you all.
- Tree planting ceremony – Gather soil from each of your hometowns, have your children gather soil from the home they now live in, as well as the place you intend to build your future together, and combine it in a pot to plant a tree. In a backyard wedding ceremony, this tree can be planted in your own yard right from the start to serve as a reminder for the whole family of your wedding day and of the commitments you have made to each other. This symbolizes that relationships take tending and nurturing to grow big and strong. Giving your children the job of caring for your tree continues to make them feel a part of your wedding, your family, and helps them to learn to care for a piece of nature as well!
- Sand ceremony – Each of you and your children get a different color of sand in separate vessels to pour into one single vase, creating a lovely display, and signifying a union that is impossible to separate. This is a great alternative to a candle ceremony for outdoor weddings taking place in windy locations. It’s also great for younger children who may not be able to safely handle a lit candle.
- Blending paint – Perfect for your little artists. Each of you choose a different color of paint and then pour it onto a single canvas, symbolizing your union, and creating a piece of art representative of your relationship. And you end up with a great and sentimental piece of art to hang in your home.
Bonus Idea for Adult Unity Ceremonies: Wine or Beer (and maybe Whiskey, too!) – You choose two different (but compatible!) wines or beers and pour them into a glass to create a third perfect blend that you then drink together. And when your kids are of age, they can toast you as well!
This is a Celtic marriage tradition, and very possibly where we get the phrase, “tie the knot.” The couple joins right hand to right hand and left hand to left hand, making a figure eight to represent eternity. Then a strip of cloth, ribbon, or piece of fabric is used to tie their crossed wrists together symbolizing union. Your child can do the tying, either alone or with the help of an older sibling or adult.
Sage smudging ceremony
This is a ritual you may not have considered. Smudging can be used in a secular or religious ceremony, regardless of your faith. You need only three things: a bundle of sage, something to light it, and a bowl to hold it while it burns. After the bundle of sage is lit, an intention, affirmation, or blessing is said by you, your officiant, or even your child (if you’re a Waldorf parent, this may be right up your alley!). Sage is an herb thought to have cleansing properties and, when used on one’s wedding day, is believed to cleanse away negative energy, allowing the family to commence marriage on the right foot. Note: Sage smudging has deep religious and cultural ties to indigenous peoples and should be done respectfully. Take the opportunity to teach your little ones the history and importance of this cultural tradition.
Lasso or El Lazo ceremony
Traditional in Mexican, Filipino, and Spanish cultures, this involves draping a floral garland or rosary around the couple (twisted in the infinity symbol, of course). Your child can do the draping, or can even squeeze into the garland. It is then saved as a symbol of love and unity.
A lei exchange can be done between the couple, between the couple and their kids, or grandparents can bestow the leis on the couple and their grandkids. Maile leaf is a popular choice for guys, whereas women wear more fragrant flowers, such as tuberose. Of course, you can use whatever you want!
Ceremonies involving the sharing of a cup
Communion isn’t the only time a wedding couple might drink from a cup. They are varied, and are used in many cultures, for instance, a Scottish quaich or a Native American wedding vase. You can celebrate by using a child-friendly beverage and all take a sip from the communal cup.
Other ceremony ideas to involve your kids
- A family wedding day time capsule. Each of you can add a special love note or meaningful item to the box to be stowed away to open at some later date. This is a great way to remind you of what your children were interested in, and where they were in their childhood when you got married. It will be a sentimental reminder for all of you of what your life was like with kids the year you got married.
- Let your child pronounce you married. It’s okay if they aren’t quite talking yet. Baby babbles are super cute and a moment you’re not soon to forget!
- Have your child sign your marriage license. If you’re getting hitched in a self-solemnizing state, your child can sign as witness or officiant. They will feel so important, and this becomes a lovely keepsake to pull out when reminiscing about your wedding day.
- Do you or your children have other skills you want to put to use on your elopement day? If musically inclined, you could play a song together, or maybe your children could perform one for the two of you. You can write your own song, or choose one that is meaningful to your family.
- Local traditions. If you’re getting married via a destination elopement, consider incorporating local traditions. Learning about the place you’re getting married can bring up some wonderful ways to celebrate while tying the knot!
- Cultural traditions. Traditions that give a nod to your roots can imbue your day with even more purpose and intention. This can teach your kids about where they come from while celebrating the future of your family!
- Start your own family tradition, and have your children help! This can literally be anything you and your kids can dream up. Put them to task brainstorming ways to make your ceremony extra meaningful and they’ll probably come up with things you never would have considered!
- Involve family and friends who won’t be there with you. Ask family and friends to write notes for you to read to each other at some point during your wedding day. You’ll feel their love and support from a distance, no matter how far away they are.
- Wedding cake. If a wedding cake is as important to you as it is to me, go ahead and have some. Let your kids help choose a style, pick a flavor, and dish it out! I’ve never met a kid who doesn’t like cake!
- Family wedding reception. You can pack a family picnic to enjoy after your ceremony, and revel in the view from where you chose to say your vows.
Final things to consider when planning your elopement with children
Be honest with what you want.
If you want an adventurous ceremony that is a bit too exciting for the kids, there are still many ways to involve them! As mentioned above, bring your kids in on the planning and give them a chance to personally craft part of your elopement day, so you can see their hands in the celebration whether they are present or not. You can also include your children virtually by calling them before or after the ceremony.
If your kids are up for part of the adventure, but might not make it all day, split your schedule to spend time with your children before and after your vow exchange. If you want a private vow exchange with your partner, invite your children in for the first look or while you’re getting ready, so they can see how excited you are for this commitment. You can also plan a multi-day wedding experience where one day is family-focused, and another is just-us time with your partner.
Be realistic with your expectations.
Only you know your children, their capabilities, and their limits. You are intimately aware of what makes them happy and what is going to put them in a bad mood. Choose an adventure they can handle, or have an alternative plan. Remember: if they can’t handle a backpacking elopement and that kind of adventure is super important to you, you can still make it happen and involve them in other ways! Be realistic about their abilities and have back-up plans.
Designate a kiddo wrangler.
Designate a best friend or family member who is attending as your kiddo wrangler, so your child can be present and you can get married without needing to constantly worry about their safety and happiness. Your kids will be happy to have someone else to interact with. Plus, if your kids are anything like mine, they’re much more likely to behave well for another adult.
Explain LNT principles to your children in a way that makes sense to them.
This article will help:
The best way to ensure everyone is safe, has fun, and doesn’t become overwhelmed is to be prepared for your elopement location and plan. Check out this blog post for the list of essential outdoor wedding gear you’ll want to have on hand!
In summary: You can absolutely have a stress-free wedding day with children, if you plan accordingly! I’m an expert when it comes to planning outdoor celebrations that involve children, and I’d love to help you plan and document the perfect elopement for your family.