Although there are a finite number of rings to be borne, the number of children in your wedding party is limited only by your patience and the supply of available tots.
The first question to consider, before assigning roles, is the ages of the children. In the United States, the current fashion is to limit the roles of ring-bearer and flower girl to children under age 6. Of course, this means that children become too old for these roles just as they become old enough to be responsible about performing them correctly! If you have a seven- or eight-year-old child friend who would be thrilled to be in the wedding party, it never hurts to ask if he or she would like to be ring-bearer or flower girl.
A typical breakdown for attendant ages is:
3 to 6: flower girl, ring-bearer, or train-bearer.
7 to 10: carry candles in procession, carry prayer book in procession, hand out programs, hand out flowers to mothers or grandmothers, or tend guestbook.
11 to 15: junior bridesmaid or junior usher/groomsman. At 16, the "junior" title may threaten the dignity of the adolescent attendant, making it kinder to call him a groomsman or her a bridesmaid. These age ranges are not graven in stone. Feel free to adjust them to your family circumstances.
Only the role of ring-bearer carries a limit on how many children can perform it, there being no more than two rings available to bear. You may have as many flower girls, junior bridesmaids, and other functionaries as you like. If children of the bride or groom will be present and do not want formal roles, they can sit in the first row and join their parents for the vows.
There's also room for creativity. One bride asked her friends' children to come to the wedding wearing their best clothes. Just minutes before walking down the aisle, she gave each child a flower to carry, and the group of a dozen or more children joyously led her down the aisle.
The true challenge is not finding roles for children – they will usually be delighted to participate and become your most enthusiastic attendants – but in managing the kids in their unfamiliar responsibilities.
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Let's start with clothing them, since that's where negotiations with their mothers will start. While your bridesmaids might wear their dresses again, the chances are small that your rapidly growing flower girl or junior bridesmaid will have another formal occasion before she spurts up three inches. Choosing a pretty dress that can be worn again (or allowing a young attendant to get another wearing out of her fancy holiday or First Communion dress) is a kindness.
Boy attendants can be dressed in short pants and an Eton jacket, but few over age three may be willing to cooperate. A "miniature" version of the groom's formal wear is popular in some circles. Again, it may be most realistic and considerate to let the boys wear blazers, ties, and good slacks that they can wear again. Let the formality of your wedding and the patience of the boys' parents be your guide.
Once the children are dressed, we can consider how to move them down the aisle with the processional. Traditionally, the most formal weddings place the flower girl and ring-bearer at the back of the procession, before the maid of honor but after all other attendants. However, tradition may not be the best guide for how to maneuver your particular child attendants from point A to point B.
Consider who these particular children are most likely to be willing to follow. If the flower girl's father is one of the ushers, it might be smart to put him at the back of the line of ushers, then have her follow the ushers and precede the bridesmaids. Remember: almost anything looks more formal than a large gap in the processional and distraught flower girl wailing at the back of the church!
Junior attendants are, of course, less likely than toddlers to throw last-minute tantrums. A junior bridesmaid can precede the bridesmaids, or she can walk among them if her dress is similar. If you are pairing bridesmaids and ushers for either the processional or recessional, the junior bridesmaid does not require a partner, although she may have one if enough men are available.
During the ceremony itself, junior attendants typically stand with the other attendants. If your ceremony will last more than 10 minutes, or if solemnity during your vows is important, think seriously about sending your flower girl and ring-bearer to sit in one of the front rows with a parent or grandparent. Not every bride has a sense of humor about the flower girl who sits takes off her shoes during the vows or the ring-bearer who tries to slide his body between the bride and groom during the kiss.
Indeed, in dealing with child attendants, it is always wise to have both a back-up plan and a sense of humor! If you feel that a flower girl who stops midway down the aisle, turns, runs back to you, and demands more flowers because she's "out" would ruin your wedding, think twice about including child attendants. Children may be just as delighted to be allowed to pose with you for a formal photo later in the day – with less stress for everyone.