The essence of an elopement is that it’s focused 100% around the happy couple with no ‘distractions’. But what if you’re already a family of more than two by the time you decide to tie the knot? Eloping with kids is is whole different level of adventure and can be a wonderful and uplifting experience for all. But no matter how big or small they are, involving you children in your special day takes some additional thought and careful planning. Wedding photographer and parent Jenny Ellen of Magpie Eye Photography shares her helpful tips on how to keep your cool when eloping with kids (particularly the young ones!).
How to prepare for a family elopement
Along with ever-diversifying and innovative approaches to the traditional wedding ceremony, the concept of ‘eloping’ has evolved a great deal over the years – even more so in recent months – to the extent that it now covers essentially anything you and your partner can dream of. As a photographer of over 15 years, I’m thrilled to see this shift away from more traditional limitations over to personal vision, self-expression and adventure; both literally and figuratively. Perhaps you always planned on eloping or perhaps the recent pandemic has led you to think outside the box more than ever, and make the difficult decision to limit your celebration to only the most important people, places and ways in which you want to express your love and commitment to each other. For many this will mean just the two of you, but for those of you considering eloping with young children I’m here to offer some advice from both a personal and professional perspective.
As a photographer and parent, I have experience of working in a wide range of locations all over the world and am proud to say my now nearly five-year-old son has accompanied me on almost every single trip. Of course, it takes a bit of extra planning, but watching a child explore and experience the world around them, especially out in nature, is one of the most joyful things to see. Add this experience to a day dedicated to sharing your love and commitment as a family and that’s where the magic really happens!
Eloping in itself takes a lot of planning and scheduling (just like parenting!) but there are some ways in which you can get your children involved in your wandering wedding from the get-go. The Leave No Trace Centre seeks to protect the nature by teaching and inspiring people to enjoy the great outdoors responsibly, their website has some fantastic resources for kids (and grown-ups!) to help even the youngest minds understand how and why it is so important that we take care of natural beauty spots that are so perfect for and cherished by elopers.
Another idea that I have always been a fan of is DIY natural confetti. The principle is to simply collect fallen leaves, petals, grass etc and use a hole punch to make your own ‘confetti’. Hole punches come in every size and shape you can imagine – just have a quick look online – so you could have star shaped golden poppy petals, hearts made from pink beavertail cactus, butterflies cut from desert flower leaves and countless other variations! Kids will love the hands-on creativity, and, on the day of your marriage, they will get to make use of their work as well as get to see it immortalised in your photographs forever.
Phase two: Travel. The first time I took my son on a long-haul flight, he was 22 months old and people thought I was crazy to even attempt such a mission. I’m a single mum so I guess that adds to the pressure, but planning comes pretty easily to me and, for the adventure that awaited, I would have flown that 11 hours from London to San Diego 10 times over.
If you’re flying with a child under 24 months, you may well be considering a bulkhead seat but in my experience this ultimately only served as an additional dumping ground for toys, snacks and the inevitable rubbish that seems to accumulate anytime you go on a flight over two hours with kids! Since my son turned two (and by a stroke of luck on our return flight) he has had his own seat and boy does it make a difference. One of my favourite tools for flying with kids is now Seat Guru, a site that enables you to browse the seating charts of more than 150 airlines by entering the airline name, your flight number and date of travel. Seat Guru not only gives you access to a full floorplan of your aircraft but also restrictions, legroom dimensions and even reviews from other passengers. For the record I’m not an affiliate, it’s just a really handy site.
It goes without saying that whatever the length of your flight you’re gonna need a lot of snacks and probably an electronic pad of some sort. Even if you’re usually strict on-screen time, dedicate a few hours before you leave to finding a good range of content for your child’s pad and invest in some remote headphones. (If you stick with cabled headphones I all but guarantee you and/or your child will be a tangled mess of headphone cable then likely break the connection to one of both speakers within 20 minutes of take-off, so it is simply not worth the bother!) We now have books, music, TV shows, movies, jigsaw puzzles, phonics, math, and yes, games apps all ready to go, and it’s a life saver not only on board but also any time you need to wait for more than a few minutes. Our ‘pad’ has gotten me through more security checks than I can count meltdown free.
If your child is too young for an electronic pad, I strongly advise grabbing a small bag of new ‘toys’ – approximately one per hour of flight time – and wrapping them in newspaper. I use the term toy loosely because the majority of engagement comes from unwrapping (we’ve all seen the video of the kid that gets a wrapped banana for Christmas and could not be more delighted right?) The key is to wrap it loose enough to undo themselves and for the contents to be new. Textured things are great, a roll of washi tape, a roller, a pack of post-it notes a set of keys, honestly anything that they can explore and have not seen before will do the job. Whip out a new ‘present’ each time an hour passes – or your child makes that face that you know means they are on their last nerve – and have a rubbish bag ready for the paper.
On to the main event; the ceremony. As a photographer one of my all-time favourite parts of the day is the preparations, it’s like the setting of the scene, the prologue of a book, introducing the main characters. I consider it my role in any commitment ceremony to tell the story of your day. To show the details and moments between yourselves and your loved ones, together with creating iconic imagery that you will be proud to look back on for years to come. And it all begins with your personal preparations – all of you – so why not invite your children to be part of that exciting time, brushing mummy’s hair or trying on her shoes (or hiking boots!). Getting ready for the adventure of a lifetime – together.
Another great way to get your kids involved it to give them a job. Younger kids in particular love a job, a responsibility, a way to help – plus, it looks great in photos! Perhaps your child can be ring bearer or bouquet carrier. Older kids can write their own vows or a letter to their parent(s) to be read out as an alternative to traditional ‘readings’. This is a great way to really connect and create some powerful emotional moments during your day. If you are having a hand-fasting consider allowing your child(ren) to carry the cords and/or even tying them. Giving your kids a task will not only make them feel involved and included but takes the pressure off as they can focus on the role they are given.
An elopement is the greatest adventure you will ever have, CHILDREN are the greatest adventure you will ever have! Including them in your day is a personal choice, but what better way to begin your lives as a married couple than to write your children into your very own love story.
Photography – Magpie Eye Photography