Babies at Funerals
Funeral etiquette dictates that families think long and hard before they bring children to a funeral. In addition to questions of whether or not a child is equipped to handle the concept of death (and a possible viewing), there are other attendees to consider. Children can be noisy, disruptive, and irreverent at a time when other people simply want space to grieve. So, too, can kids ask questions—innocent enough on their own—but the way they are asked can evoke strong emotions.
Babies present a unique challenge to this funeral etiquette issue. Because they are too young to understand what is going on, concerns about their ability to handle death are irrelevant. And while they can also be very disruptive at a funeral, they are also easily quieted by stepping out of the room.
Here are a few additional considerations to bear in mind when deciding if it is okay to bring a baby to a funeral:
- Are you immediate family? The closer you were (both emotionally and family-wise) to the deceased, the more appropriate it is to bring a baby to a funeral. Likewise, the more removed the relationship, the less appropriate. This is because funerals exist primarily to help support the immediate family. Your needs (i.e., to have your baby near) are secondary to their grief.
- Do you have another option? In many cases (particularly for newborns or babies who have not yet been weaned), it is not possible to be away from baby for a long period of time. In other cases, it is merely a matter of convenience. If you can get a sitter—or even bring one along to step outside when baby gets noisy—this might be best.
- How does the family feel? While it is better not to ask outright about your baby’s attendance (since this may put the family on the spot), you can use past encounters as a guide. Is it a very family-focused group, with an especially soft spot for the young? Have babies and children been invited to other events (like weddings) in the past?
- What would the deceased have wanted? If the family isn’t guide enough, think about the deceased. If you feel very strongly that the deceased would have wanted you to feel welcome with your little one, you might want to go with your gut reaction.
- What is the funeral setup? Babies have the advantage of being quite portable. Take a look at the facilities and determine if it will be easy for you to slip out if baby starts fussing. Sit near the back or by an exit to make your getaway even more streamlined.
- You can also gauge your own baby’s temperament. Many babies can be cuddled in a sling or kept in a carrier without making a peep for hours. Others need constant fussing and attention. If your baby is one of the noisier ones, it might be better to find a sitter or pay your respects at a later time.
Funerals celebrate the circle of life—including the extremes of life and death. Babies are a good representation of the more positive side of that cycle, and having them near can be a comfort to families in grief. However, this isn’t always the case. Take the family, the situation, and your own child into account before bringing a baby to a funeral.