Hospitality is something I believe is vitally important, and something that is unfortunately lacking in our society and even in churches. There are many reasons we fail to be hospitable. Valid or not, all too often we let our reasons become excuses.
Having little ones can add another dimension to hospitality. Gone are the days when we can spend all day perfecting a meal and its presentation for our guests. I can’t even set the table ahead of time for fear my one-year-old will pull on the table cloth, and the dishes will come crashing to the floor! Whether you are nursing an infant, or in the throws of potty training it can be easy to put off hospitality because it just isn’t convenient right now.
Here are some things I have learned (some the hard way!) about extending hospitality with little ones in the home.
1. Prepare your children ahead of time.
It does not matter how many times we have had company over (and it is a lot), each time we are having someone over for dinner, I still prep my kids. A quick reminder of what is expected of them does wonders. If there are going to be kids, I let them know. Sometimes we put certain toys away ahead of time, if we think they might cause problems or might not be age appropriate for whatever children are coming. Telling my son that tonight we are not playing with Legos because a toddler is coming means I don’t have to answer that question after the guests are here, or worse, we have an issue that could have been prevented. I also quickly remind them of their table manners. Does this take care of every single issue? No, but it sure takes care of a lot. I think that as parents if we focus on preventative discipline we will have a lot less correcting to do. I am all about less correcting.
2. Stick to familiar foods.
I do not introduce new foods to my children when we have company. Only every now and then have I made a new-to-them side dish when company was here, and then I just don’t make them eat it. I have 21 meals a week to introduce new foods and to grow their palates. I don’t want to use precious time of fellowship with company to do that. I’m sure my guests don’t want to have to sit through that either. Since it is in my home, and I know what I am fixing, I am perfectly okay with choosing foods I know my kids will eat.
3. Keep it simple.
We all know the stories about being completely stressed out barking orders to everyone, and then putting a smile on your face for the company. I want my kids to view hospitality in a positive light. If I cannot keep calm through the process than something needs to be simplified. Cut back on the number of side dishes. Make meals that the major work can be done ahead of time. And if something goes wrong with a particular dish, don’t even worry about trying to come up with a replacement. You will only stress yourself out. These are the types of things memories are made of, anyway. “Remember the first time we had you over and you burned the garlic bread?”
4. Involve your kids.
Having your kids help is so important on many levels. The children feel ownership, they are directly involved with the hospitality gesture, and it makes them happier to be around. If you stick your kids in a room all day so that you can get ready for company, you are going to not only have a rough day, but a rough evening with your guests. By that point in the evening they are going to be craving your attention. So just include them. My kids dust, set the table, fold napkins, and help me in the kitchen. By the time our company is here they are excited to have them.
5. Communicate the right attitude.
One way that I communicate that I love having company over is by keeping a positive spirit with my kids. I try to avoid comments about how much work it is. I often say things like: “Isn’t it so nice that we get to spend some time with ____,” or “I’m so glad you will get to play and share your toys with _____.” Simply including comments like these throughout the day sets the tone with our children that we are honored and blessed to be having someone over for dinner. It is also subconsciously preparing them for what to expect. And, if I am having a rough day, it helps set my spirit back in the right place, too!
Even though juggling things can be extra difficult when we have infants or small children, the effort that it requires is so worth it. Remember what hospitality is. It is about the people, not the meal or space. Whatever preparation is involved, remember to keep the focus on relationships. The relationships you are building with your guests, and the relationships you are building with your children are both important.
What do you do to keep hospitality stress-free with children in the home?