Several times a month, we extend invitations to friends to come over and hang out with us. Sometimes we just have coffee. Often there’s a meal. And there’s usually a game involved. It varies.
But the one constant our friends encounter when they accept our invitation? Our four small children.
When we first began inviting people into our home, I stressed about a lot, especially the kids. I wondered if it would be best if we found a sitter or sent them to a friends’ house. And while there have been a few occasions in which one or more of our kids has gone to visit a friend while we had guests, they’re often here, doing hospitality with us.
Once I realized that my parents never sent me away when they invited people over (they would have had to send us away a LOT), I recognized that one of the reasons I love hospitality so much is that they modeled it for me as a child.
I learned that having people over is (usually) fun, and I had the opportunity to spend time around people of all ages, which I enjoyed. I also learned how to behave when we had guests over. It was not in the “children should be seen and not heard” sense – my parents would never go for that. But I did learn that you just can’t jump on everybody that comes in the door.
Drawing from that experience, I’ve been able to incorporate hospitality in my home without excluding some of its most important inhabitants – my children.
And as stressed out as I was in the beginning, I now enjoy having my kids with us, and most of the time, it’s even a fun experience.
In case you’re in a similar situation and stressed about having your kids around when you have guests, I want to share some of what I’ve learned in the process with my own children.
1. Have something fun for them to do
I’m not sure about your kids’ attention spans, but mine… well, they don’t hold interest in what we’re doing for that long. That’s why I make sure there are other things they can do, like go play outside, play a game, draw, or even watch a movie in the other room on my laptop.
Think about it ahead of time and have a few options ready for them when they get tired of hanging out with the grownups.
2. Be an advocate
Sometimes, people are astonished that I would allow my children to act like people instead of sitting quietly and waiting to be addressed before speaking. I find this is the case with older guests, particularly grandparents. Thankfully, this has only happened once or twice.
But when it has, my husband and I both have been an advocate for our children. Granted, if they were being crazy, of course we would have talked to them, but they weren’t.
So we made it clear to our guests (privately – we didn’t want to embarrass them or make any more of a scene) that we were fine with their behavior and would not make them go sit down quietly or leave the room.
We are advocates for our children.
Thankfully, though, our guests usually have no problem with our kids being present and will engage them in conversation, play with them or otherwise try to include them. We have fabulous friends.
3. Talk about ground rules before guests arrive
This is so important. Kids don’t just know what to do. We have to teach them. So we have had many, many, many conversations about what we expect from them when we have guests:
- We don’t jump on our guests (unless they give us permission)
- Please don’t yell in people’s ears
- It’s okay to talk, just please don’t yell
- Seriously, no yelling
- If you don’t like your food, please go to the garbage or use a napkin to spit it out, don’t just do it on your plate
You know, basic manners.
4. Give them an escape plan
This kind of goes along with having something else for them to do. I’m an introvert and am easily overwhelmed if I’m around too many people. And some of my kids are this way. We let them know that if they need a break, they can tell us, and we’ll help them out.
Often this means they go in our room and read or watch something by themselves. Sometimes, they just need to tell me and snuggle for a few minutes. Either way, we recognize that our kids need breaks from people, too.
5. Have patience
This is a process. It took time for our kids to learn the ground rules and sometimes, they still turn into a 3-ring circus when guests arrive. It happens. Be patient. Let your friends know ahead of time that your kids are learning so they can be prepared.
We’ve been blessed with some awesome friends who have made the process so much easier with their kindness and understanding. And our kids have made it pretty fun, too.