There’s a lot of entertaining in the Washington area — state dinners at the White House, political and charity fundraisers, blowout galas. But for many parents, especially those with small children, the thought of entertaining, even on a small scale, can be daunting.
“Many parents are discouraged to entertain while their kids are young because they are very aware of all the stressors and things that will likely go wrong,” says Tori Tait, founder of Thoughtfully Simple, an entertainment and lifestyle blog. “They know that it’s likely someone will have a meltdown, the house won’t be as clean as they’d like, or they’ll be too stressed and short on time to cook a nice meal.”
The key may be to remember that others have kids, too, so they know what it’s like. Also, entertaining might just have to take on a slightly different vibe than it did when we were childless.
“I think the stress of being interrupted and not being able to truly enjoy conversation and adult time with friends leads to many parents thinking they can’t entertain while the kids are still at home,” adds Jamie O’Donnell, an event and lifestyle expert.
I was unsure about hosting after the birth of our first child, even though my husband and I had enjoyed entertaining pre-baby. The list of things that could go wrong looped in my mind — the baby wouldn’t stop crying, I’d be so tired from nighttime feedings that I’d fall asleep during dinner. But with my husband’s encouragement, we dipped our toes into having adults over as new parents and discovered that fellowship with other grown-ups was well worth the effort.
That successful gathering bolstered our resolve to continue entertaining on both big and small scales, even as we’ve added more children to our family. Now with four kids between the ages of 8 and 14, we share meals and host just-because parties on a fairly regular basis with a wide range of people with and without kids.
“Mixing it up and varying friends and entertaining options is another way to expand your focus and see that there are lots of different ways to entertain and lots of different ways children behave,” says April Masini, a relationship and etiquette expert.
Nowadays, our children have come to expect a certain amount of entertaining in our home and will ask us, “Are we going to have someone over for dinner soon?” if they think too much time has gone by between invitations. (I suspect part of what drives their desire for us to entertain has something to do with the fact that dessert is on the menu.)
Of course, we’ve had our share of ups and downs. We’ve burned food, left out key ingredients, forgotten to buy drinks (“Do you want water or water?”) and had our kids ask embarrassing questions or blurt out inappropriate things. But we’re ordinary people who have learned that entertaining isn’t as stressful as we thought it would be. And by opening our home and our hearts, we’ve become richer in fellowship and friendship.
“Entertaining guests in your home and having young children don’t need to be mutually exclusive experiences. What better place for our kids to learn how to show hospitality than right in their own home,” Vanessa Hunt and Heather Patterson, authors of “Life In Season: Celebrate the Moments That Fill Your Heart & Home,” said in an email. “If we can change the way we think about entertaining, we may just find that we not only begin to enjoy it again, but that we can use it as lessons that will equip our children for the future.”
Here are some lessons I’ve learned about entertaining, plus tips from experts and other parents about how to pull off dinners and parties when kids are in the house.
1. Get your kids involved. “Kids love to feel that they are being included in seemingly ‘grown-up’ activities,” Hunt and Patterson said in an email. I often have my children set the table, design cards for the buffet food or place settings and take guests’ coats when they arrive. My oldest daughter also enjoys baking desserts for gatherings.
2. Don’t forget the young kids. Make sure that the youngsters have something to eat while the grown-ups are enjoying wine and appetizers. Also, provide a new board game, movie or other activity. “If you’re having a sit-down meal, perhaps offer paper place mats they could color on,” Tait suggests.
3. Hire a babysitter. This can be a wonderful gift to other parents attending your function. “With a sitter or teenager in charge of the kids, the children won’t be running to find their parents the whole night,” O’Donnell says. “It will be a fun night out for the adults, and separately the kids will feel like they had a play date.”
4. Keep to your kids’ schedule. Tired kids become cranky kids, which can be a killjoy at any gathering. “Depending on how late the party goes, we would still have our two girls adhere to a reasonable bedtime,” blogger Jeff Campbell says. “While we would be a little more quiet after that, it wouldn’t stop the party.”
5. Integrate kids with adults. Sometimes, it’s fun to have a function for both adults and kids. For example, our family hosts an annual white elephant game in January.
6. Spot clean. Here’s one from personal experience: Unless you know for certain that your guests will be roving your entire home, clean only the areas they are going to be in, such as the kitchen, gathering room and bathroom. Shut the doors to any rooms not cleaned, and you’ll be home free.