“Bricks and mortar make a house, but the laughter of children makes a home.” Irish Blessing

As I reach back into my memory bank, remembering “how I did it” (entertained) with little kids in the house, I came up with one important factor: Laughter!

Don’t our lives revolve around the functioning of our homes, our spouses, and these little beings running around? Not to mention jobs and outside activities. And when we’re called to hospitable times – guess what? When we include our munchkins (let’s call them babies, toddlers and little tikes), the hectic side of entertaining steps up a notch! There’s no way around it.

Kids smile or laugh 400 times a day. We adults? We smile or laugh fifteen times per day. Oh no! I think we have a problem. Maybe we need to lighten up and realize that laughter is a key ingredient to a happy family, and to fun times with our friends!

Laughter takes the stress out of a tense situation. Sometimes having kids around when you’re attempting to get ready for dinner guests, can literally be a pain (like when the kids decide to get into the cereal right as you’re cleaning your kitchen – above photo). Do you tend to their needs, or do you get focused on the guests who will be arriving in 3 hours? Where’s the happy balance of being snippy with your kids or just making light of the situation and learning to go with the flow? (hey, my last post!)

One time, right as the guests were walking into our home, I cut my finger with a knife. A band-aid didn’t seem to work, so my friend Liz and I headed off to the ER for stitches. The dads held the babies and watched the kids until we got back. Dinner had to wait. We ended up having a great night together, and laughed a lot, in spite of the rocky start and my painful finger!

Here are some tips from my early entertaining days with munchkins around:

Planning
After figuring out what guests you plan to have over, you have to ask yourself if you want to have a light, simple, fun dinner or an actual dinner party? What can you handle, considering your budget, space situation, and time frame? This differs for everyone. Chose your setting, whether at home or away (picnic in the park). The key for me was to start planning a few days in advance. The results of not planning ahead turned the evening into a chaotic time for the family and the guests!

Menu
Early on in our marriage, space and money were very tight for our family! What could I cook that wouldn’t make us go over our budget? Of course delegation was the “key,” as I found that the guests were always more than willing to split the meal with us. I’d make the main dish and maybe the salad, and I’d ask our guests to bring the dessert and bread! Even when you’re counting pennies, by inviting one family over and keeping costs to a minimum in sharing the meal, entertaining becomes very doable.

I cooked many chicken dishes, as they were easy to make up in advance and have ready to put right into the oven. I even remember buying Costco lasagnas from time to time. (Isn’t it great to live in a Costco-age where everything is so accessible?)

Babies
Along with planning an easy menu and delegating part of the meal, naptime was extremely important to me. During this time I’d set the table, pick up the house, do a light cleaning of the bathrooms and maybe get my main dish prepared. I learned to let go of any pre-conceived ideas that things had to be perfect, and I’d pray that my guests would be willing to do the same. The most important aspect for me in entertaining was that we were getting together with friends, sharing the common bond, and partaking in a lot of laughter.

Babies were always easy in our household, thankfully. Food was a non-issue (our guests would bring their own baby food!), and I’d often ask them to bring their own high chair and port-a-crib. This really made the night last a little longer, having extra baby equipment around. I tried to have my babies fed before the guests arrived, and then we’d tuck them into bed early into the evening. The sooner, the better!

Toddlers
Again, I’d take advantage of naptime and scurry around getting things ready. I was fine with letting my toddlers watch a movie when they woke up, which allowed for more time for preparation. Flexibility was a key factor for me when preparing for guests. If we had a rule of one movie a day, I’d sometimes break that rule and let a good movie be a babysitter for an hour or two, allowing me extra time to prepare for the evening. I’d even put my youngest into their highchair with a snack (or a tootsie pop – above photo!); to keep them occupied the hour right before the guests would be arriving. Sometimes our guest’s kids would show up in jammies, and our kids would be in theirs. I’d often ask the family if they’d bring their favorite movie! Planning the kid menu was simple: Mac & Cheese, jello or fruit, and milk! Cookies for dessert, if you even needed a dessert!

Little Tikes
I taught my kids at a young age to pitch in and help with whatever I thought they could handle. This is the perfect age for them to start understanding the concept of entertaining! Of course this meant simple chores. Most of the time we’d have the children sit at another table, so setting their own places, folding napkins, or helping mom in the kitchen was a big help. I’d also find things for them to do while I was preparing, like Play Dough, coloring, painting – activities that they could have fun with while I was at work in the kitchen. Our kids knew to play and share their toys, especially while the adults were having dinner. Sometimes we’d ask the guest’s kids to bring some of their toys along too. I also found that kids love to go to another family’s home, because there are new surroundings and toys to experience! I would cook up the same menu for little tikes, Mac & Cheese or something easy. Once the weather was nice and we BBQ’d, they’d eat what the adults ate.

Space
We had two very small homes before the one we live in now (our first home was 1000 sq. feet). It was often very tight — at the most, we could fit 3 couples at the table. So three couples we would have! We never used space limitations as an excuse to not entertain. But you have to have a plan as to where you’re going to put the kids. In their early years, we’d bring in our child picnic tables and feed the kids in the kitchen, sometimes rotating them, depending on how many. As the kids got older, we’d even use our dining table in shifts the same way. Then after the kids were done, we’d transform the table for the adult dinner.

Laughter was definitely a key to having a great time during our early years of entertaining with munchkins around. Laughter, and understanding that life is not perfect, and realizing that relationships are essential. Looking back, I’m glad my husband and I made the effort that we did. It has paid off, because today we keep in touch with many of the same friends that we hosted when our children were younger.

I hope this post challenges you and encourages you to let your fears subside. Talk it over and figure out whom you’d like to get to know. Make a plan and set out to have some fun. You’ll not only be passing down the gift of hospitality to your children, you’ll be creating some very fond memories that you’ll keep forever.

Stay tuned for my next post, Part II, when I focus on Mealtime!

(For those of you who don’t have kids, who want to invite guests over with children, and it stresses you out – it’s okay to ask your guests to leave their kids at home with a sitter! But if you’d like to brave having the kids along (which actually is a real treat for the them), hopefully some of my suggestions will help you out – along with the upcoming Part II and Part III posts.)

All photos were taken in our previous house, when our kids were little!

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