“You can turn painful situations around through laughter. If you can find humor in anything, even poverty, you can survive it!” Bill Cosby

What are some of my best memories of entertaining while our kids were little?

Was it crying babies, emergency diaper changes or kids fighting over toys? No way! It was the conversation and laughter that we adults had around the table, as the little kids had their own good time. (Of course the dynamics changed as the kids got older and we started including them more.) We were young parents coming together to share a meal and to talk about life and its struggles and challenges. My husband and I both agree that we entertained because we wanted to be around our friends! I also loved how my husband and I would work in the kitchen together, serving our guests (if we didn’t do potluck). He really helped me out! (He was once a waiter!)

The moment has come
The guests are at the front door with their potluck dishes, baby paraphernalia, 5 kids and their dog (sometimes). The planning has already been done – the table is set, the house is as good as it’s going to get and dinner is in the oven. The night is about to begin!

How did we handle mealtime with dinner guests, when our children were young?

I often asked the guests to bring their own high chair (this was before I bought one of those chairs that clip under the bar counter or table, which I still use to this very day when we host a baby). We’ve also passed the babies around the table, like a plate of food! Everyone loves to hold a baby! Every get-together was different, so we never knew what to expect – happy babies, crying babies, hungry babies, poopie diapers, projectile vomiting – you name it! If you needed to go nurse your baby, then off to the other room you’d go, or just cover up. But we’ve forgotten about all of those details, or even the food that was served. What we remember about those days is the conversation and our time together as young families.

Sometimes our toddlers would already be in their jammies before the guests arrived. We usually fed the little ones first, while the adults indulged in appetizers. When it was time for the adults to sit down, we’d have a few movies ready to pop into the VCR (yes, VCR back then!) for the kids. Any adult conversation that we could generate was well worth our toddlers being glued in front of the television for a couple of hours! We found that we craved adult time! We did expect great conversation, even during these crazy years with toddlers – and we got it!

Little Tikes
The little tikes age was fun, because they were more independent. We didn’t have to keep our eyes on this age as much as toddlers. We still followed the routine of feeding the kids first, sometimes in shifts, before the adults sat down to eat. If these little guys didn’t want to watch a movie, often they’d take off to their bedrooms or outside to play.

You can read my last post on preparing the meal. Once the kids were all fed, we adults would sit down. My husband would help me dish up and serve our guests, if we were having a sit-down dinner. Many times we’d have pizza or serve our dinners buffet style. The adults still sat down together, whatever the kind of meal. One thing I learned rather quickly was to not be offended by kids who wouldn’t eat at my house, nor would I get upset if my kids did not eat at other homes. Kids are just excited and energetic when they get to visit friends – it wasn’t worth the fight! I put more energy into the main meal for the adults, and very little effort into the kids’ meals. (Like I said in previous post, Mac & Cheese always worked! And many times we’d just feed them what the adults were eating.) I didn’t eat steak growing up, so why should they?

Oh my, did we have interruptions! Most parents learn to go with the flow, and thinking back, I can see where we had very respectful families in our lives because I rarely remember an out-of-control situation that the parents didn’t address right away. But sometimes kids are crazier than yours, and whiny! I learned to be very firm with our house rules from the very beginning. But I’d only “apply” them if there was a need. In other words, when a family came over, I didn’t greet them at the door and say – “Here are our rules! #1,#2,#3!” Yikes, that would be rigidity. We simply addressed each situation as the need arose. We learned to respect our friends’ rules and they learned to respect ours!

Things Get Broken
I learned from day one that the “stuff” in our home was just that – “stuff.” Relationships were more important to us than our things. Yes, we had broken items from time to time. And usually the parents would be respectful in replacing or fixing. And again, you learn to laugh through the process!

After their meal, but during the adult dinner, the kids would either play outside or in the living room or bedrooms. Because of the space issue, I was never rigid in saying our bedroom was off-limits for movies. I remember the little girls all curling up on our bed with blankies and pillows to watch movies. We did what we could to be creative in allowing precious time for the adults to interact. Having the kids in our bedroom watching a movie was a payoff, rather than have them in the adjoining living room with the movie blaring and ruining the adult conversation. We made it special for the adults (in a setting where we could sit for hours and talk and laugh) and pre-planned activities for the kids (movies, games, playing outside). We had a safe place for them to all play in the garage, outside, in the tree, riding bikes, on the trampoline.

Respect was demanded from children in our home
. If a bad experience happened, we realized we were not obligated to have that family back into our home.

In your home, people should abide by your rules. You would abide by their rules in their home, and kids are expected to abide by the “house” rules in schools, churches, and other places where they don’t live. So your home should be no different.

If they won’t, you have 3 options:
* Speak with the parents about the problem and hope they step up to the plate.
* Only meet with those people at some place other than your home, like a park or a kid restaurant or a relative’s place.
* Stop socializing with them.

I liked when my friend Barb said, “we’re inviting people into our home to get to know us and to see how we live, even as we get to know them. So errant children can deal with our house rules for the 3-4 hours that they are with us!” Good advice!

We also learned so much about parenting from these nights. Sometimes parents would leave early because of an “over-the-top-tired” kid, or even sick kids! We learned to go with the flow during mealtime, and take each moment at a time.

We used a lot of humor and I believe it was more than surviving during those early years of entertaining — it became a way of life for all of us!

Stay tuned for Munchkins Part III up next – on what to do once the dinner is over! You can read Part I of this series, on Planning and Laughter, here.

(Photos: Transformed table after the kids ate (very top); Paul and me serving our guests 8 years ago in our old house; Garrett – our movie watcher; more kids.)