The dinner is over. It’s time to relax. Can this really be done with a bunch of little kids running around? What do you do with guests, to make the “after dinner time” peaceful and relaxing? There were quite a few dinner parties where our guests would leave their children at home with a sitter, or as our kids got older, they’d watch the little ones. But for this series, entertaining involves the whole family showing up at your front door!

Looking back (I really enjoyed going through my photo albums to remember these days!) we’ve had some of the most relaxing times with friends after a big dinner. In my opinion, the most chaotic part of entertaining is right before and during the meal! Everyone is hungry, excited, and the intensity level is high. Then people begin to eat and settle in for the evening.

Keeping with my theme in parts I and II, I’ll give tips on what worked for us with babies, toddlers and tikes:

Dishes
In my earlier years of entertaining I did dishes two ways. After dinner we moms would hop up and get the dishes done, and sometimes the dads even pitched in. But there were also times when I really wanted to visit, so I’d quickly get a load going in the dishwasher, and then would sit back down. I’d leave the rest of the dishes until after the guests were gone because I didn’t want to interrupt the flow of the conversation. Each time I entertained, I got new ideas of things I could improve upon for my next time entertaining.

Babies
Babies were easy. Usually by the time the meal was over, the babies were either asleep or being held or passed around. We’d relax around the table, or head off to the living room to visit some more. Of course if we had colicky guests (our 3rd baby had colic, and I chose not to entertain during this brief period of life!), they’d often leave early. I didn’t let myself be too disappointed if the guests had to leave early. Going with the flow was essential!

Toddlers
We learned to enjoy ourselves through the “ups and downs” of dinner. Then we’d all hang out in the living room together and talk, with some adults sitting on the floor with the babies and the others lounging on the furniture. We’d have the baby paraphernalia and toys all over the room, and the toddlers would be playing, crawling, climbing, and hanging all over us. Usually the night ended early because of tired, crying kids. But that was okay, as we all learned to be flexible with the gift of parenting.

Tikes
We had more freedom as the kids got to be a little bit older and more independent. I remember the adults heading into the living room to visit more, while the kids played on their own.

Paul and I would curl up together in our recliner, and our guests would sit around the room, and we’d all visit. At this age we’d even all watch a movie together (the original first three Wallace and Gromit movies were our favorites). At an outside dinner, we’d lounge around the table for hours. There were times when just the moms would relax in the hot tub. And many times all the kids would get into the hot tub, and the dads would sit outside and visit while supervising. If not the hot tub, then the kids would take a giant bubble bath together. Movies, games, making forts, legos – you name it – happened in our home. We parents just moved through the phases together, enjoying each other’s company along the way.

Bedtime Routines
It was a treat for our kids to stay up late when we entertained in our home. We were never rigid with the “bed time routine” on the occasions, or when we were invited to other friends’ homes. It was always a little annoying when guests would pop up and say, “It’s 8 pm, time for Billy’s bedtime!” and they’d pack up and leave. But again, we learned to be flexible. Most of our friends hung out with us into the late hours. We’d have kids crashing on couches, bed, in front of movies – and the dads would sling them over their shoulder and carry them to the car. I remember the same thing happening to me as a child. I’d always fall asleep at the homes where we were the guests.

Our memories are still vivid and sharp in our minds. But looking back, we’ve forgotten the tiny irritations and minute issues that might have seemed so big back then.

As our kids have grown into teenagers, life has changed drastically. For regular Reluctant Entertainer readers, you will recall how we now include the whole family in entertaining. By participating in preparation, mealtime conversation, and occasional after-dinner entertainment, it all comes together and creates wonderful memories. Our kids are also now well-prepared to have hospitable homes themselves when they have families some day.

At the end of the evening, when our guests leave our home, my husband always jokingly sends them off with this quote (used for 17 years):

Come back when you can’t stay as long.”

That would be the Coughlin Dinner trademark.

(I hope you have enjoyed this 3-part series. Above photos bring back many memories in the tub, hot tub, jammies, lounging in our old living room.)

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