Munchkins Part I: Laughter and Planning Ahead!

“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:

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!

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?)

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!

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.

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!


Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post. I'm in the midst of "munchkin-land" but if I wait for things to be perfect to entertain I NEVER will!

Jen said...

Great post with ideas on our little ones. I too do the movie...it helps incredibly. Thanks for the helpful hints.

Dawn said...

Thank you for the great tips. I remember reading somewhere once that one of the best things you can do fro your kids when they're young is to entertain gusts in your home because its a good way for kids to learn that life doesn't center around them all the time.

momrn2 said...

What wonderfully fabulous ideas!! Reading it makes it seem so simple! :-)

One other thing I have found helpful and have done is this... As my children have grown, I have kept a few of their toys, books and video's for different ages.

If a family with a baby or toddler is over I have a few items to pull out for them. The same with younger elementary children. I seem to use those items often and am always glad I have them to offer!

I also kept my portable playpen (the type that folds into a duffle bag size for storage) so as to also always be prepared for a young one who needs a safe place to be (or sleep).

Again, great ideas here! Eager for part 2!!

Myrna said...

When our family was young and invited people over, I always let our invitees decide if they wanted to bring their kids or get a sitter, and always told them, "I'd rather you bring the kids with you, than not come because you don't have a sitter". Quite frankly in our early years, we couldn't afford a sitter. It always seemed to work out alright (we had a great empty attic and an assortment of bigwheels and roller skates--a lot of noise drifted downstairs, but hey, we knew where the kids were and what they were doing! LOL!
Nowadays, we are near empty-nesters and the Lord has friended us with several young families. We do what we can to keep dinner easy and comfortable and usually wind up on the living room floor with the kids, matchbox cars and balloons or some such thing. The adults visit in the midst of it all, and really it works out. Sometimes a more serious need or topic sends a couple of us adults off by ourselves for a tete a tete--doing dishes together makes a great privacy screen :-)
My Aunt Addy once told me how when she was growing up, there was no such thing as a "generation gap" because the generations did not separate from each other for events. Attending Sunday services, going to dances, weddings, funerals, etc---included the whole community, young and old. There were times that 'children were to be seen and not heard', but that was not all the time by any means. It's something to ponder.

ValleyGirl said...

Recently we and another family were invited to our friends' home for a tobogganing party and supper. There were six adults, one teen, and six younger kids, ranging in age from 3 to 9. Since my friend's dining room table was built in to the dining room by the previous owner, there's no size flexibility and so we decided to try having the kids eat first and then get them off to the rec room for a movie while we ate supper. It worked beautifully and we all wondered why we hadn't tried that before!!

Org Junkie said...

My problem isn't with my own kids. My kids know the rules and that's that. It's my friends kids that come over, are told the house rules and yet still break them and the parents do nothing. I hate having to get after someone else's kids.

For example, one of our house rules for the kids, due to my son's food allergies, is that there is to be no food anywhere but the kitchen table. Time and time again my friends see their kids doing this and do nothing about it. I'm constantly having to reinforce the rules and it's exhausting.

I also have a real problem with chaos and kids running around being hyper in the house. I'm not use to it as my kids aren't hyper or loud in the house so I have no idea how to process kids that are allowed to run around screaming at the top of their lungs. Summer is definitely easier when we can kick them all outside :)

Anyway just sharing my frustrations with you and being honest in hopes you'll understand and have some suggestions for me.

Thanks Sandy!

Barb said...

I remember once when a childless relative was visiting, one of our small ones dumped an entire glass of milk all over the table. I just calmly cleaned it up, and the relative was amazed that I didn't freak out. But I had gotten used to the fact that with little ones in particular, the unexpected happens all the time! I'm so glad we worked to maintain a hospitable home while our kids were young. Our newly-married daughter jumped smoothly into a hospitable lifestyle, having lived it already as she was growing up. Really encouraging for a mom to see that! Luv the pix, Miz Sandy!

Kerry said...

Thanks for posting suggestions for entertaining w little ones. I've done less of it because of this and after reading this it's good to be reminded that we can still have a good time even w the little ones around.

Room for Grace said...

LOVED the pictures! What a great encouragement this post is!
Thank you,

Lizz @ Yes, and So is My Heart said...

I'm getting ready to entertain tomorrow. I had stumbled across your post before and decided to stop by after I finished prepping for our guest tomorrow. This post is fantastic and I'll definitely use some of the ideas. We have three children, 4, 3, and 1 so getting ready for company can be a challenge. Thanks for the encouragement and the reminder that it is worth it to entertain even with little ones underfoot!