Munchkins Part II: Mealtime

“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.)


momrn2 said...

These are Great! Keep em coming! Looking forward to part 3! :-)

Org Junkie said...

Thank you for such great advice! I think dealing with my son's severe food allergies stresses me out more than I know. My priority is keeping him safe. One thing that we have found has worked for us is to skip dinner with friends altogether and just have them over for dessert. Usually the kids are so busy playing that they don't even want any which means I don't have to worry about food residue contaminating toys and the like.

Thanks for such thoughtful posts Sandy, I'm really enjoying them.

Dawn said...

You offer such great advice Sandy. My family lives in a very small house so we do most of our entertaining during the warm months of the year so the kids can play outside.

Kim said...


Thanks so much for stopping by my blog - truly an honor! I'm enjoying your posts about entertaining, especially with a 3 1/2 & 5 1/2 year old. I remember doing the cover up nursing thing with another girlfriend while we tried to play games. I wouldn't trade those times!

Jen said...

That is such great advice. We don't entertain as much in cold weather because as my husband says..he doesn't want all the kids destroying the house. We cant send them out as it gets too cold here. We have a big group of friends.....8 couples and with all kids....your looking at 35 people at a time....that gets really crazy. Our friends had a Super Bowl party and invited everyone over with kids....it was really crazy...and stressful. Esp since her house is only about 1600 sq feet....aghhhhh...but we managed. And the ages range from 11 to infant.....we enjoy entertaining in the summer though....

G. said...

I've really enjoyed reading your posts. I have a 4 year old and a 2 year old and entertaining can at times be challenging. Thanks for your awesome ideas and a reminder that everything doesn't always need to be perfect!

Rhoda @ Southern Hospitality said...

Hi, Sandy, always enjoy stopping by to see what topics you are on today. Hope you are having a wonderful weekend.


Barb said...

Gasp! 700 Club's schedule sez that Mr Paul and Miz Sandy are going to be the show tomorrow (Monday)!

3 Money Monday

Guest: Paul and Sandy Coughlin will come on live to discuss how the prayer challenge is affecting their marriage (book, Married But Not Engaged).

Why didn't you tell us, Miz Sandy???

Leigh Ann said...

Great series, Sandy! I'm living all this now with a 4 and 6 year old. It is good reinforcement.

I also like your thoughts on respect and entertaining. I'm finding not everyone or their children respect us. I'm glad to know others have this problem and have ways of dealing with it.

Cheers! LA

PS You must be going down memory lane with all these baby pictures. What fun!

Bev said...

I loved reading every bit of this! We had an 18 month old at our table tonight, and such fun - belly laughs, tickling and giggles, blowing bubbles and man did he enjoy the ice cream cake - so much we can learn from having little guests join us!

Tammy said...

Such great advice here.
You know, we go to a life group just started up in the fall by a sweet young couple (much younger than hubby and I) but we all have young children in common. Theirs are the youngest at 3 and almost 5, but ours follow close since my youngest is 5.
Our young hosts tell us what dinner they're planning and we and the other couple bring food to go with it. The adults eat casually in the living room while the kids eat at their table...then the kids sing worship songs with us, before doing a craft and then playing in the other room.
It's amazing how well this all works for us! The kids are generally well-behaved and respect our Bible study time.
But what impresses me most is their willingness to open up thier home with such graciousness and yet with a relaxed attitude. Alhtough she is younger, she has taught uptight me so much by this example! :)

I also read part 1...not only great advice, as usual, but adorable pictures of your kids!

(Come see my little ones' 3rd birthday pics if you can!)

Dee Light said...

Great ideas!! Thanks for sharing.

Love your coments on respect. When my 10 year old was small we had good friends who had a little boy just a year older that our daughter. I would baby sit him in our home quite often. He knew our rules and would obey them unless his parents were there. They would sit back and enjoy their time and let me discipline him, very frustrating. Eventually we just met with them at resteraunts.

kristen said...

Thanks for the great advice. We have just done an outdoor eatery area and can't wait to have our friends over every weekend.

tearjerker said...

Yep, was watching 700 club yesterday and, guess who I got to see? Yup, you and your darling hubby. I wasn't even aware you were going to be on, but when you came on I was like "That looks like Sandy!" and then, sure enough, it was. It was great seeing the two of you!

willzmom said...

Thanks so much for addressing this issue. We have friends in different stages in life and we all want to spend time together. One thing we've found that is helpful is to have time together with couples with smaller children when we call all be outside. Have space to get that extra energy out makes for a nicer time. Have plenty of balls and sidewalk chalk available! Keep the great ideas coming.