hospitality and small children

I’ve been thinking about the joys and challenges of being hospitable with small children at home.

Having toddlers afoot amid home and meal preparations, while expecting a large or small gathering of people, can be a challenge. So much so that many people just don’t do it much at all. But it can also be a great joy and delight.

I have certainly experienced both the difficulties and delights of parenting kids while trying to keep everything picked up and in its place and keep enough gas in my tank so that I’ve got a truly warm welcome for the people walking through the door. The reality is, often I don’t have enough gas in my tank at the arrival of guests. But one thing I’ve always found to be true: God’s grace covers me over and over as friends and family and neighbors and guests enter our home. In my weakness, He is strong and He glorifies His greatness even more because of my tired, broken down reliance on him.

Here are some things to keep in mind as you pursue hospitality with small children at home:

1) Hospitality is a family affair. 2 and 3-year-olds can get a vision for it if you communicate it to them. So, be excited about serving others in your home and they will be too.

2) When you communicate the vision of hospitality to your little kids, make sure you let them know that it is an honor to receive guests, be it family, friends or strangers. Therefore, we seek to treat anyone who enters our home with special honor.

3) Start preparing early with the help of your children. If I know that we’re having a big group over, I begin preparations days in advance and engage the children as much as I possibly can. I let them know why we’re working on getting things in order, or getting food ready, etc. Often this brings on a plethora of teaching opportunities as your children may give you resistance, but it also gives them a wonderful sense of ownership in loving the people who come over.

4) Don’t let parenting and hospitality compete, let them complement. In other words, don’t sacrifice parenting for hospitality or vice versa. If you’re consumed with making your home perfect to the detriment and neglect of your children, that’s a failure all around. Hospitality is an opportunity to teach and better parent your children. Use hospitality to your children’s great benefit.

Or, if you abandon hospitality because it’s just too much work to do it alongside parenting, again, you’re missing the boat. If you’re not hospitable while children are afoot, you cannot bequeath that characteristic to them. And chances are you won’t magically start being hospitable when they turn 8 or 9 or 14 or 15. The pattern will be set.

5) While you can engage your children to help with many things, they can’t help with everything and that’s right and good. They learn by watching. Also, while you do the grown-up jobs, it is another time to teach them to play together peacefully (we aim high and fail often here!).

I often tell the kids they can each pick one toy or book to play with while I set about the grown-up jobs. This is good discipline for them. It helps them to explore all the fun ways you can play with ONE toy. And they often play together, because then they have access to the toys their siblings picked. This keeps messes to a minimum and creativity to the maximum.

6) Expect everything to go wrong. Because it will. You might think the children are playing quietly with their one-toy-a-piece when really they’ve just made a disaster area out of the basement. You may have the bathrooms polished a day in advance, only to have the three-year-old smear toothpaste on the hand towel, wall and floor, while the baby unrolls the toilet paper, again.

You may lay out the best, most inspiring vision for hospitality, only to have your child respond selfishly, with, “but I don’t want anyone else to sit in my chair!” All I can say is, persevere. It’s worth it. They’ll get it eventually. Not perfectly, not all the time, but in bits and pieces, they’ll start to love hospitality, they’ll love loving others, and hopefully they’ll love our hospitable God who inspires and commands it for His people.

7) Remember that it’s more important to do it wrong than not to do it. Say what?! Yes. Have people over, have everything go wrong with the kids not helping and the house not ready and the coffee unmade. Let people in. Turn down the voice in your head that can’t let go of all the things that are screaming at you as you walk through the house. The spot of who-knows-what under the kitchen chair; the smudges and handprints on the sliding door; the messy bed in your son’s room. Turn that voice OFF!

People have entered your home, you owe all your care and attention to the souls under your roof, not the dish left in the sink. It’s time to be Mary, not Martha.

8) Finally, make sure that even as you teach your children to be hospitable in your and their home, also be hospitable to them. While your children are not guests, they also are not going to be there forever. Take time to serve them and treat them with special honor, just as you want them to do to others. Children who’ve tasted what it’s like to be served and honored selflessly will have a better idea of how to do it for others. And more than that, they are worth it.

I hope you’re encouraged to be hospitable through the years of young children and messy parenting. Let the welcoming and tender care of your loving Father inspire you. He welcomes us because of His great love for us, love that comes at great and unthinkable cost to Himself. What a God we serve.