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.

hospitality principles and tips, by an amateur

Admittedly, I’m no expert on hospitality.  But, even being the novice that I am, I’ve gleaned some insights over the years that may be helpful for some.

Plus, if hospitality is something you’ve neglected, the holiday season is a great time to dive in and make practicing hospitality a regular occurrence in every season.

And, if nothing else, they’re helpful for me to remind myself.  Sometimes I don’t do what I know I ought.  Motives become convoluted and priorities get misplaced.

So, here are some tips [note: I claim no originality.  I’m certain everything I’m about to write has been said before by people who follow through on them better than I do.]

1) Have people over to your house.  Novel, I know.  But, it’s where it all starts.  If you don’t have people in your home regularly, you may be the most organized, hospitable person in the world and it will all be for naught.

2) Have people over frequently and on short notice.  (I’m not too good at the short notice part).  But, I do force myself to say yes as often as I can to a “short notice” opportunity.  This is incredibly liberating.  It will teach you that you can enjoy someone’s company even when there are dishes in the sink and dust on the mantle.

3) Don’t turn hospitality into “entertaining.”  Entertaining is a code-word for showing-off.  Perfectly clean house, perfectly prepared food, perfectly arranged decor becomes primary.

And at the center of it all is you, the entertainer.  “Look at all that I did and how wonderfully I did it.  Admire my home, my food, my effort,” is the heart of the entertainer, as opposed to the one offering hospitality, who humbly shares all they have out of love for others and God.

4) Don’t let your home be so messy or dirty that it’s a distraction.  This can be just as detrimental as the “entertainer” problem.  As much as people may say it doesn’t matter, having a reasonably-ordered home does matter.  It is uncomfortable to be in a pig sty.

5) Include your guests as part of your family.  Invite them to participate in everything.  If it’s your custom to sing and pray before dinner, fold them into that activity.

6) Let your guests give you a hand.  If your guests ask if they can help with something, let your usual answer be, “Yes!”  There are two reasons to do this: firstly, you probably could use the help, and, secondly, most people feel more comfortable when they’re useful.

7) Have saints and strangers over.  The Bible is explicit that it’s very important to show hospitality to saints (Romans 12:13, 1 Peter 4:9), meaning fellow Christians, and to strangers (Hebrews 13:2).  (Again, I’m bad at the stranger part.  We’ve lived at our home for 4 years and only had strangers over a handful of times).  This takes intentionality and effort.

8) Have large and intimate gatherings.  Have 30 people over, then have 1.

9) Treat all your guests the same when it comes to the work you put into it.  Don’t make everything extra nice for people with status that you admire or rich people and let things go for others.  Do not show favoritism.  Sometimes we do this without realizing it.

10) Be conversational!  Talk!  Share!  Share more than just your food and home, share your very self.  Offer your opinions and ask for other people’s.  Give people a peek at your history and ask about theirs.

11) Invite unlikely and likely people over: the person who is alone or lonely; the person who has a special diet (I need to work on this..); the big family who feels like they put people at an imposition; loud people and quiet people; the person who seems to abound with friends and busy-ness (sometimes these people get overlooked because of these facts); the person who is always having people over to their house (they would probably be blessed by the offer).

12) Don’t be “hospitable” for worldly gain.  If you’re having people over to sell them things or earn free gifts or garner status and connections with someone, it’s not hospitality.  It’s not necessarily wrong to do, it’s just not hospitality.

There are many benefits to being hospitable: meeting neat people, making friends, deepening existing friendships.  The list could go on.  But even these benefits should not be our primary reason for being hospitable.  We are hospitable because of duty (God commands it) and delight (his commands produce godliness and joy in us).  We are hospitable because we genuinely care about others.

Finally, I’ll give this piece of advice, which isn’t about being hospitable, but rather about learning to be a good receiver: accept invitations to other people’s homes when offered and allow them to practice hospitality with you.

I know I missed a million things that should be added to the list.  Anyone want to fill it out for me with a tip or two?