**Special Thanks to Krista Hart for this guest post!**
I remember the days when my husband and I were first married and would happily invite guests into our home for a planned or impromptu time of fellowship. It was quite the neat, orderly, and civilized affair. There were no spills, nothing was broken, and there were no real messes to clean up besides a sink full of dishes. Those were the days prior to children, when we entertained others without children.
Three years into marriage, my husband and I quickly began to realize the need to change not only how we entertained in our home, but whom we entertained, as well. Gathering with others took an abrupt shift as out of a desire for like-minded fellowship, we began inviting other families with young children into our home and I began to dabble in these things I was told were called playdates. However, very quickly, I began to see that these affairs were no longer neat, orderly, or civilized! While it was great to visit with others in our same stage of life, we rarely felt that we had truly visited. Instead, we spent the majority of our time caring for babies or running after toddlers. Not to mention, our home was usually left in a disarray with a distinctive Goldfish trail leading to the door!
Not wanting to forsake these gatherings, but realizing how unproductive they often felt, I began to brainstorm on how I might make them go off more smoothly. I am far from having perfected the art of hospitality, especially, when it comes to the unique challenge of entertaining little guests, but I have found some things that help these affairs go more smoothly.
Pray and ask God to bless your time together with your guests. Talk to Him about any specific concerns you have about hosting or any needs that your guests might have. You can pray for a peaceful time of fellowship, for good conversation, and for God's Spirit to be present in your fellowship.
2. Utilize baby gates & closed doors
This is especially helpful when you're having little guests in your home. Small children are curious by nature and want to explore any new environment. If you put up a baby gate to block an area that is off-limits, then it will alleviate any worry that a child might get into anything that would be unsafe for them. Also, feel free to close doors to encourage guests to avoid certain rooms. You may want to do this with your master bedroom or a room that is particularly messy!
I like to put a baby gate at the bottom of our stairs to encourage everyone to stay on the same level. This allows my upstairs to remain untouched if it is neat and orderly or unseen if it is in a disarray! It also makes it possible for everyone to keep an eye on their little ones if everyone is on the same level.
3. Put away & bring out toys
Yes, this sounds contradictory, but it is a great way to minimize major messes or too much clean-up following a gathering. First, put away toys with lots of small parts. As much as your little one might want to play with their Lego micro-machines or Polly Pocket figurines with friends, little pieces have a tendency to end up everywhere or even lost. Not to mention, if a mom is bringing a crawling baby, small pieces can be a real danger. Second, put away toys that your children are particularly attached to in order to avoid fights. Then, bring out a special box of toys just for your special occasion. You can have your children help you decide what toys to put into this box, which also prepares them to receive guests with a an open heart and joyful spirit.
4. Make a treat to share
This is another area where you can involve your children. The day prior or first thing that morning, prepare a special treat to share with your guests. It can be as simple as break and bake cookies or as elaborate as a nice lunch. I always keep three to four boxes of easy to prepare treats on hand for just this reason. I like to keep an angel food cake mix and pair it with fresh fruit as well as a couple of different types of muffin mixes that I spice up by adding fresh fruit into the mix or citrus zest. It is always great to offer coffee, tea, or some other fun beverage like homemade lemonade.
5. Relax and enjoy your guests
If you are relaxed in your home and have a welcoming nature, then your guests will feel relaxed and enjoy their time in your home.
Remember, "Share with God’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality." --Romans 12:12-14 Your guests may not lack for food, clothing, or material possessions; but every person who enters your home is in need of encouragement, which can be found in the welcoming haven you create.