Parenting can be tough, and it can also be lonely. It can be hard to find time to go on a much-needed date night, let alone get together with other couples, and sometimes the idea of hosting another family just sounds exhausting. Kids are picky, the house is messy, you haven’t finished painting the kitchen, you’re nervous about your cooking.
And so for many of us, the door stays closed, and we don’t invite other families over when the parenting seasons are crazy.
But as one mom of 6 wrote, when parenting seasons are crazy is “EXACTLY the time that we should all be CULTIVATING MEANINGFUL FRIENDSHIPS with other families. Parenthood should be the time that we’re surrounded [by] other families who are striving towards the same goals as we are and supporting us in what is a challenging job.”
There are a lot of ways to make friends, but something about inviting someone into your home, bringing them in to meet your family and your children, can make the connection a little bit more open, vulnerable, and personal. But the biggest thing to remember is that if you want to make real friends— the kinds of friends that are so important during the crazy seasons—it’s not about creating the perfect evening or trying to impress your guests.
If you enjoy decorating for the season, centerpieces, and other such things then absolutely go for it, but just remember that these things are secondary: the main goal is to make your guests feel welcome in your home, and creating time to really talk and connect with one another.
But having multiple kids in one house can truly make that tough, so we’ve asked some veteran moms for their insight on how to create this time of connection.
How to host another family and have time to actually talk to each other:
1. Have something to eat or drink ready to go when your guests arrive.
Drinks are an easy thing to set out, and if they’re self-serve, that saves you the watch-the-beer-and-offer-another dance while you’re trying to prep your own toddler’s plate just so. Plus, it makes guests feel at home and they have something to do as you finish up prep work.
An appetizer is an obvious choice too, even if it’s just crackers and cheese, and it’s easy to put out a kid-friendly snack like goldfish alongside that, too.
2. Play music.
Music relaxes the atmosphere and sets a festive mood, which honestly affects the kids and seems to calm them too (or drown them out? 😉 If you don’t already have a go-to, you could try a folk music playlist, Irish music or maybe even a classical cello playlist for something that might work for an evening with another family without just adding to the noise (but you can always turn it off if it does).
3. Serve something easy.
Something that tastes good and that doesn’t require a lot of last-minute prep work—something that can easily be pulled out of the oven when you’re ready to eat, or maybe something easy to grill alongside a chopped salad (and whatever the kids will eat). Here’s a Pinterest board we built with dinner ideas just for this.
4. If you have little ones, consider feeding the kids first.
This is a pro-tip from Adele, who is expecting her 7th child: this way the kids are content and happy when the adults sit down to eat and you won’t be getting up to put more ketchup on someone’s plate every 5 seconds. If you have a large home or backyard, they can then go play in a playroom or outside while you eat.
If you have a smaller home, consider talking to your guests ahead of time about a kid-friendly movie that the kids could watch while you eat, or brainstorm another activity or game (age-dependent) that might keep them occupied while you eat and spend time connecting.
Also if you have little ones, consider hosting brunch instead of dinner. Younger children tend to be happier in the morning, you can prep mostly everything the night before—and everyone can get to bed on time.
5. If the weather’s nice, and you have space, eat outside.
Cleanup is way easier and the kids can get up and run whenever they’re done. Also, strongly consider paper plates.
6. Let the dirty dishes slide.
Let the focus remain on connecting with your guests. You won’t become best friends with everyone, but that’s okay: the bottom line is that this evening is about you finding friends and companions in parenthood, not about anything else, including your kids having the most perfectly healthy meal or your house looking perfect.
And chances are, a few imperfections will make your guests feel more at home.
As Shauna Niequest, mother of two, writes:
“Either I can be here, fully here, my imperfect, messy, tired but wholly present self, or I can miss it — this moment, this conversation, this time around the table, whatever it is — because I’m trying, and failing, to be perfect, to keep the house perfect, make the meal perfect, ensure the gift is perfect. But this season I’m not trying for perfect. I’m just trying to show up, every time, with honesty and attentiveness.” — Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table
That’s how you make real friends, the kinds of friends you want during the crazy seasons of parenting. And if that’s where you set your sights when you’re inviting a family (or several) over for dinner, you can’t go wrong.