I have had to get over my house. I live in a teeny-tiny house. It is cozy and messy. My kids love art projects, which means that there is sure to be glitter in my carpets. This makes me pause before inviting people over. It also means that if we waited to have a perfectly spotless house before people could come over, no one would ever cross the threshold of our home. Ever.
When my kids were little, it felt exhausting to invite people over. The thought of having to clean my house and do even one more dish seemed like just about the worst idea I ever had. What I realized, though, is if I want to raise kids who know how to be warm hosts in their own homes, I need to model it. Cue the exhaustion. Seriously, another lesson I had to model? Can’t I just read them a book about it?
Here is what I did. I decided to take back the dinner party. In order to get over my fears that my house would never be clean enough or my culinary skills weren’t up to par, I decided I would play out my biggest fear. So I called some trusted friends (ones who had kids; they are my people, they get it) and invited them over for dinner. Right now. No time to clean, no time to make anything fancy. Just right now. And because they love me and know I can be a little impulsive, they said yes. I had zero time to consult Pinterest to find out what the necessary essentials were for hosting a dinner party. In fact, I barely had time to change out of the purple sweatpants I had been living in for two days straight (don’t you envy my husband?). Between brushing my hair and making sure all of the underwear were off the floor, the only time left for culinary genius allowed for taking leftover lasagna out of the fridge to heat up. Yes, I served three-day-old leftovers to my friends for dinner. And you know what? It was one of the best dinner parties I have ever thrown. I didn’t have time to stress about making every detail perfect. I wasn’t running around like a mad woman, yelling at my kids to shove their toys under the bed. I actually enjoyed myself.
Since then, our family has been intentional to practice offering light to the people around us, so our kids see that showing hospitality in general is not as big of a deal as I once thought it was. For example, instead of having a garage sale, we are having a garage giveaway. We are putting all of our extra stuff out on the front yard with a sign that says, “Take what you need.” We want to be better sharers, and the truth is we have stuff that other people need. Giving it away is an excellent family-share opportunity and a worthy swap for the few bucks we would’ve made.
We also try to be more like my friend Jen. She has a knack for turning people who have no blood relation to her into family. She knows every neighbor’s name, and drops off cookies just because. Just being around her makes you feel more like yourself. I am working on having a more hospitable heart, especially with the people who live next door and on my street and who share the pickup lane at school.
And when I get over my house enough to actually invite people over for dinner, here are some of the things we do.
We make simple food. I know, Giada De Laurentiis wants us to believe it’s all about the food, but it’s not. When we have guests over, I either make a simple dinner or order takeout (gasp!). I believe hot dogs can communicate love just as well as filet mignon, and I am more concerned about being together than spending hours in the kitchen, which isn’t my thing.
We invite guests to help out. I purposely ask guests to help with small things when they arrive. It gives them something to do rather than just standing around, and the truth is, people like to participate. An all-hands-on-deck mentality ups the comfort level for everyone. Also, I like knowing that our friends know where to find things in my kitchen. There is something about witnessing another person’s junk drawer that bonds you for life.
We ask good questions. One of the best ways to connect with friends is to ask great questions. I love to ask questions that help me learn more about their lives and how they feel about things. Everyone appreciates when someone makes the effort to learn unique things about them, because real security comes from a feeling of interconnectedness, of being IN IT with people. Asking questions and really listening to the answers removes barriers and makes people feel at home.
I like to have people think I keep my house immaculately clean, but the truth is, I don’t. So I remind myself about the times I have enjoyed myself the most at a friend’s house. Was it the biggest or nicest house, and were they gourmet cooks? Nope. What made me love being there the most was that I felt loved. This gives me the confidence to pack out my tiny house, serve the leftover lasagna, and love my neighbors like crazy, even if I have dog hair all over my couch. Deep breaths help a little, too.
So don’t worry if you can’t cook or your house isn’t as fancy pants as someone else’s. The mantra at our house is that it’s more important to do it wrong than not at all. So invite people over, heat up some leftovers, and don’t worry about perfection. Some of the most brilliantly blinding experiences of goodness I have enjoyed have included sitting on the floor and eating day-old pizza with people who love and celebrate with ease.
And if for some reason the dog eats all of the hot dogs off the counter, or your kids bring a snake they just caught into the house to show you and it accidentally gets loose—In. Your. House.—just consider it entertainment and get on with the show. Everyone loves a good snake-in-the-house story, and you just gifted them with one to share.
As President and CEO of MOPS international, Mandy represents the mothering voice of the 100,000 member mothering organization. Before joining MOPS International, Mandy was a preaching pastor at MOSAIC in Southern California. She is widely accepted as a relationship expert, and has been featured on MSN, theknot.com, thenest.com and Fox. Mandy speaks to national and international audiences on the topics of Mothering, Leadership Development and Cultural Trends.
She and her husband are in the throes of raising three young kids to be adventurous, tender-hearted world changers. Look for her first book, Starry-Eyed coming Spring 2016.
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