by Kathryn Streeter
Holidays guarantee entertaining, in one form or another. It’s easy to get overwhelmed with the chaos of hosting, cutting dramatically into family time during a season which should be above all, family-centric.
I countered this once by asking our son and daughter to be servers at a small dinner party we hosted. To my surprise, they took on the task with creative fanfare, devising a plan to emerge dressed ‘alike.’ Our petite daughter stuffed herself into her brother’s khakis and plaid shirt, and with a mustache drawn on her face, appeared side-by-side with her khaki, plaid-shirt attired and mustached brother to greet guests, take drink orders (complete with notepad and pen), hand out water glasses and clear appetizer plates as needed. They called themselves Bob and Bob and ended up stealing the show that night, being the most memorable part of the evening. They enjoyed their popularity and my husband and I appreciated their helpfulness since we were stretched putting the finishing touches on the meal while also welcoming guests.
This positive experience reinforced my commitment to invite the kids into the process of planning and executing a dinner party so they participate in a meaningful way. After all, we want our kids to get excited about hosting friends. We want them to have skin in the game. We want them to take pride in their contribution. But we probably also need to broaden our definition of involvement. Your kids may be little performers reminiscent of Bob and Bob, but here are many other fresh out-of-the-box ways to pull kids into the experience of hosting.
Preparing for the dinner party:
- Under your supervision, have children create guest invitations, address envelopes, attach stamps and pop in the mailbox.
- Design the menu with your kids. Make a grocery list. For your child who has a penchant for cooking, assign parts of the meal to do solo or participate in.
- Craft day, kids: Appoint a child to make decorative nametags for guests and cards identifying food items if a buffet-style meal is planned (or an appetizer or desert display). Fancy name cards designating where each guest is to sit also adds a nice touch. Also consider a poster for the front door welcoming guests as well as one labeling the guest bathroom door. Ask kids to research holiday quotes, such as “Christmas isn’t just a day, it’s a frame of mind” by Valentine Davies, Miracle on 34th Street, to write using their best handwriting and place artistically around the home.
- To help move the dinner along, find agreement in advance amongst the children to keep water glasses filled and the table cleared of dirty plates to usher in the next course without delay.
The day of the dinner party:
- Assign a helper to set and decorate the table on the big day.
- Task a child to manage a ‘station’ where arriving guests can receive their nametag.
- Ask one of your kids to play DJ for the night.
- Is your child a natural behind the camera? Have her photograph the evening and offer to send to guests.
- For the child who has nonstop energy, name them coat-runner to deposit guests’ coats to a bedroom.
- Nominate the child who prefers to be outside to greet and hold the door for guests.
- Do your children play musical instruments or sing? Challenge them to play for the guests over coffee after dinner. Encourage literary children to recite a piece of holiday poetry like Clement Clarke Moore’s “Twas the night before Christmas.”
Enlisting children’s help requires patience and intentionality. Sometimes, it’s easier for parents to do things themselves without getting the kids involved. But doing so keeps them from experiencing the rich rewards of hosting, a great entrée into a life of friendship and service.
Kathryn Streeter writes for Houston Family Magazine. Find her on Twitter, @streeterkathryn.