Last week, I shared about how I’ve needed to adjust my attitude to be a gracious hostess. Today I want to talk about how I’m trying to teach my children to be gracious guests.
What might it look like to be a gracious guest? I have strong feelings on this issue, and maybe you’ll disagree. Short of legitimate food allergies, I believe that it’s polite to eat whatever is set in front of you. I am picky—I dislike seafood and mushrooms—and I am pretty keen on feeding my family whole grains, fresh fruits and veggies, and unprocessed, from-scratch meals. However, these are personal preferences, not moral issues. When we first moved out here, a mom I met at the park invited us over for lunch and fed my kids frozen chicken nuggets, white sandwich bread with margarine spread on it, sweetened applesauce, and chocolate milk. I could have launched into a judgey speech on how I don’t have any of those foods in my kitchen. But I decided that my relationship with the other mom was more important than one meal. I do try to let our hosts know about my husband’s peanut allergy and my dislike of fish. Obviously my husband can’t just eat peanuts if they’re served to him, but I can force a little seafood down and then fill up on salad. And we’re teaching our kids to do the same. We do not tolerate rude comments about the food at our dinner table, much less in someone else’s home.
Gracious guests rsvp. Let me repeat that. Gracious guests RSVP! Gracious guests also try to show up on time (or as close to on time as we can with young children—when we’re coming in from out of town, I usually give people a half hour window of when we’ll try to arrive, and I’ll call from the road with a more precise ETA). We plan our day around being back from other activities or waking people from naps in time to arrive somewhere at the time we’ve been invited. I make it a habit to offer to bring something (salad or dessert are easily portable), but if the hostess demurs, I don’t press the issue. Gracious guests don’t out-stay their welcome, especially when young children and bedtimes are involved. I try to ask ahead of time when my host’s kids go to bed and let my husband know when we should plan to leave. In order to cut down on awkwardness when we’re meeting a new family, I’ll try to give my husband a run-down on what I know about the hosts’ jobs or interests and give my kids some ways to find common ground so they don’t stand around tongue-tied when we get there.
Gracious guests have worked on table manners with their children at home. I expect my oldest three to sit at the table, eat in a timely manner, and use dishes and silverware appropriately. As moms, we need to keep an eye on our kids in non-childproofed homes—when people without young children are brave enough to have my family over, the least I can do is try to keep my children from destroying their treasures. I do try to think about how I would want my guests to treat my home and act accordingly. You know how much fun it is when you have a delightful guest who enjoys your food, leaves in the right amount of time, and sends you a grateful email the next day? I want our family to be the kind of guests who inspire people to continue practicing hospitality.
Now, don’t think that my kids are always gracious guests! We’re still a work in progress.
Typing all this out, it seems so intuitive, but as Bethany reminded us last spring, our children learn the culture from us. Every time my kids see me stop and grab flowers for a hostess gift, or watch me calmly force down something they know I don’t like, or join me as I walk our company to the door and thank them for coming, I’m cultivating graciousness in the next generation.