One of the hospitality challenges we face is that we aren’t necessarily ready to invite people to our home who are in a different stage of life as us. At the same time, our lives are far richer when we broaden our friendships and seek out others who have different stories than ours. It’s easy to talk with someone who is in the same stage of life as us; we don’t always know what to talk about with people we don’t understand!
As my children grow older, and as we enter a new community, I’m having to navigate once again what hospitality will look like in our new place. Today I want to talk about loving young mothers when we don’t have young children in the house. Perhaps you’re not a mother, or your children are older or grown up. Maybe you are a younger mother and a little intimidated at inviting over an older mama with older children. How do we love mamas well in our homes?
One good way to love mothers is to take an interest in their children, no matter what their age! When a mother feels that her children are welcome in my home, she will feel welcome. On the other hand, if she perceives her children are a bother to her host, she will be ill at ease and unlikely to feel truly welcome, no matter how much I want to reach out to her. If I want to reach out to a mama, I tend to reach out to her children first.
I remember a time as a child going to an apartment of a couple who had no children. The woman was kind to me, and offered paper and pens to draw with. She showed me her plants on her patio, and talked about how she took care of them. This woman and her husband invested in my life throughout my high school years. They knew how to pray for me, and they may not have known how encouraging their kindness was during a lonely, awkward time in my life.
However God has made us, we possess a unique place (in time, in personality, in life situation) from which to reach out and love. In fact, part of the fun of Christian hospitality is discovering how God has made us, with our weaknesses and strengths, perfectly suited to love a particular person at a particular moment. With all of our talk about introverts and extroverts, we sometimes use those helpful categories to exclude ourselves from biblical responsibility to love others. We may wait to be loved before we reach out. We may shy away from the inherent risk of offering a hand of friendship to those around us.
Remember that biblical hospitality is loving the outsider; it’s not a code word for outgoing or throwing big parties. You need nothing but yourself to show love and kindness to another person. You don’t need to be a “baby person” to kneel at eye level with a toddler and say hello. You don’t need to be “good with teenagers” to find out what they are passionate about. Your possessions aren’t essential; however, they can be useful tools as you seek to show God’s love to others he brings your way.
Would you like to think ahead of time about how you love others? I’ve got some ideas that have worked well with our family. Perhaps they will help you find your own ways to love the people God is bringing your way.
For Younger Children
You don’t need a large bucket of toys; just a few good ones go a long way to tell mothers that you are happy their children are in your home. If you are starting from scratch, and have no toys for children of any age, you can find sufficient toys at a thrift store or yard sale to fill a bucket. Just look for newish toys (no peeling paint or stains) with interesting sounds and textures. (I do have noise making toys, mostly because babies love them and since the babies are temporary, I can endure some loud happy noises for a short time. I keep one or two soft toys, a few teething rings, some cars for babies to push. Even though my children are no longer playing with baby toys, I spent a fair amount of time looking for toys that babies and toddlers might like.
If you’ve not had a chance to accumulate toys, and you have children coming over, what can you do? Don’t panic. Most households have a wealth of objects that make highly desirable toys. I’m making the assumption that babies will be with their mamas, and not in another room with a six year old babysitting. Right? Right.
Most babies come with their own toys, especially if their mamas know they are coming to a house without children! Even so, you have the opportunity to say “I’m glad you’re here” simply by thinking ahead a bit.
- Metal or plastic mixing bowls, along with spoons. The best combination makes a loud noise when struck. You can experiment with different spatulas, but do make sure that you don’t grab anything with sharp edges. Some utensils with moving parts (like a folding garlic press) might fascinate a toddler, but they’ll be unappreciated by a baby. Measuring spoons. Any utensil with unusual curves is worth trying. You never know what will be interesting to a baby!
- A laundry basket to sit in or push around.
- A working flashlight for toddlers to play with.
- An empty Pringles container can become a fun bank of sorts if you cut a hole in the top just enough to fit a frozen juice can lid. I used to save lots of those lids, because they were also fun to dump into the metal mixing bowl.
- I’ve used large plastic spice bottles, filled them with rice or beans or pasta, to make a shaker. Once the child figures out how to unscrew the lid, you might have a problem, but it’s a great toy in the meantime. You can also use a plastic water bottle.
- A large square of fabric (like an old scarf) can be a fun toy to play peekaboo with. Babies aren’t hard to please.
Food can also be a great entertainer! Cheese pieces, Cheerios, fish crackers, bananas, or a bowl of ice all might be okay if mom says so. A tiny bit of water in a plastic cup might be entertaining, and it won’t hurt if baby decides to dump it out.
If you’re planning ahead, you can buy or make play doh. It’s super easy; just google play doh recipes. I have picked up play doh at the store also– it’s a great toy that spans a lot of ages, from toddlers to school kids. Expect colors to be mixed and pieces to fall on the floor. Just remember that one day with a messy toddler means relief for a mama who has him every day.
Besides providing entertainment, one of the ways we say “You are welcome here” to young mothers is by making a safe place for their children. Take the time to put up any objects that might become broken! That way, you won’t worry, and the mamas won’t worry.
As toddlers and young children leave, I make sure I look them in the eye and say “Thank you for coming to play with my toys. I hope you come again!”
For Older Children
You may have plenty of baby toys, but be at a loss for reaching out to older children or teenagers. For older kids, never underestimate colored pens or pencils and paper. A package of stickers or post it notes can also be entertaining. I look for “find-it” books– like the Where’s Waldo or I Spy books– anything that a child can pick up by himself. I also love old Calvin and Hobbes cartoon books. Even teenagers like them, all the way down to children just learning to read. Teens will probably have brought their electronic devices, but I offer them the comic book anyway!
You could try a quick assembly type recipe like this one. Make it yourself, or set out the ingredients so that your guests can put it together themselves. Keep your eye out for recipes that might be a little out of the ordinary but fun for kids to eat. (Google “fun food” for more ideas.) If you have an older child who likes to make things, you can ask if he or she would be interested in supervising something, provided you purchase all the supplies. (On the other hand, I have yet to meet a kid who didn’t enjoy making sweets with a kind grownup.)
Older children sometimes want to hang out with the grownups. They may have their eyes on a device, but they are often keenly aware of the conversation in their presence. They hear when mamas are talking about the goodness of God. They are listening when we complain, and when we speak truth to our neighbor. You may want to talk in private, but consider including the teenager in the conversation or allowing them to sit with the older people at times. Don’t underestimate the value of allowing eavesdropping teenagers!
Finally, don’t forget that hospitality is more about the welcome we give than the stuff we have. Make it a point to ask visiting children if they’ve read any good books lately. Find out what they love to do for fun, or what their biggest challenge is at school. Love means far more than whether I had enough things for children to do, and children perceive when adults take an interest in them personally.
What have you learned about hospitality? How do you show hospitality to babies and children?