Your definition of what it means to be a good host will more than likely change a few times over the course of your lifetime. If you're at that stage of life when everyone around you seems to be having babies, you might want to consider changing things up a bit — not only to be a better host, but also to protect your favorite things from being broken, squished, or colored on.
I'm a collector of well, just about everything, and a few years ago during a visit, one of our close friends made a statement that caused me to reassess not just how my home looked, but how it felt to visitors—especially little visitors. He looked around the living room and told his son that our house was "like a museum" and reminded him not to touch anything because it was all very special. While I appreciated his level of consideration, I became aware at that moment that there was no way our friends would be able to relax and enjoy the themselves while their child was attempting to entertain himself in our "museum." So I decided to rearrange a few things to make everyone feel more comfortable and am very happy I did.
Since we host friends with kids fairly often we decided to make a few subtle changes—nothing too drastic, we didn't sell the coffee table or buy a minivan or anything. We just wanted to incorporate a few things that might make our house more enjoyable for the kids and in turn, their parents. At the time we decided to do this, our home was just around 900 square feet and was maxed to capacity with our stuff, so buying big plastic kid stuff wasn't an option.
As I started to plan out what I could put together for the kids, I thought a lot about my childhood and recalled the old roller-skate box my grandparents would let me get out of their closet to play with. It was packed full of dolls and other random things, and I would spend hours rummaging around, playing, keeping myself occupied while the adults had their time. With this in mind I searched through my house to see if I could find a similar box to fill up for the kids and I came across a long vintage toolbox (almost the same dimensions of a window box) with a big red handle so a kid could grab on and tote it around from room to room. I started going through the house filling it up with whatever I could find: a stuffed animal I'd received as a gift, a few stray tennis balls, and two books from my childhood. It wasn't much, but it was a start. That weekend I hit up a few thrift stores and purchased two little grab bags loaded with toy cars and little animals, as well as a Thomas & Friends DVD. I stopped at the bookstore on the way home and picked up two more kids books and my toy toolbox was complete!
The kids love the toolbox and make a beeline for it the instant they walk through the door. As I've been more open to the needs of my friends' growing families I've collected a few other helpful tips that make visits even more pleasant, too.
We've since made a few changes to make our home more welcome to all guests, large and small, and have done so without putting a strain on our budget —or cluttering our home. Our goal was to have a home that not only looked fun and interesting, but also felt to our friends like an extension of their homes. Much of the success of our goals were dependent on our attitude, being relaxed and laid back helped our friends with kids to relax and enjoy the visit because they were less stressed about us being stressed. But it was also about us being able to gather a few kid-friendly elements we already had, and designate them for the kids' use. By simply moving a few of our more fragile items out of the main area of the house we felt more relaxed and comfortable, knowing they wouldn't be in the direct line of fire -and wouldn't make for any uncomfortable "oops, my kid broke this" conversations later. Here's what we did:
1. Before the kids arrive, sit on the floor in each room and do a sweep. If you see anything fragile or potentially dangerous at eye level, place it in another room, behind closed doors until your company leaves. This simple task will bring major relief to your friends; "don't touch that!" will be less of a part of your conversation so you can concentrate on the good stuff. If you already own a baby gate, place it at the stairs. This small gesture will speak volumes to your friends with toddlers who are just beginning to explore.
2. If you have pets be sure to vacuum well before your guests come over, especially if there will be a baby crawling around. It's also a nice gesture to throw down a plush blanket for the baby if you have hardwood floors.
3. Have a bed or little nest made up in a quiet area of your home for nap time. If you're going for auntie of the year, build a fort!
4. If your only option for dinner plates are one of a kind, hand thrown works of art and you don't want to chance having them dropped on the floor: toss a set of kids dishes in your cart next time you're at Ikea or grab a small stack of paper plates from the grocery store and keep them in the back of the cupboard for such occasions.
5. Bring out a stack of your non-fancy sheets and blankets for fort making. Just throw 'em all in a huge pile and let them go to town.
6. Curate a small toy bin for the kids to play with each time they come over. Before buying anything extra, shop your home and use what you have laying around. Stuffed animals, tennis balls, toys from your childhood are great to throw in. If your toy bin is a little sparse pick up a few grab bags in the toy section at the thrift store. For just a few bucks you can usually find bags full of little toy animals, trucks, and dolls. Disinfect before adding to the toy bin. Stop at the book store and grab a few kids books to add to the box as well -this is especially handy if children stay overnight.
7. If you're in a pinch, raid the kitchen: old boxes, pots and pans, wooden spoons, measuring cups, and solo cups, and anything that stacks are super fascinating for little ones.
8. Grab an old tin and fill it with crayons, colored pencils, or markers. Coloring pages can be printed online and will provide hours of entertainment for older kids. If you are worried about markers staining your furniture, pick up some magic ink marker sets—they'll only color on the special paper they come with.
9. Pick up a durable plastic tablecloth that you won't mind getting messed up. Just like the toy bin, drag it out when the kids come over. Use it for protecting your table from getting marked up from markers and crayons, protect your carpet from play dough, or use it as a "special blanket" for an indoor picnic/snack time.
10. Netflix. Depending on how your friends feel about screen time, this might not be an option, but it sure is handy when you don't happen to have a thousand kids DVD's in your stash! Pop some popcorn or serve a snack in a funny dish to make the kids feel extra special.
Ultimately, the goal is for everyone to feel welcome in your home, including you! So pick and choose, and do only what you're comfortable doing. Most parents don't expect any of these things, but will feel major gratitude towards you for making the effort.