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If Entertaining Overwhelms You, Throw More Crappy Dinner Parties

I’ve been meaning to have people over for dinner for about five years. Friends I want to see more, the husbands I want my husband to have a chance to chat with, all of these people float through my brain, and I resolve to invite them for a meal.


Then I don’t.

My reluctance is hard to explain. I have friends over regularly when my kids have play dates, and though I’m probably more introverted than extroverted these days, I crave time with adults to chat. I am just petrified to have them over for a meal because that somehow seems to officially proclaim, “This is a big deal! Expectations attached! Stress!”

I’m not alone in feeling this way. My friends cite various reasons for not hosting, including messy houses, anxiety, and food allergies. What was once considered a normal way to interact with friends and neighbors is now considered the labor of all labors, not worth the time or effort.

We can have strong social ties with all of the accompanying benefits, such as longer lives and better health, without hosting dinners, but time around the table can be a convenience for busy parents from a time perspective.

Laura Vanderkam, author of “168 Hours: You Have More Time Than You Think,” says that parents who need time to build stronger bonds with friends already have the time and just have to access it using alignment. Alignment means we do what we need to anyway, like eating dinner, just with our friends. There are no extra hours involved, and we aren’t missing coveted time with our families in the process.

But if alignment means we are stressing about a meal because other people will be involved, is it worth it? If we subtract the stress, yes, and removing the stress is possible. We’ve just been doing dinner parties all wrong.

Aim for crappy

The invention of the crappy dinner party could save us all. The guidelines surrounding these casual encounters aim to make the dinner-with-people experience less stressful for all involved. They include: no special house cleaning before guests arrive, no fancy menus, and no gifts for the hostess. Basically, come as you are and host as you are.

The point of the crappy dinner party is to bring back the idea of neighbors just dropping in on each other instead of the pressure to create the perfect ambiance for an evening dining encounter. When everyone knows the rules, the pressure’s off. The focus of the experience also shifts from impressing others to knowing others.

A few fun rules hold the key to opening up an entirely different adventure when we think of dinner with friends. Our focus shifts in every area, and that’s where the magic happens.

Focus on your friends, not yourself

I don’t want the state of my bathroom to scare people, so I am always going to check out the guest toilet before friends arrive. However, most of the cleaning and tidying I do before guests come over has very little to do with them and everything to do with me. I don’t want to be seen as someone who struggles with organization, though that’s exactly the kind of person I am.

Adopting the rule that I can’t clean extra for guests takes away that stress, and it ensures that whatever I do isn’t about my self-image but simply about not wanting friends to prefer a gas station bathroom to the one in my home.

Focus on comfort, not an extravagant menu

Making the menu casual, like grilled-cheese-sandwich casual, takes pressure off the chef, and that’s good news for the guests. The point of hosting is to offer comfort through company, and a person who has been dicing onions and standing over a hot stove all afternoon may not be great company.

When it comes to food allergies, always be safe and ask first. Since my daughter and husband have Celiac disease, we aren’t comfortable with very many people cooking for us. However, we still love to come over for dinner and bring our own food. Stress arises when a host or hostess tries to feed us after we’ve asked them not to and we have to reject their offering.

Fancy food is nice, but the focus of the evening should be on everyone relaxing, not stressing over a meal.

Focus on listening, not entertaining

Shauna Niequist, author of “Bread and Wine: A Love Letter to Life Around the Table,” quotes her friend Sybil when she shares her idea of hospitality. She says it’s “when someone leaves your home feeling better about themselves, not better about you.”

Viewed through this lens, time around the table means listening, laughing, and living out life with others. There’s no room for insecurities about tidiness or worries about overcooking chicken. We’re not putting on a show; we’re being fully present for other people, offering them what it feels like we have the least of these days: time and attention.

Niequist sums it up when she says inviting people into our homes is “an act of love, not performance or competition or striving.”

Focus on doing it, not obsessing over it

Don’t wait for the perfect time to have people over for dinner. It doesn’t exist. Unless there is a major problem that makes humans entering your home impossible or unsafe, now is as good of a time as any.

Send an email, call a friend, or text the crappy dinner rules to get the conversation started. Then pick a date and tell your friends to put it on the calendar. Start with people you are already comfortable with and go from there. Practice makes perfect, or in this case a perfectly crappy dinner party.

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Many parents begin looking into Montessori when their children reach preschool age, but there is so much you can do at home even with the youngest babies. Montessori is much more than a method of education or academic system. It is a philosophy and a certain way of approaching children, whether at school or in the home.

Here are five simple (and free!) ways you can begin using Montessori with your child from birth. And if your child is older, don't worry—all of these principles apply to older children as well.

1. Provide freedom of movement

From birth, we can give children the opportunity to move freely in their environment.

For a newborn, this simply means providing plenty of time when they are not being held or constrained in a carrier, stroller or other device.

You might spend time siting next to your child while they lay on a soft blanket, either inside or outdoors. They're clearly not able to move around the environment on their own at this point, but can practice moving their arms and legs and supporting their head, without their movements being limited.

For an older baby, freedom of movement might include letting them pull up on objects and edge their way around the room at their own pace, rather than putting them in a jumper or holding their hands while they walk.

Freedom of movement is excellent for gross motor development, but it is also a great confidence builder. It sends a clear message to your child that you believe they are capable of developing their muscles and abilities in their own timeframe.

Another aspect of freedom of movement is comfortable clothing that supports a baby's growing ability to move. Dressing your baby in a onesie or loose fitting pants and shirt maximizes their ability to move. Providing young babies plenty of time unswaddled and without mittens or shoes also helps them learn to use their muscles.

2. Use respectful communication

Respectful communication is a hallmark of Montessori for children at all ages, and this can certainly begin at birth. It may feel silly at first, but try telling your infant each time you're going to pick them up. Let them know when it's time to eat or time for a diaper. It will begin to feel more natural each time you do it.

You might try asking permission, such as, "May I pick you up for a diaper change now?"

While they, of course, won't be able to answer you in words yet, they will understand your tone and if you ask regularly, they might start to respond in other ways, such as reaching for you or smiling.

We can also show respect through our communication by always using real, precise language. For example, rather than telling a baby a picture is a "doggie," try telling them it's a "dog," or maybe even the type or name of the dog if you know.

This type of communication lays a wonderful foundation for a relationship of mutual respect, and also exposes your child to a rich vocabulary from the beginning.

3. See caregiving as bonding

Caregiving tasks, such as feeding and changing diapers, can seem endless and can be truly exhausting, especially in the first few months. In Montessori, we try to view these activities as a time for bonding and connecting, a time to give a child our undivided attention.

In a classroom with multiple babies, or a home with older siblings around, this can be an especially important time to take a few moments and be present with the baby you are caring for. It can be so tempting to scroll through social media while breastfeeding or rush through diaper changes to get to the more fun stuff, but these are truly opportunities to slow down, make eye contact with your child, and simply be with them.

Montessori also views these activities as collaborative. We always try to do things "with" children, rather than "to" them.

For the youngest infants, collaboration might just be talking them through what you're doing, or following their lead for when they need to eat and sleep.

For older babies, you can include them more through asking them to crawl to the diaper changing area or bring you a diaper, or offering them two shirts or two foods to choose from.

Reframing these caregiving activities not only makes them more enjoyable for us parents, it ensures that we have regular check-ins where we're fully present with our babies. It makes them feel cared for, and never like a burden.

4. Allow time for independence

How can a baby be independent? They rely on us for so much—warmth, nourishment, safety, love—but we can actually help infants develop independence from the very beginning.

We can look for times when our baby is calm and alert and let them "play," or lay on a blanket, without being held. We can give them time to look around the room and visually explore their new world without interacting with or distracting them.

We can respond to mild fussing first by talking to them, by gently touching them or holding their hand, rather than immediately swooping them up into our arms. Sometimes all they need is a little reassurance that we're there.

Every baby is different and every baby's tolerance for these moments is unique. Some babies might be content to lay on their own for quite a while, while others seem to want to be held constantly. Follow your own child's lead, but look for little opportunities to help them stretch their independence from the start.

5. Practice observation

Observation is one of the most important principles of Montessori for all ages.

Each child is on their own developmental path and the only way we can really know what they need, what challenges they're ready for, is through careful observation.

Naturally, you spend tons of time watching your new baby. Observation is just a slightly different mindset, watching with intention, to see what new skills your baby might be working on, what parts of the room they stare at with captivated interest.

This type of observation will help you know what toys to offer your baby better than any developmental timeline. It will also help you get to know them in a deeper way.

Montessori can seem a bit mysterious or even intimidating, but so much of it is really so simple. It is much more about how we view and interact with children than about academic achievement or beautiful materials.

No matter what type of school you plan to send your children to, incorporating these principles at home from the beginning can add so much to your parenting journey.

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There are so many firsts we get to experience with our baby in those precious 24 hours after birth, but experts suggest that a first bath should not be one of them as waiting could help mama and baby with breastfeeding.

This week a study published in the Journal of Obstetric, Gynecologic & Neonatal Nursing links delaying newborn baths with increased in-hospital exclusive breastfeeding rates.

The study's lead author, Heather Condo DiCioccio, is a nursing professional development specialist for the Mother/Baby Unit at Cleveland Clinic Hillcrest Hospital in Mayfield Heights, Ohio. She told TODAY her research was promoted by patients, who have increasingly been asking staff to hold off that first bath in recent years.

Part of this is likely due to the World Health Organization's stance on newborn bathing. The WHO recommends babies should not get a bath for 24 hours, but the recommendations don't really explain why the organization suggests this.

DiCioccio's study involved almost 1000 mama-baby pairs. Around half of the babies were bathed within 2 hours of birth, as per the hospital's previous policy. The rest saw the first bath delayed for at least 12 hours. The researchers found a link between delaying a bath and exclusive breastfeeding, but they could not precisely answer why. DiCioccio thinks it might have something to do with baby's sense of smell.

"They've been swimming in the amniotic fluid for 38, 39, 40 weeks of their life and the mother's breast puts out a similar smell as that amniotic fluid," she told TODAY. "So the thought is maybe the two smells help that baby actually latch. It makes it easier for the baby to find something comfortable and normal and that they like."

For DiCioccio, anything that can help mamas with breastfeeding is a welcome intervention, but the nursing link is not the only benefit to delayed bathing. She notes that keeping the vernix (that white stuff) on the baby for longer allows the baby to benefit from its antimicrobial properties and can help with lung development.

However, sometimes babies do need a bath soon after birth. When mothers are dealing with health issues that can see babies exposed to blood-borne pathogens (like HIV, active herpes lesions or hepatitis B or C), a bath sooner after birth is still best, DiCioccio explained to TODAY.

Even when blood-borne pathogens are not a concern, cultural preferences might be. Not every parent wants to delay baby's first bath, and that's okay—during DiCioccio's study the wishes of parents who wanted their baby bathed shortly after birth were respected—but it's good to have all the knowledge we can get when it comes to postnatal best practices.

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Ayesha Curry has three kids, a husband with a super busy career and a super busy career herself. It would be so easy for her priority list to be: 1) kids, 2) career, then 3) Steph—but the TV host, chef, Honest Company ambassador and entrepreneurial #bossbabe says her partner still has the number one spot, even after all these years.

Speaking to HelloGiggles, Curry explains that she and her Golden State Warrior husband have seen how partners prioritizing each other can benefit a family as a whole. That's why she and Stef don't prioritize the kids above each other.

"Both of our parents are still married and have been married for 30-plus years, and the one thing that they both shared with us—some through learning it the hard way, some through just making sure that they do it—is just making sure that we put each other first, even before the kids, as tough as that sounds," she tells HelloGiggles.

For the Currys, that means making time in those very busy schedules for date nights where they don't have to be mom and dad, they can just connect as partners. Curry admits that it's not always easy to break her brain out of mama-mode and prioritize something other than time with her kids, but she recognizes that when she and Stef put each other first, the kids benefit.

"That's been very important, as hard as it is. Because when you become a parent, you want to put your kids first, and we do, but we do it second to our relationship. Because ultimately, when our relationship is good, the kids are happy and they're thriving and our family life is good. We have to put that into perspective and realize that it's not us being selfish, it's making sure we set a strong foundation."



Experts back Curry up

Family therapist Raffi Bilek, director of the Baltimore Therapy Center, tells Fatherly that while putting each other first may seem counterintuitive to parents, it's important. "I think that the question of when to prioritize your partner over your kid is best answered with 'always,'" Bilek says.

David Code is a therapist and the author of To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First. He wants parents to lean on each other more because when we don't our kids can end up shouldering some of our emotional needs, and that's not fair. It's also not fair for parents to put their relationship and themselves last every time. He believes the "greatest gift you can give your children is to have a fulfilling marriage yourself."

According to Code, "families centered on children create anxious, exhausted parents and demanding, entitled children. We parents today are too quick to sacrifice our lives and our marriages for our kids. Most of us have created child-centered families, where our children hold priority over our time, energy and attention."

Therapists like Code and Bilek are calling on parents to put their partners first, and stop buying into the myth that we don't have time for our spouses.

If the Currys can find time for each other in their crazy schedules, so too can the rest of us.

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This morning I left my 4-year-old sobbing in the arms of her Pre-K teacher. As I turned to leave, the sight of her little face crumbling, trying to be brave but not quite managing, tore right to my core. I walked away feeling like I was wading through treacle, my chest aching and my arms heavy and useless where my child should have been. It felt so very unnatural to leave when she was crying out my name.

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