I'm amazed when I receive letters from other nations. The following questions are from a gracious woman in Malaysia but I thought they were applicable in most places.
Q: When you get couples with children come over, do you prepare toys for the children? Do you have some colouring books or stuff like that to keep them occupied. I also like to have people come over to my house. Sometimes the children tend to climb up the couch and become a little unmanageable. I find it a bit embarassing to discipline another person's child while Mom and Dad just kept quiet about the misbehaviour. What would you do?
A: I do think it makes it special for the children when you've thought of them in advance but I can't say I have a wide range of toys at my house. Sometimes I coordinate this with their parents and they bring some activities with them. I have children's games and videos here, and LOTS of craft supplies because of my artsy nieces. Interestingly enough, one of the most popular games I have is this ancient version of the board game, Life. It's from my own childhood and the box is all taped up, but the spinner still works. I don't think you have to stock a complete toy store, but any effort to amuse your guests--no matter their ages--is a blessing to all.
As for disciplining children, that's awkward to do but sometimes you have to speak kindly to children about your expectations for their behavior. That's a risk with some parents, though--some can be offended so you have to be gracious in your correction. I would first make sure the children (and their parents) know how welcome they are before you correct their behavior. Then if you have to do so, I would smile broadly and say something along the lines of, "Johnny, you know how happy I am to have you here. But as it's your first time, you might not know that you're a special guest, like a grown-up. And grown-ups are too big to jump on my couch. But if you'd like to jump around a bit, maybe you'd like to play in the backyard while I finish dinner?"
Q: Do you make your house child proof? Meaning no expensive crystal items or breakable things lying around?
Yes, I do think about being child-proof. But I put their safety first. That means no burning candles within a toddler's grasp. That means cooking on the back burners and turning pot handles away. And so on. As for breakable items, I tend not to worry too much. Possessions are meant to be used, and in my experience I'm the one who usually ends up breaking something, anyway! I recently had a family from Brazil at my house and I was amazed at how well they had trained their 20-month-old toddler. He wasn't one of those toddlers with expand-o-matic arms that can seem to reach 10 feet above their heads. Everything was still standing when he left. At other times with other wee guests, there have been some mishaps. But that's not their fault. They are learning. If I can't abide an item's destruction, I should put it away. That's my responsibility!
Q: Do you get your visitors to help with the cooking or cleaning up later? Sometimes I get really harassed (like Martha in the Bible) when things are not ready or perfect. I do often involve the visitors. What are your thoughts on this?
A: I struggle with this, too. My preference is that my guests have a completely relaxed time. I've been known to shoo people out of my kitchen when they're trying to do the dishes. I do that for two reasons, though. One is that when the meal is over, I want to relax with everyone. I don't want to hear clinking of dishes! The second reason is that I tend to be self-sufficient, which isn't a good thing at the heart of it. I'm valuing my presentation above interacting with my guests, and they can feel the stress. So I often accept help with the cooking--it gets food into people faster and it gives guests who might be feeling a bit awkward a task to do.
There's another possible solution, which is to share the hostess duties with a friend. If you have someone who is making your guests feel at home, then you can cook without worry. And vice versa. Or you can both throw the dinner party and so carry only half of the responsibility to get it pulled together. The most important thing is to be as serene as possible. Your countenance will be remembered long after any memories of burned food, forgotten sauces, dropped desserts, and the like have faded. I'm still working on this one, too.