Despite a six-day work week and most entertaining taking place over Shabbat, whether we invite people for dinner or get a call from abroad that we have been picked as the latest tourist destination, it can seem like we are always entertaining. Since Abraham first invited guests into his tent, welcoming guests has been an important part of Jewish tradition. Yet having guests can be very stressful.
You would be surprised by how many clients come into my office expressing displeasure that much of their week is taken up with thoughts of entertaining. It is not just the time taken up by shopping, looking for the latest chicken recipe and cooking, or dealing with budgetary constraints. While these clearly have an impact, I have heard concerns over dealing with appropriate behavior at the dinner table - be it from kiddy temper tantrums, to gossip, to husbands who fall asleep. Sometimes, these are traumatic enough that they determine whether company will even be invited, and if so, who is on the list. Socializing, when it goes well, can be very enjoyable for both host and guest. When things go poorly, it can also put a big damper on a friendship.
While you may want to impose some rules on your houseguests, you can't really tell them how to behave. That said, you need to be psychologically prepared so that when your guests do come, whether for a meal or for the week, you are able to fully enjoy their visit. With small houses, open windows and minimal patience, this may not always be as easy as it seems.
Here are a few tips for ensuring that your guests don't wear out their welcome.
Simplify your life and don't sweat the small stuff. More important than serving a five-course meal on your finest china is to relax and actually enjoy time with your guests. Perhaps now is the time to use disposable dishes, buy some prepared food and put the emphasis on actually catching up with your friends. You might be surprised at just how pleasant it is for your guests to know that you didn't spend hours in the kitchen and a relief that they too can entertain in the same way.
Get organized. Plan in advance and do as much as possible beforehand so you are not too tired to enjoy your guests. Make up your grocery list, prepare and freeze double portions and if you are traveling with your houseguests, plan activities that your family would enjoy.
Let your guests know what you need. Don't be afraid to ask for and accept help. If someone offers to bring dessert, strip their bed or help your child with a homework question, enjoy the extra pair of hands and the new-found time to do something else or just relax.
Keep it kid friendly. Open up conversations that involve guests of all ages. Ask questions such as, "What was the best thing that happened to you this week?" and see how everyone can participate.
Be aware of your own limitations. What are you able to handle when entertaining? Some people like it when guests help out and others prefer that they sit back, relax and even stay out of the way. Does a political conversation or gossip drive you mad? Do children have to sit at the table? If you enjoy company but can handle only two or three days, have you let your guests know this in advance and also when you are or aren't available?
Put on your own oxygen mask first. Look after your needs and those of other family members so you don't feel resentful or get burned out. If you usually take a quiet walk, find time in the day to do so. There is a fine line between exhaustion and having a good time. Having several guests together has advantages and disadvantages. Decide what works best for you. If having little kids will stress you, let your guests know what your house rules are. If your house is not child friendly, either be prepared to move your breakables or suggest to your guests that they may need to stay in a hotel close by. If your children will have problems sharing their special toys, put them away before your guests arrive so that there won't be any uncomfortable fights. Your guests are not likely to enjoy themselves if you aren't having a good time yourself.
Make your guests feel appreciated and pampered. Be a gracious host. Ask yourself what you might like if you were their houseguests. Check to see if they have any allergies, likes or dislikes. What is special and unique about your guests? Is there a story that they can tell your children or an opportunity to learn from them that you'd like to explore further? Walk your dinner guests to the door. Give your guests respect, privacy and as much space as you can afford.
At the end of the day, whether you have guests coming from around the corner or around the globe, opening up your home should be enjoyable and an experience worth repeating. Not only should your guests feel welcome but you should feel rejuvenated. Having fun is really what it is all about.
The writer is a licensed clinical psychologist in private practice in Ra'anana.