I often struggle with having everything just so. Perfectionism is a slippery slope, especially when children are involved. Children are not perfect; they are glorious and wonderful. Learning how to do things comes with mess – lots and lots of mess. That mess and clutter makes me shy away from all day cleaning binges in order to make my house appear uninhabited for when company comes calling. I don’t want to teach my girls that their selves and their homes must be perfect to be hospitable. That’s just not true.
I decided to make ‘goodbye expectations’ my new motto. Embracing that spirit means it’s time to say:
“Goodbye, see you later, adios, so long expectations!
Here we are in all our imperfect glory!!!
Take us as we come, because we are great!
Welcome to ‘how we do things in our family.
Hello friends – my kids are learning and growing here.”
I want them to know it might be a bit of a circus, but it’s our circus. Life would be awfully dull without it. All this fun and life happens in our home. It happens in our sometimes cluttered, sometimes noisy, sometimes ‘where-is-the-dining-table-under-all-these-crafts-and-blanket-forts’ kind of home and more often than not, with a dirty kitchen floor.
After all, a lot happens in our kitchen. There are chairs dragged up to the counters (sometimes running over my toes), with flour flying everywhere. Sometimes we have more baking than we know what to do with, but the neighbours never complain about that. I hope that spirit of sharing teaches my girls to be generous and giving. The spirit of hospitality is about more than housekeeping.
Who’s idea is it anyway that a home must appear un-lived in and flawless to entertain guests? We have enough people expecting us to be perfect, do we really want that from our near and dear too? And when, oh when, did someone decide there should be no sign of children around the home (and especially not in living rooms)? It’s just plain weird that 50% of our household should leave no evidence of their existence.
Do we really only want friends who know this version of ourselves, the version that – if we succeed in portraying – will only make them feel ‘less than’ about themselves? Shouldn’t our friends and loved ones enjoy our company, comfy sofa and yummy kitchen creations?
Yummy kitchen creations make for messy floors. It’s science. You can’t argue with science. Aren’t the best meals the ones that happen naturally with many hands contributing a little of this and a little of that (in comfy pants, with lots of laughter for good measure)?!
This is why Ikea’s new campaign #letsrelax really spoke to me. Ikea’s new global campaign challenges the expectations and starts conversations about the things that make life unnecessarily demanding. It’s about time we all relax and start enjoying the perfectly imperfect life we have to share with family and friends.
Here are some of the great ways our family has found to do just that:
Location, location, location. For daily family meals we all sit around our kitchen table, it makes for much better conversation – plus you are closer to the food for seconds or, dare I even say, thirds.
Embracing the dining table. Our dining space (referring to it as an actual room might be a stretch) is rather tight. To seat everyone at the table comfortably we need to slide the living room sofa further into the living room. It’s painstaking, but we are not to be denied. We love sitting around the table, and not just because we are statistically more prone to spills!
Make room! When it comes to entertaining, cozy or not, we slide the sofa out, insert the dining table’s extra leaf, and add more chairs. We can (and do) seat up to ten. Once the food starts flying being eaten, no one really seems to notice the close quarters. Our most recent family gathering boasted out of town relatives, with our numbers rising to twelve. The kids pulled up their play table and chairs next to the adults table and away we went!! Make room in your heart and your house for family.
Delegate! Kids can help you embrace imperfection. No one will have to wonder if you did things to a grade or preschool level because the kids will be proud enough to take ownership when your guests cross the threshold. A collaborative approach teaches that entertaining is a family affair. It should not just fall on one person. This lesson is important for me and my kids.
Start Small. Setting the table for guests is a great start. Bonus: a table set with mismatched dishware is adorable because the kids did it. No one suspects you don’t have twelve matching place settings (which my cupboards don’t currently boast).
For Everything There is A Season. My beautiful place settings for twelve are carefully packed away in the basement with very fragile and non dishwasher friendly china. They patiently await another season in our lives. This is not the time for that; it is the time for occasionally broken dishes and everything dishwasher friendly.
Leave Room For Creativity. Once our eight year old set such a beautiful table, it would rival that of any adult! Our ‘Fancy Nancy’ made the everyday very beautiful and special, even the single flower she choose for a vase in the centre matched. As I cooked in the kitchen, she looked up on youtube how to turn napkins into roses! I didn’t even need to lift a finger. Truly, it meant more to our family that she’d taken such pride and pleasure in doing it than if I’d unearthed all the fine china.
There’s never too many cooks. My kids love to help in the kitchen, sometimes even a little too much. My youngest once ‘helped’ cover the cupboards and both of us in chocolate cake batter turning the mixer on high prematurely! While it means four times the mess, I am bound and determined my kids will learn to cook and clean. This is why I’ve said goodbye to keeping kids out of the kitchen for fear of a mess.
Nobody expects perfection. Years of entertaining taught me people do not in fact have more fun when everything is just perfect. They may ooh and ahh over it at first, but they have more fun when you are relaxed and enjoying their company, not striving for the impossible or worrying something may get ruined.
Add a little extra (to dinner). More times than I can count last minute dinner invitations have made for some of our most memorable times. Put a little extra on for unexpected guests (and memories!)
Many hands make light work. Let those who offer, bring something! I hate going places empty handed. I am relieved when someone tells me how I can contribute. Our last few dinners, I’ve happily made the main, the dessert (there is just no way I could ever outsource the dessert) and a side dish. My husband made the mashed potatoes (truly, no one makes them better than him anyways). Someone brought a salad and two others brought sides and another provided the wine. It turned out great – delicious food, great company and I wasn’t exhausted!
Strut the Stuff You Love When You Fancy. I really enjoy decorating cakes and of course, that has its place. Those old fashioned, hand written recipes that have been passed down through generations, those cakes covered in glorious swirls or mounds or nuts that you just can’t wait to dive into, those somehow have my heart. That being said, Ikea and I agree on their suggestion to ‘keep it simple (but delicious)!’
Simplify. Sometimes I struggle between what tastes amazing and what looks great when it comes to entertaining. I don’t think I need to say which one wins when it’s just me. The meals and recipes I get asked for the most by friends and family are the quickest and simplest to prepare. These are the ones that won’t win any competitions on looks but get asked for again and again because they are so comforting or downright delicious!
It’s all about the guest list. Yummy food just tastes better with the ones you care about (again I believe this is pure science – like dirty kitchen floors). Invite those you care about, that make you laugh over and embrace the way you do things. It doesn’t need to be the way the neighbours do it or the media says it needs to be done, but rather just the way that works for you and your family. It turns out that is more than enough.
So join the movement! #letsrelax