The One Thing Your Friends with Kids Really Want as a Hostess Gift

published Dec 25, 2022
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Person sets down appetizer cheese board at a dinner party
Credit: Yulia Grigoryeva/

When I hosted dinner parties in my twenties—riotous, booze-fueled, multi-course affairs—what I wanted as a hostess gift was simple: a bottle of wine or a dazzling bouquet of flowers from the farmers market, something as beautiful as it was ephemeral, like the party itself.

Now, as an almost-40 mother of two, dinner parties look a lot different. The menus are a bit more refined, and the revelry usually wraps up well before dawn. (11:00 pm feels like a rager these days.) Dinner parties are now family affairs, and I’ve got the needs of my two kids to consider. While it feels amazing to model friendship and the art of entertaining for them, it’s also more challenging to pull it all together. On the day of a party, my kids know that, for the most part, they need to entertain themselves while I buzz around the house putting everything in place. And they do a pretty great job at it, but by around 5:00, they’re usually so stir-crazy and bored that they’ll give anything for an attentive audience if only for a few minutes.

Which brings me to the most helpful, wonderful hostess idea you can offer to people with kids.

The Best Gift For Your Host? Occupy the Kids!

Instead of wine and dahlias, what I want as a hostess gift is for someone to, please, for the love of god, play with my kids for 20 minutes while I finish all the last-minute details on my list. That’s where my guests come in. The best among them know that what I really need is a defensive strategy that allows me to get the ball to the endzone, so to speak. I need someone to go on a tour of my four-year-old, Hazel’s, room, while she recites the names and ages of all of her dolls. I need someone to talk about random TikTok videos with my 11-year-old, Lily. 

Unlike the questionable wisdom in this recent Wirecutter advice article, I do not want my guests to bring their own aprons and jump in to help me as I deglaze the pan. Instead, I’m hoping that my friends will be engaging and funny with my kids, asking them about stuff that matters to them and really listening to their responses. 

For folks who don’t have kids of their own (or even some who do), making conversation with a child can seem intimidating. It can feel like there’s not much common ground for dialogue. A good place to start is to ask them about their favorite things to do, what movies they love, what kind of superpowers they wish they had, or start an impromptu game of Would You Rather. Kids adore it when grown ups ask for their opinions and advice, so go ahead and ask them what they really think!

Still Want to Bring an Actual Gift? Here Are Some Ideas.

It can be hard for some folks to show up to a party without a physical gift. So for those souls who just can’t arrive empty-handed, consider bringing something specifically for the kiddos: A small, easily-contained game (this foldable Mancala set is a great example, and it can also be used for open-ended play for one. Win!), a coloring book, stickers, or even a book that you can sit and read with them. You’ll make instant friends if you bring The Book With No Pictures and fully commit to reading it aloud.

As far as what NOT to bring, you can safely assume that your host has spent the better part of a day or two making sure their home is clean and tidy, so avoid messier gifts like paint, slime or play-doh, or those DIY kits where kids can make things like bath bombs and candles. Those are fine gifts for birthdays, but they’re not a fit for this occasion. Likewise, avoid a somewhat nebulous category that I call ‘annoying gifts.’ It can be hard to pinpoint exactly what makes a gift annoying, but anything that beeps, flashes, or talks is a safe bet. Water guns, musical instruments, and candy are all obviously in the No thank you category.

What to Do If You’re Bringing Your Own Kids

In the event that you are bringing your own kids to the party, consider bringing a gift that can be enjoyed by multiple children at the same time, like a board game for older kids or a playset for toddlers. Look for something that requires little to no assembly and can be shared easily. Stick around for a few minutes and help the kids get going with their gift before joining the grown-ups and claiming your rightful title as the best guest ever.

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This post originally appeared on Cubby. See it there: The Best Hostess Gift to Give Your Friends With Kids