How to Remain Gracious When Things Go Wrong

Nobody wants to be that person at the party. The person who spills red wine on the host’s white rug or drops their heirloom dish, shattering it to pieces. But, if you’re human, you’ve been that person at least once. I know I have, many times over. It’s not fun. And I always feel terrible. I’ve also been the host whose had many a drink spilled on many a surface, wooden floors dinged from stilettos and dropped dishes, a car scratched by a toddler with a stick and a piece of my wedding china broken into pieces – to name only a few!

broken plate

As someone who entertains a lot, I’m never surprised or upset. I decided long ago that above all, I want people to feel comfortable and relaxed in my home. I’ve had to work at letting go of material things I love being broken or destroyed.

I’ve been both a host and guest. I’ve had my stuff ruined and I’ve ruined other people’s stuff.  Along the way, I’ve learned a few important lessons that I’d like to share.

coffee on white rug

Accidents happen.

It’s a law of physics or nature or Murphy or something that if you let people into your home, at some point, some of those people will drop something. So, if you enjoy having friends and family over, you must accept this fact.

Decide your priorities.

Do you want to be the person who’s guests always feel comfortable, welcomed and relaxed in your home? Or do you want to be the person who makes grown-ass adults feel like a child by saying, “”NO! No wine or food in the living room, we just got X, Y, or Z!” Or worse, the next time a guest comes back, reminding them of their past accident, “We’ve decided you can only sit in that chair – you know, the one you ruined the last time you were here.” As a guest in these houses, I end up feeling like the host values their stuff more than my friendship or worse, feeling like a petulant child being shamed. Neither feeling is going to make me want to come back anytime soon. So you must decide before you invite people into your home, what feeling do you want those you care about to take with them? Is it a feeling of safety, comfort and good times — even if something goes wrong? Or do you want them leaving feeling bad because they broke something and you just couldn’t let it go? After some thought, perhaps you decide, “You know what? I’m not ready to host a Super Bowl Party cause we just got that new couch and I want to keep it new and pristine just a little bit longer.” That’s OK too! We get it. Be honest with yourself and know your limits. You can’t have it both ways.

It’s only stuff.

Human relationships are more important than material things – even really, really nice things – even things you really love – even things you paid a lot of money for – even things that are one of a kind.  Repeat after me: “It’s only stuff. People are more important than stuff. ”

No one ruined your stuff on purpose.

Unless you have some pretty sick people in your life, no one wants to deliberately ruin your stuff. 99.8% of people are going to feel bad that their error caused a dish to break or a drink to spill on your new rug. They will feel bad enough without you making them feel worse. Which brings us to:

Remember the golden rule.

Treat others how you would like to be treated. Remember that you too have done something inadvertently that ruined something that wasn’t yours. Maybe you haven’t. Maybe you’re perfect and are saying, “Nope, I’m always super careful and respectful of others’ homes.”  But I can guarantee, the only reason you remain flawless is that your gracious host never let you know. Become that gracious host. React to them how you would like to be reacted to if you had made the mistake. Simple in concept, yet, in-the-moment, hard to do. Try. And keep trying until these things roll off your back like red wine down the side of a white leather couch.

Keep calm and clean up.

You know the saying, “no use crying over spilled milk?” It’s sage advice. What’s done is done. Getting upset will not turn back time and make your beloved possession whole again. It happened. All you can do now is fix it to the best of your ability or clean up the mess. When someone comes to me and says, “My son just pressed neon colored slime into your hooked wool rug and I can’t seem to get it off.” I respond, “Oh, OK! Thanks for letting me know. Let’s see what I can do.”

If it’s a spill, I clean it up. If something is broken, I sweep it up. If it’s slime worked into a rug, I google how to get it out. You get the idea. The point is: thank the person who let you know then go fix the problem as best, as discreetly and as calmly as possible. If you’re quick on your feet with humor, use it to defuse the situation and make the guest feel better. Even a simple, “No problem” or “Don’t worry about it!” will reassure your friend or family member that they are more important to you than any of your stuff. It also sends an important message of forgiveness and of accepting their flaws – it lets people know, “We all mess up. It’s not a big deal.”

keep calm and clean up

And because you are as important as any other, you should be honest with yourself and your guest by honoring your feelings. You can do this while remaining gracious and non-judgmental.

When my wedding cakestand was broken by my son on Easter morning 30 minutes before guests arrived, I was truly heartbroken. Not to mention, I now had a huge mess to clean up on top of any last minute hosting duties. I could have gotten angry. I could have yelled. I could have made him feel really bad. I could have let myself get frazzled to the point of escalating an inconvenience into something bigger and more emotionally draining for all involved. But when I looked at his face, he was devastated. He knew how special the plate was to me because I showed it to him in the morning and asked him to be careful. He felt so bad, why make it worse? What’s the point? I knew I had to keep calm, clean up the mess and reassure my son.

Here’s how it played out:

I responded with, “I know it was an accident. I can’t say I’m not heartbroken. It was the first time Mommy got to use her wedding platter. But, it’s still just stuff. I’m not mad. I’m a little sad, but in the scheme of things, it’s not big deal.”

I looked at the broken cake stand for a moment; had the briefest moment of silence to mourn my loss, let out a long heavy sigh, got another plate, salvaged the cake, got a broom, swept up the pieces, threw them in the bin and moved on with my day. But not before I hugged my son who was still crying and feeling bad. I let him know, there is nothing in this world that is more important or that I could love more than him.

red drinks (2)

And isn’t that really why we open our homes to our friends and our family? To celebrate having each other in our lives. To let them know through conversation and good food, that they matter to us.

I would love for you to share any experiences you’ve had when things went wrong – how you handled them – moments you handled well, moments you didn’t – or how you were treated by others when you messed up. Let me know in the comments!

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