Friday, May 20, 2016

Why Have an Open House?

This is a post I was actually going to write about a year ago, as we were coming upon the high school graduation of DD2, our youngest child.  But, there was also wedding prep going on at the same time, plus planting the garden, plus work.  In other words, not a whole lot of blogging time.  And so I didn't get it written.  After her graduation and open house it seemed too late, so I didn't bother to write this.

But now, graduation season is here again--albeit I have no offspring graduating from any level of education this year--and I find myself with a few 'spare' hours on a quiet morning.  Plus, the discussion of graduation open houses is still on my mind; being as both DH and I have relatives, friends, coworkers who do have children graduating from high school this year and, as 'old pros' at this high school graduation open house thing, we've been approached for advice.

Here in Michigan, it is pretty customary to put on a party, known as an Open House, for your child when he or she completes their high school education and receives a diploma.  I don't know how long this has been the tradition, I just know that I had an open house when I graduated high school, all my friends had open houses, older cousins all had open houses, and DH even though he lived in a different part of the state also had and attended open houses.

For us, the open house has always been a celebration; a time to get together with family and friends to recognize the milestone accomplishment of a high school graduation.  They are fairly 'simple' affairs, being held at the home of the graduate, with outdoor seating (ie picnic tables, or folding tables and chairs borrowed from friends, neighbors, your church, etc) and a casual self-serve meal available.  That meal could be anything from cold cuts and various salads, to precooked and heated dishes such as sloppy joes, pulled pork, mac and cheese, baked beans, to grilling burgers and hot dogs during the party.  There is usually a display of the graduate's mementos from his or her school years: awards, photographs, artwork, etc.  There is typically also some sort of recreational opportunity for guests such as volleyball, Frisbee, croquet, playing cards, etc. Many of the 'farm' open houses we've been to have also had a bonfire.  Because out in the country, we like sitting around a fire, and we have the room to do so. The guest list can be of any size, dependent on the desires of the graduate and their parents (who are providing the funding, labor, and location of this party).  It is common for the graduate to receive gifts from the guests, typically gifts of cash.  Gifts are not required, of course, but the cultural norm seems to be that gifts are given in much the same way guests at a birthday party or wedding reception offer gifts.  Usually, that gift money is expected to be put toward the graduate's upcoming college education.

Not everyone, however, does it this simply (ie cheaply).  In the last handful of years, we are seeing it becoming more and more common to have the food provided by hiring a local food establishment to cater.  Or by putting in a large order in advance at a take out pizza place, a taco place, a fried chicken place or a sub sandwich establishment.  Some people choose to rent out a reception hall or similar facility rather than host guests at their home (thus avoiding the cleaning required before the party, the borrowing and setting up and returning of tables and chairs, and the cleaning up after the party).  Really, it is up to the parents of the graduate when and where and how elaborate an open house needs to be.

There seems to be, at least currently, a couple of differing thoughts on the purpose of an open house and what is required for one. We are running into people who see the open house not as a celebration only, but as a fund raiser for their child.

We have never thrown an open house with the intent for our kid to receive a bunch of money.  We have the open house as a celebration, as a way of saying "we are proud of the work our child has done to achieve their high school diploma, how they've grown and matured and now will step into adulthood, please come celebrate with us'.  Throwing an open house for any other reason had never occurred to us.

At least, not until after our fourth and final child's open house was over last year.  Shortly afterward, DH was approached by a coworker who had an eldest child entering his senior year of high school.  Apparently discussions with the child's mother about senior year and graduation open house had begun.  This coworker, knowing DH's youngest child had just had an open house, was looking to DH for advice on planning and financing an open house.

Later that day, after DH got home from work, he told me about this discussion.  The coworker, and apparently the coworkers sphere of family and friends, did not see the open house so much as a party you threw to recognize the graduate's work and achievements, but as a way to get cash for the kid.  The general theme DH got out of the conversation was that the coworker figured in order to get a certain amount of cash in gift money, the open house needed to have a certain size guest list, be in a certain type of place, and have a certain type of food.  None of which was the affordable and casual event that DH and I had always been brought up to know an open house as.  The coworker was equating dollars spent in putting on this event to dollars in to his child's pocket.

It was a mindset like that that made me think of a parent of one of DS1's friends, who had grown up in a different part of the US, and was opposed to graduation open houses.  He (the father) kept insisting that it was all about money and did not want to put one on for his child when the boy graduated.  It was a real sore point between him and his wife. She was used to the same simple open houses as I, and did not see it as the money grubbing event her husband was convinced it was.  At the time, neither she nor I could understand why her husband was so vehemently against giving their son an open house.  Now, after DH's conversation with the coworker, I understand the objections well.  If money was the only reason to put on an open house, I'd be opposed too.

It is never up to us to make moral decisions for others.  But, I would hope, that the reason to put on an open house when your child graduates high school would be to celebrate.  Because showering a child with love, and recognizing their accomplishments gives them a sense of dignity and self-worth that can't be bought.  The young adult who knows that hard work and perseverance bring success will go further than one who is focused on money only.

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