When BigBrother was born, we knew we wanted to include him in our Roman Catholic faith. In the beginning, it was easy. We had him baptized as a baby and he went to Mass with us every Sunday, happily nursing or snoozing throughout the service. It wasn’t until he was older, mobile, and wanting to be involved in everything that taking him to church became … difficult.
Several years have passed since then, and I think I have spent more time in the cry room than in the pew. However, I am not alone; parents of every faith often have problems paying attention to their worship services. The children themselves seem to conspire against us; I can’t count how many times we have just gotten peacefully settled in the pew when someone says, “I have to use the bathroom!” — loudly.
Over the years, Engineer Husband and I have developed several tricks to helping our children (and ourselves) make it through our services keeping everyone’s needs in mind, and peace (somewhat) intact:
- Feed them first — You may want to give your children a snack close to the time your service begins, even if it means feeding them in the car. Full, fed children are more likely to behave and be happy than hungry children! We aim for filling, high-protein foods.
- Bring quiet toys and books — Soft photo albums, short books, a special (soft) toy or lovey can keep children happily entertained. Avoid anything that makes noise or can be used as a missile!
- Give quick reminders of what you expect — before you enter the building. Remind them of the kind of behavior you expect from them.
- Food — if you bring food, make sure it is easy to clean up. Dry cereal or crackers are often good choices; sticky foods like candy should be avoided. Of course, clean up whatever mess your child makes! (Note: Some houses of worship have restrictions on food or drink during the main service. Breastfeeding, bottle feeding, and sippy cups of water are normally fine, but food might be banned for health or religious reasons. Always double check before you bring in the raisins.)
- Plan for escape — If possible, sit toward the end of the row so you can make an easy escape for potty breaks … or worse, vomit. Likewise, scope out places to escape to if your child becomes too rowdy. There might be a special “cry room” or handy room where you can go to let your little one be a little one but still hear what is going on.
- Consider using the nursery – or having your child participate in a children’s educational program during the service. They are not for every family or child but may work for yours.
- Divide up the parenting — If you have more than one child, you might want to “divide and conquer.” My husband and I take turns sitting the in the cry room with our toddlers while the other stays in the main church. Sometimes, we even divide up the times we go to church, with one adult staying home with the little ones while the other attends with the older children.
- Point out important parts of the service to your children — This helps keep them focused on why they are there and helps them understand what is going on. Having them follow along in a children’s book that outlines the parts of the service is often helpful.
- Remember that kids will be kids — You will have those times where you apologize to the nice lady in front of you because your child pulled off her wig. There will likely be a time where someone gets sick, has a leaky diaper, or yells, “POOPY!” during the quietest moment of the service. It’s all part and parcel of being a parent and one day, I promise you will laugh about it.
We’ve has some really good services where everyone is happy and we can hear the sermon … and some really bad ones where we have had to leave before Communion because someone became ill. Nevertheless, it’s always an adventure and, for us, it’s worth the weekly struggle to include our children in our faith.