|With another dear family and a dear priest, integrating! :o)|
Our kids NEED to be with us when we worship. It's when we teach them the most fundamental aspect of our lives-- that we love and obey God. Whether you're a Catholic, Protestant, or Messianic Reader, we will all agree on that point, I'm sure.
However, there's a reason why lots of conservative, fundamentalist protestant Churches are going towards integrating whole families together in their worship services, and a reason why progressive Catholic parishes are suddenly building nurseries!! Solid Christians, conservative people, understand the value of discipline, and know that the training of Children to behave in church is as beneficial for MOMMY and DADDY as it is for little Suzie or Benjamin! Whereas progressive, liberally-minded persons are all about letting kids and adults express themselves, feel out the world, etc and therefore have obnoxious kiddos who can't sit still for ten seconds, which means they disrupt church and drive their parents crazy. Which means that those parents either have the kids who are bugging everyone and not being disciplined for it, or the kids who go straight to the nursery and out of sight each time. God asks us to parent. And so parent we must, even if it's the one time of the week we REALLY want to be able to "focus." I guess what I'm saying is that if you're tempted to put your kids in the nursery (and believe me, I've been there) evaluate the real reasons behind your desire. Are you trying to escape having to care for your kids so you can pay attention in church? I did, until I realized that I was basically hiring a babysitter to watch my kids the only time during the week when it really mattered that they be watching ME.
Believe me, God's lessons are always funny! A classic example is that if I took my kids to the nursery, even just one, they would all get sick for weeks on end. But if I kept them with me, no one would be sick. Like, ever. Or I would drop them off, and then the lady in front of me would have ten kids and four of them would spend the whole mass climbing all over me and talking to me. Kinda like the time I went and got a pedicure with a friend to escape motherhood for a few hours, and the manicurists' son spent the entire time talking my ear off about origami and sitting in my massage chair. Hah. I hear you, God!
Ironically, at the peak of my struggle, God moved my husband to switch the Parish we attend, and our new parish does not have child care for the kiddos. Which means I have no choice but to keep them with me or spend the entire mass outside each week. And honestly? It's been the best thing for ALL of us, even though I've struggled every step of the way.
Further, if you are a Catholic reading this, you know somewhere inside you that the Holy Eucharist, God Himself, is in the Church where you are, but you are sending your kids away to sing songs with each other about Him. Jesus said: "Let the little children come to me." So let them come.
Alright, so you've decided you're going to try it. And that's all I'm saying! Try it-- bring your kids to church with you and try to get them to behave. Do this every Sunday for six months. If after six months nothing has changed, fine. But I'm SURE that you will see a HUGE difference, not just in your kids, but in yourself, in your marriage.
Here are some tips to help you along the way.
1. Feed them.
This might seem obvious, but I'm just throwing it out there-- a hungry child is a grumpy child. Just before leaving for mass give them a healthy, sugar-free snack. Then let them run around, wrestle, whatever for a while and get good and tired. You might want to consider not over-tiring the very youn ones, though, so they don't fall asleep in the car on the way over, haha!
2. Pick a time that works.
If your kids are used to eating dinner at 5:30, don't take them to a mass that starts at 5:00. If your kids are up until 11 on Saturday nights (I hope they aren't, but all families are different, I've discovered. :P) then don't expect them to behave at a 7 AM mass. Pick a time that WORKS for the family, and if nothing in the area seems like it's perfect, go with the least problematic in terms of time and adjust your weekly schedule accordingly (ie. try to get them used to eating a snack at 4 pm and a dinner at 7:30 if you want them to go to a 5:30 mass each Sunday.)
3. Prepare, Prepare, Prepare
Back when Shabbat was Shabbat, the jews would prepare EVERYTHING in advance for the Sabbath, to ensure that they really did not work and were free to celebrate, enjoy each other, and worship God. Take a clue from them and prepare yourself for the Lord's Day. In our house, that means pre-making all the food we can make ahead of time, picking out clothes for the weekend (even PJs) ahead of time and laying them out, doing a REALLY thorough housecleaning and even setting out the diaper bag, the next days' activities (movies to watch? Games to play? Books to read?) out. You may not be as Monica-on-friends as I am, but a concerted effort to get things set up ahead of time, at least the basics, will help you to get everyone out the door in an orderly, happy fashion, which in turn, sets the mood for mass.
4. Training starts at home.
If your kids won't sit still in church for even ten minutes, I'd venture to bet they won't sit still at HOME for just ten minutes either. Spend a little bit of time each day training them to listen and obey, and they will begin to do so not just at home but in public too! A great place to practice training is during a meal when everyone is one place, or just make a game out of it ("Let's play church!") or even set up a specific training exercise for them. Don't just train them to obey-- train them to love to worship God! I guarantee that the kids who find prayer burdensome are the kids who are given prayers to recite at bedtime and that's it. Instead, teach them what they are seeing and experiencing at mass. Talk about it with great wonder and fondness. They love what you love. Teach them to love being in the presence of Jesus.
Accept the fact that there is a period in EVERYchild's life, from about 12 months to about 2 1/2 yrs, when, as a dear friend of mine used to say, a child really should just be retired from public society. Kids this age are squirmy, loud, and wild because they have not yet gained any mastery over themselves and don't fully understand everything going on around them yet. So accept that, and know that if you are with a child in that age group, it is just going to be tough for a while. It's not forever! In the meantime, that child is counting on you to teach them, so that when they DO hit three and four (and they will, fast.) they are perfectly capable of behaving themselves relatively well. During this period, it is inevitable that you will be spending a lot of time pacing the floor with them or whatever. Take advantage of the fact that they are still little and sleepy... in our family we keep them up until we get there and then I nurse them down and we put em to sleep in the pew, which saves us about 45 minutes out of the hour. We even bring them a special little pillow. True story. Other families bribe the youngun at this age with toys, books, or food. I think it's disrespectful and beside the point. I brought my kids to learn to love the mass, so I am going to teach them that. I let them sleep in church because kids always sleep when they're bored. They need it, anyways. But WE don't eat in Church, why should we let our kids eat? WE don't drink in church. WE don't read books and play games, why should they? However, I HAVE fallen asleep in church, during mass AND adoration.... even though I intended to stay awake and pray.
So, Instead of food or games, I spend the whole time animatedly singing when it's singing time, being EXTRA reverent in every part, and the kids naturally find it interesting and imitate me. Either that, or they pass out from sheer boredom or exhaustion. Both of which are acceptable options in my book, so long as they are learning, little by little.
I also do a lot of whispering and explaining-- telling them which parts to look for and narrating the mass as it goes. "look at Father. Do you see Jesus behind him? Oh, Jesus. We love you so much!" or "Pay very close attention to this part. Look! Your guardian angel is going up to present your offerings to God." etc.
6. Pick your seats.
In my experience, the kids who cannot see are the ones who will get bored and look for other things to do. The kids who CAN see and are beginning to understand what's happening will be riveted to their seats. Try to sit towards the front. And stay away from other families with ROWDY children. Stay close to families who have well-behaved children. Behavior rubs off. It also helps to pick a seat close to an aisle where you can escape and return without bugging people, even if you have to do it 8,000 times. It is probably best to be close to the end aisles and not the middle aisle. There's nothing quite so distracting as a kid racing up the aisle with his red-faced dad holding both hands over his bottom and shouting: "NO! I'll be GOOD NOW!" Haha.
7. Praise them.
I'm not saying you should bribe them with post-mass donuts or emphatically praise them for doing something they are supposed to do anyways, but I am saying that you should make it very clear that when they do a good job, you REALLY enjoy being around them! Don't be so caught up in being stern that you don't remember to smile or sweetly squeeze their hand to let them know you are having a nice time with them.
They will catch on quickly that family life goes really well and is lots of fun when they obey right away and behave appropriately.
I stress out every single Sunday because of my kids. My husband and I finish mass convinced they were absolutely terrible and I can never take them in public again. I make internal commitments to go home and immediately re-read every parenting book on the planet.
And every, single, blessed Sunday, a hoard of little old ladies and knowing older moms come over to us and enthusiastically congratulate us on how GOOD, and QUIET our children were. :P
The key to parenting in the pews, like everywhere else, is consistency! Tape this to your bathroom mirror, it's useful for virtually EVERY aspect of parenting, but especially this one:
TRY. CRY. REPEAT.
Eventually, to your amazement, you will wake up one day and realize that the "cry" part has been taken out entirely and instead you actually LIKE having your kids there and don't feel right when they are gone.
That's when you can start learning to do this while wearing a complicated headcovering. :)
To the pews, mommy. You can do it!!!