To put it bluntly, I couldn't deal with my kids and listen/pay attention at the same time. I loved God, loved church and wanted to take in every moment... which is really hard to do if you spend every second of it shushing, re-arranging, and bringing kids in and out of the church. Quite honestly, I resented kids altogether because Catholic churches are very open to children and the majority of children around us in mass were very poorly behaved, so even when I COULD go by myself, some other person's kids would always wreck the "experience" for me. Sounds so selfish when I say it that way but that's exactly how it was, for years. All I wanted was for everyone to just shut up so I could pay attention and hear what I needed to get me through the week.
I was accustomed to seeing and experiencing this and wanted nothing to do with any of it:
I knew that there was something else out there I could set as a goal. We've all seen the family that looks like this, disciplined and orderly, and I wanted it. But it seemed impossible, because even if I managed to get them in line by some miracle, there was always some other child (OR PARENT!) nearby to distract them. I felt hopeless to ever get here:
|(Ironically, these are my kids and the children of some dear friends. ;) a few years later, of course!)|
If we went to a church that had childcare, I was ecstatic, if we didn't, I was miserable. Everything was a battle. Sundays became a nightmare. A nightmare I wanted to end.... so I could selfishly sit and soak in the good feelings I got from being able to pay attention and ignore the fact that God had given me children to train and teach.
Over the years, I came to understand that God wanted me to train my little ones to listen and pay attention at church and to participate themselves, etc. It started with a guilty feeling whenever I would drop them off at the nursery, and only got worse with time. I remember distinctly the day I figured out that it was worth the effort to keep them with me.
Standing in the back with a wiggling, loud toddler while teetering on my heels, certain that I was annoying everyone present, I looked up to heaven with tears in my eyes and my gaze crossed a sign, put there by the priest, that said: "Dear kids, I'm glad you're here. --- God." I determined then and there to suck it up and do what it took to make sure my kids learned to be the kinds of children who could sit quietly in their pews and listen attentively. Not for ME. But for the good of their souls. And to acknowledge that it would take time, diligence, and patience, neither of which I really had.
Now, many years later, on most days-- MOST days--- My husband and I (and the people around us) enjoy having them with us and we are amazed at how much of it they get themselves and appreciate. They even like it and look forward to going!
There are still days that are rough, but nowadays they are the exception, and not the norm. Instead, it's a powerful family bonding time and even better... they have really learned to overcome a lot and draw close to God through these experiences. It's beautiful. Sure, my son still sleeps through half of mass on my shoulder and my daughters still fight over who can sit closer to me. But at least now they do it before mass starts or right at the end, and they know better than to keep it up through the whole thing.
Now, we go to a Maronite liturgy. Qurbono is somewhere between a Latin Mass and a typical Novus Ordo in that there is much chanting, different languages, and reverence, but it's still fairly child-friendly in the sense that they aren't necessarily expected to be dead silent and prayerful through the whole thing. There are also a lot of parts and responses for them to get into, including the priest "breaking character" from time to time to catechize during the mass, which keeps them occupied.
I had reached the point up until yesterday where I felt confident that we could handle most any Novus Ordo without too much distraction and where my kids had become enjoyable and had reached a level of understanding of what was happening in the mass that comforted us. My youngest is two and at that age where it's a battle no matter what, but she's a really good two year old compared to what she could be at. So I have confidence in my kids.... but I never imagined my kids were ready for the Latin Mass.
That's why I wanted to share this glory-of-motherhood moment I had yesterday... to encourage the moms who are still at the "tearing my hair out" stage of parenting littles in the pews. Been there! Not sure I'm out of the woods yet, but yesterday was certainly a powerful moment in which I felt we had "arrived."
Yesterday, you see, we went to the closest Latin Mass, which, for my protestant friends, is the "old form" of our liturgical worship, before the revisions when the people had a more verbal and physical "part to play" in the mass. This particular mass is about a forty minute drive away and is right at lunch/naptime, a very difficult time to have children sit still as you mothers well know.
The Latin mass is in Latin, a language they don't really understand.
It is very quiet, and contains tons of kneeling for hours and lots of silence. Going to the ordinary form of the mass is hard enough for most people I know, but the Latin Mass is like, a whole different animal. Which is why many people avoid it... it's too "sacred" or "somber" for their taste. Not relaxed and "open" enough.
Usually, the mothers I see there have two pews full of meticulously dressed, perfectly behaved children of all age ranges who, even at 3, are kneeling for hours uncomplainingly and just generally awesomely behaved, even when daddy isn't around. These mothers amaze me. I watch them carefully when I see them, and I wish I could follow them around at home and learn their secrets. I can't, though, because they usually keep to themselves and don't get out for coffee much. ;)
They also intimidate me, because I can hardly handle my small handful of kids, and here they are with twelve or fourteen and they seem to have everything under control.
So Latin Mass is very intimidating for mothers with kids who aren't used to that kind of environment, and I admit I dreaded bringing my littles, even though I LOVE going to Latin mass on my own and go there as much as I can-- without them!
However, my husband decided yesterday that we were heading over there, and I was freaking out. But I'm so pleased and grateful to report that after all these years, something must have clicked, and they appear to have really settled down.
Immediately after the rosary, we found ourselves in a silent church. And I started freaking out.
A younger man came forward and stood next to the pew in front of us. One by one, in a row, all six of his children, girls in matching dresses and veils and boys in matching sweaters and cords, came forward and sat in the pew. Last in line was his wife, modestly dressed and beautifully veiled. She took her place next to him and they all knelt to pray before the mass in unison. My heart started pounding... and I started the comparing in my head.
She and her husband were very united in their approach, and they operated as one entity... when one of the younger kids started to act up they wordlessly took turns getting the others settled down and fixing the problem. I was both amazed and disappointed, watching them. I couldn't imagine myself being the kind of disciplined person it took to take the time to TEACH all these kids how to act right.
Not only that, but she seemed totally rested and was really beautiful and in good shape! And her husband and her were clearly very bonded. I was sure that there was just no way in the word that my family even came close to comparing to theirs... and even though I knew it was stupid to bother comparing, I also knew that if we didn't, it was because of a lack of discipline and willingness to suffer for each other on OUR part, which made me feel like double the failure.
Incredibly, though, my kids were as well-behaved as any of the children there. My daughters chose on their own to wear headcoverings and didn't spend the whole time messing with them, everybody was pleasant and reverent and totally into it, and when it was over my kids asked if we could go again and ASKED TO STAY LONGER TO PRAY. I couldn't get over it. OTHER moms there were smiling approvingly at me and telling me how sweet and well behaved the children were. I was in shock. I was floating on a cloud. It was amazing.
This might sound silly, but it felt like a landmark to me--- we've finally graduated to Latin-mass standards as a family and that means that all that hard work training the kiddos has really, really paid off.... so keep on training those kiddos! Took me six years to figure out HOW, but here we are, and it's a really rewarding place to be!
I never for one second imagined that I could actually find myself at a Latin mass with my whole family and enjoy the experience tremendously. And yet--- it was wonderful, and we fit right in.
Praise God!! It was a very exciting motherhood moment for me, and I know my husband was very, very pleased since he had been as worried as I was about their behavior and "fitting in" with the other families.
Don't get me wrong, there is still much work to do-- my son talked to Jesus out loud half the Introit and asked about two thousand questions about what was happening, and my two year old was as determined as she's ever been to borrow my husband's latin flashcards and play with them despite the fact that we repeatedly told her no. But even in that, I could tell we were doing ok, and even more than that-- doing well!
You may ask yourselves, reading this, WHY it matters so much to me that they learn these skills. I've heard people see Latin Mass families like these and say all sorts of terrible things about how much they must beat their children or how bored and suppressed their children are. But knowing some of these families outside of mass, has given me a different outlook-- these are happy, balanced, and thoroughly creative and interesting kiddos who are not being suppressed in any way. They are thoughtful and interesting and loving. And their parents are loving and kind, not harsh or mean. They are simply parents who are doing it right, focusing hard on work and prayer, and that's why I was so grateful to receive this confirmation yesterday that we are somehow, some way, by some miracle, on the right track. It's so motivating.... I can't wait to see where we are ten years from now! Motherhood is an awesome journey.
What are some things I've learned over the years that have really helped for kids in church? Here are ten tips that have really paid off:
1. Leave the toys, books, etc at home. Even one tiny stuffed animal can be a HUGE distraction, so we try to just leave everything at home and out of the pews.
2. Children copy what they see. If you are very focused, your kids will be focused. They do what they see you doing.
3. No food or drinks. This should be a given, but I see lots of moms feeding their kids or giving them cups to sip. Unless they are still milk-fed, they are old enough to go without for an hour.
4. Make sure they are fed and rested when you get there.
5. Try to alternate older kids and younger kids. If you can avoid putting two very young kids right next to each other, it's a good idea.
6. Sit in the front, and make sure they can see. Talk about what they will see on the way there and back.
7. Make it a routine. Get to mass as often as possible so they become accustomed to it.
8. Require them to participate at their age level. They may not know the responses or prayers yet, but they can stand with everyone else and be a part of what's going on. Encourage older kids to help the younger kids get involved and stay quiet.
9. Let them get to know and love their priests.
10. Watch who you associate with... being around other families with well-behaved kids will make all the difference!