You are Not Alone
Palm Sunday Mass went amazing for our family…I don’t think my sarcasm can be read in those words. To give us some credit, we were actually on time for Mass and the time had changed from 8 a.m. to 7:30 because of a palm procession. Not bad for a family of five! After that, it kind of went downhill. Our youngest desperately needed a nap so she screamed no matter how much comfort we offered. Our almost two-year-old responded to his crankiness by headbutting, kicking, and the usual back-arching-what-do-I-do-with-this-toddler behavior. Then, the oldest was holding our holy water bottle so that he could refill it after Mass and (completely on accident) hit me in the face with it. As he was profusely apologizing, my upper lip started bleeding…during the sign of peace. I think I told my husband after Mass in the car, “That wasn’t our best.”
I share of this only to assure you that we’ve been there. We’ve experienced the stress, the embarrassment, the expectations…Any time you’re attending with little ones you can expect Sunday Mass to be far from perfect. But know you’re not alone and that perseverance is key!
The Importance of a Game Plan
Knowing the Church with little ones will always be difficult, it’s important to go into with some tricks up your sleeve. A strategy to make it more doable and to help your children learn appropriate Mass behaviors.
- Proper planning. Audrey already mentioned this in her piece 6 Tips on How to Survive Church with Toddlers, but it is definitely worth mentioning again! Lay out the outfits the night before, plan breakfast options, and set your alarm (we even set our coffee pot to brew before we wake up). Sometimes, I’ll even put everyone’s belongings in the car so we can pile in once we’re ready. Maybe put some Christian/meditative music in the car or bring everyone’s rosary so that you can pray a decade on the way to church.
- Children’s Mass bag. Put together a tote bag or backpack of religious books and/or religious items (rosary, prayer cards, Saint dolls). We have a collection of Catholic board books, sticker Saint books, and Lego rosaries in ours. I hate to phrase it this way, but it keeps a child occupied while you may be tending to another. After all, if a child is going to be “distracted” by something, wouldn’t you rather it be focused on faith formation? I noticed a while back that Magnificat offers a booklet for kids ages 6-12—has anyone tried this before and enjoyed it???
- Make traditions as a family. Build an entire atmosphere around the Lord’s Day. Maybe you have brunch after Mass or spend time outside together. I always do our grocery shopping for the week with my oldest, while my husband stays at home with the two youngest so they can take their morning nap. Then, we bring home a rotisserie chicken and a loaf of French bread to nibble on while we relax in the den. I’m sure this routine will change as our children grow older, but we’ll always focus on spending time with one another and true relaxation.
- Daily Mass. Schedule a time to take at least one child to a daily Mass. Sit in the front row together and give your full attention to the experience through your child’s eyes. Daily Mass tends to be simpler and sometimes you need that to refocus on the parts of the Mass. Point out details in Mass that you know will fascinate your child. My oldest loves the bells during consecration so we always wait, listen, and then I say, “there’s Jesus.” You may want to point out Father washing his hands, what the altar servers are doing, the tabernacle opening and closing, how to use the books in the pew. Try focusing on one thing every few weeks.
- Expectations and explanations. It’s important to relay to your child/children beforehand what you expect in regards to behavior rather than in the middle of Father’s homily. This would be a wonderful opportunity to utilize a children’s Mass kit! Explain why you attend Mass as a family every Sunday, how to behave in God’s house, and outline any consequences for poor behavior. Make a point to explain the beauty and awe of Mass. Unfortunately, a common aspect of being Catholic is losing the wonder and falling into a routine, but children embody that unbridled enthusiasm that we so desperately need. Focus on encouraging that and watch your own faith become renewed in the process.
Anything else to add? Please comment below and share your Church Gameplan!