Parenting & Motherhood

5 Tips on Surviving Church with Toddlers

February 2, 2017
Mass with Kids
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Here we were another Sunday morning. I was frantically trying to get ready while my husband appeased the natives kids. Suddenly, I look at the clock only to realize that we have approximately fifteen minutes before we need to be loaded up and on our way to church. My husband quickly gets into the shower while I literally wrestle my 20-month old into his Sunday clothes. Then, the whole family moves into the master bathroom so that I can finish getting ready while periodically shouting saying things like, “No, don’t touch that!” and “Don’t slam the door on your brother!” to the little people. Finally, after some snippy comments back and forth between my husband and I, and another wrestling match as we get the baby into his car seat, we manage to get on the road ten minutes later than we should have. Needless to say, we’re feeling oh so peaceful as we enter Mass together. We then spend the next hour making bathroom trips with the three-year-old while I progressively move with the baby from the pew to the aisle, to the back of the church, to the cry room as his behavior deteriorates. Finally, exhausted from the ensuing battle, I take my crying toddler to the car directly after receiving communion to wait for the rest of the family.

When you're attending Sunday worship with toddlers, it often feels more like a battle scene than a time for spiritual enrichment. Here are five steps designed to help you survive Sunday services.Sound familiar? This used to be us describes our Mass experience last Sunday. Over the years, Sunday Mass has transformed into one of my most dreaded times as a mother. I literally rejoiced this Christmas when the feast day fell on a Sunday, ensuring that I wouldn’t have to do double duty. Mass has become the scene for some of my greatest battles and my worst defeats. Instead of coming spiritually rejuvenated at its conclusion, I mostly leave church feeling disheartened. I look around and see all of these seemingly perfect children sitting still and quiet, leaving me to wonder What am I doing wrong? I say this only to assure you that I do not by any means have this thing down. Mostly, Mass attendance/behavior for our young family has been and will continue to be a work in progress. But here are a few tips that I’ve learned to help maintain my sanity and to survive Mass with the little people.

One thing that has helped a lot with Mass is My Bible Quiet Book, given to us by my Mother. I only allow my children to play with this during Mass (keeping it interesting) and they always spend 15-20 minutes exploring the pages and completing the various tasks.

1. Prior Proper Planning

With my husband returning from a week long trip to the March for Life that Saturday afternoon, preparations got thrown for a loop last Sunday. But typically, I try to get myself organized for Sunday Mass either the night before or early Sunday morning. I pick out the kids clothes and lay them out for dad so he can dress them while I’m getting ready. Meanwhile, the diaper bag is replenished with juice cups, religious books, diapers and wipes, and small snacks. That way, all I have to do is grab it on the way out, rather than trying to restock everything at the last minute.

Finally, if your Mass experience is anything like mine, you frequently leave not having a clue what the readings and homily were about. Because of this, I’ve found that it makes a huge difference if I take the time to reflect upon the Sunday readings the night before. This helps me feel more in tune with the liturgy, despite the distractions which necessarily come with small children. I use my monthly Magnificat devotional, but there are plenty of other Mass resources out there.

2. Practice Makes Perfect

Me with my little one visiting a nearby church.

I read something in a blog post recently (sorry, I can’t remember which one) that really stuck with me. The author, who is the mom of several kids, talked about the need to practice with your children beforehand the art of sitting still. She points out that there are very few situations where small children are expected to sit still and be quiet, unless you count watching a movie which is constant stimulation. So when we bring them to church suddenly with this expectation, they are unprepared and consequently set up for failure. The writer goes on to share how she practiced this art with her own children for weeks at a time, starting by simply reading them a book and expecting them to listen quietly and still. Over time, the number of books increased (even including audio books). This made a lot of sense to me and is something I’m currently working on implementing with my own children. Though my twenty-month-old may not quite be capable of doing this yet, my three-year-old certainly is. And the added plus is that we’re spending more time reading together.

3. Play Around with Times

Find the Mass that works best for your family. For a while, we were waking up and going to 8:00 a.m. Mass as a family because it was the only Mass time available at our parish that didn’t interfere with a nap or meal time. Sure, it wasn’t fun to wake up at 6:00 a.m. on a Sunday, but that was a much better alternative than going to church with tired or hungry toddlers. Now that nap times have adjusted a bit, we’ve switched to going to 10:00 a.m. Mass.

When you're attending Sunday worship with toddlers, it often feels more like a battle scene than a time for spiritual enrichment. Here are five steps designed to help you survive Sunday services.4. Retreat When Necessary

I have a hard time with this one because it feels like they’re winning, haha, but as time has gone by I’ve come to realize that it’s ok to take breaks from going to Mass as a family. When things get to be too much of a fight, my husband and I simply go to separate Masses. This allows each of us to feel spiritually fed and restores harmony once more to family living. That being said, when we do go to separate Masses one of us typically takes our oldest with us (age 3), as she is at an age when she can and should be learning about the Mass. Also, we try not to keep separate Masses as a permanent arrangement since I do feel it is important for us to worship together as a family. Rather, it’s a temporary retreat for everyone’s sanity.

5. Finally, Accept it for What it Is

This is by far the hardest step for me. So often I find myself focusing on what our Mass experience should be, causing me to become increasingly disheartened by actual reality. This is an easy pitfall for us parents, allowing the Evil One to prey upon us. But a big part of parenting is accepting our children where they are and loving them through both their strengths and weaknesses. I have to remind myself constantly that this is a phase; that one day my family will be able to go to Mass with all of us sitting together still and quiet. But for now, this is where we are and Jesus loves us just the same. What matters is that we are faithful and that we keep doing our best one week at a time.

If you are a parent out there struggling with Mass, know that I get it. You are not alone. You are not a failure. This is what it’s all about, persevering and toiling in the vineyard. I promise you it will get better (everyone tells me so), and in the meanwhile, we can commiserate together and support one another.

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  1. I come from a family of pastors and one thing that I have heard almost every one of them say is they don’t mind the kid noises in church. The noises mean they are there. The parents cared enough to make sure they were where they needed to be, even despite a hectic and overwhelming Sunday morning. Of course, as parents, we feel that every time out kid moves or makes a noise that they are the loudest thing in the room and being a distraction. However, I rarely notice most kids in service, even when their parents are blushing with embarrassment. That does not mean that we should not teach out littles to be still and quiet in church – that is a must –
    but we need to give ourselves a break. When the baby is screaming, that IS a distraction and should be taken to another room, but most of the time people understand far more than we think. Even that older lady two rows behind us understands and even laughs a little because she has been there, done that.

  2. Great advice! Since my husband works for our church as the Media Director and goes in early Sunday mornings, I have to get the kids ready by myself. Thankfully they are 8 & 5, and usually well behaved when they do sit with me in service! Love that you said being faithful is what matters and this is only a season, one that Jesus loves us in. 🙂

    1. Thanks, Marisa, for the positive feedback. It’s always great to hear from other moms, especially those that have survived the toddler years and are reaping the benefits in their children’s church behavior.

  3. I struggled this when my son was younger. It’s as if as soon as we went to church on Sunday he would be so fussy. I would have to leave out of service and sit in the foyer with him. After awhile I would request my husband at the time to please take him out of service so I could enjoy it. It was a challenge but I made it. When I have another baby in the future I think I will feel much better about the church experience with small children. I think I was more worried about us disrupting service and people watching us.

    1. I’m glad you brought that up. Speaking from experience, young moms are often self conscious about their children’s behavior in Church. It’s so helpful when the congregation is supportive and welcoming toward young families.

  4. I'm so glad it encouraged and helped you. Mass can be such a struggle with little ones, and for me (oddly) it becomes some of my biggest sources of temptation. It's so easy to compare or to feel like a failure during those times when your child becomes a wild thing. To feel embarrassed. I have to constantly take it to prayer and to accept it for what it is. In the meanwhile, we can commiserate and affirm one another 🙂

  5. I love this post! I could have written this! Thank you for the reminder to just accept it for what it is. I forget that a lot of times. I truly relate to each pointer. Finding the right mass time is very important. Also, prepping the clothes for dad so he could dress them while mom gets ready is exactly what we do. 🙂

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