parenting at mass

Going to church with S is becoming more of a battle every week. We have officially entered into the Era of Doing Everything I Swore I Would Never Do As A Parent. Including (but not limited to): bribes of Cheerios, drinks from the sippy cup, visits to the cry room, and toddling runs around the gathering space.

The piles of books no longer distract; our exclamations of “look what Father’s doing on the altar!” are no longer interesting. It’s tough to find toys that are quiet and can’t be thrown. S wants to walk and explore, and we feel helpless at times trying to keep him contained to a pew for one hour.

Last week after Mass, we met our parish’s faith formation director and her 17-month old daughter in the gathering space. They shared our worn-out, harried look. “It’s so tough to keep them entertained and quiet at this age, isn’t it?” I asked. She sighed. “Impossible. We were fine till about 13 months, and it’s been a disaster ever since.”

We agreed that the cry room is hardly the best option, as it always seems fully occupied by a few families who let their 8 year olds run roughshod in circles around the room. Plus I don’t want S to get in the habit of thinking that if he acts up in church, he gets to leave and go play or loop around the gathering space. (Although I do realize that he’s too young to learn this lesson now.)

But aside from the Cheerio bribery (which we both laughed about never wanting to resort to, since we never got snacks in church growing up!), little seems to work. And it’s becoming more stressful each week.

The problem is of course compounded by the fact that S usually naps at 10:30…which is exactly when Mass starts. We’ve tried the 8:30, but with no better results. And we’re not Saturday night folks, nor is there a Sunday evening Mass offered nearby. So the deck is already stacked against us.

But I’m desperate for any ideas, hints or hopes from parents who have been in the trenches. I would love to find some good “Mass toys” that are quiet, ideally religious in theme; I’ve wondered if Catechesis of the Good Shepherd has anything to offer for Mass time itself?

I know that it’s unrealistic to get a toddler to sit still for 10 minutes, let alone 60. So we’re willing to keep up the trade-off of “you take him out during the homily; I’ll take him out during the Eucharistic prayers” for the near future. But I know this is not a problem that is going to go away for our family any time soon. We will (hopefully!) have future squirmers to wrangle and shush from screaming during the consecration as well.

Children are a central part of the Body of Christ. I believe that babies and kids should be welcome in our congregations. Certainly when a child is acting up or won’t quiet down, they need to be taken out. I think it’s irresponsible parenting to let a screaming child distract the worship of everyone around them, and I’m thankful for cry rooms for exactly that purpose. But I don’t think cry rooms are intended to become a “satellite worship site” for families. Young and old, we need to come together as church.

So what have you done to keep toddlers and small children entertained or quiet during church? Any and all suggestions are desperately welcomed!

7 thoughts on “parenting at mass

  1. Hello! So, I do not have any advice on how to keep the little one quiet during mass…but I can pray for y’all!

    I just wanted to stop by and say thank you for commenting on my blog. It really helps to hear that there are other woman out there that have similar stories AND have gone on to conceive (without IVF and so forth!). It’s really inspiring. Thank you!

  2. Laura,

    We feel your pain…though do not have any good advice!! 🙂 However, in this book Gianna Gobbi (one of the co-founders of Catehcesis of the Good Shepherd) suggests that Mass can be too long for a young child’s attention span. I ponder this often as our son does well for half, and then tends to crash and burn. She suggests having young children come in halfway so that they can experience the signs and symbols of the Liturgy of the Eucharist with fresh eyes. These “speak” to the child more clearly than words. We tend to do the opposite. (We always end up in the cry room about half way through, which means none of us are paying attention during the Liturgy of the Eucharist.) Maybe a good way would be to utilize a church nursery for half and then bring them in after the Liturgy of the Word? I would love to hear what others find helpful. The “Mass bag” worked for a couple weeks, but has now lost its luster. We need a viable solution as well!

  3. Good suggestion, Amy! I do agree that an hour is way too long for a toddler’s attention span. We’re lucky if he sits still for 5 minutes. So I’m thinking about your suggestion of the nursery for half the Mass.

    Two ideas I came up with during Mass this Sunday (when I was trying to be positive and proactive rather than frustrated!) were:
    1) We’re going to start reading the Sunday Mass readings as part of our family mealtime prayers on Saturday and Sunday morning – 1st and 2nd reading on Saturday, Gospel on Sunday morning breakfast. F agreed that this would be great for our prayer life as well as ensure that we have time to reflect on the readings before we catch just snippets of them during the actual Mass with S!

    2) I am working on a Mass book for S that is simple and about our actual parish. I decided after flipping through endless board books this weekend that we need one for Mass that’s analogous to the toddler books with one picture and one word on each page. So I am going to bring my camera to church and take pictures of the altar, the crucifix, the Gospel book, the communion vessels, the priest (hoping our pastor agrees to smile!), the baptismal font, stained glass windows, organ, etc. I figure this will help S to identify what’s in his book with what’s in the church, and it will keep parental eyes from being distracted by endless pictures of dogs, cats, etc. I’m going to put them in a small photo album and label the pictures – will let you know how it turns out!!

    Also, they’re having the same discussion over here – we’re not alone!

  4. I just read that today and was going to send it your way!! I love your idea of the pictures! We did that for our Catechesis of the Good Shepherd kids in the atrium, and it would be fantastic for toddlers!! Thanks for the idea!! Let me know how it goes! I think I might make one too! 🙂 Also, we used to read the daily Gospel reading each day at dinner, and sadly got out of the habit! I think we might also try reading the readings as you said!

  5. A long time ago (well, not “In the beginning” but it seems like that at times), I tried to use a bit of reverse psychology. When the explosion occurred and the necessary removal was effected, I would take whichever young Kelly was being momentarily possessed by a very young demon (Baby Diablo) and go to the far end of the gathering space. No running or walking: always being held. As calm began to return (admittedly, that’s the key point , and I’m not offering any silver bullet), I (we) would move closer to the church, then into the back of church, then up the side aisle and finally back into the pew. If Baby D emerged again briefly, I walked back. I figured that this way church would be the reward for good behaviour. Did it work? You be the judge.

  6. I like the reverse psychology approach – church as a reward for good behavior. And while I don’t remember it personally (which hopefully means my Baby Diablo episodes didn’t persist much past the age of reason?) I certainly got the message that we were supposed to behave in church and weren’t allowed to leave whenever we wanted. So I think your technique was successful there!

  7. My parents always had us sit in the first or second pew. I guess they assumed we would feel “all eyes on us” and be good. That… and the fear of being taken out of church if we were bad. I think it must have worked pretty well. When I go back to church these days, we always have people come up and tell us they remember all 10 of us sitting perfectly through mass… I think there is clearly SOME revisionist history… but it mustn’t have been too bad. We have yet to adopt this philosophy for when we go to church though…

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