Going to Mass with young children can be challenging, to put it nicely. Despite how that, going to Mass with young children IS Worth It. It’s not meant for fun or entertainment or even relaxation. Sometimes Mass is Calvary and sometimes it's the Resurrection. The catch is that you don't get to pick. You just have to try and accept it for what it is.
To encourage and support you in this holy endeavor, here are…
~ 7 Basic Strategies for Survival at Mass with Young Children ~
1. Come as prepared as you can.
Try and plan ahead and allow time to give the little people some form of nutrition before heading out the door so they aren’t “starving” and whining all about it in the pew.
That said, when we go, the four-year-old is usually finishing off his cereal en route and the baby is still in his jammies, bed head and all.
2. Distraction & redirection.
Bring items like books & toys that you can throw at your kids when they start losing focus – if they ever had it.
-- I keep a tub in our car with “church books” the kids can pick to bring in with them. When we forget ours, our parish’s cry room has a basket of “lost and forgotten” kids' books to borrow. Some of the Touch and Feel animal books have helped get us through some unstable times with the baby as well.
-- For toys, we keep a bag in the diaper bag filled with special and appropriate toys for Mass time to help distract and 'entertain' the little ones who have no real interest in staying in the same place for any amount of time. Be careful what you put in here though. Stay away from anything that beeps, buzzes, lights up or makes any other sound. Keep the wind-up cars at home to avoid chasing runaway toys under the pews and up the altar.
-- Notebook and crayons - Blank paper + colors = minutes of focused fun. It's the simple things sometimes. You can even give the artwork to the priest as a peace offering after Mass.
3. Deflect & ignore.
I picked this idea up from this crazy lady with big hair who goes to daily Mass every day, even in the summer, with her FIVE young offspring. When it comes to annoying behavior at Mass, if in doubt, pretend like you didn't see it.
Seriously, unless it's hurting someone or damaging church property, or causing too big of a raucous - it can wait. I used to spend way too much time correcting my kids about things that in the end really don’t matter. They won’t go to hell if they don’t kneel and stand when everyone else is.
Sometimes, the less attention you give them the less they try and irritate you. (However, that rule isn’t written in stone unfortunately.) My four-year-old likes to scowl at me when I tell him "no" about something. I usually either ignore him or scowl back.
4. Location, location, location.
There are really only two good options when picking your pew. Either sit as far away from other people as you can or march right up to the front so the kids can see what’s going on instead of staring at (and trying to poke) people’s backsides the whole time.
When I’m flying solo, I like to sit in the last pew at the back so we’re not getting in anyone’s view or making anyone nauseous from all the up movement. This also provides quick and easy access to the exit in case of emergencies. (Like throw-up and ‘time-outs’.)
5. Walk out when needed.
Sometimes you can only distract and redirect so much until it becomes impossible to keep a young and energetic child in one place. It’s okay if you have to get up and take a little walk in the back of the church.
I know some moms who live for the cry room and others who loathe it. It just depends on what works for you and each child in each situation. Mass isn’t a competition to see who can keep their children in their pew the longest or who can look holiest.
6. Abandon your expectations.
If you have certain ideas about how you think Mass with your littles should go, get rid of them. Check them at the doors and bless yourself with the holy water.
Going to Mass with young children is NOT the same as going to Mass alone. It’s also NOT the same as when you were single and had no clue what children were really like. Accept this or fail.
Every Mass experience will be different. It’s important to note that your Mass experience with your children will also differ from that of another parent’s so don’t compare. As another good friend of mine with normal-sized hair said so well, each Mass experience is different; know that each time you go “this is the Mass you’re supposed to have.”
7. Pray – You are at Mass.
You go there to PRAY. The Mass is a PRAYER. So PRAY!
Even if your only prayer is, “Lord, save me from these children!!!” It acknowledges that you NEED Him and that’s a good start. If you’re blessed, He’ll hear that prayer and might even save you from yourself in the process.
So if you’re running on fumes and need a little extra grace, try Mass. It sounds crazy. It might drive you crazy. In fact, I can guarantee it will refine you.
But after you get used to it, it will be worth it. I promise. The eternal benefits for you and your children outweigh the temporary and earthly hardship.
What tools and tips do you use at Mass with young children?
Copyright 2013 Erika Marie