With three young boys, Mass can be the scariest part of my whole week. I wonder: will the baby scream right in the middle of the Consecration? Will I end up chasing the toddler down the center aisle? Grim possibilities flit through my mind as I dress the boys for church.
But God loves children, and even harrowing churchgoing memories will probably seem precious a decade or two hence.
Here then are some thoughts to help you keep perspective if you have this problem as well.
1) God notices your kids’ efforts… and yours.
This is my glass-half-full thought when my kids’ behavior is less good than I’d like. Maybe they wouldn’t sit still and quiet for the full service. But for a 2-year-old, even 25 minutes is a challenge. I know God appreciates that he’s trying his best to show reverence… and that I’m trying my hardest to teach him.
2) Sometimes kids have their own ways of praising God.
I’m not saying we should allow them to disrupt the service in any way they choose. But it’s worth remembering that when young kids get noisy, they may not be trying to distract so much as to participate.
When my oldest was a baby, he would spontaneously start yelling in the middle of Mass, often in quite an emphatic tone. It was disquieting to me that Mass apparently made him so angry, until my husband point out that this could be his way of “telling off the devil”. That became our regular way of referring to these outbursts.
3) There’s always next week.
There’s no denying that church behavior can be hard on young kids. But, you have years of happy churchgoing memories to make with them, and if you persist in your efforts to train them, they will come around in time. If this week went badly, put it behind you and try again.
4) Remember that your spiritual needs matter too.
One of the toughest things about naughty kids is the way they prevent you from “recharging your battery” at church. I’ll be honest: sometimes my husband and I take a break from whole-family church and split up, with one of us taking the oldest child to church while the other goes alone to a later service. I think this is a justifiable accommodation for a life phase in which our kids make it hard for us to recover our own spiritual peace.
I also know parents who achieve the same effect by going individually to mid-week services. Once we started doing this, I suddenly found myself more patient with the young ones on the weeks when they were with us. I think perhaps I didn’t realize the extent to which I was just frustrated with them for depriving me of my worship time.
5) Your kids may be absorbing more than you realize.
Having said that, it’s worth remembering that kids often take in elements of worship even when they don’t seem to be paying attention. I’m sometimes surprised by the questions they ask after Mass, demonstrating that, even when they seemed to be most intent on distracting me or their brothers, good things were penetrating their consciousness.
6) Jesus asked the little children to come to him. He’s happy that they’re here.
Sometimes it’s upsetting when you hear high-handed remarks about church behavior from people who don’t seem to understand what children are like. They almost seem to suppose that if your kids misbehave, it’s because you haven’t bothered to tell them that church is a place for being reverent. Reassure yourself that Jesus knows what kids are like, and loves having them close by.