I’ll just come out and say it: I got nothin’.
Getting my four-year-old boy and two-year-old and 18-month-old girls to sit quietly through a Mass is not high on the list of things I’m good at. And I’m guessing it won’t get any easier when the new baby gets here in a few weeks. They all have very intense personalities (keep in mind we’re talking about children who share genes with Yaya) and none of them are naturally quiet or docile. We’re also currently facing an uphill battle because my husband and I only started attending church a couple years ago, and for a long time we left the kids with my mom many Sundays so that we could devote our full attention to the beauty and power of the Mass. We’ve only recently begun going every week as a family, so it’s not something the kids have been doing since birth.
There are no easy answers.
This truth finally crystallized for me the other day when I was asking my good friend Elizabeth Esther for advice. I was expecting a laundry list of tips about what toys to bring or what order to have everyone sit in the pew, and she caught me off guard with a simple question:
“What are you doing during the week to help them work on it?” she asked.
Uhh…what? She went on to explain that the way she grew up, Sunday service was the very center of life. Because it was seen as the most important activity and the focal point of every family’s week, mothers would practice with their children at home to help them be better prepared to make it through the services on Sunday. Elizabeth, who has five young children (including one-year-old twins!) told me about the improvements she’d seen with her own kids after having them practice quiet time on mats at home on weekdays.
Our conversation made me realize that the problem was not that I hadn’t found the right book to bring or discovered some magical church-only discipline technique; the problem was rooted in the fact that I didn’t see the Mass as the center of my week. If I were to have the privilege of a recurring appointment with the Queen of England and had issues with the kids’ behavior during those meetings, you’d better believe that I’d be working at home to help them learn age-appropriate self control for next time. So why am I not as motivated to deal with the problems that occur at Mass, a weekly appointment far more important than with any earthly royalty? Why am I not willing to devote any more effort into it than the hour or so spent actually sitting in the pews? That, I realized, is the question I need to be asking.
I’d love to hear your thoughts as well: Do you have any success stories, suggestions or other wisdom to share about getting kids to behave in church? (Also, in researching this post I found this article which had a lot of good, practical advice on the subject.)
photo by Doepp Jakab
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