So, huge disclaimer here: this is not a post telling you that it's okay to let your children do whatever they want during Mass. This also isn't a post telling you how to get your children to behave well during Mass.
I just want to encourage you to not lose the forest for the trees. Sometimes we are so worried about doing the right thing for our children that we forget why we are doing it to begin with. Ultimately, we don't want our children to just know about God. We want them to know God. So, while it's important to teach your children how to behave at Mass, and it's important to teach them the words to prayers, and it's still important to teach them the teachings of the faith, that all means nothing if there is no reason for them to learn these things.
But, that being said, there is a reason why we need to learn all those things! I'll give you an everyday example. When I was growing up, my mom did bake things, but for birthdays we got to get a store bought cake, with store bought frosting. That was such a treat! (And I still really love store bought cake.) But, when Andrew was growing up, his favorite birthday treat was a funfetti cake with homemade buttercream frosting. Now, I love Andrew with all my heart, but if I said that I loved him but I never bothered to learn what kind of cake he likes to eat on his birthday that wouldn't really be loving him, would it? I would just be loving the idea of loving Andrew. Knowledge of the one you love does matter.
Conversely, let's imagine that I took the time to become a complete expert on Andrew - what he likes and dislikes, how he likes to spend his time, etc. but I didn't love him...what would be the point?! So it is with us and God. Part of loving God is knowing about God. But knowing about God only matters in light of love.
The trick is remembering this when you have a baby loudly babbling and shrieking in your arms at Mass, or a toddler insisting on laying full length on the pew but then falling off and screaming from the resulting injury, or a preschooler loudly whispering her questions throughout the whole Mass. In those moments, with patience running thin, my first reaction is usually just to try and make the noise stop. As important as it is to train a child to be quiet in each of those instances, lashing out in impatience to achieve that takes away from the real reason why I am at Mass with my child. If my child associates going to Mass with Mommy snapping in impatience for an hour, what does that teach her about Mass?
Now, I'm not going to lie - I struggle alot with impatience during Mass. I get so impatient with my girls, and I really do feel badly about that. Here are 5 tips that help me keep my cool at Mass:
1. I pray for patience. There are many Masses where - from start to finish - I am begging God for the grace to be patient with my girls throughout the course of the day (and that includes our time at Mass). I especially turn to Jesus in the Eucharist (especially right after I've received Him in Communion) and just beg for the grace to be patient.
2. I slow down my movements. I remember learning this trick when Therese was a baby. When she was getting wiggly and fussing, I slowed down my movements. I didn't frantically grab her as she crawled down the pew, I didn't turn and snap, I didn't stand up quickly to respond to misbehavior. I responded, but I responded in slow motion. That's not to say you shouldn't rush to grab a toddler who's running down the aisle! But your tone, as a parent, matters. If you act stressed, it won't help the situation. So, I try to act calm. Am I typically calm on the inside? Heck, no. But acting calm tends to lower my blood pressure a bit, and sometimes it even calms the girls ever so slightly.
3. I step out when I need to. One method of teaching Mass behavior is to stick it out no matter what. I think there are merits to that system, but I also know myself, and I know that I shouldn't stay in the pew if my child and I are both on the verge of meltdowns. So, I step out to the back. Sometimes, I pace with the baby to soothe her, but...true confession? Sometimes I just plop her down on the ground and let her crawl. Sometimes I need to be able to pray. On those days, when I feel like I'm drowning and on the verge of snapping, I focus on my prayer and let the baby wiggle and crawl in the back of church.
4. I lower the standards when I feel like losing my cool. This goes with #3. There are times when I focus on training the girls how to behave at Mass (especially if it's a Sunday Mass and Andrew's by my side). But then, there are times when we just need to get through Mass. I'm all for consistency, but sometimes there are some days when you just can't be consistent. There are some days when you need to cut yourself (and your children!) some slack. It's okay if your little ones don't behave perfectly at Mass. Mass isn't manners class. Yes, they need to learn eventually...but they will learn eventually! One Sunday (or 10) won't make or break you.
5. I make sure we blow Jesus kisses. At the end of the day, I try to remember what matters most. I want my daughters to love Jesus, with all their hearts. And so, I not only teach them to be quiet at Mass (with mixed results) but I teach them to blow Jesus kisses. I teach them to whisper "I love you" to Him. I tell them that He is always waiting for them in the tabernacle. I tell them that He is filled with joy to see their little faces there.
So, at the end of the day, my Mass advice is the same as trying to find balance with smartphone use, using TV as a tool, etc. - cut yourself some slack. Ignore the "experts" who tell you that there is an easy solution, and that your kids would be well behaved if you just "tried this one method." Parenting doesn't work that way. The path to sainthood doesn't work that way. Raising your children in the faith is less about finding a method and more about finding God and humbly asking for the grace you need to keep going.
Oh, and here's what the youngest in our crew wore Sunday....
And yes, that is the same dress her sister was wearing only a few weeks ago. They both had growth spurts. But what's ridiculous is the fact that they're almost three years apart and I sometimes find myself handing down clothes straight from the older to the younger! No wonder I've gotten the occasional person asking if they're twins...
And now, for the giveaway!!!
In honor of Maria's godmother visiting this past weekend, I'm giving away a copy of the book I co-wrote with her! It's a simple and fun read for parents of very young children:
To win, simply leave a comment below! The giveaway will be close on Friday, October 17 at 11:59 p.m. You also can earn two bonus entries if you:
2. Pin this giveaway. (Simply click on the image of the book and select the "Pin It" option!)
Simply leave an extra comment for each bonus entry. And tell your friends! In the words of one of the characters in my latest book binge,"May the odds be ever in your favor."