“Is it over, yet?”, my 3-year-old takes advantage of the quietest and most reverent moments in Mass to ask loudly. I shush him, and hand him a book. We only allow “church books” (children’s bibles, etc.) to be taken to Mass in hopes that the “quiet” activity will aid them in learning how to control their behavior at church. Until then, we just hope to survive the Sabbath.
Like most parents, we try to have our children follow along in the books, fold their hands as much as possible, and join in on the postures of sitting, standing, and kneeling. In order to make it through Mass as smoothly as possible, we also:
Get Kids Involved
My oldest child started alter-serving when he was 8 years old, so all of his little brothers and sisters have grown up watching his example. As they’ve grown and as soon as they were able, they (all but my two youngest) found a place to serve during Mass. As a parent, I feel a swell of pride when I watch one of my children singing in the choir, two alter serving, and two ushering with their dad. Then I realize I haven’t seen Number 7 in a while, so I drag him out from under the pew or chase him down the aisle before he reaches the alter to hug his sister.
Choose your Location Wisely
My sister sits in the front row with her husband and four boys. The ability to see helps their boys follow along in the service, but better still, it gives them something to look at in front of them instead of having to turn around in their seats to find faces to look at.
My youngest sister sits further back with her husband, three kids, and her in-laws. Sitting where she has a few extra hands is a huge help for her since her children are still all under the age of five.
My family sits close to the cry room door, so we’re ready for a quick escape… just in case things get too messy. It isn’t unusual for us to have a family ‘meet and greet’ in the cry room every now and then. I think we’ve confused a good number of people who see us with swapped babies in there.
Expect Resistance, Especially when Routine is Broken
Sometimes we go to church for a Holy Day of Obligation (special days within the Church that we celebrate even though they don’t fall on a Sunday). It’s always painful to break routine with kids, so we expect them to have even less patience than they normally do.
Number 6 (warily when he was 4 years old): Mom, what day is it?
Me (innocently): It’s Friday.
Number 6: Then why am I putting on a button shirt? Button shirts are for church only. Not for Fridays…
Me: *Cheshire Cat grin* (because if I admit we’re going to church, I’ll have a harder time getting him ready).
Look for Teaching Moments
Every Sunday I hear the “But why do we have to go to church?” question. I’ve tried to explain to the kids that going to church makes me a better mother. I need the weekly refill of love, patience, and mercy to be the best person I can be. I try to explain that church is so important that even grandma and grandpa go; even though grandpa’s ALS makes it difficult to get around. I know someday they will understand the concept of a “merciful God”, but for now…
Priest: Lord, have mercy.
All: Lord, have mercy.
Priest: Christ, have mercy.
All: Christ have mercy.
Priest: Lord, have mercy.
All: Lord, have mercy.
My grumpy 5-year-old (crossing his arms): That’s a lot of mercy.
Sometimes I only get to hear a part of the sermon before getting dragged into a religious debate based on different interpretations of theology.
Priest: God wants us to be happy…
Number 6 (when he was 6): Yay! God wants me to play X-box!
Me: That’s NOT what he meant.
Number 6: But that’s what God said!
Patience, Patience, Patience
By the time we hit the half-way mark, I’m not sure if I’m getting a refill of grace or if I’m using up all of my patience trying to keep my two smaller kids moderately quiet and still. Still, I manage to reflect on how we, God’s children, have just as much trouble stilling our inner restlessness and listening with our heart. When my children start asking, “How many more minutes?”, I show them my watch and let them do their own math.
I remind the kids that they have to survive the Sabbath to get to Grandma’s House.
It’s not so much that receiving the gifts of God is boring for my kids; it’s just that they look forward to congregating at my mom’s house after Mass. My mom always manages to make a huge meal for us to enjoy as a family. The kids look forward to starting the part of their day that is a little less controlled by all the adults in their lives. At their grandparents’ house, they can play and be free from chores (we take the day off from chores on Sunday). When the boys seem like they can’t hold it together for much longer, I remind them that I have the power to ground them from desserts at grandma’s house (that usually buys me a few minutes of good behavior).
Finally, as part of the closing prayers, we are asked to “Go in peace…”, to which I fervently reply “Thanks be to God!”
Share your tips on how to Survive the Sabbath in the COMMENTS section!