Sunday, October 13, 2013

Taking Kids to Church: Multiple Opinions

It's not always easy to bring toddlers to church, but asking a teenager, neighbor or relative  to help can make all of the difference!  As parents, we need the grace we get at church and our children need our example.
I'm disappointed that my earlier post didn't get more comments.  Specifically, I thought for sure I'd get some comments about taking toddlers to church.  Although that post suggested that it was too much to expect children younger than 3 to sit still for an hour-long service, I know plenty of families who do!

The post specifically said:  "Most children aren't ready to sit still and be quiet for [an hour] until they are 3, although the expectations of each church differ (how still and quiet they are expected to be)."

We bring our young toddlers to church with us, but they sure don't sit still!  We don't expect them to.  Our church is full of babies at the early Mass, which is one reason we chose that Mass, so our toddler noises can blend in better.  Each family has their own way of coping.  We tend to bring Cheerios and sippy cups when they are little.  With one of our children we brought Catechesis of the Good Shepherd-style cards with each of the articles of the Mass, so our daughter was interested in finding each item as it was being used.  For a while we brought Magnifikids to church, which was great for a range of ages (it's written for 6-12 but the younger ones like the pictures).  We allow a certain amount of freedom of movement, as long as it's not distracting to the other people in church.  We don't expect a toddler to pay attention to the services or to sing along, but we remind them of our expectations on our way to church.  If they meet our expectations, they get some kind of special treat afterwards.

There's a reason that we should care about this issue:  too many parents use their kids as an excuse to skip going to church, when kids should lead us in the OPPOSITE direction!  Our children belong to God and we need His help to raise them.  Just because something is difficult doesn't mean we give up.  In fact, most young parents I know NEED the strength that only God can give, not the mention the support, example, advice and encouragement of their faith community.  (If you aren't getting that from your church, try finding one that can provide that.)

I am not primarily saying we should all bring our children to church, although that would be great. Like the flight attendant who tells "those traveling with children" to put the oxygen mask on themselves first and then assist their children, we need spiritual strength to be good parents in the first place.

Also, it's not just our children we are trying to lead to God.   What about us?  What about our spouse?  If we stop coming to church we are cutting off a source of grace and choosing to live without God--eternally!  In other words, if you are Catholic it is a mortal sin to miss Mass.  If you are sick, taking care of an infant, or have some urgent work you can miss Mass, but otherwise, get thee to church on time.

Mother church is clear about the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays and Holy Days., and EWTN has a good Q & A about this worth reading.

Let's quit fooling ourselves:  many of us can find a way to get to Mass, even if we have to trade off with our spouses (one goes to Saturday vigil, one goes on Sunday).  If we can't handle the kids during Mass, can we find someone else to watch them at home?  Come on--use your noggin!  We do so many mental gymnastics to accommodate other areas of our life, why can't we apply the same genius to getting our spiritual lives in order?  Surely that should come first!

We all know many young mothers who will move heaven and earth to train for a half marathon or to arrange a Girls' Night Out or something else they really want.  Does the same time and planning go into getting to church?  If you're traveling or looking for a more convenient time, try this site.

As parents we really need the supernatural help to stay married, to stay faithful, and to raise our children well.  That includes taking them to church when they're old enough and providing the crucial example of going ourselves.

There are many articles out there with advice.  While I don't agree with all of the tips in these articles (that would be impossible, because some are contradictory!), these should give you food for thought:


  1. I agree, this is an important topic. I applaud the super-moms with 3 small children listening intently and quietly! But the wrestling and squirming with mine left me feeling so self-conscious. Even reading the comments on some of those articles makes me worry we're offending people. Thank goodness for a church full of struggling parents!

    Trading Masses with each other works best for us right now.

  2. I am always very cautious about hopping into discussions about taking toddlers to church because I have strong opinions and they don't seem to match up with my friends'.
    As a young mother, my kids attended church every week, but I was not the one holding them. I was in the choir loft while my husband, single-handedly, fielded the kids. They were pretty quiet, but they were active. I can remember being embarrassed by them making noise one time and one of my choir members said, "Honey, the only reason they're bothering you is because they're yours."
    As an older mom and a musician, I have watched more than a few battles of will between parents and toddlers. The absolute key in every case is to hold the child if he's doing something objectionable.
    There are two little ones who attend mid-morning mass where I currently work. One is taken out to the vestibule and is allowed to go where he wishes when he is noisy. The other is picked up, taken out briefly, quieted and returned to church. Big difference!
    I have friends who won't take their kids to Mass until it is time for them to receive First Communion. I can't tell you how many times St. Therese's name has been invoked as a shining example of why this is a better way. I'm afraid I disagree with this course of action. I think that nurseries and children's liturgies are bosh, too. Once a child gets the idea that there are more fun things to do than to go to Mass, that's what they'll aim for. Every time.
    So, my thought is, take them to Mass. I really like the guidelines from St. Peter's in Washington D.C. and the one by the woman who taught her kids to sit still at home. They seem to be the most thoughtful and the ones that foster the thought that children are a blessing - a real gift from God! - and not a burden or a chore to be shifted off on another person.

    1. I completely agree with you, Katie ! especially the part : "the only reason they're bothering you is because they're yours." !
      My husband and I won't send our kids (3yo and 1,5 yo) into the nursery, we are sure the Lord will give them (and us !) His Grace even if they're pretty active (so long as they're not disturbing other people)

  3. I used to agree with you, until I had a child who could not be held and quieted in the vestibule. I found myself getting angrier and angrier during Mass, then I realized how crazy is this?!?

    As he made some developmental leaps this year, he was able--and wanted to--sit through a whole Mass with his older siblings. This is why I will have only compassion for the moms pacing the vestibule or stepping outside with a noisy child who can't be held.

  4. Wonderful! I love that this has stimulated discussion. My main point isn't even the issue of whether you take your children to Mass or at what age. It is this: it's essential that we, as parents, don't give up going to Mass ourselves! We need to be "greedy for grace," and the sacraments--including confession--are there for us.

  5. You know, when my son was really young I was struggling with feeling like I was at prayer when my toddler was turning backflips in my arms. I used to take him with me to daily mass. He was pretty good, but not perfect, of course. I had a very wise young priest (a mutual acquaintance of ours, Sarah) tell me that just proved I wasn't a mystic. I had no clue what he meant until my kids were teenagers.
    What he meant was this: Even the act of bringing your kids to Mass and walking them up and down in the vestibule is still an act of worship. It is a sacrifice. Truly. No, it may not help you grow in your catechesis or understanding of the readings, but it is still a prayer - a prayer of sacrifice. That's something that (now that I finally GET it!) I'm sharing with my daughter. Maybe that's a way to think of it. But you are absolutely right, Sarah, we can't give up the sacraments!

  6. Good points, Katie! I have one friend who is married to a non-Catholic and she's the mother of twin boys. It was so hard for her to take them to Mass when they were toddlers! (her husband didn't attend with her) She decided to "train" them at daily Mass--the service was shorter and the the church wasn't crowded. She outsmarted them!

  7. Hi Sarah! I've just found your blog, and I really enjoy/appreciate it! I'm so excited to implement your tips on creating a Montessori environment at home! And as for church-going with kids, I agree that it's so important. Granted, I only have two so far (a 2.5 year old and an 10 month old), and Sunday mornings can stressful. And there are some sacrament meetings during which my husband and I are little more than a blur in the back pew as we take turns exiting and re-entering with our restless little ones. But I know that things will get better as they get older and holding still is not such a challenge for them. In the meantime, I do not want to get out of the habit of coming to church. It's all too easy to just not come back the next week. Even though my kids can't understand every word that's said during church, I know they'll remember that we always made church a priority. And I think that even little children can feel a Spirit at church that they understand and will remember later in life. Just like at home sometimes we think the kids aren't listening or paying any attention, and then they'll turn around and amaze you with how much they were watching and learning. So keep it up, all you church-going moms! It may not always feel like success, but just getting the family to church is a victory!