Donuts, Mass bags, and how to survive (and thrive) with kids in the pew
June 24, 2015
You know what ain’t easy like Sunday morning, Adam Levine?
Church with small children.
The struggle is real, whether or not the deep-fried carrot of K of C donuts can be dangled in front of your sugar-seeking angels, because if there is one thing little kids are not, it’s predisposed to prolonged periods of contemplative silence and focused attention.
Though, then again, neither are many adults…
We’ve taken our kids to Mass in 3 different countries and maybe a dozen other states, and the one constant has always been, there is no constant. From week to week, from kid to kid, on any given Sunday there’s bound to be somebody feeling bad, acting worse, and dumping and projecting the entirety of mommy’s purse. (Like that rhyme?)
Some of our best and worst masses were during our stint in bella Roma, because while the churches were peerlessly beautiful (and therefore highly sensorily engaging to kids) and the liturgies high and fine, sometimes the homily would be in Italian, sometimes the Pope would be there and therefore, 4 hours long, and sometimes there would just be no air conditioning. (Okay, that was all the time.)
Now that we’re comfortably ensconced in our beloved local parish, we’ve had about 2 years of hardcore practice in one particular building, and we’ve discovered some tricks of the trade to help – not guarantee, but help – the hour between 9:30 and 10:30 pass a little more peacefully.
(Keep in mind this is what works for us right now with kids ages 4.75, 3, and 1.5 (plus an 8 month bump). So it’s all subject to change. And I know other parents who swear by various and different practices, so, here’s the salt shaker. Take as many grains as you care to.)
1. We go to Mass at the same time and in the same place every Sunday, as long as we’re in town. This has the twofold effect of giving the kids some predictability and stability of routine because this is what we do and where we do it on this day, and it has also helped us to bond and connect to other families in our parish, along with our pastors. Also, we know we’re hitting the loudest, most, ahem, dynamically fruitful Mass of the weekend. So if we have a pterodactyl on board (which Genevieve has proven again and again to be the terrible avian reptile queen of), we know we aren’t going to be traumatizing a greying congregation used to serene silences and occasional organ music.
(And, duh, if our kids are being abnormally loud or are disrupting the liturgy, we take them out. Nursing babies occasionally need a few seconds longer than is comfortable to settle down in slurping silence, but when the toddler starts tantruming we bounce, for everybody’s sake, the misbehaver’s included.)
2. Be prepared. We take a little canvas bag filled with religious cards (you know the endless amounts you get in the mail/from work/from various ministry events? Now they have a purpose. You’re welcome.), medals, a rosary or two, and lots and lots of books. Ignatius Press sent along three beauties to review a few weeks back, Let’s Pray the Rosary, A Missal for Little Ones, andCatholic Saints for Children, and they’ve quickly become house favorites.
I loveIgnatius’ children’s line because the content is rock solid and, almost as importantly, the illustrations are gorgeous, particularly their Magnificat series. Since none of my little snowflakes can read yet, that’s a big ‘un for us.
Of the three titles, I was most excited to get my hands on Catholic Saints for Children, because it was the very first book I’d ever seen that had something on St. Genevieve! (The boys are still scratching their heads as to how “Evie got her own saint!” so I guess we did a bang up job explaining her name to them. Ha.) It also has stories and prayers about St. Joseph, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Francis, St. John Paul II, and St. Therese. Boom. Entire family canon, right thur.
We tend to rotate 4-5 books every few weeks so they don’t get stale, and we try (try, being the operative) to have them religiously themed. I’m not going to pretend JP wasn’t reading Spot the Fire Dog last week though. But, these beauties from Ignatius make it a lot easier to fill the bag. I can heartily recommend them for ages 3 and up, with “Let’s Pray the Rosary” being applicable for much older kids, too.
Oh, and Evie gives her gummy, page-ripping approval of any and all dust jackets. Lovely girl.
3. Bribery. I mean, whatever works, right? I know I’d sit still for an hour for donuts. (And I’d go 90 minutes, easy, for an order of Eggs Jennifer at Lucille’s.) We tell the kids up front what our terms are and what the targeted reward is: lighting a candle, stopping for donuts, a trip to the park across the street afterwards, etc. Choose your own diabetic adventure, but don’t be afraid to connect good behavior + a sweet reward in their pliable little brains. It’s good for their sacramental imaginations, too. Dave vividly remembers his dad taking them out for donuts or ice cream after Saturday afternoon confessions, because “the Father’s forgiveness is sweet.”
And how sweet is that?
4. If it works for your family, then it works for your family. And if it doesn’t? Don’t sweat it.
Some of my friends swear by the front row strategy. We’ve tried (and failed) again and again, and I’m ready to concede that at this point, the walk of shame is simply lengthened by our immediate proximity to the liturgical action. So we sit midway back, always on the aisle for maximum procession-viewing ease, and we are prepared and willing to pull the eject button if and when it becomes necessary. Some people like the crying room (though our parish doesn’t have one) and others rock the cheerios. No shame, parents. You’re already well ahead in the game of life simply for taking those precious little souls you’ve been entrusted with to God’s house every week. So do what works.
And if you’re looking at the last chocolate frosted glazed donut in the box? Look around for any pregnant women lurking in the line before you snap it up. It may just save your life.