Church and Children
By Barbara Barthelette
I am of the opinion that, if at all possible, families should be together at Mass, even with toddlers! This is not without some pitfalls so parents should be forewarned of the possibility of storms they may have to weather in the pursuit of a shared family Faith.
Remember, the longer you can keep your toddler from realizing that his legs can work on church property, the more attention you can pay to Mass. A sore back is little enough to bear in comparison to the exercise you may get chasing down an inquisitive child. At two and a half, my son discovered his church legs. His first escape took place in the Children’s Chapel a.k.a. the cry room at church. Initially unnoticed by the occupants, he dived under a row of folding chairs. We watched in anguish as each person popped up in surprise as he crawled under them.
Nursing mothers should start moving gradually back in the church as the baby grows older. I was sitting in the front row one Sunday when my hungry one year old obviously wanted to hear the sermon better. He threw back our privacy blanket much to my embarrassment and the priest’s surprise.
If all efforts at calming a child fails, do stand to the side of the church or in the back. I learned from experience, however, that you should take heed of your surroundings. Always make sure there is not a Holy Water font in the vicinity. They hold a lot of water in spite of their small appearance and they are easy to dump. You may know your skirt is soaked with blessed water. Other people may not be as charitable.
Four and five year olds should be prepared for Mass. Sometimes though it is better not to tell them too much in special circumstances. Julianna knew we were going to a funeral and her sole interest throughout the Mass was the ‘box’ up front. She was audibly verbal about, “I want to see inside now! Maybe he’s not inside! Let’s open it up now!
Sitting in the front row of the Children’s Chapel isn’t always a good idea. In some churches you will find that the congregation in the main body has a fish bowl view. . . and you are the fish! One Sunday I reached down to pick up one child who inadvertently pulled opened the front of my blouse as he climbed up. I immediately turned around only to have the second child flip up the back of my skirt.
You have to learn to ignore small disturbances. A crying baby is often helpful in covering up the name your child is calling the other one. You can be hopeful that the people in your immediate area are staring at you because they are in total awe of your parental management capabilities.
The discovery of manual dexterity almost always occurs during Mass when your two year old wears sneakers with velcro fastenings. The bells at Mass never quite cover this sound as your toddler gleefully opens and closes his shoes.
Always frisk your children before Mass. In the event a contraband fistful of marbles hit the floor during a particularly quiet moment during Mass, just keep staring prayerfully ahead and pretend you didn’t hear it.
The most import fact of life is this. . . There are only two parents to a family. When you exceed the one-to-one ratio with the arrival of your third child, you are on your own. Figure out your own rules!