You really can take your kids to church and survive.
If you’re like me, you probably mentally prepare for worship service about 24 to 48 hours ahead of time. “Okay, we’re all going to spend time with Jesus. I have to keep everyone quiet for an hour. Possibly some additional minutes for announcements. Dear Lord, please let them not bring up the parish bake sale until next week. Also, more patience on my behalf would be great. I should probably start looking for the board books and take some Advil yesterday. Amen.”
But we want our children to experience the Mass and to love building a relationship with Christ, so we soldier on. After many Sundays of herding my four little people toward the Blessed Sacrament, here are my top five tips for surviving and, ultimately, loving taking your tiny squad to church.
Getting everyone out the door and into the pew, on time, requires skill and a plan. Sure, you can wing it, but do you want to cry as much as I do? That may or may not have been me in the fetal position last week because I forgot to stick to my outfit guidelines. To avoid a nervous breakdown in front of the ushers, lay out Sunday clothes the night before. If you don’t, the baby ends up wearing tights as pants and one of those stretchy headbands as a shirt. She can pull it off, but now you’re rushing to the car, the three-year-old is wearing two different shoes, and you end up picking the pew closest to the exit because you just realized you’re still in your pajamas. If you can stave off clothing drama, there’s less chaos and a glimmer of hope that the rest of the hour might be smooth sailing. Hold on to that glimmer and forage on.
Pack your bags
Some parents I know are incredibly brave and don’t pack any sort of supply bag. That’s what you get to do once you have college-age children. Whether it’s stocking a handbag, a fanny pack, or a duffle, making sure you have everything you need to get your kiddos through Mass is critical. Bottles, change of clothes, and snacks for the baby are usually top priority in my camp. (I once got stuck with a baby who pooped and I forgot to pack diapers. As much as I wanted to listen about the Sermon on the Mount, in that particular moment, I couldn’t help praying that the Good Lord would suddenly gift me with the know-how to fashion a size-two Pamper out of a Dunkin Donuts napkin and a credit card.) On that same note, books and crayons are also an excellent aid for the four-and-under set. I’d like to think our preschooler is the only one in the world who likes contemplative prayer, but my instincts tell me I’m safer setting him to work with Crayolas and an empty notebook.
I’m not saying you have to be Simone Biles, but when you’re attempting to take kids to mass a little cardio goes a long way. Eat right and work out, because you never know when you’ll be called up to catch the toddler base-jumping from the back of your pew or a baby who’s crawled across the aisle and right into someone’s Vera Bradley handbag. Really hustle. That’s your kid who just made it to the top of the piano and is now singing This Is the Song That Never Ends at the top of her lungs.
By this point in my parenting career, I’m not sure how many services I’ve attended from the bathroom. One-in-five? Three-out-of-seven? If you have kids who are potty training or just potty trained, I can’t help you. You’re going to spend the entire hour in the bathroom. For other kiddos, it helps to do a mandatory bathroom run before church. My approach:
Me: “Everyone go before we leave.”
Kids: “We don’t have to!”
Me: “Go anyway.”
Kids: “She’s so bossy. Other moms don’t boss their kids around. Bet she hopes God doesn’t hear how she’s treating us.”
Me: “Yes, I’m terrible. Now, empty your bladders and let’s go fill up on the Holy Spirit.”
Embrace the chaos
Every Sunday is an adventure. And by “adventure,” I mean that I need three extra cups of coffee by the time we get home. Also five donuts. But it’s worth it. Spending that hour with Jesus as a family is priceless, even if our hour looks like an act Ringling Brothers kicked out of their circus. To all the parents of little kids, don’t worry about being perfect. Babies cry, three-year-olds try to take baths in holy water fonts, and someone’s bound to throw a hymnal at the back of someone’s head. Go anyway. Jesus sees you and appreciates your hard work. Yes, even you stuck in the bathroom with the baby who pooped in her tights. He sees that, too. So remember the miniature change of clothes and soldier on, my friend. Soldier on.
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