I get this question – a lot: “How do you make it through a Mass with five kids?”
Honey, I have no idea. I just know that God was merciful and gave me my children one at a time. We’ve played quite a bit of “live and learn.” Sometimes, we hit a homerun and Mass is glorious. Sometimes I hear all the readings AND the homily AND enjoy prayer time after communion. Rarely, but it happens. Most of the time, however, I’m giving my kids the stank eye, lightly tapping their shoulder or hauling them to the narthex. No Mom is perfect and neither is her experience with her children at Mass. We’re all a work in progress. Can I hear an AMEN?
Over the past decade there are a few trials we’ve endured and I’m hoping these ten (plus a bonus!) suggestions can help you enjoy Mass more and help your kids learn to love it, too.
1. Avoid going during naptime. Let’s face, sometimes you just can’t. But, on the weekends that you can, do it. You’ll thank yourself an hour later. It’s important to note that your baby won’t be taking a morning nap forever, so the morning times may be easier to attend. The name of the game is avoiding as many pitfalls for meltdown as possible.
2. Sit at the front. Or the back. Or somewhere in the middle. I have some parents that swear by each one of those. Bottom line? Do what works for your family and stick with it. Sometimes even those “front rowers” beeline to the back with a *terrific 3yo*.
3. Snacks should be your last resort. I’m all for having a few cheerios or goldfish on hand. But seriously, people? A lunchsack packed with oreos, oranges and a juice box? That’s a meal. I kid you not, I see it every Sunday morning at our parish. Drives me bananas (that’s probably a bad analogy). Mass should not be a mealtime. And, just remember that when you bring it for the baby, all the older ones will want their share. We usually just leave them at home. NOW, having said that, I also have a kid who relies on a liquid supplement for 90% of his calories. In the early days when his weight gain was so abysmal, we brought his drink to Mass in hopes he would drink some. So, one never knows another child’s challenges. Just be judicious when bringing the fridge to church, k?
4. Toys and books should be used with caution. Our last parish had a book bin of religious books that the kids could read during Mass. In theory, that sounds really lovely. In practice, they all wanted the other one’s book about 3-milliseconds into the service. And, if not handed over immediately a large scream, followed by, “That’s MY book!” ensued. Having the entire row in front of you turn and stare was just awesome.
5. Know that every age has its Mass season. Itty bitties can be nursed (discreetly) or left in the carseat. This is where you falsely believe you have the best child on the planet. Toddlers just enjoy running in the narthex trying out their new-found walking feet. Eh, at least you made it to the homily, right? Pre-Kers make you want to pluck out your nosehairs. They scream, move, push and cannot be contained. You’re lucky to make it through the opening prayer with them. School-age kids, if not accompanied by younger siblings, typically ‘turn the corner’ and you again, falsely believe you have the best children on the planet. I can’t adequately and honestly write about teenagers, as we’re not there yet. But, I suspect things like suspending car and cell phone privileges might make for decent behavior. Just know that some Masses you will boast with pride and others you will look for the nearest black hole.
6. Divide ‘em up. My husband and I usually flank the ends, with one of us corralling the baby of the family. If we see a scuffle, we can easily flick the back of someone’s head.
7. Give them an incentive. At our last parish, there was a beautiful rose garden that the kids adored. Our current parish has a rosary garden (currently disassembled but coming back soon). They earned a walk through the garden if they made an “A” or better during Mass. Whatever you do, make it reasonable and free. No need to give them money or earn a toy. I suggest making it an activity they love. You might consider spending a couple of minutes before the Blessed Sacrament in your parish’s chapel as their reward.
8. Consider making different arrangements for “special” Masses. Like the next person, I really love the Easter Triduum or the Confirmation Mass, but taking small children to those you’re just asking for it. Really, you just have to be realistic. Several years ago, my sister-in-law joined the church and our oldest was barely 13 months. My husband went to the first half of the Easter Vigil and then we swapped and I went to the last half. Sometimes compromise is the way to go.
9. Give yourself an attainable goal. Yes, YOU. Each week, we strive to make it to a specific point in the Mass - say, the first reading or the homily – before heading to the narthex for some fresh air. Some weeks we surpass the goal and other weeks, notsomuch.
10. Don’t make other people miserable. Yes, I do keep my children in Mass if they’re having a small scuttlebutt. I might get some head turns, but I don’t believe jerking your kids out of the church at every little thing teaches them anything. Having said that, if you’ve got an inconsolable child on your hands, duck for the nearest exit. Get them calmed down and then come back.
11. Make it a teachable moment. There are lots of things that happen during the Mass that kids will find fascinating. We try our hardest to point them out while keeping the kids engaged in what’s going on around them. We purchased a MagnifiKid subscription for our oldest during his Sacramental prep year and he luh-uved it.
Whatever you do, DON’T GIVE UP. This crazy season of herding cats will end. But, by waiting it out and not going to Mass until you reach that season you miss such a beautiful formational time in your child’s faith life. From one mom who’s experienced just about every horrible Mass experience to you: just keep smiling and whisper those Hail Mary’s under your breath. Your child’s faith life – and yours – will be better for it.