HDYDI: Survive (and Love) Mass with Kids

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.

Comments

  1. Sharon says

    Thank you! I had one of those massive scuttlebutt moments just this weekend. I sometimes forget that other mothers also have children with a brainless manners moment.

  2. says

    Thank you for these tips. I have a 4, 3, and 2 year old. Our parish offers “church school” during liturgy of the word for kids 3 and up. Since 2 of our kids are old enough to participate, it has been a dream that we only have to help out our little one. My husband and I switch off with her. I know this time goes so quickly so I try not to complain because someday I will miss packing goldfish crackers and MagnifiKid, but oh my sometimes taking the little ones requires my husband and I to need a nap too.

  3. says

    We also “hand off” our kids to someone else during the service. It was a godsend for Caleb those first 15 months when he wasn’t yet cleared to go to the nursery because of his medical issues. There were always folks fighting to hold him or entertain him so that I could focus on the service and leave revitalized for the week ahead. Sometimes they offer to take our older girls too (4 and 6), which is a nice break for us and we’re always impressed how well they behave with someone other than their parents. These generous friends (many with grown children) often thank us for sharing a bit of our family as they miss having littles around. Win-win!

  4. says

    I just wrote my Top Ten Tuesday post for tomorrow on this exact same topic! My tips are different from yours, so it won’t look like I’m copying. : ) I only have two little ones, so I’m still learning. These are great – thank you!

  5. says

    Well, I will tell you we utilize the church nursery from the time the kids are 14-16 months (when they start walking) until around 2 1/2. We never had our first born in the nursery, but each of our subsequent kids have gone for a period of time. Otherwise, we just can’t seem to manage (we also have 5). Mass is really crucial for me–it’s the one chance I get during the week to fill my spiritual tank, and struggling with a toddler the entire time really makes that almost impossible. I have friends who won’t use the nursery at all–and I really admire them, and wonder how they do that. But when the kids do come back into the sanctuary, we only take a few books, no toys, drinks, snack, etc. Otherwise, all you’ll do is try to manage all that stuff. If you take away all the distractions, they really will over time sit quietly, mostly pay attention, and behave at Mass.

  6. Christy Songy says

    I hear you! We’ve experienced all of the mentioned behavior and more. I really like MagnifiKids (my mother-in-law gave the kids a subscription). The only thing I’d add is sometimes I bring “Mass Bingo” – a laminated sheet of Bingo squares with words like Holy Spirit, Amen, Peace, etc. on it. It really ensures that they pay attention to the mass closely! :)

  7. says

    I about DIED this past Sunday when we went to say hi to Father after mass and he says to my son, “You, little man, need a blessing to be quiter during mass!” and proceeds to give him one. I was thankful and mortified at the same time. That being said, this came from the same priest who married my husband and me so I know he loves seeing our family go from just the 2 of us to now 4 (and hopefully more in the future). Just wanted to say thank you for reminding me that there is light at the end of the tunnel! :)

  8. Amy says

    I am forever apologizing for my boys’ (4 and 2) behavior at mass. One weekend when they were being particularly challenging, the lady in front of us responded to my apology – “Don’t worry honey. Having these kids make a fuss means that the church is alive. I would be more worried if there weren’t any kids acting up. That would mean our church isn’t thriving like it should.” I never thought of it that way, but what a great point! That doesn’t mean I don’t try to keep them in line, but more often than not, its easier said than done! :) Thanks for the tips.

  9. says

    Oh how I can relate to all the difficulties touched in this blog. Our mass times tend to be the one place during the entire week when our children choose to display their worst behavior. Good exercise for our humility. Not sure if there is any real answer, just wait for them to grow up (they are 2,3,4 years old). But one thing that has worked for us lately is divide and conquer – husband takes the oldest, and I take the younger two. He sits at the front with the oldest and she behaves very well. I sit at the very back or leave to go downstairs with the younger two, and they behave abysmally, but at least I can manage it well.

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