Domestic Church: Taking Little Ones to Mass

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by Katie Sciba

I have a confession to make: I haven’t always liked going to Mass. There have been some lengthy periods when the idea of going to Sunday Mass with my family made me want to head for the hills. Our kids were challenging and obnoxious in Mass, so much so that I was resolved that Andrew and I would attend Mass separately each Sunday just so we could avoid hauling our traveling circus into parish-view. We’ve received fantastic advice and insight from veteran parents that made going to Mass as a whole family not just possible, but enjoyable. It’s taken tears, fits and persistence to get us where we are, but we’re grateful for the wisdom passed to us.

1. Up your pre-game.

We’ve learned there’s no such thing as getting ready for Mass “real quick” for our family. It has to start 1 ₂ to 3 hours ahead of departure time, and it takes a divide-and-conquer approach from Andrew and me. Teamwork from us parents is a must if we want to arrive on time and stave off mutual resentment. The kids’ Mass attire is presentable, but it has to be comfortable, too. Uncomfortable shoes, pants and shirts make it hard for the kids to deliver good behavior. To avoid further disruption and tears during Mass, every child takes two trips to the bathroom an hour before and immediately prior to our departure. Though things can be pretty chaotic at our house, we try to keep Mass prep slow to avoid the stress of rushing.

2. Check and voice expectations.

Regardless of how terribly or well our preparations go, the ride to church is a behavioral pep talk. We’ve been going over the same rules every Sunday for years, and now every little Sciba can recite them. They know there won’t be any trips to the bathroom, they have to be prayerful with their bodies – folded hands and upright posture – and they have to pray along, saying the responses. Three simple rules. When our kids slip in any area, we give them a nudge and then model what we want them to remember.

3. Sit up close and talk.

This one is counter-intuitive. It’s tempting to sit toward the back in case we have to make a quick exit with a fit-thrower or potty-goer; but it turns out that kids with comfy clothes and empty bladders are more likely to behave, and with the added bonus of being able to see, the whole family has a shot at making it through Mass, sanity intact. There in the front pews the kids experience every part of the liturgy in plain sight. For our younger ones, we hold them and whisper what’s happening on the altar, “See how Fr. Dan kisses the Gospel after he reads it?” “Watch the servers when they ring the bells. They do it because Jesus is here.” We talk almost the whole Mass to our little ones learning so we can help keep them focused.
4. Respond to behavior.

For the children with angelic manners during Mass, there are stickers or check marks on a chart at home; high fives for the older ones. Whatever we use to reward, the kids get psyched for it. For the kids whose behavior needs tweaking (or revolutionizing), there is a conversation about what they need to work on with follow-through the next Sunday. Really bad behavior gets bigger discipline.

Above all, the biggest, most important tip I’ve received was to KEEP GOING. Practically speaking, parents and kids need consistent practice for behavior and experiences to improve; but even setting this aside, there is nothing more powerful than bringing our families before God. Wild kids will at least be in the presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, as well as their tried and tired parents. The Lord sees our persistence, our struggles and victories with our families, and loves us in both.

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