My husband and I met at our university’s Catholic student center in the fall of 2008. At that time we shared a love of the Catholic Mass. The ritual of the same Mass each week, no matter what time it is or what time zone you’re living in (an officer in the Air Force, John has attended the same Catholic Mass in 10 countries), the music, the readings, perspective from the sermon, the peace that comes after an hour of prayer and meditation, the community and the huge brunch that usually came afterwards. When he’s serving overseas, it always brings me a lot of comfort to know that he’s hearing the same readings and reciting the same prayers that I am, thousands of miles away.
Eight years and two babies later, we still love the Mass.
Initially, the idea of bringing babies to church was really overwhelming, but the more experience we got and the more encouragement we received, the more we realized that babies belong at Church. My main concern was that they’d disrupt the Mass and people would be irritated. On the contrary, our babies have been treated like cherished members of the community and we’ve only ever gotten positive remarks and encouragement from our fellow parishioners. If they misbehave, they misbehave. But when they’re punished and corrected swiftly and subtly, it really doesn’t disrupt anyone’s prayer time. We’ve had numerous people (including priests) thank us for bringing the kids to church since everyone loves to see the little ones!
If our ten month old cries, my husband takes her to the back of the church until she settles down or falls asleep in his arms. I always breastfeed her immediately before church so she’s full and happy. With our first, we started bringing Puffs to church to snack on, but after he started throwing them at people, we resolved never to bring food to church again. We find it’s really not necessary to keep them quiet.
We go to the 8:00 AM Mass, since we’ve found that it’s the one farthest from nap time, and therefore the one where our 2.5 year old is most likely to behave. We set out most things (outfits, breakfast, diaper bag, etc.) the evening before, so all we have to do is get up, dressed and in the car. The 2.5 year old has a lunchbox filled with toy cars and trains that he can play with in the pew and I have a coloring book and crayons in my purse just in case he gets too restless.
During the Mass, I quietly explain what’s happening, the reason we’re there and why we have to sit still at some parts and go up to the altar for communion. He loves that every week we experience the same exciting (for toddlers) things: bells, candles, music, etc. Our parish priest is amazing and Peter loves watching him say the Mass. He loves waving and yelling, Hi, Father Paul!! as the priest processes down the aisle. And, of course, he usually doesn’t object to the donuts that come after a Mass with good behavior.
It’s completely unreasonable to think that putting your spiritual life on hold for the entire time that you have small children is necessary or even productive. Furthermore, we’ve started helping teach Sunday school classes, which has been such an unexpected blessing. The high school students love the kids and the kids love the students. Getting to sip coffee while someone else plays peek a boo or draws on a white board with your kid is pretty wonderful!
The earlier you start regularly bringing your kids to church, the earlier they’ll start understanding that it’s a family tradition and that faith is something your family values. The earlier you bring them to church, the earlier they’ll understand that sitting (relatively) still for an hour is something that they’re capable of. The earlier that you bring them to church, the earlier they’ll understand that the whole world is not about them, it’s about serving others. The earlier you bring them to church, the earlier they’ll understand the importance of community and unconditional love.