Going to church with S is becoming more of a battle every week. We have officially entered into the Era of Doing Everything I Swore I Would Never Do As A Parent. Including (but not limited to): bribes of Cheerios, drinks from the sippy cup, visits to the cry room, and toddling runs around the gathering space.
The piles of books no longer distract; our exclamations of “look what Father’s doing on the altar!” are no longer interesting. It’s tough to find toys that are quiet and can’t be thrown. S wants to walk and explore, and we feel helpless at times trying to keep him contained to a pew for one hour.
Last week after Mass, we met our parish’s faith formation director and her 17-month old daughter in the gathering space. They shared our worn-out, harried look. “It’s so tough to keep them entertained and quiet at this age, isn’t it?” I asked. She sighed. “Impossible. We were fine till about 13 months, and it’s been a disaster ever since.”
We agreed that the cry room is hardly the best option, as it always seems fully occupied by a few families who let their 8 year olds run roughshod in circles around the room. Plus I don’t want S to get in the habit of thinking that if he acts up in church, he gets to leave and go play or loop around the gathering space. (Although I do realize that he’s too young to learn this lesson now.)
But aside from the Cheerio bribery (which we both laughed about never wanting to resort to, since we never got snacks in church growing up!), little seems to work. And it’s becoming more stressful each week.
The problem is of course compounded by the fact that S usually naps at 10:30…which is exactly when Mass starts. We’ve tried the 8:30, but with no better results. And we’re not Saturday night folks, nor is there a Sunday evening Mass offered nearby. So the deck is already stacked against us.
But I’m desperate for any ideas, hints or hopes from parents who have been in the trenches. I would love to find some good “Mass toys” that are quiet, ideally religious in theme; I’ve wondered if Catechesis of the Good Shepherd has anything to offer for Mass time itself?
I know that it’s unrealistic to get a toddler to sit still for 10 minutes, let alone 60. So we’re willing to keep up the trade-off of “you take him out during the homily; I’ll take him out during the Eucharistic prayers” for the near future. But I know this is not a problem that is going to go away for our family any time soon. We will (hopefully!) have future squirmers to wrangle and shush from screaming during the consecration as well.
Children are a central part of the Body of Christ. I believe that babies and kids should be welcome in our congregations. Certainly when a child is acting up or won’t quiet down, they need to be taken out. I think it’s irresponsible parenting to let a screaming child distract the worship of everyone around them, and I’m thankful for cry rooms for exactly that purpose. But I don’t think cry rooms are intended to become a “satellite worship site” for families. Young and old, we need to come together as church.
So what have you done to keep toddlers and small children entertained or quiet during church? Any and all suggestions are desperately welcomed!