parenting hacks of faith: what are your tips for church?

We were gathered around the table in our parish’s fellowship hall, and the boys were ready to tear into their donuts: the long-awaited, long-promised bribery for behaving themselves decently at Mass.

When it hit me: we could do something more here. Everyone finally quiet and happy? Ready to feed our rumbling tummies? Together at last after another morning of trading off the toddler?

It was a perfect moment to seize.

“Hey,” I began, my own mouth full of cinnamon sugar. “While we’re eating our donuts, let’s each say one thing we liked about church today.”

My husband’s eyebrows went up. I shrugged and mouthed why not?

To my surprise, our oldest jumped in immediately. “I liked the drumming. And I REALLY liked when that baby got dunked!”

I laughed. Me, too.

We went around the circle. The youngest declared he liked donut. (Big surprise.) The adults agreed they liked the music, since they both missed the homily. (Big surprise.)

Instead of scarfing down our treats and hustling to the car, we lingered for a change. And thanks to the beauty of baked goods, I actually got my family to participate in one of the forced “what did you do today?” conversations I futilely try to inflict over dinner.

It made me realize that the simplest changes are often the best. Take what works and try it in a new light. The brilliance of parenting hacks.

. . .

We all have hints and helps we learn along the way to make life easier. Even now when I have no time to read a cereal box, let alone an entire magazine, I still tear open Parents to read the monthly “It Worked For Me!” round-up of clever tips from crafty parents. I love these handy hacks, and I’d love to hear yours.

What “hacks of faith” do you use with little ones at church? Not only to keep kids quiet, but to keep them engaged.

A hack is by definition an inelegant yet creative solution, and I can think of a handful I’ve learned from friends along the years to make our faith life infinitely easier with the under-5 crowd:

  1. Sit in the front. If you slip in the back, it’s all too tempting to slip out. Kids can’t see a thing if they’re staring at adult backsides. But in the front pews, there’s always action to grab their attention. It doesn’t work all the time, and we often end up walking the youngest out anyway. But it works enough to make me muster confidence to walk all the way down the aisle even when we’re rolling in at the Alleluia. Kids love to be front and center to see what’s going on.
  2. IMG_2970Stack the deck. My youngest boy’s godmother made the coolest holy-cards-on-a-key-ring toy for her son, and as soon as I saw it I knew I had to copy it. I am not crafty in the least, but this clever project took me about 5 minutes and cost about $5. Perfect. I get tired of trying to listen to the Gospel and whisper-read books about farm animals, so I figure if the church toys offer at least a couple connections to what’s going on around us, it’s better for all of us.
  3. Make your own. The best busy book I’ve come up with for church is one I made myself. (I repeat, folks: if my un-Pinterest-worthy self can hack it, so can you.) I took a bunch of pictures around our parish one Sunday after Mass and stuck them in a small photo album. (A top ten Target purchase of my life, for all it’s bought me in return.) IMG_2966It’s a great tool to help toddlers point and name what they see. And a picture of a statue, a stained glass window, or a station of the cross offers plenty of possibilities for going deeper with preschoolers. Over the years I’ve added photos from both boys’ baptisms so we could remember them whenever a baby gets baptized at Mass. I’ve also slowly taken pictures of how the church looks in each liturgical season so that we can talk about the colors and environment change. Easy as pie. (Or church donuts.)

They’re hacks, not perfect solutions to be sure. (Ain’t much elegant about wrangling squirmy boys in the front pew, I’ll tell you that much.) But more often than not, they work.

And I am all about helping things work.

What clever tricks are hiding up your sleeves? Let’s share some ideas for sanity next Sunday!

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