Welcome to this installment of The Ask – a series devoted to taking your questions rooted in Catholic living and providing solid, orthodox advice you can use in your everyday. How does it work? We take questions from you, our readers, and Krista marries the spiritual and practical to give you ways to apply the advice given to help you walk with Christ. Have a question? Email KRISTA to submit your question.
How do I keep toddlers behaved during Mass while still maintaining some semblance of prayer and worship for myself? – Distracted Mom Of Littles
My immediate response? Lower your expectations.
After further thought and reflection? Lower your expectations.
In all seriousness, though. You have toddlers! Toddlers are only going to behave so well at Mass. Since I’m not sitting next to you at Mass every week, I have no idea where your kiddos sit on the spectrum of “quiet angel babies” and “tiny barbarians destined for sainthood”. I do know, though, that anytime my kid is anything to the right of angelic, I start to panic. Not only do I want to avoid judgey looks from fellow church goers who have:
- Never had the pleasure of bringing a squirmy child to Mass
- Forgotten what it’s like to wrangle tiny humans in pews
I also don’t want to interrupt anyone else’s prayer. I don’t want my child to inconvenience or burden other people. And then I have to stop and check my heart for thinking that my baby being a baby is burdensome. Heaven forbid my words or behavior around her in Mass suggest that she is a burden to me or anyone else.
In my 28 years of going to Mass, I cannot pick out a single family in a crowd and say “Gosh, these people really shouldn’t be allowed to have kids, let alone take them out in public.” Before I had a baby myself, the sound of kids crying, talking, playing games or fighting with their siblings was simply part of Mass. It was background noise. Sometimes it was really high pitched background noise, but it was never more than background noise.
It wasn’t until I had a baby that I became hyper vigilant about every squeak and squawk she made from the moment we walked in the Church doors to the minute we stepped back through them into the sunlight. I’d be lying if I said I don’t feel like a “good mom” when our baby is quiet and happy through Mass and that I sometimes feel bad about my mothering skills when she’s fussy or unhappy.
We need to remember that our kids are kids! And that they’re behavior in Mass will depend on several factors including their stage of development, their energy level, whether they’re healthy or maybe coming down with a cold, etc.
Now I’m certainly not saying we don’t have high standards for our children, but I am suggesting that we set reasonable expectations for their behavior and separate their behavior from our sense of worth as parents.
If your toddlers are just being toddlers and someone is looking at you disapprovingly, that’s on them, not on you. If your toddlers are having a dumpster fire style meltdown, maybe try calmly removing them from the sanctuary for a few minutes to assess what’s causing the mayhem.
When toddlers throw tantrums, they need extra love from us. Tantrums are a way for kiddos to express feelings they don’t have the words for yet. When toddlers are melting down, a snack and a snuggle go a long way. Isn’t that true for most of us?
Outside of major tantrums, let your kids be kids. I remember spending much of Mass sitting on the kneeler, absentmindedly responding “thanks beady God” and watching my dad sit, stand, kneel, fold his hands and receive communion while I colored or read books. I learned how to go to Mass by observing. I bet those Masses weren’t all that prayerful for my dad. I bet he spent a lot more time than I realize keeping me from coloring in the missal or decorating the back of the pew with my Lisa Frank stickers. Looking back, though, I think his approach to bringing me to Mass as a small child is why I feel so comfortable in my Father’s house as an adult.
Instead of feeling like I’m walking into the stuffy home of a mean and distant relative where I have to keep my hands in my pockets and smile politely, going to Mass feels like going home. I can breathe deeply, come as I am. Isn’t that how we want our kids to feel?
It may seem counterintuitive, but maybe try sitting up front so your littles can see what’s going on. If they ask what’s happening during Mass, tell them! Try keeping some special books, coloring books and toys that you bring out only at Mass. There are several Etsy shops that sell fun Mass toys! It’s important that our kids have positive experiences in Church if we want them to grow up in to faith filled adults. Right now, that looks like playing with special toys, eating snacks, snuggling with you and looking around. All the while, Jesus is holding them close, and he is happy they’re there. Jesus sees your littles crawling up and down the pews, giggling and goofing off and it makes Him smile.
As far as making it more prayerful for you, maybe squeeze in a solo daily Mass if you have childcare during the week. If you have relatives or friends who go to the same Mass, sit together and share the toddler love. Many hands make light work. And know all the while that you loving your babies is a prayer.
Jesus still says “let the little children come to me!” Our children belong at Mass because they are both the present and the future of our Church! Keep going mama! You’re doing great!
Love In Christ,
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About Krista Steele
Krista is a licensed social worker living in Columbus, Ohio with her husband, Jeff and their dog, Hank. She believes the best moments in life happen around the table, there's always room for one more book in your Amazon cart/suitcase/purse, and that every load of laundry folded is an hour out of purgatory. You can find her on the trails with her boys, on the couch with a novel, or on her knees in front of the blessed sacrament.