There are tons of suggestions for how to bring young children to mass.
Bring a special bag with toys they only get for during church!
Sit in the front so they can see what’s going on!
Don’t freak out over every little noise! They’re kids!
Our kids are currently ages 4, 2, and 16 months, so I will take all the suggestions I can get! But one thing I have learned after 4 years of mass with littles (and just from parenting in general) is that what works for one kid or family is not guaranteed to work for all kids and families. So I thought I’d share some of the different things we’ve tried over the years to make mass manageable—the successes and the flops. If you’re finding mass is a struggle, maybe you’ll find something helpful from our experience.
Sitting Up Front
We’ve tried this on and off with varying degrees of success. When it was just our oldest, sometimes this helped so we could redirect our son’s attention to the altar. But once he decided that the front row was prime seating to run up the steps to the altar, or bolt up/down the center aisle, to the back we went.
The Special, “Mass Only,” Bag Of Toys
I’m not organized enough for this. In order for this to work for my kids, I’d need three identical bags with the exact same sets of toys in them so that we wouldn’t have a screaming fight between the girls in the middle of the second reading. So I haven’t even attempted this.
The “No Toys At All” Rule:
We abide by this to a point. My diaper bag always has some random mix of toys in it, and if I need to distract the 16 month old, being able to pull out a little plastic duck is helpful. It works when you’re kids are at an age when, if the older sister decides she wants the duck, it won’t be the end of the world to reach into the bag and just trade for whatever other toy is there. What I try to never let happen is for my kids to pick a certain toy they want to bring into mass before we leave the house. That’s a guaranteed, “That’s MINE!!!” fight waiting to happen. You get what mom pulls out of the purse or nothing at all. Desperate kids are content to play with foam letters, when there’s nothing else available 🙂
…In which my husband and I go to separate masses and switch off staying at home with the kids. Look, it sucks. No one wants to go to mass without their family. But after my third was born, and the oldest was not quite three, we opted—for a time—to switch off masses on Sunday morning, because mass with all three sometimes felt just impossible. This is nobody’s first choice. But I don’t think we should fault families who feel it might be their best or only option during a certain time of life. We never know what an individual family is going through, and chances are, it’s not because they don’t *want* to bring their kids to church with them. It’s just what works during that time. This too shall pass.
What’s Working Now…
Divide And Conquer
This is a happy medium we’ve found between the Sunday Shuffle and just following the kids around outside the entire mass (which, hey, is also an option and something we’ve done). Our parish is rather large, and our oldest is getting to the age and maturity level at which we know that, with some practice, he is capable of sitting through mass. But his little sisters aren’t there yet, and they’re quite a distraction for a little boy trying to learn to be on his best behavior. So lately Dad has been sitting with the oldest and I’ve been sitting on the opposite side of the church with the two littles. Its’ working!! Our son makes it all the way to communion now! Highly recommend this tactic.
I’ve been looking for some version of this forever! All of my children are too young for a legit missal (even a “kid’s” missal), but for a while I’ve felt that the oldest would totally love to have some sort of visual cue as to where we are in the mass. This is it! Simple and straightforward with pictures of the different parts of the mass, numbered so that my little numbers guy knows how close we are to “18,” which is when he gets to go outside. It even has the visual cue next to the mass part of what HE is supposed to be doing during that part (sitting, standing, kneeling, etc.). It is a part of Loyola Press’ special needs learning resources, but can be purchased on its own and I honestly think it’s great for all children. (No official connection here either, I just like it that much).
The Bottom Line
As a parent of littles, mass is just tough sometimes. You feel the dread creep in Saturday night, wonder just how bad it’ll be today on the drive over, and are just so happy the wrestling match is over with the final blessing, at least for another week. You’re not really sure what other options you have, and you just hope one day it will magically get better.
Well, just like your kids won’t go off to college still in diapers, or still climbing into bed with you every night, this phase too shall pass. I’m not there yet, but logically, that makes sense. Lately I’m just clinging to the fact that I still get to receive Jesus in the Eucharist every week, even if I’ve completely missed the homily and have spent 45 minutes wrangling my spunky 16 month old. As I walk up to communion, I remember, “Ok, THIS is why I’m here. I need this. I need you, Jesus, and the grace your presence in the Eucharist will give me for this week.” I try to cling to that, and remember that even when it feels like going to mass is pointless, receiving Jesus is actually EVERYTHING, and there is literally nothing more important I could be doing on a Sunday than bringing my crazy crew to worship Jesus, and to receive Him in the fullness of the Eucharist.
What about you? What have you tried that works/doesn’t work in bringing kids to mass? Let me know in the comments!