Friday, April 22, 2016

My Kids Were Bad at Mass: Yes, I'm Coming Out With It

A dear friend came over for good conversation and hot tea late one night recently. (Her name will remain undisclosed to protect her privacy).  As we sipped our pomegranate herbal deliciousness sweetened with blue agave nectar, a long and vulnerable conversation circling around difficulties, and hardships unfolded. It was somehow all related to parenting. I felt my heart warming and my trust to confide in her growing. I finally told her: "I don't usually share this information, but...

My kids were bad at Mass


Then I shared with her the whole story.  I told her the things we had tried. I told her what had worked and what didn't. I told her what I felt were our personal ins and outs. As we were talking, she said, "I wish I could take you home and you could give me a pep talk like this every day!" When she said that, I was not only shocked, but I realized something. By sharing my weaknesses with her, I was actually encouraging her. And that's where I got the idea for this post. A good conversation is always a good source for blog material!

I hope this will help us all to grow and perhaps it will encourage a person or two. So without further ado.... 7 Reasons My Kids Were Bad at Mass:


Which service do you go to?

When we first started going to this parish, I was stunned at the difference. We were surrounded by ten different families with many little children in tow, many of them homeschoolers, and it seemed all of their kids lined up and acted perfectly all through Mass.  Honestly, this was more discouraging than encouraging. I felt really inadequate and unprepared. When we switched services, I noticed we had less "competition," and many of the families in the early service had more compassion for us.  When I felt more grace surrounding me, I relaxed, and this in turn helped me take care of my kids, and they acted better.


Do you go alone or as a family?

A couple of times when I was pregnant, I sent Stephen alone to Mass with all of the kiddos, because I simply wasn't feeling well enough to wrangle children through a Mass service.  Do you know how bad that made me feel? I was missing Mass, which is a big deal. It is considered an obligation, therefore I would need to do penance for missing it. I felt horribly sending him alone and giving him the obligation to take care of our kiddos! I haven't done it since then, but I was truly so sick that I couldn't go. I would have been exhausted and useless. Most of the time while pregnant I faced it, manned up, and went even though it was so hard. But just getting the kids ready was enough to put me in a mood that was scrambling for sanity, temptation to bad words, and the feeling that I was more than "done" and ready for a nap- this heightened when pregnant.


Do you use the cry room or nursery?

Honestly, yes. With three kids three and under, we do! (And you know what? I feel like I have to add the caveat: Don't judge!). I feel like we try so hard, but every five minutes, someone starts to cry and they interrupt Mass for the other Mass-goers. I feel bad for the noise, and at our very large parish, it is customary to leave the sanctuary when a baby cries. We sit in a pew by the side door, so that we can quickly genuflect and escape when our children cry and interrupt Mass.


Do you look forward to Mass, or do you dread it (with every fiber of your being?)

I dread Mass. I'm not going to lie. We have a huge church. It takes forever to do Communion. Twenty minutes of kids wrangling is hard. An hour and a half of Mass - much of that spent on our knees as we wait for the Creed and then as we wait for our turn in line- is PURE TORTURE.  I try to put on a good attitude and be friendly and kind, because after all, this is the South. We have good manners. We are patient and sweet. haha But usually? I'm struggling.


Do you reward your children after Mass?

Again, not gonna lie. We do.  Our nursery has a sweet African American Grand Ma* who works there. She is paid and her Mom worked there before she did.  She offers the kids treats. She has generic Oreos, gummy bears, and gummy worms already prepared in ziplock bags to keep the kiddos distracted during Mass. On weekdays during our Catholic Motherhood Bible Study/Prayer time, she has cheetos and juice.  And frankly, it works! They go willingly and sit at a table and eat their treats or snacks.

Here's the deal: Molly and Frances will sit through Mass and they know that if they're good they get their "sugar bags" at the end. The little ones will often get their candy bags sooner.

Recently, our nursery was completely renovated, redecorated, and just generally given a good "oomph." It is actually a really nice place to be when babies are screaming, it's a great place to nurse, settle them down, and the peace and community there is good for our spirits. That's what it's there for.  haha  And might I add that recently when we were at the Zoo in Birmingham, I was shocked - in a good way -  to discover that the bathroom had a rocking chair. Do you know how many times I've been forced to nurse while sitting on a toilet? #disgusting


How old are your kids?

Our kids are 8, 5, 3, 2, and 7 months old.  Our 8 and 5 year old can sit through Mass. So parents of toddlers, take heart! It gets easier!  Our 3, 2, and 7 month old cry during Mass. It is what it is.  We try to get them on a routine, and that routine just simply does not include "sitting all the way through Mass, " for us, anyway.  Usually it means that we wrangle them as long as we can, and then we take a break in the back, then go to the nursery for a bit if things are really hard (and then, they can have their treat bags), and then we bring them up with us in the line for Communion. That's our goal, anyway. They know the routine and usually they are pretty good. ;) We have a good balance, I feel, and they don't hate Mass, so that's good! ha! We know that someday SOON! they will be able to sit all the way through. So we don't sweat the little years as much now. And- AND!- Madeleine has sat all the way through Mass at 3 several times already, so she is already showing signs of the self-control and good behavior needed for a long Mass service.


Are you a cradle Catholic or a convert?

I'm a convert. If I had grown up this way, as I'm sure many of the large, homeschooling or just generally "wonderfully-well-behaved children" at our Church did, I think it would have been a million times - no, infinitely- easier to teach our kids how to behave at Mass.  But I did not grow up this way. I grew up with nursery. Period. No questions asked, no buts about it. Now it is the complete opposite in general, and I really feel that our Basilica is gracious and is just in general the exception to the rule when it comes to Catholic parishes in our country. From what little I know in my five years of being Catholic, it is common to look way down on cry rooms and nurseries. Just figuring out how to get myself through Mass is (or has been) hard enough. When I'm pregnant, nursing, or wrangling a toddler, I just give myself a HEAPING helping of grace, say a few Hail Mary's and an Our Father before Mass starts, and pray that our kids don't die or we don't kill them in the process. ;) ;) ;)

I hope this helps. I don't think you need "sugar bags" or rewards at Mass. But it is the culture at our parish, and it is what it is, as I said. I think- honestly- that it helps our kids actually not want sugar as much. If you are used to coke or coffee at Church, eventually you get tired of it, the excitement and joy of it wears off, and by the time you're older- like High School- you don't need it so much.  I don't think it means we are raising them to love addictive substances. Stephen often brings candy home to the kids at the end of the day. I, for one, think this is a great idea, because it is so much better than unneeded toys, and I think by the time they are older it will wear off. We both remember from our childhood having an elderly gentleman at Church on Sundays who passed out candy to kids (my Great Uncle John did that at our Summer church every Sunday). I think, after talking to my friend that, it means: "This is hard, but we do it every week, and we are developing and nurturing the BEST habit of all- going to Mass."  And for converts, that's what is most important. We need the habit most of all! ;)

*And it's nice to know our Church Family has "help." Or paid workers. Haha
Adding my Link to Kelly @ This Ain't the Lyceum


Michele Chronister said...

Speaking as a cradle Catholic... what you're describing here is 100% normal. Every Catholic family with younger children has stinkers in their pew (at least the 3 and under crowd!) so just know...totally normal! And my only problem with cry rooms is the older people that sit in them (without kids!) just they can leave Mass early. Cry rooms have SAVED me!!!

So seriously... you're doing great. You're doing even better than a lot of cradle Catholics! The only trick is sticking it out as best you can until they grow up. ;-) You're doing great!

Tacy said...

Thanks Michele! I'm glad to hear I'm not the only Mom using the Cry Room. I'm just glad to have a peaceful, clean place to nurse my baby without feeling like I'm flashing the world-- not my favorite feeling. :0) haha I know we are not perfect, but I do have a lot of respect for the the friend I was talking to about all this. She is the best Mom and she was really heartened to hear we are not perfect (AT ALL) either.

me said...

Speaking as another cradle Catholic, you've got me beat! Depending on the temperament of our toddlers, we would often not even take them to Mass. It just wasn't worth it to have a screaming lunatic (even in the cry room!). We would split up - Dad at Saturday evening Mass with some kids, mom in the morning with others, so we could have some peace at church. It's taken a while to get some of the stubbornest ones to behave at Mass (and they're not perfect). My hope is to have them behave somewhat well before they're old enough to serve. Participating in Mass as a server makes Mass more meaningful for some of the more active among my kids.

Nicole Ernest said...

Thanks for sharing your experiences at mass! We have had some of the same which I shared here!!

Ellen said...

I'm sorry there's a negative feeling against nurseries where you are. In all my growing up, I never heard about that. It's only in the mom blog world that I've noticed people looking down on them. I'm glad you have one to use when you need it.

Ellen said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tacy said...

Thank you Ellen! I identify with the feeling that it is more responsible *not* to use a cry room. However, our parish is large and it is a far cry from doable in my situation.