Sunday, June 28, 2015

Surviving Mass With A Young Toddler

 Going to Mass since The Minion became mobile has been a challenge to say the least. Sometimes, especially when Mr. Crunch is gone, I seriously consider staying home. If I'm being honest, I have stayed home a few times because just thinking about going is overwhelming and stressful.

The Minion is 20 months old on Tuesday and I think we are finally through the hardest time. Not to say it's easy now, but I no longer feel like bursting into tears halfway through Mass, today I didn't have to leave the pew and stand in the back with her, NOT ONCE! I am absolutely sure I just jinxed myself, but at least I have hope.

Did my daughter magically become an angel child? (No way, as evidenced by the grapes all over my dining room floor). Is 20 months a magic age? (No, some kids are never this hard, and some are worse for longer). So what happened? Time and consistency. We have been going to church almost every Sunday since she was 4 days old. Plus she is finally getting old enough to understand the limits of the pew.

First, let me say, this is my only child. I am by no means an expert. This is all compiled from advice that was given to me, things I've tried, and things that I've seen other parents do.

What to bring:

Cheerios or Goldfish in a snack cup are great options. I've seen parents with crackers, popcorn, fruit loops, pretty much anything that is dry and easy to sweep up. Tip from one of my mom friends: fruit gummies are nearly impossible to get out of a carpet when they have been stepped on, don't bring them to Mass.
Oh, and don't forget a drink, water is easy clean-up.

Prayer books are always good, but really, any book that doesn't roar, sing, chirp, or make other loud (embarrassing) noises during the consecration.

Same rules apply as books. Pretty much anything that doesn't make noise. I try for soft or rubber toys because they aren't as loud when they get banged on a pew or thrown on the floor, but whatever keeps the kid happy. Happy kid noises don't bother people nearly as much as unhappy ones.

Crayons/Pencils and Paper
Bring at your own risk. This has worked for us though.

Now What?

1. Pick a Mass time that works for your schedule.
Before The Minion was born and when she was little, we usually went to the noon Mass at our church in town. We enjoyed staying in bed, eating a big breakfast, and basically just lazing around before Mass. The problem now is that we usually eat lunch around 12:30, then naptime is around 1:30. Expecting a toddler to be contained from noon to 1(:15) when she is tired and hungry is a recipe for disaster. I recently discovered that waking her up and taking her to Mass at 8am works really well, she is still sleepy for the majority of Mass and mostly cuddles, nurses, or plays quietly. But 8am doesn't work for Mr. Crunch's work/sleep schedule. So when he is home, we try to go to 10am Mass in the next town over. The short drive is worth it for a happy toddler, plus they have more space in the back of the church for kids to wander.

2a. Let your child pack their own church bag
I only figured this out today. I let my Minion pick her own books, and toys. Then I had her put them in her bag along with her cup and goldfish. For the first time ever, she was actually interested in reading her books instead of precariously flipping through the church song books (Why has nobody figured out that those pages need to not rip so easily??).
Remember that too many choices can be hard for toddlers, so let her pick from just a couple of her favorite books and toys.

2b. Have designated toys and books for church
Keep a bag by the door or in the car with a few toys, books, and snacks that are specifically for Mass. Don't let her play with anything in the bag unless you are at church.

3. Find ways to prevent a morning rush
Obviously this isn't always possible. But if it's a problem for you, maybe try picking a different Mass time. When we go to 8am Mass, I try to make sure I'm totally ready before waking The Minion up. Then I tell her that we are going to church, let her pick a dress, let her pack her bag, and generally just take our time. (I try to do this with all our outside activities, not just church.)

4. Be consistent
It may seem like the easy way out, but the less often you go to Mass, the harder it will be for your toddler. Kids need consistency and routine in order to thrive. If going to Mass isn't familiar to them, there is a higher chance of meltdowns and they will have a much harder time staying in the pew.

5. Engage your child in the Mass
It's ok to talk a little (in a soft whisper of course) to teach your little one what The Mass is all about. Start with the practical aspects: "Listen to the pretty music." Do you see Mr. Smith? He is reading us a story about God."
My daughter's favorite part is when the bells ring during consecration and I tell her "Jesus is here now!"

6. Remember...
Just because you have walked into church doesn't make your toddler any less of a toddler. She still can't sit still, he still hasn't learned to whisper, she still hates shoes, he still loves to talk to every person he encounters. All of that is OK. Really.
The little old lady sitting behind you loves interacting with toddlers because she misses having them.
The teenager doesn't care because he is looking for every excuse not to pay attention to Mass.
The young couple can't wait until they have a toddler of their own.
The other parents aren't paying any attention to your kids because they have their own to worry about.

If your child is yelling, running around, or has a tantrum, remove them temporarily. That is simply respectful of those around you. But a bit of whining or normal toddler exploration is no reason to leave. You getting up every 5 minutes is probably more disturbing than a little noise.

My Minion likes to sit on the floor just outside the pew. She doesn't wander off or bother anyone, she just plays at the opening to our seats. This would only be a problem during communion, and she is very much occupied by other things during that time, so it doesn't matter. She will learn to sit quietly with us in time, as we teach her.

Someone got annoyed at your toddler? Say a prayer for them. Maybe they are having a hard day/week/year. Maybe they just can't see how much joy a toddler has. Whatever their reason, that you don't know, say a prayer. Then sit near someone else next week.

7. Read this post
and remember that bringing your children to church MATTERS.

*images from Google search

Chime in: Do you have trouble with your toddler in church too? What tips do you have for us parents in the trenches?

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