Kids at Mass
By Andrea Nease
Anyone who has ever taken children to Mass knows how distracting they can be. Taking children to Mass is a hotly debated topic. I venture to guess most people reading this have a similar opinion as my husband and I: A moderate level of noise/movement is acceptable, but if things get to a certain point, we take our children to a separate area so they aren’t a distraction to other parishioners.
We have two boys: DS1, who is almost 4 years old, and DS2 who is 20 months old. DS1 is usually great at Mass, but DS2 can be a handful, which is expected at his age. He’s in a stage that is full of curiosity and exploration and energy. So, DS2 is difficult at Mass and can be an instigator for playful behavior for DS1. DS2 knows what church is all about. As soon as we walk in the building, he often gets a huge frown on his face and starts to cry, because he knows he’s not going to be able to roam free and be loud.
Since this stage is most likely going to last for a while, I’ve come to expect that I’m not going to be able to pay much attention at Mass. I try and read the readings before or after, or my husband and I will give each other a summary based on who was able to pay attention at the time. I know we’re doing the best we can and that going to Mass, and modeling this for our children, is the most important thing. However, it’s still frustrating not being able to pay close attention, and honestly I can be a little resentful.
This past Saturday we went to evening Mass, and I missed almost everything. I heard the first reading and the rest of the time I spent with one or both of the boys outside the congregation. Since this is a common occurrence lately, I wasn’t too surprised, but I kept thinking to myself how I was getting NOTHING out of the Mass. I couldn’t hear the readings, I couldn’t hear the homily. I wasn’t going to be able to take anything away and reflect on it and grow spiritually.
At one point I was with DS1 in a little prayer room off to the side of the church. I figured I should do something productive while I was there with him, so I told him we were going to pray the rosary. I let him go up and pick out two rosaries for us to use that were laying on the pews. He sat next to me, and I started teaching him what the beads were for and how to count them, and started praying out loud. He prayed with me, willingly and happily, up to the eighth Hail Mary. I was surprised he prayed that much, but at that point he said “I’m getting tired of this.” I then asked him if he was ready to be quiet and sit still and go back with Dad, and he said yes. I took him back but it wasn’t long before DS2 started acting up, which caused DS1 to as well, and back out we all went. This time, I showed the kids the holy water and how you’re supposed to do the sign of the cross once you touch it. I pointed out an embellishment on the railing of the stairs that had three circles and explained to DS1 how it represented the Trinity, one for God, one for Jesus, and one for the Holy Spirit. DS1 took it all in and was eager to learn these things, very engaged.
During this time, I realized that the boys and I had gotten A LOT out of Mass, even if it wasn’t what I had been expecting. The biggest lesson I took away was how I need to spend more time teaching the kids the Catholic faith. I’ve slacked off recently and put other things first, when it should be my top priority. DS1 probably learned more during that Mass about the faith than he has any other. I always try to point things out during the Mass to the boys, but I think it really made a difference with them being able to touch objects as I was talking, since we normally can’t when we’re in the congregation. So, the next time you have to leave the pews with your children at Mass, do not despair. God can still work through you and with you and give you exactly what you need.