To the mom of four little kids who sat in front of us at church today:
I hope you don’t mind that I gave your little girl some stickers to distract her from fighting with her brother. I know I should have asked you before giving your child anything, really, but I could see that you were busy trying to manage the baby while separating squabbling kids, and I thought asking you to divide your attention one more way might be more frustrating than helpful. You may have noticed that our families are pretty similar: 4 kids- boys on either end, with two little girls in the middle, with a similar age gap. My kids are a little older than yours and my husband (who used to work weekends) is able to attend church with us these days, but there was a time, not so long ago, when I was just like you: alone at Mass every Sunday with my four young kids. Wanting to pay attention and participate, but instead spending more time separating my kids from each other and trying to get them to settle down than actually hearing what was happening in the Mass. I can’t tell you how many homilies I have missed trying to teach my kids church manners; how much stress I have felt over trying to prevent my children from disrupting other people’s time for prayer and conversation with God.
Now that my kids are older, we don’t have so many days like that. More and more I find that I am able to concentrate on the Mass, listen to the homily, and trust that my kids are behaving the way they’re expected to. It took a lot of stress and hard work on my part to get to this place. And there are still days that I miss just about everything that’s going on because my seven-year-old won’t stand up and my four-year-old needs to go to the bathroom. My kids still fight over who sits next to whom and which of them will be right next to me. But it is getting easier, and I know that I made the right decision in continuing to bring them to Mass, even on the days when I wanted to fall through the floor because I felt like they were making such a scene that EVERYONE around them was distracted and staring at us rather than participating in the Mass.
If I’m being honest, I have to say that there is selfish part of me that was a little resentful of the noise and distraction of misbehaving children in church. I’m not really proud of that- but there it is anyway. I think sometimes, we all fall into the trap of judging others, but I'm working on that. I’ve spent the last 15 years wrestling with my own kids during this quiet, sacred time, and I’ve finally reached a point when they sit quietly. Sometimes I want to go to Mass and just be.
But, as I sat there, with my kids behaving beautifully (this time), I realized how thankful I am. Thankful for my husband being there, and thankful that my children are growing in their faith and actively participating in their relationship with God. Thankful that I persisted in bringing them, because how else would they learn? And also thankful that I have the means to help someone else who may feel the same stress I remember so clearly.
I love that you bring your kids to Mass. I know it is hard for them to sit still and be quiet for an hour. I know that Mass can be boring when they don’t quite understand what is going on. But I also know that the best way out is through, and if you want your children to grow and learn in faith, then sometimes you have to persist. Even when you hope the floor will open up and swallow you whole. In the meantime, I’ll be sitting back here with my kids, with lots of books and stickers. I hope I see you again.