Sitting calmly in one spot, standing on cue, holding a hymnal without letting it become a projectile, going for communion without scaling the rail- do these sound like your goals for your little ones for church?
How can an hour (give or take) seem so long sometimes? When your toddler just wants to run and every few seconds you are blocking the latest escape attempt the time crawls. When your preschooler won’t stop asking questions- loud ones, it’s easy to feel like every eye is on you.
When I had one child, I traveled to church will a massive, well stocked bag. Not just stocked with diapers and wipes and spare outfits, but toys and snacks, books, anything and everything to try to occupy my child. It was stressful. I dreaded it some weeks.
It’s not the toys that taught her to sit. It wasn’t the books that helped her walk to communion, not try to vault the rail. Actually, it seemed like the more stuff I brought, the more time I spent keeping things together, trying not to let her items sail at some poor unsuspecting person’s head, rows away.
Now I have four children. My bag is small and mostly holds diapers. I have an emergency snack and treat.
I actually feel like I listen to the whole service and get to participate. Some of it is having some older kids to help- my oldest is almost ten and an enthusiastic participant in the service. Some of it is less stuff. My one year old doesn’t throw things because he has nothing to throw. When I’m really having a hard time keeping them in line, I share small pieces of something- goldfish crackers or tiny neat candies.
The biggest help to having my kids be well behaved (mostly!) in the pew is just having them there. A lot. Weekly. Multiple times a week. They know when we climb into our pew that it’s time to sing what is supposed to be sung, not loud songs about worms. That it’s time to try to look forward. To listen to the Word being read. To be blessed at the rail. To be forgiven. It’s incremental and constant and learned from the time they were sweet sinners, brought forward to baptism. And relearned weekly, as I relearn weekly, that we all fall short, we all mess up, and we are loved by our Lord regardless.