First of all, this is not an article about religion. My husband and I were both raised the same, and our religion has been a strong part of our relationship since we met, transitioning into becoming parents and raising our children the same way. So, no, I am not going to discuss my beliefs, instead I’m going to discuss the praying I must do every time we take our children to church. Praying that no one screams during the homily. Praying I don’t have to spend half of church in the gathering space with a crying child. Praying that a toy doesn’t roll under the pew in front of us resulting in a massive tantrum. But also, praying that maybe in one way or another my two year old is learning and listening.
I like going to church; I like the structure, the serenity, the fellowship, and I want my children to see that as well one day. I like taking my children to church and feeling proud of the family we are growing, but it’s not beyond me to see the sideways glances from people when my son is crying, or the halfway sympathetic smiles you get that really seem to mean “don’t you know there is a cry room?” Sometimes I wonder if it’s worth it at their young ages. I find myself constantly thinking: Is bringing my infant and toddler to church benefiting anyone? Am I just disturbing everyone else’s experience? Do I really even need to be here if I honestly don’t remember one thing that was said today because I was too anxious about my children misbehaving the whole time? I know all of the understanding folks out there will say “at least you’re taking them” and “it will get better”, and I know those things to be true, but when you are a parent in this season of life sometimes those words aren’t enough.
My husband and I sit at the breakfast table every Sunday morning and ask each other if we want to tackle the meltdowns, tears, and constant shushing today, and you know what? We almost always end up saying yes. It’s important to us that we provide stability and structure for our children, and part of that means not backing out of things because they are hard. Let’s be honest – 99% of things with a toddler are hard! Ask them to sit still and play quietly for an hour and a half and they become even harder but that’s part of these years. Their curiosity, voice, and playfulness can’t be easily toned down but that’s what makes toddler life so incredibly fun every day (just not in church ha).
In the end, it’s nice to walk into church and know that my children are appreciated. It’s nice to look around at the familiar faces including a “fan club” of women my grandmother’s age that my toddler son has had since he was a baby. It’s nice to shake hands with people during mass and have them tell us that our children are “so well behaved” when I know they are just being polite – this truly does make me feel better. It’s nice to look over at my toddler and see him fold his little hands to pray while saying his version of “Amen” with everyone else. Those moments make it worth it.
Every week, as I’m standing in the gathering space, bouncing my infant to sleep, I see 2 or 3 other parents out there and we give each other a consoling smile and a look that says “Good job. You made it here, and you are doing the best you can.” Sometimes my friends with kids the same age ask me how we do it with an infant and a toddler, and I tell them that I have no advice. My husband and I usually just hold our breath and hope that one of the toys or books we brought is very entertaining. You don’t need advice to tackle these things. You just need to remember that you are not alone, and without the young, the church will not go on so let them be their energetic little selves because they really are taking it all in. You are setting an example for them, and that is the most important thing.