Jared Zimmerer and his wife have four little ones, which can make Mass a little more interesting than usual. Today, Jared offers some off the cuff tips on how to navigate the practicalities of attending Mass with a crowd of kids in tow.
The Holy Sacrifice of the Mass is the most captivating event in which human beings are allowed to take part. A portal opens up from the high heavens and the angels and saints join in to hear the most sacred words ever said, “This is my body.” If we truly understood and perceived what occurs at the altar, the Catholic churches would be more packed than any Super Bowl you could ever imagine. But besides immersion into a mystical and otherworldly moment, something else transpires for the parents of small children. I myself have four kids. My oldest is 5 years old and my youngest is 11 months. So, needless to say, the Mass for me often turns into a trial; my heartstrings are tugged between the goodness of the Sacrament to the emphatic physical practice of holding back my wrath on the little ones that I love.
Here in Texas we have a saying that we use when it’s nearly impossible to keep something still: “It’s like herding cats.” If you’ve ever tried to herd a big group of cats, you might as well scratch yourself and nose dive into the dirt because this is the most probable outcome. While my children are very well-behaved most of the time, the Mass creates a ‘cat’ mentality within them. After many years of herding my children, my wife and I have discovered a few strategies that have worked for us.
We usually allow the kids to pick one quiet toy to take with them to Mass. This practice is often a gas as most of the time one (or all) of them will choose the biggest, loudest toy they have. So, during the discussion/squabble of why they can’t bring the 4-foot fire truck with lights and noises loud enough to rattle the walls, one of the other kids is running around in the back yard trying to find a dirt pile or mud pit to make sure that his church shoes have that nice grime to them. (True story: last year before Easter, after several hours of trying to convince my son to wear his tie, one of my other sons took a nose dive into a mud pit as we were walking to the car.) However, once your kids understand what type of toy is permissible, the conversation gets easier. In making sure to pick the right fight, you’ll need to be lenient with the fact that most of the time their quiet toy looks like a demonic alien or a dinosaur from the bowels of Hades. But, this can serve as a healthy reminder to your fellow parishioners the one with whom we do battle.
I have often heard that for many families, trying to sit in the first or second pew can really help your children. I have had some success with this method, but another issue arises when you have two boys that can never, ever go to the bathroom at the same time, and one whom you are potty training. So, yes, the nice view of the altar is great for parents and kids alike… until your son needs to “go potty,” and the whole way down the aisle he is saying, ‘I need to pee Dad!’ and holding super tight onto the zipper area of his pants. For us, we’ve found that sitting a few rows from the back is actually better.
My wife is very good about making sure that her goody bag has a nice assortment of crayon books and crayons. The one difficulty is that while I try to find a few crayon books with some type of Christian message, my boys typically admonish anything that might look like butterflies and balloons. I guess we need to find a coloring book where David is sharpening his sword before battle and the Pharaoh is covered in frogs. Generally, the range of coloring books that will actually keep them entertained is either superheroes or something that looks like the ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers.’
Most of the time the hardest part of keeping your kids in the correct behavioral mode during Mass is the fact that while you might want them to act a certain way, they are still kids. Being mindful of the overcharged imaginations (when their bodies might be sitting in a pew but their minds are probably off on an adventure with the Wild Kratts or trying to figure out which costume they’re going to put on when they finally get to take off the church clothes) is a surefire way to keep your insanity (and hold your temper). Look at the difficulty as a way to practice what you preach to your kids: patience is a virtue and those who exercise such prudence will not get in trouble. Never let your expectations exceed reality, and never let your wants overcome the unfathomable love you have for them.
One thing to always remember when venturing into the church with your family is that it is a team effort. So, while my wife is taking my daughter to the bathroom to change a dirty diaper, I will try to keep my other sons from screaming down the aisle that they want to go with mommy. (It is not entirely impossible, but it wouldn’t hurt to have Tom Cruise’s grappling wires from his role as Ethan Hunt in Mission Impossible.) And finally, one small and easy drill is to practice your ‘look of death’— when no matter what you do, they won’t sit still, you shoot them a look that would knock a buzzard off a dumpster. This accomplishes two tasks at once: getting them to realize that Dad is angry and that the beginning of wisdom is fear of the Lord.