Many Families, Many Approaches
There are as many ways to manage a family with young children at Mass as there are families that attend. Many people will have something different that works for them. I’m always on the lookout for ideas and have read several articles on what age appropriate expectations are, as well as articles with ideas on how to engage kids in our Catholic faith, both during Mass and throughout the week.
These articles have often been an encouragement to me, and I love picking up new ideas or being able to identify with a family who manages things in a similar way.
So, here is how our family approaches bringing our children to Mass. We have a 5-year-old, a 3-year-old, and an 8-month-old.
8 Ways Our Family Approaches Mass
1- We Bring Them
Each week, our family of five loads up in our car and goes to Mass together. Exceptions for this have been when a kid is sick, one parent stays back and the other parent takes the rest of the family. I think the fact that we do this each and every week, over time, will set a good example of the importance of practicing our faith. Even when we are out of town or on vacation, we find a Catholic Church and attend Mass together.
2- Expectations Vary By Age
When our daughter turned 5, we began expecting that she would follow along with the postures of Mass (sitting, standing, kneeling), and also to join in with the parts of Mass she knew. She now sings along with many of the congregational responses.
Our 3-year-old is expected to be quiet and not distract others. He sometimes joins in during some of the parts, but we aren’t requiring he follow every sit/stand/kneel yet.
More on our 8-month-old in a bit.
3- We Sit Up Front
We’ve tried many different seating positions, but have found, for our children, that sitting up front is the most conducive to a smooth Mass (at least for the older two). They can see what’s happening, and that helps keep them more engaged.
4- We Explain Things
We don’t insist that the kids be absolutely silent during Mass. But we also won’t talk about whether or not we are getting donuts after or other random things. They are more than welcome to ask us questions, quietly, or to point something out they notice in the church, or something relevant to the Mass itself. We also sometimes will explain what is happening, or note something interesting for them to pay attention to. These small things are done in whispers. It is important to me that if my kids have a question or are excited to notice something, that I validate their engagement. When it’s time for the Eucharist, we invite them to join us to come and see Jesus, even though they are too young to receive.
I’m a relatively recent Catholic convert (2016) and my husband is a revert. Just prior to becoming Catholic, we were at a church with a comprehensive “Children’s Program,” where our kids never were in church with us. They went to their own classrooms to play and have a little lesson for the entire service. So, going from that to having them in with us at Mass every week, was a bit of an adjustment for everyone. (An adjustment I was more than happy to make, as I love having our family practice our Catholic faith together.)
To start, we brought an activities kit, with coloring and notebooks. We also did some crackers and water. It’s what we saw as the best option to help our kids make the transition. Now, our daughter doesn’t use the coloring much at all because she is participating, and our son sometimes does, but often sits quietly. It was something that helped us. Our daughter also has taken to bringing her children’s Bible with her. We can sometimes turn to the story in her Bible that matches the reading, and definitely can turn to the Last Supper so she can draw connections between that and the Eucharist.
My hope is that parishioners can give families grace in this area. As a teacher, I know each child is so different. One kid might need something to fidget with the whole Mass. Another kid might be able to focus the whole time right away. And every possible thing in between. Having those activities helped our kids transition, and they are weaning off their dependence on them as they grow, and as we gain experience attending Mass together.
6- Taking Turns
Our 8-month-old is incredibly wiggly. She is constantly on the go. Right now, we try to start Mass with her in the pew with us. Typically, we can make it to the Gospel before she starts getting frustrated at the confinement we’ve placed her in. She wants to crawl under the pew, and out the side, and to eat the pew and make noises to hear the sound of her voice. My husband and I are currently taking turns bringing her out to the foyer, where we can hear the service, so she can get her wiggles out until she is old enough to know how to sit still. She’s just an adventurous baby, and she won’t be that way forever. The person who is out with the baby doesn’t experience Mass as fully as the other, but the Eucharist is there, and we are able to receive Jesus into us, even whilst in the phase of baby wiggles.
7- Special Masses
During the Easter Triduum this year, I tried something new that I think I would like to continue. During those special Masses, where some unique things occur (Holy Thursday Mass is an example,) I made my daughter a chart, with pictures noting certain things for her to look out for, like the presentation of the oils, the washing of the feet, the stripping of the altar. When she noticed each thing happening, she checked it off. It was a way to keep her engaged, and to start teaching her about these particularly important moments in our faith.
8- We Make It Special
We make sure to hold hands with the kids, or let them sit on our laps, or put our arms around them, and in general just make it a special family time. We want them to feel close to us, and to experience the faith together. We smile at the big kids when they participate in something new, encouraging them to keep it up. We want Mass to be a positive experience. Something they look forward to, most weeks at least, and something they see as part of our family identity.
Again, there are as many approaches to Mass with kids as there are families. This is just what has been working for us, at this phase of life. It always warms my heart to see other families with young kids at Mass each week. Bringing our children to Mass is one of many things we can do to help our children grow in faith and virtue now and for the long road ahead.
We’re all in this together.