I don't bring my babies to mass.
Yes, there, I said it!
Before I explain, here is the necessary disclaimer:
For all of the wonderful moms and dads who bring their babies and toddlers to mass every week, I salute you. No, I applaud you. No, I pretty much worship you! (Okay, I don't worship you, but only because that would be a sin.) You are amazing and incredible, and I mean that with full sincerity and from the bottom of my heart. In no way is this post meant to suggest that you should leave your children at home, because I truly love seeing little ones at mass, and it's a joy to watch them grow through the seasons. Keep bringing them!
But, I can't do what you do.
I used to think I should, and I used to wonder if I was wrong not to, but about a decade ago, I made peace with the way we do things in the Miller family.
I am not able to deal with fussy babies and active toddlers at mass. We've already clearly established that I am not supermom, and that my having eight kids is only possible through a tidal wave of God's grace combined with a delicate logistical balancing act that I keep recalibrating. For my personal sanity, I must keep things as easy as possible in order to make the "Leila has a ton of kids" thing work. There might be a few other moms out there who are like me, and to them I simply want to say that you are not alone, and it's really okay.
On and off over the years (the last two years being "on"), my husband and I have done split shifts for mass, which amounts to Dean taking two or three kids to an early morning mass nearby, while I take the rest to our regular parish later in the day. Any babies or toddlers simply stay home. As a result, mass is peaceful, calm, and prayerful. Since my life is not that way otherwise, I need it for an hour or so on Sundays. I mean, I reeeaaaallllly neeeeeeeed it!
Some questions might spring to mind:
Do you miss being at mass with Dean and all the kids together? Sure, but not enough to make me want to take the two-year-old. And, I know from 20+ years of parenting that "this too shall pass", and there will come a time when we'll go to mass together as a family again. But now is not that time, and we're all okay with that.
Why not use the cry room? Well, we do -- but only when absolutely necessary. For example, recently, Dean took some of the kids out of town, and I had to bring the littlest guy, Benevolent Destruction, to mass. No way that kid can sit in a pew without putting on the baby equivalent of a Broadway show, so while my older kids stayed with the congregation, I traipsed off to the cry room with the little man. That experience reminded me why I love the split shift.
We are blessed to have oodles of big families and many young children at my parish, and the cry room is
So, we've never seen the cry room as a good regular option.
Why not church child care then? Actually, I am a huge fan of church child care! We have used that wonderful option over the years, and we will undoubtedly use it in the future. Not every parish is blessed to have such a ministry, and our parish's child care (we call it "church school") is fabulous. The kids are kept busy with good stuff: They learn their Faith, pray the Rosary, sing Bible songs, talk about Jesus, celebrate feast days and the liturgical year, do arts and crafts, have snacks, watch videos, etc. But at this moment, my youngest is not ready to be foisted upon the lovely ladies who run the child care; I wouldn't do that to them. Also, I know that if I did leave him there, I would be sitting at mass just worrying. So for now, split shift is our norm.
The biggest question is probably this: What about teaching your kids to behave at mass by taking them consistently from their infancy? My answer is simply that it's never been a problem for us. When my children reach a certain age -- or rather, a certain level of self-control -- we start bringing them to mass regularly. And for child after child, they've adapted just fine. They sit through mass quietly (as quietly as little kids can), and we all have a peaceful hour of worship. So for me, the whole thing is just a wait-it-out-till-they-are-mature-enough situation. At about age four or five, they suddenly become mass-goable. It's like a dream, and it works for us.
And to put another worry to rest, I have living proof -- in the form of tweens, teens, and even a couple of adults now -- that children do not grow up and leave the Church because they missed mass as babies.
Parenting little children is hard, and much of that difficulty cannot be avoided. But if a split shift eases the difficulty, if it helps keep you sane for the rest of the week, if it affords you that bit of tranquility you need, if it works for you, then do it, and be at peace.
That's what I do.
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