Monday, August 13, 2012

father at the altar, mother & children in the pews

A question from a reader: My husband is studying to be a deacon, and we have 2 young boys (2.5 and 1.5) right now. We will God-willing have more children also. Right now, because of their age, church is a battle. I honestly don't know how I would handle it if my husband was a deacon right now. I know the time will probably come where I am with them in the pew alone. Eventually, they will be able to serve and we do have help from other members. However I do not expect others to discipline my kids. My fear is being w/o my husband and having two misbehaving kids by myself - major embarrassment to me. Not a big fan of cry rooms which is great b/c we don't have one! Just wondering if you have experienced this and if you have any advice?
when my big girls were super cute and sometimes 'bad' in church

Future deacon's wife
Some Sundays go well. Other days feel disastrous, and I do feel embarrassed. The same will go for you because you are a mother to beautiful children with free wills. This means trouble! Here is a slightly tongue-in-cheek 5 stages of responding to naughty children & the spilled-sippy-cup-in-church.
My children are gems! They have grown up in the Church! They are baptized! What's concupiscence? I don't need to worry about them crashing for lack of protein! I can bring in his talking Lightning McQueen car; Johnny won't turn it on! Diaper bag? I don't need to bring in something so bulky; baby won't need a change!
Why did big girl forget the diaper cover for the baby when she was dressing her for church? Why can't the 5-year old listen in rapt attention at the getting-pretty-long homily? Is that sippy cup milk that is filling my purse? Did the baby go poo-poo five minutes into Mass? Grr. And does the five-year old really need to go pee-pee fifteen minutes later? Grr. Husband looks comfortable up there at the altar. Grr.
Okay- baby can have the lollipop that a random grandpa-type thrust in her hands during the homily. Okay- we can get ice cream if you just sit like a decent person. Okay- don't cross yourself; just be quiet! Okay- I'll look the other way while you play with a car during the consecration; just do it quietly! Okay person-I-don't-know-in-church, I'll ignore your tisk-tisk at my imperfect children and I won't throw a milk sippy cup in your purse. Okay husband- I'll watch your kids during Mass if you will watch them while I take a quick Sunday siesta. 
My children will never be perfect in church. I'll never have a 'spiritual experience' again. His children aren't perfect in church; this is a source of scandal to the believers in church. People will be turned away from the Church because the deacon/priest's wife isn't perfect.
Maybe things aren't so bad. The big girls (13 and 12) can cantor the Divine Liturgy themselves in two languages if need be. They woke up for the 6:30 AM Mass to sing for the Roman-rite 'mega'-parish. Even the five-year old gives awesome hugs to the old ladies in the coffee room. The littles are getting good at Amen, Alleluia, and Lord, have mercy. 
Part of the stage of 'acceptance' is realizing that this is a long process and that is never a perfect time to start going to church- so we start at the beginning. Another portion of 'acceptance' for a clergy wife or other church worker (or someone in a mixed marriage) is that you will be doing this portion of the week alone. One may as well have a good attitude about that fact. 
A final part of accepting children's childishness and dealing with them alone in church is that you will get embarrassed by mistakes your children make. Don't allow them to manipulate the situation so they can leave church. If you do need to step outside, make it very boring. Decide as a couple the behavior that each children should exhibit, keeping in mind their ages. You will need to balance being mindful of others in church but also the fact that your children are people, too! They will not be perfectly quiet. 
A little baby noise in church is a beautiful thing. Do not worry that children will be a scandal to others. Some people are just grouchy and look for something to complain about. "To the impure, nothing is pure" (Titus 1:15) Your obligation is to your children's souls only. The fact that you are making a good example by being in church on Sundays and feast days with children who are improving with their church participation is enough.
Some Ideas:
-small children should bring no more than 2 distraction items (anything more-they may as well bring the entire toy chest- and they will try)
-small children eat some protein (string cheese?) & go to the bathroom right before Divine Liturgy (Mass) -at whatever age that is appropriate- children will sing Liturgy parts, cross themselves, sit and stand when congregation does (start slowly & sweetly...but expect participation- not because they are clergy kids but because they are your kids) 
-teach the kids to nod and smile at the lay people that try to make conversation during the communion distribution. They will talk to people in the coffee room. 
-assume the best of other people- most people will love your kids and tolerate it when they are naughty. 
-don't discuss church business in front of the children (this is what chamomile tea after the children are asleep is for). 

Kids and Church
You know you're a priest's wife when...
Church Participation- Christian Lifestyle
Christian Family Education
Educating Byzantine Catholic Children

wiser, dear readers (clergy wives- choir husbands, etc), add your ideas for her in the comment box, please!


  1. A wonderful post. This is totally from someone with a balanced viewpoint and experience in this. What a hoot it is to be a parent.

    1. It is important to try to be 'balanced'- we want our kids to STAY Christian and to 'get something' from their church experience. baby steps!

  2. Concur, with Anonymous. I totally enjoyed this post. If I'm ever called to be married, even as a lay person - let alone Deacon or priest, a post like this allows me to take solace in the long process.

    1. I think the mother who posted the question is really worried about what other people think- we can't worry about that. God is watching, and He sees our efforts. I think there is nothing He likes better than to hear a little kid say 'Amen' (even if he has a matchbox car in his hand)

  3. I think this was the best piece of advise in your column:

    -assume the best of other people- most people will love your kids and tolerate it when they are naughty.

    1. Thanks! and I think even the 'grouchy' people should be forgiven- maybe that grandpa-type is upset because his family doesn't join him in church, not because my kids came in and out because of bathroom needs- anyway- I try to assume the best (or I would get upset!)

  4. Awesome post! Sharing with my college friends!

  5. Thanks bandit- I won't tell you how long ago my Franciscan connecTion was...I'll lose my street cred

  6. Wait, Priest's wife?!? I went to Franciscan too. If I hadn't taken a detour I would have graduated in 2002. Yes, I *sometimes* care what others think. The only time I ever really care what they say to us is when they say it in front of our kids. More so - I just feel exhausted some days from fighting with my children during liturgy and that definitely isn't enjoyable at all. But just this past Feastday - the 2.5 year old was trying to sing some amens, Lord have mercies, and he even paused and was listening to me say the prayer before communion. Our boys are generally liked by most people. They just flash that little grin and win 'em over. Anyway, thanks so much for taking the time to answer my question in a humorous but very real way. I think I am personally between your stages of "depression" and "acceptance," so we are getting there. :-) I definitely want to share the link on my fb account, if you don't mind. And thanks everyone else for your comments too! -Future deacon's wife(God willing)

    1. snap- I thought I replied to you! I hope church went well today

  7. I was so happy to read this post (even if a little late in the game with replying) :) I hate hate hate going to church by myself but I do it one or two times every week with a 4 year old and a 1 year an increasingly big belly from baby #3. My DH is a Lutheran pastor, I'm a Roman Catholic, so you see how I ended up in this predicament!

    I think I go through each of these phases about once every 6 months, lol! I've somehow backtracked from Depression into Bargaining recently, hmmm, should probably do something about that ;)

    I'm learning now to treat each age differently. Kids under 2 I allow breastfeeding or a sippy of milk mostly for the sake of everyone nearby. I figure nobody minds if a 'baby' is having his/her milk quietly in the pew. After 2 no more snacks but 1-2 toys are allowed. After 4 no toys but 2 books is okay. I usually bring religious ones when possible, like a great description of the mass one I found at some homeschooling website. I'm working hard to teach responses to all the prayers, making the sign of the cross, etc. The kids really love those parts of Mass now so it's down to the homily and the preparation of the Eucharist that they struggle with. I taught ODS all about the Eucharist but may have been overzealous with that because he began shouting "but I want Jesus' body and blood too!!" very loudly during it at 2 years old ... oops! Mostly I'm biding my time until I have older ones to help with the littles in Mass, this phase of everyone being under 5 is tiring.

    I also purposely attend our big cathedral whenever possible. The more stained glass and fancy architecture, the more the kids are happy to gaze around at the religious art and stay quiet, lol!

    ...and never underestimate the cute-factor of a little kid walking around saying "peace be with you", that kind of sociability covers up all manner of sins :)

    1. Amanda- it is a balance...we don't want our kids screaming and disturbing people (hence the sippy cups and toys or books) but we want them to be learning in church- it isn't easy...but I bet that God is pleased with our efforts!


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