I have gotten this question several times in The Parenting Passageway email, so I looked up this exact question on the Internet. Honestly, I didn’t find much about this topic other than a few message board questions and an article about taking your child out into the hall of the church and PADDLING them when they misbehave! (Really?! Insert my look of complete and utter HORROR here!!)
I am sure the way parents feel about this are going to be all over the map, but I thought I would throw a few things out there about this topic and maybe you all can add your experiences and thoughts to the comment section below………
I think if having a community of faith is really important to you, truly important to the family, then you will make it work. I don’t think it is so much the age of the child as it is the commitment and feeling of the parents. If you, as a parent, feel so comfortable in your place of worship, that this is the place that helps you to be and become a better human being, that this is a place of love and warmth and community, then your child will feel that as well and you will help guide your child as to the appropriate behavior and actions for that place and time.
My current personal case in point is our little fifteen month old who has no choice about attending church. He has to go because we can’t leave him home with the dog, LOL. He doesn’t understand the liturgy or notice the colors of the church changing with the liturgical seasons. He doesn’t have the prayers or responses memorized.
But I think he knows this place that we go to twice a week. He knows it is a place where the adults love him and there is music and beauty and wonderful smells. It is the place where every week he is smothered in kisses by my African American friend as she says, “If he grows up to marry a black woman, this will be why!” and kisses him until he falls over laughing. This is the place where my Polish friend speaks to him in Polish and helps me chase him down the hall. It is the place where he hangs out in the choir room as we watch his big sisters practice singing (and the place he runs down the hallway to if he escapes out of anyone’s arms! And then he stands there utterly disappointed if no one is singing at the time). It is the place of meals, and the place of The Plastic Popcorn Popper in the nursery that can sometimes entertain him for up to ten minutes as I quietly run in and out of the mass to hear his sisters sing in focused concentration and then pick him right back up again. I think he knows there is something special and wonderful about this beautiful place where silence is respected but the people still have a twinkle in their eye and a love for the smallest of God’s kingdom.
Don’t get me wrong. Getting small children to a place of worship, at least in my household, is no easy task. Take Sunday – I forgot the baby’s shoes and my husband had to drop us off and go home for them, there were the inevitable tears surrounding The Doing of The Hair, the inevitable tension of trying to get to church early for the oldest to practice singing in the choir for the mass, the waiting impatiently of the other children whilst the older one practiced. On the car ride home, there was the loud singing with the even louder antagonizing remarks between siblings and even the baby joined in with loud screams just to be heard over the din. It was like watching our own circus and my husband and I just laughed until I had tears rolling down my face. (I think you had to be there to hear the comments ) With small children and a place of worship one needs to have a sense of humor, just like one needs to have with small children and life!
So, that leads me to this next point: one needs to find a place of worship that understands and respects children. A place where the leaders of the place of worship have a twinkle in their eye when dealing with families and children, a place where the people you attend services with have not forgotten about this task of raising small children, a place where the educational programs and activities take into account the developmental stages of the children.
So, perhaps it is not so much the age, but how you feel on the inside regarding the doing of your spiritual life, and the place of worship itself and how they view small children.
Looking forward to hearing what all of you think, and sharing any FUNNY stories about your children in your place of worship would be a wonderful way to brighten up this day that is so cold and dreary around much of the U.S.!
Much love and many blessings,